Updated Sun 15 Feb 2015 • tags myanmar, scriptnotes.
This page provides basic information about the Myanmar script and its use for the Burmese language. The phonetic information and examples are for Burmese. It is not authoritative, peer-reviewed information – these are just notes I have gathered or copied from various places as I learned. For similar information related to other scripts, see the Script comparison table.
Clicking on red text examples, or highlighting part of the sample text shows a list of characters, with links to more details. Click on the vertical blue bar (bottom right) to change font settings for the sample text.
အပိုဒ် ၁ လူတိုင်းသည် တူညီ လွတ်လပ်သော ဂုဏ်သိက္ခာဖြင့် လည်းကောင်း၊ တူညီလွတ်လပ်သော အခွင့်အရေးများဖြင့် လည်းကောင်း၊ မွေးဖွားလာသူများ ဖြစ်သည်။ ထိုသူတို့၌ ပိုင်းခြား ဝေဖန်တတ်သော ဉာဏ်နှင့် ကျင့်ဝတ် သိတတ်သော စိတ်တို့ရှိကြ၍ ထိုသူတို့သည် အချင်းချင်း မေတ္တာထား၍ ဆက်ဆံကျင့်သုံးသင့်၏။
အပိုဒ် ၂ လူတိုင်းသည် လူ့အခွင့် အရေး ကြေညာစာတမ်းတွင် ဖော်ပြထားသည့် အခွင့်အရေး အားလုံး၊ လွတ်လပ်ခွင့် အားလုံးတို့ကို ပိုင်ဆိုင် ခံစားခွင့်ရှိသည်။ လူမျိုးနွယ်အားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ အသားအရောင်အားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ ကျား၊ မ၊ သဘာဝအားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ ဘာသာစကားအားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ ကိုးကွယ်သည့် ဘာသာအားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ နိုင်ငံရေးယူဆချက်၊ သို့တည်းမဟုတ် အခြားယူဆချက်အားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ နိုင်ငံနှင့် ဆိုင်သော၊ သို့တည်းမဟုတ် လူမှုအဆင့်အတန်းနှင့် ဆိုင်သော ဇစ်မြစ် အားဖြင့်ဖြစ်စေ၊ ပစ္စည်း ဥစ္စာ ဂုဏ်အားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ မျိုးရိုးဇာတိအားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ၊ အခြား အဆင့်အတန်း အားဖြင့် ဖြစ်စေ ခွဲခြားခြင်းမရှိစေရ။ ထို့ပြင် လူတစ်ဦး တစ်ယောက် နေထိုင်ရာ နိုင်ငံ၏ သို့တည်းမဟုတ် နယ်မြေဒေသ၏ နိုင်ငံရေးဆိုင်ရာ ဖြစ်စေ စီရင် ပိုင်ခွင့်ဆိုင်ရာ ဖြစ်စေ တိုင်းပြည် အချင်းချင်း ဆိုင်ရာဖြစ်စေ၊ အဆင့်အတန်း တစ်ခုခုကို အခြေပြု၍ သော်လည်းကောင်း၊ ဒေသနယ်မြေတစ်ခုသည် အချုပ်အခြာ အာဏာပိုင် လွတ်လပ်သည့် နယ်မြေ၊ သို့တည်းမဟုတ် ကုလသမဂ္ဂ ထိန်းသိမ်း စောင့်ရှောက် ထားရသည့် နယ်မြေ၊ သို့တည်းမဟုတ် ကိုယ်ပိုင် အုပ်ချုပ်ခွင့် အာဏာတို့ တစိတ်တဒေသလောက်သာ ရရှိသည့် နယ်မြေ စသဖြင့် ယင်းသို့ သော နယ်မြေများ ဖြစ်သည်၊ ဖြစ်သည် ဟူသော အကြောင်းကို အထောက်အထား ပြု၍ သော်လည်းကောင်း ခွဲခြားခြင်း လုံးဝ မရှိစေရ။
The Myanmar script was adapted from the Mon script, a descendent of Brahmi, and is found in stone inscriptions dating from the 12th century. It is used for writing the Burmese and Mon languages, both spoken in Myanmar (previously Burma). The two languages differ in how some phonemic values are assigned to letters. The script is also used, with character extensions, to write some of the Karen languages spoken in Myanmar and Thailand.
