|Sinhalese alphabet |
සිංහල අක්ෂර මාලාව
|The Brahmic script and its descendants|
The Sinhalese alphabet (Sinhalese:සිංහල අක්ෂර මාලාව) (Sinhala Akṣara Malava) is an abugida used by the Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere to write the Sinhalese language and also the liturgical languages Pali and Sanskrit. The Sinhalese alphabet, which is one of the Brahmic scripts, a descendant of the ancient Indian Brahmi script closely related to the South Indian Kadamba alphabet.
Sinhalese is often considered two alphabets, or an alphabet within an alphabet, due to the presence of two sets of letters. The core set, known as the śuddha siṃhala (pure Sinhalese, ශුද්ධ සිංහලimg) or eḷu hōḍiya (Eḷu alphabet එළු හෝඩිය img), can represent all native phonemes. In order to render Sanskrit and Pali words, an extended set, the miśra siṃhala (mixed Sinhalese, මිශ්ර සිංහලimg), is available.
The alphabet is written from left to right. The Sinhalese script is an abugida, as each consonant has an inherent vowel (/a/), which can be changed with the different vowel signs or removed (see image on left for examples).
Most of the Sinhalese letters are curlicues; straight lines are almost completely absent from the alphabet. This is because Sinhala used to be written on dried palm leaves, which would split along the veins on writing straight lines. This was undesirable, and therefore, the round shapes were preferred.
The core set of letters forms the śuddha siṃhala alphabet (pure Sinhalese, ශුද්ධ සිංහලimg), which is a subset of the miśra siṃhala alphabet (mixed Sinhalese, මිශ්ර සිංහලimg). This "pure" alphabet contains all the graphemes necessary to write Eḷu (classical Sinhalese) as described in the classical grammar Sidatsan̆garā (1300 AD). This is the reason why this set is also called Eḷu hōdiya ("Eḷu alphabet" එළු හෝඩියimg).
The definition of the two sets is thus a historic one. Out of pure coincidence, the phoneme inventory of present-day colloquial Sinhala is such that yet again the śuddha alphabet suffices as a good representation of the sounds.
All native phonemes of the Sinhala spoken today can be represented in śuddha, while in order to render special Sanskrit and Pali sounds, one can fall back on miśra siṃhala. This is most notably necessary for the graphemes for the Middle Indic phonemes that the Sinhalese language lost during its history, such as aspirates.
Neither the Sinhala numerals nor U+0DF4 ෴ Sinhalese punctuation kunddaliya is in general use today. The kunddaliya was formerly used as a full stop.
History and usage
The Sinhalese script originated from the Brahmi script, thought to have been brought from Southern India, around the 3rd century B.C., there are recent findings on pottery from Anuradhapura of Southern Brahmi scripts, dating from the 6th century BCE, with lithic inscriptions dating from the 2nd century BC.The Sinhalese script was influenced by South Indian scripts, at various stages of its development, particularly by the Grantha script, Pallava script and the Kadamba script. By the 9th century CE, literature written in Sinhalese script had emerged and the script began to be used in other contexts. For instance, the Buddhist literature of the Theravada-Buddhists of Sri Lanka, written in Pali, used the Sinhalese alphabet.
Today, the alphabet is used by approximately 16,000,000 people to write the Sinhalese language in very diverse contexts, such as newspapers, TV commercials, government announcements, graffiti, and schoolbooks.
Relations between orthography and phonology
Most phonemes of the Sinhalese language can be represented by a śuddha letter or by a miśra letter, but normally only one of them is considered correct. This one-to-many mapping of phonemes onto graphemes is a frequent source of misspellings.
While a phoneme can be represented by more than one grapheme, each grapheme can be pronounced in only one way. This means that the actual pronunciation of a word is always clear from its orthographic form.
The śuddha graphemes are the mainstay of the Sinhalese alphabet and are used on an everyday-basis. Every sequence of sounds of the Sinhalese language of today can be represented by these graphemes. Additionally, the śuddha set comprises graphemes for retroflex ⟨ḷ⟩ and ⟨ṇ⟩, which are no longer phonemic in modern Sinhala. These two letters were needed for the representation of Eḷu, but are now obsolete from a purely phonemic view. However, words which historically contain these two phonemes are still often written with the graphemes representing the retroflex sounds.
The śuddha alphabet comprises 8 plosives, 2 fricatives, 2 affricates, 2 nasals, 2 liquids and 2 glides. Additionally, there are the two graphemes for the retroflex sounds /ɭ/ and /ɳ/, which are not phonemic in modern Sinhala, but which still form part of the set. These are shaded in the table.
The voiceless affricate (ච [t͡ʃa]) is not included in the śuddha set by purists since it does not occur in the main text of the Sidatsan̆garā. The Sidatsan̆garā does use it in examples though, so this sound did exist in Eḷu. In any case, it is needed for the representation of modern Sinhala.
The basic shapes of these consonants carry an inherent /a/ unless this is replaced by another vowel or removed by the hal kirīma.
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Vowels come in two shapes: independent and diacritic. The independent shape is used when a vowel does not follow a consonant, e.g. at the beginning of a word. The diacritic shape is used when a vowel follows a consonant. Depending on the vowel, the diacritic can attach at several places. The diacritic for ⟨i⟩ attaches above the consonant, the diacritic for ⟨u⟩ attaches below, the diacritic for ⟨ā⟩ follows, while the diacritic for ⟨e⟩ precedes. ⟨o⟩ finally is marked by the combination of preceding ⟨e⟩ and following ⟨ā⟩.
While <a,e,i,o> are regular, the diacritic for ⟨u⟩ takes a different shape according to the consonant it attaches to. The most common one is represented on the image on the right for the consonant ප (p). The k-shape is used for some consonants ending at the lower right corner (ක (k),ග (g), ත(t), but not න(n) or හ(h)). Combinations of ර(r) or ළ(ḷ) with ⟨u⟩ have idiosyncratic shapes.
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In Sinhala the diacritics are called පිලි pili (vowel strokes). දිග diga means "long" because the vowel is sounded for longer and දෙක deka means "two" because the stroke is doubled when written.
|Using the consonant 'k' + 'vowel' as an example:|
|පිල්ල pilla||Name||Transliteration||Formation||Compound form||ISO 15919||IPA|
|්||හල් කිරිම||hal kirīma||ක්||ක්||k||[k]|
|◌||Inherent /a/ (without any pili)||ක් + අ||ක||ka||[kʌ]|
|ා||ඇලපිල්ල||ælapilla||ක් + ආ||කා||kā||[kɑː]|
|ැ||ඇදය||ædaya||ක් + ඇ||කැ||kæ||[kæ]|
|ෑ||දිග ඇදය||diga ædaya||ක් + ඈ||කෑ||kǣ||[kæː]|
|ි||ඉස්පිල්ල||ispilla||ක් + ඉ||කි||ki||[ki]|
|ී||දිග ඉස්පිල්ල||diga ispilla||ක් + ඊ||කී||kī||[kiː]|
|ු||පාපිල්ල||pāpilla||ක් + උ||කු||ku||[ku], [kɯ]|
|ූ||දිග පාපිල්ල||diga pāpilla||ක් + ඌ||කූ||kū||[kuː]|
|ෘ||ගැටය සහිත ඇලපිල්ල||gæṭa sahita ælapilla||ක් + උ||කෘ||kru||[kru]|
|ෲ||ගැටය සහිත ඇලපිලි දෙක||gæṭa sahita ælapili deka||ක් + ඌ||කෲ||krū||[kruː]|
