Updated 11 November, 2023
This page brings together basic information about the Myanmar script and its use for the Shan language. It doesn't address use of the orthography for writing Pali. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Shan using Unicode.
Richard Ishida, Shan (Myanmar) Orthography Notes, 11-Nov-2023, https://r12a.github.io/scripts/mymr/shn
ၵူၼ်းၵူႊၵေႃႉၼႆႉ ပဵၼ်ဢၼ်ၵိူတ်ႇမႃးလူၺ်ႈၵုင်ႇမုၼ်ဢၼ်လွတ်ႈလႅဝ်းၽဵင်ႇပဵင်းၵၼ် လႄႈ သုၼ်ႇလႆႈဢၼ် လွတ်ႈလႅဝ်းၽဵင်ႇ ပဵင်းၵၼ်။ ၶဝ်ၼႆႉ မီးၺၢၼ်ႇဢၼ်မေႃထတ်းသၢင် လႄႈ ၸႂ်ဢၼ်ႁူႉၸၵ်းၾိင်ႈတိုဝ်းၵမ် ၼၼ်ႉလႄႈ ထုၵ်ႇဝႆႉၸႂ်ပီႈဢွၵ်ႇ ၼွင်ႉၶႆႇၵၼ်သေ တိတ်းတေႃႇၵၼ်။
ၵူၼ်းၵူႊၵေႃႉၼႆႉ မီးသုၼ်ႇလႆႈတႃႇၶုၺ်ႉႁၼ်ပိူင်ႇငမ်းသုၼ်ႇလႆႈလႄႈ လွင်ႈလွတ်ႈလႅဝ်းတင်းသဵင်ႈ ဢၼ်ပိုတ်ႇၼေဝႆႉ ၼႂ်း လိၵ်ႈပိုၼ်ၽၢဝ်ႇၼႆႉသေ တေဢမ်ႇလႆႈမီးလွင်ႈၸႅၵ်ႇၼႄလူၺ်ႈ ၸၢဝ်းၶိူဝ်း၊ သီၽိဝ်၊ ၶိူင်ႈၽွၵ်ႇ၊ ၵႂၢမ်းလၢတ်ႈ၊ ၸၢဝ်းၵိူဝ်း ယမ်၊ ပၢႆးႁပ်ႉႁၼ်ၵၢၼ်မိူင်း ဢိၵ်ႇတၢင်ႇလွင်ႈ၊ ငဝ်ႈႁၢၵ်ႈ ဢၼ်ၵဵဝ်ႇလူၺ်ႈ ၸိုင်ႈမိူင်း ႁိုဝ် ၸၼ်ႉထၢၼ်ႈၵၼ်ႊၵူၼ်း၊ လွင်ႈ မၢၵ်ႈမီးလီပဵၼ်၊ လွင်ႈၶိူဝ်းႁိူၼ်း လႄႈ ၸၼ်ႉထၢၼ်ႈတၢင်ႇၸိူဝ်ႉတၢင်ႇပိူင် ၸိူဝ်းၼႆႉ။
Shan is the native language of the Shan people and is mostly spoken in Shan State, Burma, but also in pockets of the Burmese Kachin State, and in Northern Thailand. Due to the civil war in Burma, few Shan today can read or write in Shan script.wsl,#Dialects
ၵႂၢမ်းတႆး kwáːm.táj Shan language
Shan is written in the Myanmar script, a descendant of the Brahmi script, via Pallava and Old Mon, which dates back to around the 10th century. Two older orthographies were also used, and are still used to some extent.
The Shan script prior to the 1960s was difficult to read because it didn't clearly distinguish between sounds and tones. The reforms transformed the orthography to make it very readable.
The Shan orthography is an abugida. Consonants carry an inherent vowel which can be modified by appending vowel signs to the consonant. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern orthography.
Shan text runs left to right in horizontal lines.
Spaces separate phrases, rather than words. ❯ phrase
The script is syllable based. Syllables are regular in construction, and easy to parse.
The 18 consonant letters used for pure Shan words are supplemented by 5 more which are used for non-native sounds. ❯ consonants
It is not clear that Shan stacks consonants or uses other conjunct features.