The Burmese alphabet (Burmese: မြန်မာအက္ခရာ; pronounced [mjəmà ʔɛʔkʰəjà]) is an abugida used for writing Burmese. It is ultimately a Brahmic script adapted from either the Kadamba or Pallava alphabet of South India, and more immediately an adaptation of Old Mon or Pyu script. The Burmese alphabet is also used for the liturgical languages of Pali and Sanskrit.
In recent decades, other, related alphabets, such as Shan and modern Mon, have been restructured according to the standard of the now-dominant Burmese alphabet. ...
The earliest evidence of the Burmese alphabet is dated to 1035, while a casting made in the 18th century of an old stone inscription points to 984. Burmese calligraphy originally followed a square format but the cursive format took hold from the 17th century when popular writing led to the wider use of palm leaves and folded paper known as parabaiks. A stylus would rip these leaves when making straight lines. The alphabet has undergone considerable modification to suit the evolving phonology of the Burmese language.
The script is an abugida, ie. consonants carry an inherent vowel sound that is overridden, where needed, using vowel signs. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features, taken from the Script Comparison Table.
Spaces are used to separate phrases, rather than words. Words can be separated with U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER to allow for easy wrapping of text.
Text runs from left to right, horizontally.
There are a set of Myanmar numerals, which are used just like Latin digits.
The Burmese language is tonal and syllable-based.
Words are composed of syllables. These start with an consonant or initial vowel. An initial consonant may be followed by a medial consonant, which adds the sound j or w. After the vowel, a syllable may end with a nasalisation of the vowel or an unreleased glottal stop, though these final sounds can be represented by various different consonant symbols.
At the end of a syllable a final consonant usually has an 'asat' sign above it, to show that there is no inherent vowel.
In multisyllabic words derived from an Indian language such as Pali, where two consonants occur internally with no intervening vowel, the consonants tend to be stacked vertically, and the asat sign is not used.
The Myanmar script characters in Unicode 10.0 are in the following blocks:
Follow these links for information about characters used by languages associated with this script. The numbers in parentheses are for non-ASCII characters.
For character-specific details see Myanmar character notes.
Native Burmese words use a subset of the consonants that make up the traditional articulatory arrangement of indic scripts, however additional symbols are available for use in loan words, especially Indian loan words. These include the retroflex and voiced aspirated consonants. Other characters in the Myanmar Unicode block are used for variations for minority scripts based on myanmar. The latter are not dealt with here.
When there is a consonant at the end of a syllable, it carries a visible mark called a.sat (အသတ် ʔa̰θaʔ) to indicate that the inherent vowel is killed, eg. see the small 'c' like mark over the last character in ဝင် wɪ̀ɴ enter. ် [U+103A MYANMAR SIGN ASAT] is a character introduced in Unicode version 5.1 for this purpose. It is effectively a visible virama.
In native Burmese, 9 characters (5 nasals, င ဉ ည န မ NGA, NYA, NNYA, NA and MA, and 4 stops, က စ တ ပ KA, CA, TA, PA) appear in syllable final position. In final position nasals are pronounced as a nasalization of the previous vowel, eg. ရင် jɪ̀ɴ if, and all stops are pronounced ʔ, eg. မတ် maʔ March.
Some syllables ending in nasal consonants use the anusvara rather than the ordinary consonant sign, eg. သိမ်း θéɪɴ but သုံး θóʊɴ.
(Note that the ASAT is also used over ာ [U+102C MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN AA] and ယ [U+101A MYANMAR LETTER YA] to produce vowel+tone combinations.)
In many multi-syllabic words (mostly derived from Pali), consonants that have no intervening inherent vowel are arranged such that the consonant cluster is stacked. The second consonant appears below the first, eg. မန္တလေး màɴda̰lé Mandalay, and ဗုဒ္ဓ boʊʔda̰ Buddha. In some cases the lower character is abbreviated or reoriented, eg. က္ဌ to represent က်ဌ.
This effect is achieved in Unicode by using the character ္ [U+1039 MYANMAR SIGN VIRAMA] between the consonants forming the cluster. Note that the virama is never visible.
