Updated 4 November, 2021
This page brings together basic information about the Kayah Li script and its use for the Western Kayah language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Western Kayah using Unicode.
Phonetic transcriptions on this page should be treated as an approximate guide, only. Many are more phonemic than phonetic, and there may be variations depending on the source of the transcription.
ꤙꤤ ꤋꤢꤨ꤭ꤡꤛꤥꤔꤢ ꤡꤛꤣ ꤟꤢꤩꤏꤥ꤬ꤘꤣ꤬ꤑꤢ꤭ ꤕꤢꤩ ꤔꤤꤔꤢ꤬ꤠꤢꤩ꤬ ꤠꤟꤤ꤭ꤢꤨ ꤒꤢ꤬ꤟꤢꤩ꤬ ꤔꤢ ꤡꤢꤪꤗꤢꤚꤛꤢ꤬ ꤢ꤬ꤒꤟꤢꤧ꤬ꤟꤢꤩꤙꤢꤧ꤬ ꤢ꤬ꤋꤢꤧ꤭ ꤔꤌꤣ꤬ ꤢꤧ꤬ꤞꤤ꤭ ꤕꤟꤛꤢꤐꤟꤢꤧꤜꤟꤛꤢ꤬ꤊꤟꤢ꤬ ꤢꤧ꤬ꤞꤤ꤭ꤞꤢꤧ ꤚꤢꤪ ꤢ꤬ ꤔꤟꤤꤘꤢ꤭ ꤜꤟꤢꤪ꤭ꤋꤛꤢꤩ꤭ꤞꤛꤢ ꤡꤢꤪꤗꤢ꤬ꤚꤛꤢ꤬ꤘꤢꤨ꤬ ꤍꤟꤥ꤯
Kayah Li is used to write the Eastern and Western Kayah Li languages, spoken by 360,000 and 210,000 people, respectively. Although native to Myanmar, these languages are now also spoken by significant numbers of refugees in Thailand, where the Kayah Li script is taught in schools.
ꤊꤢ꤬ꤛꤢ꤭ꤜꤟꤤ꤬ ꤢ꤬ꤜꤤ꤬ ꤊꤢ꤬ꤛꤢ꤭ꤜꤟꤤ꤬ ꤍꤟꤥ
The Kayah Li script was invented in 1962 by Htae Bu Phae (also written Hteh Bu Phe).
Sources Scriptsource and Unicode.
The Kayah Li script is an alphabet. Both consonants and vowels are indicated by letters. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the Western Kayah language.
Kayah Li text runs left to right in horizontal lines.
It is a fairly simple and straightforward writing system.
Words are separated by spaces, and can be multi-syllabic.
Kayah Li has 24 basic consonant letters. Two are not commonly used, and one is used for more than one sound. Otherwise, things are very phonetic.
There are no syllable or word final consonants, but syllable-initial clusters may include up to 4 consonants.
Kayah Li has a mixed approach to vowel letters. 4 basic letters are written as simple characters, and 5 more vowels are written using ꤢ [U+A922 KAYAH LI LETTER A] and a combining character. The one common diphthong, ɯə, is somewhat more complicated, however, and uses different sequences of consonant characters to write breathy and non-breathy forms. The combining vowel diacritics can also be used with ꤣ [U+A923 KAYAH LI LETTER OE] to write diphthongs used in loan words.
Breathy vowels are indicated by preceding them with ꤟ [U+A91F KAYAH LI LETTER HA]. There is no nasalisation.
Kayah Li has 3 combining tone marks, which are always used in a straightforward way at the end of every syllable to indicate one of 4 tones. One tone is not marked.
Kayah Li has its own set of decimal digits.
The following represents the repertoire of the Western Red Karen language.
Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.
Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Sources Helgerson, Wikipedia.
The diphthongs beginning with schwa are used in loanwords.ws
The sounds g and s are used in loan words.h
Kayah has 4 syllable types. The CV syllable pattern is the most common.h
V, CV, CCV, CCCV
The syllable-initial consonant clusters involve one or more of the following after the initial.
j, w, r, l
For a list of possible combinations, see clusters.
Tones and breathiness are applied to the syllable nucleus. There are 4 tones.
Kayah words can be 1 – 3 syllables in length, and compound words are relatively common.h
Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.
Some of the vowel sounds for Kayah are written with single characters, and the rest use a combination of ꤢ [U+A922 KAYAH LI LETTER A] and one of the following diacritics.
This makes for a basic set of vowels as follows:
The diphthong ɯə is written in two different ways, one with and one without breathiness.h
Five additional diphthongs, used for loan words, are represented using diacritics over ꤣ [U+A923 KAYAH LI LETTER OE],ws
Apart from the diphthong mentioned earlier, breathiness of vowels is indicated by immediately preceding the vowel with ꤟ [U+A91F KAYAH LI LETTER HA], eg. ꤔꤟꤢꤩ꤬
However, when ꤛ [U+A91B KAYAH LI LETTER YA] is the second or third consonant in a cluster, the HA is written before the YA,h eg. ꤡꤟꤛꤢ
Observation: Different sources describe Kayah tones slightly differently, and this is an attempt to synthesise them.