Syllable-initial clusters use 3 dedicated combining marks for the medials r, j, and w. ❯ onsets
The 6 syllable-final consonant sounds use ordinary characters with a visible mark called asat to indicate that the inherent vowel is killed. ❯ finals
This orthography is an abugida and has one inherent vowel a. Other post-consonant vowels are written using 13 dedicated combining marks (vowel signs), and multipart vowels use 3 other diacritics and 2 consonant letters. There are no dedicated vowel letters. ❯ vowels
There are 2 pre-base glyphs, and no circumgraphs. This description lists 18 multipart vowels, which can involve up to 4 glyphs, and surround the base consonant(s) on up to 3 sides. ❯ compositeV
There are no independent vowels, and standalone vowel sounds are written using vowel signs applied to 1022, which is a glottal stop.
Shan is tonal, but indication of tones in the orthography is very simple, unlike Thai. Explicit tone marks occur after each syllable, except when the first tone is applied. ❯ tones
Shan has native digits, but may also uses Myanmar or ASCII digits. ❯ numbers
These are sounds for the Shan 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. Source Wikipedia.
All but 1 of the diphthongs in Shan end in j or u/w.
|stops||p b||t d||k ɡ||ʔ|
f is only found initially in eastern dialects, and is pronounced pʰ elsewhere.wsl,#Consonants
ʔ appears before standalone vowels, and after open syllables.wsl,#Consonants
r is very rare and mainly used in Pali and some English loan words, sometimes as a glide in initial consonant clusters. Many Shan speakers pronounce it as l.wsl,#Consonants
Shan doesn't natively have voiced stops or fricatives, however the following sounds may appear in loan or foreign words, and have dedicated consonant letters: b d g f θ z.
See also the dialectal differences described in Wikipedia.
Unchecked syllables can have 5 or 6 tones. The sixth tone, ႊ [U+108A MYANMAR SIGN SHAN TONE-6], is treated as a standard tone in the north; elsewhere it is only used for emphasis.wsl,#Tones The following examples illustrate usage.
Checked syllables can have one of the following four tones.
Typical Shan words are monosyllabic. Multisyllabic words are mostly Pali loanwords, or Burmese words with the initial weak syllable /ə/.wsl,#Syllable_structure
The basic syllable structure is:wsl,#Syllable_structure
The initial consonant may be followed by one of -w-, -y- and -r-, for which special characters are available.wsl,#Syllable_structure
In closed syllables (ie. those ending with a consonant) the vowel is a monophthong. In open syllables, it can be either a monophthong or a diphthong.wsl,#Syllable_structure
Syllable-final consonants are p̚ t̚ k̚ m n ŋ.wsl,#Syllable_structure
Dashes are used to indicate whether the character represents a vowel sound in a closed or an open syllable.
ⓘ represents the inherent vowel.
For additional details see vowel_mappings.
ၵ ka U+1075 LETTER SHAN KA
a following a consonant is not written, but is seen as an inherent part of the consonant letter, so ka is written by simply using the consonant letter.
ၵိ ki U+1075 LETTER SHAN KA, U+102D VOWEL SIGN I
Shan uses the following dedicated combining marks for vowels.
Unlike Burmese, the pronunciation of the vowel sign doesn't depend on whether it appears in an open or closed syllable.
On the other hand, Shan generally uses different symbols for vowels in open and closed syllables. In some cases, the closed syllable vowel is a smaller version of the glyph used for open syllables, positioned over the consonant, eg. compare မႄႈ မႅင်ႇ
Observation: The length of the open vowels appears to be variable.
Four vowel signs are spacing marks, meaning that they consume horizontal space when added to a base consonant.
All vowel signs are typed and stored after the base consonant, whether or not they precede it when displayed. The glyph rendering system takes care of the glyph positioning at display time. Some input systems may allow the user to type the pre-base vowel before the base consonant, but it is still stored after.
An orthography that uses vowel signs is different from one that uses simple diacritics or letters for vowels, in that the vowel signs are generally attached to an orthographic syllable, rather than just applied to the letter of the immediately preceding consonant. This means that pre-base vowel signs and the left glyph of circumgraphs appear before a whole consonant cluster if it is rendered as a conjunct (see prebase).
ၵႂ် kaɰ U+1075 LETTER SHAN KA, U+1082 CONSONANT SIGN SHAN MEDIAL WA, U+103A SIGN ASAT
The following combining marks are also used to create vowel sounds, either alone or as part of a multipart vowel.
103A is generally used above consonants to indicate that they are syllable-final. It can be found in the combination 101D 103A to indicate a final -w sound in a diphthong.
107A 103A is likewise used to produce diphthongs ending with -j, although several use 1086 instead.
1082 103A creates the sound -aɰ in open syllables.
103D alone in closed syllables represents the sound -ɔ-.