Stacked consonants of this kind are always doubled consonants or homorganic.wpAlpha
Consonants may also be stacked in abbreviations of native Burmese words, in which case they may not be homorganic and vowels may be prounounced between the consonants. For example, လက်ဖက် lɛʔpʰɛʔ tea is sometimes abbreviated to လ္ဘက်.wpAlpha
Where the same consonant appears at the end of a syllable and the beginning of a new syllable in the same word they are commonly represented in the usual cluster form, eg. ပိန္နဲသီး pèɪɴnɛ́ dʰí jackfruit.
In a few Burmese words, however, a doubled consonant is represented by a single consonant plus asat, eg. ယောက်ျား jaʊʔtɕá man, husband and ကျွန်ုပ် tɕʊ̀ɴnoʊʔ first person singular. Note how this produces a situation where an asat is used between a consonant and a medial or vowel sign.Hosken
A repeated သ [U+101E MYANMAR LETTER SA] can be represented using ဿ [U+103F MYANMAR LETTER GREAT SA]. In modern Burmese, ဿ appears within words, whereas သ်သ is used across word boundaries.Uniprop, 3
ယ [U+101A MYANMAR LETTER YA], ဝ [U+101D MYANMAR LETTER WA], ရ [U+101B MYANMAR LETTER RA], and ဟ [U+101F MYANMAR LETTER HA] have special variant forms when used medially as modifiers of the syllable's vowel. Dedicated medial signs exist in Unicode for each of these uses. They are combining characters, eg. ချက် tɕʰɛʔ cook, ကြက် tɕɛʔ chicken, နွား nwá cow, and မှာ m̥à in, at.
It is also possible to find two medials associated with a consonant, eg. လျှ lʰjá or ʃá and မြွေ mwè snake.
The combination of velar stop and medial RA or YA are pronounced as tɕ, eg. ကြက် tɕɛʔ chicken, ကျပ် tɕaʔ to be tight.
Note that Pali and Sanskrit texts written in the Myanmar script, as well as in older orthographies of Burmese, sometimes render the consonants YA, RA, WA and HA in subjoined form. In those cases, U+1039 MYANMAR SIGN VIRAMA and the regular form of the consonant are used.Unicode, 597
The medial HA is used to create aspirated versions of consonants, and also to create the sound ʃ. The latter is represented by either ရှ or လျှ (see the example above), depending on the word, eg. ရှိတယ် ʃḭdɛ̀ to have.
The old spelling of many words uses a fifth medial consonant, la swe, eg. ခ္လိုဝ်း hkluiw: wash, which is produced using just a subjoined လ [U+101C MYANMAR LETTER LA].
When the first consonant in a consonant cluster is a non-word-final င [U+1004 MYANMAR LETTER NGA] it rises over the following letter and keeps its virama, rather than pushing the following consonant below it, eg. အင်္ဂလန် ʔɪ̀ɴgəlàɴ England. This is called 'kinzi' (ကင်းစီး kɪ́ɴzí). To achieve this, use the sequence င + ် + ္ [U+1004 MYANMAR LETTER NGA + U+103A MYANMAR SIGN ASAT + U+1039 MYANMAR SIGN VIRAMA] , then continue with the next letter.
In Unicode 5.0, ် [U+103A MYANMAR SIGN ASAT] did not exist, and U+1039 MYANMAR SIGN VIRAMA had to be used for both visible and non-visible viramas. This approach was problematic in that, since there are no spaces between words, it is not easy to automatically ascertain whether a virama should appear above a consonant or cause the stacking effect. For example, should my sequence of characters appear like this, အမ်မီတာ, or like this အမ္မီတာ? To get around this in Unicode 5.0 you needed to use a U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER (ZWNJ) after the virama if you wanted it to remain visible (ie. the first example above would have been transcribed as øm̸ˣʲmītā and the second as øm̸mītā). The non-joiner prevents stacking. In practice, this meant that there were very many ZWNJ characters in Burmese text, since there are many syllable-final consonants needing ASAT, and typing in the Myanmar script was therefore much more time-consuming than it needed to be.