Kayah Li has four tones, although the high tone is rarely seen. Each syllable is marked for tone, unless it has the mid-high tone. They are written as follows:
|low||˨||¹||꤬ [U+A92C KAYAH LI TONE CALYA]|
|mid||˧||³||꤭ [U+A92D KAYAH LI TONE CALYA PLOPHU]|
|high||˥||²||꤫ [U+A92B KAYAH LI TONE PLOPHU]|
The tone marks all combine below the base (whereas vowel diacritics combine above). Examples:r ꤞꤢꤨ꤬ ꤞꤢꤨ꤭ ꤞꤢꤨ
The tone mark is normally written as the last component of a syllable, ie. after the vowel.e (Some fonts will correctly display the sequence vowel_base+tone+vowel_diacritic, but in that case the application must be relied upon to treat both orders the same for comparisons.)
See also encoding_choices.
This section maps Kayah vowel sounds to common graphemes. Click on the character names to see examples.
Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see consonant_mappings.
ꤌ [U+A90C KAYAH LI LETTER GA] is only normally found as part of the breathy diphthong ɯ̤ə,h though Helgerson says it may be used as in loan words, eg. ꤥ꤬ꤊꤟꤌꤣ
ꤎ [U+A90E KAYAH LI LETTER SA] is also mainly used for loan words,h eg. ꤕꤢꤎꤕꤥ
The sound x doesn't have a dedicated letter, but is an allophone of hɯ̤,r,127 eg. ꤟꤌꤣ꤭
ꤏ [U+A90F KAYAH LI LETTER SHA], usually sʰ, is pronounced ʃ before j or i, eg. ꤏꤛꤢꤩ ꤓꤛꤢꤩ꤭ꤏꤤ꤭ꤕꤚꤟꤢꤩ
The consonant clusters in Kayah are all syllable-initial. This list of permutations is from Helgerson.h
Examples: ꤏꤛꤢꤩ꤬ꤊꤜꤥ꤭ ꤏꤤ꤬ꤜꤤ꤬ꤕꤜꤝꤥ꤭
Breathy vowels add another consonant, ꤟ [U+A91F KAYAH LI LETTER HA], to these groups. It usually occurs immediately after the cluster, eg. ꤗꤝꤟꤤ꤭ ꤊꤜꤛꤢꤩ꤬ꤕꤜꤟꤢꤧ
But when the cluster contains j in second or third position it occurs before that,h eg. ꤢ꤬ꤕꤟꤛꤢ ꤞꤥ꤬ꤕꤜꤟꤛꤢꤩ꤬
This section maps Kayah consonant sounds to common graphemes. Click on the character names to see examples.
Visually, two diacritics look as it they could be composed of smaller parts. This section gives guidance on which approach is best.
It is possible that someone may occasionally try to use 2 characters rather than the single character which is canonical. Doing so produces text that will not match correctly encoded text for search, spell-checking, and so on, and so should be avoided. The list below shows the characters in question.
|Use||Do not use|
|ꤪ [U+A92A KAYAH LI VOWEL O]||ꤦꤩ [U+A926 KAYAH LI VOWEL UE + U+A929 KAYAH LI VOWEL EE]|
|꤭ [U+A92D KAYAH LI TONE CALYA PLOPHU]||꤫꤬ [U+A92B KAYAH LI TONE PLOPHU + U+A92C KAYAH LI TONE CALYA]|
This also reflects usage in didactic materials produced by the Kayah Li user community.u
Kayah Li has a set of native digits
Kayah Li text runs left to right in horizontal lines.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Kayah language.
This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.
You can experiment with examples using the Kayah Li character app.
Kayah Li text is not cursive (ie. joined up like Arabic).
There are no pre-base vowels or circumgraphs, but combining vowel letters and (especially) tones need to be applied to each base character in an optimal way.
Kayah Li has no special requirements for baseline alignment between mixed scripts or in general.
The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.
Observation: Panels of text in a Tamil newspaper that uses oblique fonts, but all the body text of the panel uses that font. Other fonts used for the body text in other articles tended to also have a slight lean, though not as much. The verticals in headings tend to be upright.
Words are separated by spaces.
, [U+002C COMMA]
; [U+003B SEMICOLON]
: [U+003A COLON]
Kayah punctuation is mostly ASCII, however ꤯ [U+A92F KAYAH LI SIGN SHYA] is used as a phrase/sentence delimiter.u
|initial||” [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]|
꤮ [U+A92E KAYAH LI SIGN CWI] indicates extended intonation,e,2 eg. ꤊꤢ꤬ꤔꤟꤥ꤮ ꤒꤥ꤬
Lines are mostly broken at inter-word spaces.e,2
Show default line-breaking properties for characters in the Kayah language.
This section is for any features that are specific to Kayah Li and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.
According to ScriptSource, the Kayah Li script is used for the following languages: