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Burmese
Quick Facts
TypeSyllabic Alphabetic
GenealogyBrahmi
LocationSoutheast Asia
Time12th century CE to Present
DirectionLeft to Right

The Burmese or Myanmar script is a Brahmi-style syllabic alphabet, most likely adopted from the Mon script in the 12th century CE. Like other scripts in the Brahmi lineage, a single sign or letter represents a full syllable with the inherent vowel /a/. The only exception is the letter a which represents a vowel in the beginning of a word.

In the above chart, the red text represents the traditional transliteration that corresponds to the letters' original Indian phonetic values. However, since Burmese has undergone phonetic changes since the 12th century CE, many of the letters no longer represent the sounds they had 800 years ago. The modern sounds that letters represent are therefore indicated in the blue texts surrounded by square brackets.

Representation of syllables with vowels other than /a/ is by means of diacritics or additional strokes near the letter. In addition, because Burmese is a tonal language, these diacritics carry not only the vowel values but also tones. This means that the same vowel can be represented by several diacritics, each one of which carries a different tone. Burmese three major tones, namely "creaky", "high", and "low", and therefore each tone has a series of vowel diacritics, as illustrated in the chart below:

Note: the "creaky" tone is a high tone with a short vowel length ending in a glottal closure. The other two tones are, as their names imply, high and low tones, and both have long vowel lengths.

In the above example I used the letter ma, but the same system applies to all other letters, even including the vowel letter a. Hence to write vowels and/or tones other than the creaky /a/ in the initial position of a word, you can apply the same set of diacritics to the letter.

There is also another set of vowel signs called akkhara to write vowels at the beginning of certain words (usually words borrowed from Indian languages), but not all vowel and tone combinations have akkhara letters. These are used mostly for historical reasons.

To denote consonants that appear in positions other than the beginning of a syllable, two approaches are used. First, to represent a consonant at the end of a syllable, a hook-like stroke is placed above the letter to mute the vowel.

Also, consonant cluster containing letters y, w, r, and h are possible in Brahmi. In these cases, special variants of these letters are used:

Numbers in Burmese are positional:

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