Unicode 5.1 also introduced dedicated medial consonants. This makes it easier to type Myanmar text, but also allows for easy distinction of subjoined variants of these consonants rather than the usual medial forms.
One or two other characters were introduced, such as the TALL AA (described below).
Burmese aspirates many consonants. In some cases these are separate characters, in other cases the aspiration is indicated using ှ [U+103E MYANMAR CONSONANT SIGN MEDIAL HA]. Aspirated sounds include the followingMesher, 12, where the last six use MEDIAL HA:
Unvoiced syllable initial consonants are typically pronounced with voicing when they appear in non-initial syllables of a word or in particle suffixes, unless they follow a syllable with stopped tone or follow the အ [U+1021 MYANMAR LETTER A] prefix. Aspirated consonants lose their aspiration at the same time. For example, သတင်းစာ farmer is pronounced θədɪ́ɴzà not θətɪ́ɴsà. However, because of the rule about the stopped tone (ie. a syllable ending in a plosive consonant), တစ်ဆယ် ten is pronounced təʔsʰɛ̀ not təʔzɛ̀.
Note that care needs to be taken with compound words, since they contain more than one word-initial syllable, eg. နားထောင် listen is pronounced nátʰàʊɴ not nádàʊɴ .Mesher, 175-176
There is also an irregular pattern of voicing initial consonants, particularly with place names. Mesher provides examples of words beginning with စ [U+1005 MYANMAR LETTER CA] ပ [U+1015 MYANMAR LETTER PA] တ [U+1010 MYANMAR LETTER TA] and ထ [U+1011 MYANMAR LETTER THA], eg. စေတီ table is pronounced zèdì not sèdì ; ပုဂံ Pagan/Bagan is pronounced bəgàɴ not pəgàɴ; ထားဝယ် Tavoy/Dawei is pronounced dəwɛ̀ not tʰəwɛ̀.Mesher, 251
Some conventions exist for representing foreign sounds. f is ဖ (usually pʰ), v is ဗ (usually b) or ဗွ (usually bw), eg. တီဗွီ tìbwì. A foriegn syllable final sound can be rendered by placing a second killed consonant after the syllable, sometimes in parentheses, eg. ဘတ်(စ်) bas bus.
The Unicode Myanmar block lists independent vowels and dependent vowel signs. Burmese also has an inherent vowel.
The inherent vowel is a. Very often this is reduced phonetically to ə.
The independent form, used for syllable initial position, is represented using အ [U+1021 MYANMAR LETTER A] as a base, eg. အတန်း ʔətáɴ class. Note that this is classed as a consonant rather than a vowel by the Burmese, and carries the inherent vowel when used alone.
As mentioned above, the consonant အ [U+1021 MYANMAR LETTER A] is used as a support for vowel signs, and the combination of that and the vowel sign is the normal native way of showing independent/initial vowels, eg. အိတ် ʔeɪʔ bag.
Some independent/initial vowels have an alternative form that is used in some words only - typically Indian loan words, eg. ဧရာဝတီ ʔèjàwa̰dì Irawaddy river, ဩဂုတ် ʔɔ́goʊʔ August, and ဤ ʔì this. There are normally different forms for specific tones, and normally only one or two vowel+tone combinations have these forms.
The 'primary' vowels have 'short' and 'long' written forms that hark back to the earlier Indic script origins, but the distinction is used nowadays for indicating different tones only.
Vowel signs appear above, below, or to the left or right of the base consonant. There are also vowel sign combinations that appear both top and bottom, or left and right.
A consonant cluster is treated as a unit when it comes to vowel-signs, for example အငွေ a.ngwe, where the E is displayed to the left of the NGA although the character appears after the WA in memory.
On the other hand, vowel signs that would normally appear below a consonant are normally displayed to the right if something else intrudes on that space, such as a stacked consonant eg. စက္ကူ sɛʔkù paper, or a medial consonant eg. အဖြူ ʔəpʰjù white, or a consonant with a 'descender' eg. အညို ʔəɲò brown.