|ෟ||ගයනුකිත්ත||gayanukitta||Used in conjunction with kombuva for consonants.|
|ෳ||දිග ගයනුකිත්ත||diga gayanukitta||Not in contemporary use|
|ෙ||කොම්බුව||kombuva||ක් + එ||කෙ||ke||[ke]|
|ේ||කොම්බුව සහ හල්කිරීම||kombuva saha halkirīma||ක් + ඒ||කේ||kē||[keː]|
|ෛ||කොම්බු දෙක||kombu deka||ක් + ඓ||කෛ||kai||[kʌj]|
|ො||කොම්බුව සහ ඇලපිල්ල||kombuva saha ælapilla||ක් + ඔ||කො||ko||[ko]|
|ෝ||කොම්බුව සහ හල්ඇලපිල්ල||kombuva saha halælapilla||ක් + ඕ||කෝ||kō||[koː]|
|ෞ||කොම්බුව සහ ගයනුකිත්ත||kombuva saha gayanukitta||ක් + ඖ||කෞ||kau||[kʌʋ]|
The prenasalized consonants resemble their plain counterparts. ⟨m̆b⟩ is made up by the left half of ⟨m⟩ and the right half of ⟨b⟩, while the other three are just like the grapheme for the plosive with a little stroke attached to their left. Vowel diacritics attach in the same way as they would to the corresponding plain plosive.
|nasal||obstruent|| prenasalized |
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The anusvara (often called binduva 'zero' ) is represented by one small circle ං (Unicode 0D82), and the visarga (technically part of the miśra alphabet) by two ඃ (Unicode 0D83). The inherent vowel can be removed by a special virama diacritic, the hal kirīma ( ්), which has two shapes depending on which consonant it attaches to. Both are represented in the image on the right side. The first one is the most common one, while the second one is used for letters ending at the top left corner.
The miśra alphabet is a superset of śuddha. It adds letters for aspirates, retroflexes and sibilants, which are not phonemic in today's Sinhala, but which are necessary to represent non-native words, like loanwords from Sanskrit, Pali or English. The use of the extra letters is mainly a question of prestige. From a purely phonemic point of view, there is no benefit in using them, and they can be replaced by a (sequence of) śuddha letters as follows: For the miśra aspirates, the replacement is the plain śuddha counterpart, for the miśra retroflex liquids the corresponding śuddha coronal liquid, for the sibilants, ⟨s⟩. ඤ (ñ) and ඥ (gn) cannot be represented by śuddha graphemes but are found only in fewer than 10 words each. ෆ fa can be represented by ප pa with a Latin ⟨f⟩ inscribed in the cup.
There are six additional vocalic diacritics in the miśra alphabet. The two diphthongs are quite common, while the "syllabic" ṛ is much rarer, and the "syllabic" ḷ is all but obsolete. The latter are almost exclusively found in loanwords from Sanskrit.
The miśra ⟨ṛ⟩ can be also be written with śuddha ⟨r⟩+⟨u⟩ or ⟨u⟩+⟨r⟩, which corresponds to the actual pronunciation. The miśra syllabic ⟨ḷ⟩ is obsolete, but can be rendered by śuddha ⟨l⟩+⟨i⟩. Miśra ⟨au⟩ is rendered as śuddha ⟨awu⟩, miśra ⟨ai⟩ as śuddha ⟨ayi⟩.
|syllabic r||ඍ||0D8D||ṛ||[ur]||ෘ||0DD8||ṛ||[ru, ur]||ඎ||0D8E||ṝ||[ruː]||ෲ||0DF2||ṝ||[ruː, uːr]||syllabic r|
|syllabic l||ඏ||0D8F||ḷ||[li]||ෟ||0DDF||ḷ||[li]||ඐ||0D90||ḹ||[liː]||ෳ||0DF3||ḹ||[liː]||syllabic l|
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Note that the transliteration of both ළ් and ෟ is ⟨ḷ⟩. This is not very problematic as the second one is extremely scarce.
Names of the graphemes
The letters of the English alphabet have more or less arbitrary names, e.g. em for the letter ⟨m⟩ or bee for the letter ⟨b⟩. The Sinhala śuddha graphemes are named in a uniform way adding -yanna to the sound produced by the letter, including vocalic diacritics. The name for the letter අ is thus ayanna, for the letter ආ āyanna, for the letter ක kayanna, for the letter කා kāyanna, for the letter කෙ keyanna and so forth. For letters with hal kirīma, an epenthetic a is added for easier pronunciation: the name for the letter ක් is akyanna. Another naming convention is to use al- before a letter with suppressed vowel, thus alkayanna.
Since the extra miśra letters are phonetically not distinguishable from the śuddha letters, proceeding in the same way would lead to confusion. Names of miśra letters are normally made up of the names of two śuddha letters pronounced as one word. The first one indicates the sound, the second one the shape. For example, the aspirated ඛ (kh) is called bayanu kayanna. kayanna indicates the sound, while bayanu indicates the shape: ඛ (kh) is similar in shape to බ (b) (bayunu = like bayanna). Another method is to qualify the miśra aspirates by mahāprāna (ඛ: mahāprāna kayanna) and the miśra retroflexes by mūrdhaja (ළ: mūrdhaja layanna).
Certain combinations of graphemes trigger special ligatures. Special signs exist for an ර (r) following a consonant (inverted arch underneath), a ර (r) preceding a consonant (loop above) and a ය (y) following a consonant (half a ය on the right). Furthermore, very frequent combinations are often written in one stroke, like ddh, kv or kś. If this is the case, the first consonant is not marked with a hal kirīma. The image on the left shows the glyph for śrī, which is composed of the letter ś with a ligature indicating the r below and the vowel ī marked above. Most other conjunct consonants are made with an explicit virama, called al-lakuna or hal kirīma, and the zero-width joiner as shown in the following table, some of which may not display correctly due to limitations of your system. Some of the more common are displayed in the following table. Note that although modern Sinhala sounds are not aspirated, aspiration is marked in the sound where it was historically present to highlight the differences in modern spelling. Also note that all of the combinations are encoded with the al-lakuna (Unicode U+0DCA) first, followed by the zero-width joiner (Unicode U+200D) except for touching letters which have the zero-width joiner (Unicode U+200D) first followed by the al-lakuna (Unicode U+0DCA). Touching letters were used in ancient scriptures but are not used in modern Sinhala. Vowels may be attached to any of the ligatures formed, attaching to the rightmost part of the glyph except for vowels that use the kombuva, where the kombuva is written before the ligature or cluster and the remainder of the vowel, if any, is attached to the rightmost part. In the table below, appending "o" (kombuva saha ælepilla - kombuva with ælepilla) to the cluster "ky" /kja/ only adds a single code point, but adds two vowel strokes, one each to the left and right of the consonant cluster.
