Sinhala script

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Sinhala script (Sinhalese)
සිංහල අක්ෂර මාලාව
Siṁhala Akṣara Mālāva
Sri Lanka
Linguistic classification:Proto-Sinaitic alphabet
සිංහල in Noto Serif Sinhala font

Sinhala script (Sinhala: සිංහල අක්ෂර මාලාව; Siṁhala Akṣara Mālāva) is an Abugida, a script between a syllabic and alphabetic script. It is also known as Sinhalese script. It is written from left to right. It is used to write Sinhala, which is the official language of Sri Lanka. It is also used to write Sanskrit and Pali.[1] These languages are used for religious texts. The Sinhalese Akṣara Mālāva, one of the Brahmic scripts, comes from the Ancient Indian Brahmi script. It is also related to the ancient Kannada script.[2]

History[change | change source]

Sinhala script comes from Brahmi, and was imported from Northern India, around the 3rd century BCE.[3] Sinhala script developed in a complex way: Part independently but also strongly influenced by South Indian scripts at various stages.[4] It is clearly influenced by the early Grantha script.[1] Pottery from the 6th century BCE has been found in Anuradhapura, with lithic inscriptions dating from 2nd century BCE written in Prakrit.[5]

Medieval Sinhalese first began to be used around 750 AD. It has a very strong influence from the Grantha script.[6] As a result, Medieval (and modern) Sinhalese look similar to the South Indian scripts.[4] By the 9th century CE, literature written in Sinhala script appeared and the script began to be used in other texts. As an example, the Buddhist literature of the Theravada-Buddhists of Sri Lanka, written in Pali, used Sinhala script.

Modern Sinhalese first appeared in the 13th century and is marked by the writing of the grammar book Sidat Sangara.[6] In 1736, the Dutch were the first to print with Sinhala type on the island. The resulting type followed the features of the native Sinhala script that was written on palm leaves. The Dutch created type that was the same width throughout the letters (monolinear) with no separation between words in early documents. During the Colonial period, a new style of Sinhala also began to used which was high contrast and had different thicknesses. This high contrast type slowly replaced the monolinear type as the preferred style.[7]

Today, the alphabet is used by over 16 million people to write Sinhala in very different situations, such as newspapers, TV commercials, government announcements, graffiti, and schoolbooks.

Sinhala is the main language written in this script, but rare instances of Sri Lanka Malay are recorded.[8]

Types of alphabets[change | change source]

Sidath sangara alphabet[change | change source]

This alphabet was invented in the Dambadeniya period (1220–1345).[9] This is the first specific Sinhala alphabet to be found in writing.

Vowels (10)
Consonants (20)

Śuddha set[change | change source]

This alphabet includes the letters usually used everyday. It is enough to write almost every word in Sinhala.

Vowels (12)
Consonants (20)

Miśra set[change | change source]

The Śuddha set was not enough to spell Pali and Sanskrit words correctly. So, new letters had to be used. This alphabet first appears in Abraham Mendis Gunasekara's Comprehensive Grammar of the Sinhalese Language, a grammar book published in 1891.[10]

Vowels (18)
Consonants (36)

National Institute of Education Alphabet[change | change source]

The alphabet was adopted by the National Institute of Education in 1989. This is the alphabet commonly used in schools in Sri Lanka.

Vowels (18)
අං අඃ
Consonants (40)

Contemporary Sinhala Alphabet (Modern Sinhala Alphabet)[change | change source]

This alphabet was first published in 1990 by J.B. Dissanayake.[11] Here, the vowels and have two forms as open and closed.

අ (open) ආ(open)
අ (closed) ආ(closed)
Consonants (42)
අං අඃ

International Standards Institution Sinhala Alphabet[change | change source]

Vowels (18)
Consonants (43)
අං අඃ

Unicode Sinhala Alphabet[change | change source]

ස්වර (18)
ව්‍යංජන (45)
අං අඃ
ක්‍ෂ ළු

Structure[change | change source]

The word ශ්‍රී (Śrī) in the Sinhala script with its components marked is displayed here.
ශ්‍රී (Śrī) in the Sinhala script with its components marked.