In order to avoid visual confusion, there are two forms of the long -aa vowel sign in Burmese. The combination wà would be hard to distinguish from တ ta̰, so a taller form of AA is used, ါ [U+102B MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN TALL AA]. This form, whether alone or as part of a complex vowel, is used after the following consonants:
For example, ပေါင် pàʊɴ thigh. Where there is no ambiguity, however, the normal shape is used, eg. ပြောင်းဖူး pjáʊɴbú corn.
Whereas in Unicode 5.0 the choice of appropriate form was left to the font or implementation during rendering, such contextual decisions are not appropriate for Sgaw Karen and other minority scripts, which only use the tall form, so ါ [U+102B MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN TALL AA] was added to Unicode 5.1 as a separate character.Unicode, 597
As mentioned earlier, there are also special long forms of ု [U+102F MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN U] and ူ [U+1030 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN UU] when there is not enough room for them below a cluster. These forms need to be produced by the font, since there are no special characters for them.
There are four tones in Burmese, creaky, low, high and stopped. A vowel plus tone combination is called a rhyme. The tone of a syllable can be indicated by the vowel used, or by a combination of vowel and diacritic. The stopped tone only, but always, occurs where a syllable ends in a stop consonant. Syllables that end with a vowel sound and syllables that end with the nasal sound ɴ can have one or more of the other three tones.
The phonemic transcriptions here use the following conventions for marking tones, using a as the base for the examples.
The following table shows the normal combinations of vowel, final consonant and tone mark characters that are seen in Burmese, and their pronunciations. Read down the left column to find the symbol used for the vowel sound, and across the top row to find syllable final consonants. The table doesn't take vowel reduction into account.
|-||a̰, ə||ɛʔ||ɪʔ||aʔ||aʔ||ɪ̀ɴ||ì, è, ɛ̀||ɪ̀ɴ||àɴ||àɴ||àɴ|
|+ ့||ɪ̰ɴ||ḭ, ḛ, ɛ̰||ɪ̰ɴ||a̰ɴ||a̰ɴ||a̰ɴ|
|+ း||ɪ́ɴ||í, é, ɛ́||ɪ́ɴ||áɴ||áɴ||áɴ|
|+ း (ဧး)||é|
There are 7 main vowel sounds in open syllables. The following lists those sounds and their different representations for the three tones in Burmese, creaky, low and high, that apply to open syllables. (Combining symbols are shown with အ, and alternate independent forms are shown in parentheses.)
|a||Primary central||အာ||အား||inherent||လာ là come|
|i||Primary front||အီ||အီး (ဤ)||အိ (ဣ)||မီး mí fire|
|u||Primary back||အူ (ဦ)||အူး||အု (ဥ)||တူ tù chopsticks|
|e||High front mid||အေ||အေး (ဧ)||အေ့||နှေး n̥é slow|
|o||High back mid||အို||အိုး||အို့||ဆိုး sʰó bad|
|ɛ||Low front mid||အယ်||အဲ||အဲ့||ဘယ် bɛ̀ which|
|ɔ||Low back mid||အော် (ဪ)||အော (ဩ)||အော့||ပျော် pjɔ̀ happy|
The following table summarises the above in a way that allows you to see how the various tones are applied to open syllables using the native Myanmar characters. Where long vs. short forms exist, for the purposes of clarity in the table, the long form is taken here to be the standard form and the short form a variant.
low high creaky a no mark visarga inherent vowel i no mark visarga short form u no mark visarga short form e no mark visarga dot below o no mark visarga dot below ɛ killed-y form no mark dot below ɔ asat no mark dot below
Vowels in 'closed' syllables end in a glottal stop or nasalisation. Historically, however, they ended in one of four nasals or four stops, and this is still reflected in the orthography. The vowel quality has also evolved in these syllables, typically producing diphthongs.
To indicate that the consonant is syllable-final, an asat is placed over it.
The sound values of vowel signs used in open and closed syllables differs systematically as follows.
i becomes eɪ, eg. အိန် ʔèɪɴ; အိတ် ʔeɪʔ.
u becomes oʊ, eg.အုန် ʔòʊɴ; အုတ် ʔoʊʔ.
ɔ becomes aʊ, eg. အောင် ʔàʊɴ; အောက် ʔaʊʔ.
o becomes aɪ, eg. အိုင် ʔàɪɴ; အိုက် ʔaɪʔ.