|/kja/||ක්ය||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+0DBA||ක්ය||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBA||yansaya|
|/kjo/||ක්යො||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+0DBA U+0DCC||ක්යො||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBA U+0DCC||yansaya|
|/ɡja/||ග්ය||U+0D9C U+0DCA U+0DBA||ග්ය||U+0D9C U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBA||yansaya|
|/kra/||ක්ර||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+0DBB||ක්ර||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBB||rakāransaya|
|/ɡra/||ග්ර||U+0D9C U+0DCA U+0DBB||ග්ර||U+0D9C U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBB||rakāransaya|
|/rka/||ර්ක||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+0D9A||ර්ක||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+200D U+0D9A||rēpaya|
|/rɡa/||ර්ග||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+0D9C||ර්ග||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+200D U+0D9C||rēpaya|
|/kjra/||ක්ය්ර||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+0DBA U+0DCA U+0DBB||ක්ය්ර||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBA U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBB||yansaya + rakāransaya|
|/ɡjra/||ග්ය්ර||U+0D9C U+0DCA U+0DBA U+0DCA U+0DBB||ග්ය්ර||U+0D9C U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBA U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBB||yansaya + rakāransaya|
|/rkja/||ර්ක්ය||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+0D9A U+0DCA U+0DBA||ර්ක්ය||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+200D U+0D9A U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBA||rēpaya + yansaya|
|/rɡja/||ර්ග්ය||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+0D9C U+0DCA U+0DBA||ර්ග්ය||U+0DBB U+0DCA U+200D U+0D9C U+0DCA U+200D U+0DBA||rēpaya + yansaya|
|/kva/||ක්ව||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+0DC0||ක්ව||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+200D U+0DC0||conjunct|
|/kʃa/||ක්ෂ||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+0DC2||ක්ෂ||U+0D9A U+0DCA U+200D U+0DC2||conjunct|
|/t̪t̪ʰa/||ත්ථ||U+0DAD U+0DCA U+0DAE||ත්ථ||U+0DAD U+0DCA U+200D U+0DAE||conjunct|
|/t̪va/||ත්ව||U+0DAD U+0DCA U+0DC0||ත්ව||U+0DAD U+0DCA U+200D U+0DC0||conjunct|
|/nd̪a/||න්ද||U+0DB1 U+0DCA U+0DAF||න්ද||U+0DB1 U+0DCA U+200D U+0DAF||conjunct|
|/nd̪ʰa/||න්ධ||U+0DB1 U+0DCA U+0DB0||න්ධ||U+0DB1 U+0DCA U+200D U+0DB0||conjunct|
|/ⁿd̪t̪ʰa/||ඳ්ඨ||U+0DB3 U+0DCA U+0DA8||ඳ්ඨ||U+0DB3 U+0DCA U+200D U+0DA8||conjunct|
|/ⁿd̪d̪ʰa/||ඳ්ධ||U+0DB3 U+0DCA U+0DB0||ඳ්ධ||U+0DB3 U+0DCA U+200D U+0DB0||conjunct|
|/ⁿd̪va/||ඳ්ව||U+0DB3 U+0DCA U+0DC0||ඳ්ව||U+0DB3 U+0DCA U+200D U+0DC0||conjunct|
|/mma/||ම්ම||U+0DB8 U+0DCA U+0DB8||ම්ම||U+0DB8 U+200D U+0DCA U+0DB8||touching|
Similarities to other scripts
Sinhala is one of the Brahmic scripts, and thus shares many similarities with other members of the family, such as the Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil script and Devanāgarī. As a general example, /a/ is the inherent vowel in all these scripts. Other similarities include the diacritic for ⟨ai⟩, which resembles a doubled ⟨e⟩ in all scripts and the diacritic for ⟨au⟩ which is composed of preceding ⟨e⟩ and following ⟨ḷ⟩.
Likewise, the combination of the diacritics for ⟨e⟩ and ⟨ā⟩ yields ⟨o⟩ in all these scripts.
Differences to other scripts
Sinhala alphabet differs from other Indo-Aryan alphabets in that it contains a pair of vowel sounds (U+0DD0 and U+0DD1 in the proposed Unicode Standard) that are unique to it. These are the two vowel sounds that are similar to the two vowel sounds that occur at the beginning of the English words at (ඇ) and ant (ඈ).
Another feature that distinguishes Sinhala from its sister Indo-Aryan languages is the presence of a set of five nasal sounds known as half-nasal or prenasalized stops.
Layman's transliterations in Sri Lanka normally follow neither of these. Vowels are transliterated according to English spelling equivalences, which can yield a variety of spellings for a number of phonemes. /iː/ for instance can be ⟨ee⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨ea⟩, ⟨i⟩, etc. A transliteration pattern peculiar to Sinhala, and facilitated by the absence of phonemic aspirates, is the use of ⟨th⟩ for the voiceless dental plosive, and the use of ⟨t⟩ for the voiceless retroflex plosive. This is presumably because the retroflex plosive /ʈ/ is perceived the same as the English alveolar plosive /t/, and the Sinhala dental plosive /t̪/ is equated with the English voiceless dental fricative /θ/. Dental and retroflex voiced plosives are always rendered as ⟨d⟩, though, presumably because ⟨dh⟩ is not found as a representation of /ð/ in English orthography.
The main Unicode block for Sinhala is U+0D80–U+0DFF. Another block, Sinhala Archaic Numbers, was added to Unicode in version 7.0.0 in June 2014. Its range is U+111E0–U+111FF.
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
| Sinhala Archaic Numbers|
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Generally speaking, Sinhala support is less developed than support for Devanāgarī for instance. A recurring problem is the rendering of diacritics which precede the consonant and diacritic signs which come in different shapes, like the one for ⟨u⟩.
Sinhala does not come built in with Windows XP, unlike Tamil and Hindi. However, all versions of Windows Vista come with Sinhala support by default, and do not require external fonts to be installed to read Sinhalese script.
- Sinhala guide of the Sinhalese Wikipedia (in English)
- Online Sinhala Unicode Writer
- Sinhala English Dictionary and Sinhala To Hindi Language Translator
- Sinhala Unicode Support Group
- Online Unicode Converter
Image list for readers with font problems
- Sinhalese Braille
- Dutch loanwords in Sinhala
- English loanwords in Sinhala
- Portuguese loanwords in Sinhala
- Tamil loanwords in Sinhala
- Daniels (1996), p. 408.
- Jayarajan, Paul M. (1976-01-01). History of the Evolution of the Sinhala Alphabet. Colombo Apothecaries' Company, Limited.
- Gair and Paolillo 1997: 15f.
- Gair and Paolillo 1997.
- "Online edition of Sunday Observer - Business". Sunday Observer. Retrieved 21 September 2008. External link in
- "Unicode Mail List Archive: Re: Sinhala numerals". Unicode Consortium. Retrieved 21 September 2008. External link in
- Roland Russwurm. "Old Sinhala Numbers and Digits". Sinhala Online. Retrieved 23 September 2008. External link in
- Daniels (1996), p. 380.
- "Su Deraniyagala, Pre- And Protohistoric Settlement In Sri Lanka". Lankalibrary.com. 1996-09-14. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
- Geiger (1995) p. 2
- Daniels (1996), p. 379.
- Matzel (1983) p. 15, 17, 18
- Jayawardena-Moser (2004) p. 11
- Fairbanks et al. (1968), p. 126
- Karunatillake (2004), p. xxxii
- Karunatillake (2004), p. xxxi
- Daniels (1996), p. 410.
- This letter is not used anywhere, neither in modern nor ancient Sinhala. Its usefulness is unclear, but it forms part of the standard alphabet <http://unicode.org/reports/tr2.html>.
- Matzel (1983), p. 8
- Matzel (1983), p. 14
- Fairbanks et al. (1968), p. 366
- Fairbanks et al. (1968), p. 109
- Jayawardena-Moser (2004), p. 12
- Matzel (1983), p. 16
- Daniels, Peter T. (1996). "Sinhala alphabet". The World's Writing Systems. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
- Fairbanks, G. W.; J. W. Gair; M. W. S. D. Silva (1968). Colloquial Sinhalese (Sinhala). Ithaca, NY: South Asia Programm, Cornell University.
- Gair, J. W.; John C. Paolillo (1997). Sinhala. München, Newcastle: South Asia Programm, Cornell University.
- Geiger, Wilhelm (1995). A Grammar of the Sinhalese Language. New Delhi: AES Reprint.
- Jayawardena-Moser, Premalatha (2004). Grundwortschatz Singhalesisch - Deutsch (3 ed.). Wiesbaden: Harassowitz.
- Karunatillake, W. S. (1992). An Introduction to Spoken Sinhala ([several new editions] ed.). Colombo.
- Matzel, Klaus (1983). Einführung in die singhalesische Sprache. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
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