It uses consonants as its base unit. To make different sounds, small strokes of lines called 'pili' (in Sinhala) are written before, after, above or below the base consonant.

Example[change | change source]

ක = 'ka' sound (this is the base consonant)

ක + ි = කි = 'ki' sound (a small arch like shape is placed on top of ක)

ක + ් = ක් = 'k' sound (a small flag like shape is placed on top of ක)

ක + ෙ = කෙ = 'ke' sound (a swirl is placed in front of ක)

Letters and how they are pronounced[change | change source]

The Sinhala alphabet is shown here.
The Sinhala Alphabet

Here, the letters of the National Institute of Education Alphabet are shown.

Vowels[change | change source]

There are 18 vowels.

Transliteration a ā æ ǣ i ī u ū r̥̄ l̥̄ e ē ai o ō au
IPA [a,ə] [aː,a] [æ] [æː] [i] [iː] [u] [uː] [ri,ru] [riː,ruː] [li] [li:] [e] [eː] [ɑj] [o] [oː] [ɑw]
  • is pronounced like the u in cut
  • is pronounced like the a in father
  • is pronounced like the a in cat
  • is pronounced like but the sound is held longer
  • is pronounced like the i in is
  • is pronounced like the ee in feet
  • is pronounced like the u in put
  • is pronounced like the u in flute
  • is pronounced like the ri in river (when it is combined with a consonant, it is pronounced like ru)
  • is pronounced like the ree in reel This vowel occurs rarely
  • is pronounced as li or lu. This vowel is no longer in use
  • is pronounced as but the sound is held longer. This vowel is no longer in use
  • is pronounced like the e in bed
  • is pronounced like the a in ancient
  • is pronounced like eye
  • is pronounced like the o in cot
  • is pronounced like the o in go
  • is pronounced like the ou in house

Consonants[change | change source]

There are 42 consonants. The consonants are divided into many groups based on how they are pronounced.

Transliteration k kha g gha ṅa ňg c cha j jha ña n̆ja ṭha ḍha ňḍ t tha d dha na ňd
IPA [k] [ka] [g] [ɡa] [ŋa] [ᵑɡ] [t͡ʃ~t͡ɕ] [t͡ʃa] [d͡ʒ~d͡ʑ] [d͡ʒa] [ɲa] [nd͡ʒa] [ʈ] [ʈa] [ɖ] [ɖa] [n] [ᶯɖ] [t] [t̪a] [d] [d̪a] [na] [ⁿd]
Transliteration p pha b bha m m̌b y r l v śa ṣa s h f
IPA [p] [pa] [b] [ba] [m] [ᵐb] [j] [r] [l] [ʋ] [sa] [sa] [s] [ɦ] [ɭ] [fa, ɸa, pa]

The consonant ඥ (pronounced like ඤ - like the ny in canyon) is used today but it is not included in the National Institute of Education Alphabet.

References[change | change source]

Media related to Sinhala script at Wikimedia Commons

  1. 1.0 1.1 Daniels (1996), p. 408.
  2. Masica, Colin P. (1993). The Indo-Aryan Languages. p. 143.
  3. Daniels (1996), p. 379.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Cardona, George; Dhanesh, Jain (2003). The Indo-Aryan Languages. p. 109.
  5. Ray, Himanshu Prabha (2003-08-14). The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521011099.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Diringer, David (1948). Alphabet a key to the history of mankind. p. 389.
  7. "The Sinhala Script". Dalton Maag. Archived from the original on 26 August 2018. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  8. Nordhoff S (2009). A grammar of Upcountry Sri Lanka Malay. Utrecht: LOT Publications. p. 35. ISBN 978-94-6093-011-9.
  9. "Sri Lankan History - Kings - Governors - Prisidents - Ministers". Retrieved 2022-05-12.
  10. ඒබ්‍රහැම් මෙන්ඩිස් ඝුණසේකර (1891) A Comprehensive Grammar of the Sinhalese Language පි. 5
  11. දිසානායක, ජේ. බී. (1995). නුතන සිංහල ලේඛන ව්‍යාකරණය: 1 අක්‍ෂර වින්‍යාසය. පි. 95