The inherent a is a lot more complicated, becoming one of ɪ, e, a, or ɛ.
The list of most common sounds are show in the large table above, and in the smaller tables below. There are other combinations of vowel and final consonant found in Burmese words of Indian origin, which often stick to the original Indian spelling, however, they tend to follow Burmese pronunciation, eg. ဓာတ် daʔ, ဗိုလ် bò, ဥယ္ယာဉ် ʔṵjaɴ.
The following table lists the main sounds in Burmese where the syllable ends in a nasal.
|ã||အန်||အမ်||ပန်း páɴ flower|
|ĩ||အင်||ဝင် wɪ̀ɴ enter|
|ũ||အွန်||ဇွန်း zʊ́ɴ spoon|
|eĩ||အိန်||အိမ်||အိမ် ʔèɪɴ house|
|oʊ̃||အုန်||အုမ်||ရန်ကုန် jàɴkòʊɴ Rangoon|
|aʊ̃||အောင်||ကောင်း káʊɴ good|
|aɪ̃||အိုင်||ဆိုင် sʰàɪɴ store|
Note how အည် doesn't end in a nasalisation. There is another consonant, ဉ [U+1009 MYANMAR LETTER NYA], which has come to be used to produce nasalisation.
These syllables are by default low in tone, but creaky and high tones can be indicated using ့ [U+1037 MYANMAR SIGN DOT BELOW] and း [U+1038 MYANMAR SIGN VISARGA] in a very regular way. Note that the tone mark appears at the end of the syllable, not immediately after the vowel, eg. အုန့် and ကောင်း.
The following table lists the main sounds in Burmese where the syllable ends in a stop.
|aʔ||အတ်||အပ်||ဖတ် pʰaʔ read|
|iʔ||အစ်||နှစ် n̥ɪʔ year|
|ɛʔ||အက်||ကြက် tɕɛʔ chicken|
|ũ||အွတ်||လွတ်လပ် lʊʔlaʔ independent|
|eiʔ||အိတ်||အိပ်||အရိပ် ʔa̰jeɪʔ shadow|
|oʊʔ||အုတ်||အုပ်||စာအုပ် sàʔoʊʔ book|
|aʊʔ||အောက်||နောက် naʊʔ next|
|aɪʔ||အိုက်||လိုက် laɪʔ follow|
These syllables are all unmarked 4th (stopped) tone.
A process called vocalic weakening affects the first syllables of certain words (mostly nouns and adverbs), eg. ထမင် is pronounced tʰəmɪ̀ɴ, not tʰa̰mɪ̀ɴ; ဘုရား is pronounced pʰəjá, not pʰṵjá.
The following table shows the order in which characters should be typed and stored in memory for a given syllable, per the description in the Unicode Standard. (It is Burmese-specific and doesn't reflect the order or characters needed for languages such as Karen, Mon, Shan, etc.) Unicode, 598-9
|kinzi||င U+1004 + ် U+103A + ္ U+1039|
|consonants/vowels||[ က U+1000 .. အ U+1021 | ဣ U+1023 .. ဧ U+1027 | ဩ U+1029 | ဪ U+102A | ဿ U+103F | ၎ U+104E ]|
|subscript consonant||္ U+1039 + [ က U+1000 .. ဈ U+1008 | ည U+100A .. မ U+1019 | ရ U+101B | လ U+101C | သ U+101E | ဠ U+1020 | အ U+1021 ]|
|asat sign||် U+103A|
|medial ya*||ျ U+103B (+ ် U+103A)|
|medial ra||ြ U+103C|
|medial wa||ွ U+103D|
|medial ha||ှ U+103E|
|vowel sign e||ေ U+1031|
|vowel sign i, ii, ai||[ ိ U+102D | ီ U+102E | ဲ U+1032]|
|vowel sign u, uu||[ ု U+102F | ူ U+1030]|
|vowel sign tall aa, aa*||[ ါ U+102B | ာ U+102C] (+ ် U+103A)|
|dot below||့ U+1037|
Characters with an asterisk are potentially followed by an asat sign.
Unfortunately, normalization may result in a different order. In particular, ် [U+103A MYANMAR SIGN ASAT] occurs after ့ [U+1037 MYANMAR SIGN DOT BELOW] in normalized text. Applications such as fonts should still handle this alternative order, since the sequences are canonically equivalent.
The following schematic shows sequences that typically make up a syllable in Burmese. Start with the C (consonant) on the left, or IV (initial vowel) and travel from left to right only. You can stop at any point. The plus sign in the box represents the virama – this should be followed immediately by another syllable, as should the kinzi.
The following is a selection of examples of situations where OpenType or similar font features are needed to produce Burmese text as expected. It is not an exhaustive list.
Glyphs for subscripted consonants tend to be smaller than their full forms, eg. သဒ္ဒါ θəʔdà grammar, and may be rotated, eg. က္ဌ .
The shape of ြ [U+103C MYANMAR CONSONANT SIGN MEDIAL RA] changes according to what it surrounds, eg. compare the two different widths in the word ကြက်သွန်ဖြူ tɕɛʔθʊ̀ɴbjù garlic and shortening at the top right of ဝန်ကြီး wʊ̀ɴtɕí minister. The joining behaviour of ျ [U+103B MYANMAR CONSONANT SIGN MEDIAL YA] also differs, eg. ချက် tɕʰɛʔ cook vs ကျွန်မတို့ tɕəma̰do̰ female we.
The ASAT varies its position and shape according to context, eg. လမ်း láɴ road, but ဒေါ်လေး dɔ̀lé aunt.
The shape of NA changes when something appears below it, eg.နို့နဲ့ no̰nɛ̰ with milk. Similarly, the bottom of NYA ဉ also changes in the following context, ပဉ္စမ pɪ̀ɴza̰ma̰ fifth.
The placement of the ့ [U+1037 MYANMAR SIGN DOT BELOW], used as a tone mark, varies slightly according to context, eg. ပြီးခဲ့တဲ့ pígɛ̰dɛ̰ last, ago and တချို့ tətɕʰo̰ some, as does that of ှ [U+103E MYANMAR CONSONANT SIGN MEDIAL HA], eg. it is smaller than usual in ကောက်ညှင်း kaʊʔɲ̥ɪ́ɴ sticky rice, and the shape and position are very different in ရွှေပဲသီး ʃwebɛ̀ snow peas.
Other examples noted above include the change of shape and position of ု [U+102F MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN U] and ူ [U+1030 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN UU] when other items appear below the base consonant, and the production of the kinzi.
Spaces are used to separate phrases, rather than words. Phrase length is variable. Examples can be seen in the extract from the Declaration of Human Rights at the top of the page.
Lines are normally broken at word boundaries, but words can contain multiple syllables and there is not usually a way of visually determining where a word in a phrase begins and ends.
Punctuation is commonly limited to ၊ [U+104A MYANMAR SIGN LITTLE SECTION] and ။ [U+104B MYANMAR SIGN SECTION], with significance close to comma and full stop, respectively.
A common approach to justification is to adjust inter-phrase spacing so that the line breaks at a phrase boundary.Hosken 12
If it is necessary to break text within a phrase, breaks can occur at syllable boundaries, but not within a word. The difficulty is that there is no visual information about which sequences of syllables consitute a word.
The best way of detecting line-break opportunities is to use a dictionary to search for polysyllabic words, and then break at syllable boundaries outside the word. This approach may run into problems when uncommon words or new words are used, especially those borrowed foreign terms.
An alternative is to indicate break points by inserting U+200B ZERO WIDTH SPACE between words when the content is developed, although this can lead to a lot of extra work.
Another alternative is to tie the syllables in a word together using U+2060 WORD JOINER while authoring the content. This requires less intervention, since the number of polysyllabic words is smaller than the total number of words, but applications must be able to ignore the word joiner for searching, sorting, and the like. For this reason Hosken recommends against using it, and recommends instead the use of a dictionary with ZWSP backup for words that the dictionary doesn't handle well. However, it's not clear which words a dictionary will fail to recognise when the text is used across different platforms and applications, so this is not an ideal solution either – not to mention that it is difficult for an author to know in advance which words will cause problems and which won't.Hosken, 12