ၵဝ် kaw U+1075 LETTER SHAN KA, U+101D LETTER WA, U+103A SIGN ASAT
The following characters are also used to create vowel sounds, either alone or as part of a composite vowel.
101D 103A is generally used to indicate a final -w sound in a diphthong. However, in a couple of instances, it is integral to a multipart vowel sound.
107A 103A is likewise used to produce diphthongs ending with -j, although several use 1086 instead.
ၵိုၺ် kɨj U+1075 LETTER SHAN KA, U+102D VOWEL SIGN I, U+102F VOWEL SIGN U, U+107A LETTER SHAN NYA, U+103A SIGN ASAT
This section lists vowel sounds represented by combinations of the above characters. There are no circumgraphs in the Shan orthography, but several multipart vowels surround the base on more than one side.
Characters that don't appear in the combinations:
The Shan orthography uses no independent vowel letters. Instead, standalone vowel sounds are written by attaching vowel signs to the letter ဢ [U+1022 MYANMAR LETTER SHAN A], eg. ဢၢၼ်ႇ ဢေႇဢေႇ
On it's own, that character represents the standalone version of the inherent vowel, a, eg. ဢပုမ်ႇ
ၵေ ke U+1075 LETTER SHAN KA, U+1031 VOWEL SIGN E
Two vowel signs appear before the base consonant letter or cluster, eg. မေး
These are combining marks that are always stored after the base consonant. The glyph rendering system places the glyph before the base consonant.
A consonant cluster is treated as a unit when it comes to vowel signs, for example in the following word the pre-base vowel sign is displayed to the left of the kj cluster, although it appears after the cluster in memory ၵျေႃင်း
Some input methods may allow the user to type this vowel before the consonant, whereas others will expect it to be typed after, per the stored order.
Tones in Shan are much easier to manage than those in Thai or Burmese. Each syllable is followed by a tone marker, apart from syllables with the first tone.
Tones 2-6 are marked using the following combining marks.
This section maps Shan vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Myanmar orthography, grouped by open ( o ), or closed ( c ) syllables. Tonal variations are not taken into account. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
ီ [U+102E MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN II], eg. သီႇ .
ိ [U+102D MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN I], eg. ၵိၼ် .
ူ [U+1030 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN UU], eg. ငူး .
ု [U+102F MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN U], eg. သုၵ်ႈ .
ေ [U+1031 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN E], eg. မေး .
ဵ [U+1035 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN E ABOVE], eg. ယဵပ်ႉ .
ူ [U+1030 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN UU], eg. ၵူၼ်း .
ႄ [U+1084 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN SHAN E], eg. မႄႈ
ႅ [U+1085 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN SHAN E ABOVE], eg. ဢႅဝ် .
ွ [U+103D MYANMAR CONSONANT SIGN MEDIAL WA], eg. တွင် .
ႆ [U+1086 MYANMAR VOWEL SIGN SHAN FINAL Y], eg. ပႆ .
For additional details see vowel_mappings.
The following letters are rare and used for non-native sounds.
Shan uses ် [U+103A MYANMAR SIGN ASAT] to kill the inherent vowel after a final consonant, eg. ၵ် [U+1075 MYANMAR LETTER SHAN KA + U+103A MYANMAR SIGN ASAT] explicitly represents just the sound k. It is always visible, and it never causes stacking.
Most closed syllables end with this character, eg. ႁိၼ်
Unicode has the following, dedicated combining characters for the second letter in a syllable-onset cluster. The virama should not be used with ordinary letters to produce these. Both of the first two letters appear to be used mostly for loan words.
Syllable-final consonant sounds are indicated by ordinary consonant characters with a visible ် [U+103A MYANMAR SIGN ASAT] character, eg. တွင်
Syllable-final consonant sounds are p̚ t̚ k̚ m n ŋ.wsl,#Syllable_structure
Consonant clusters in modern Shan are not stacked, as they would be in Burmese. Closed syllables in a multi-syllable word are typically followed by the asat and (apart from the first tone) a tone mark, eg. ၽၵ်းၵၢတ်ႇမွၵ်ႇ
This section maps Shan consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Myanmar orthography. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
Sounds listed as 'infrequent' are allophones, or sounds used for foreign words, Sanskrit, etc.
Shan has native digits.
Sometimes Myanmar digits are used, instead.
Wikipedia uses ASCII digits.
The CLDR standard-decimal pattern is
#,##,##0.###. The standard-percent pattern is
Shan text is written horizontally, left to right.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Shan orthography described here.
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 Shan character app.
The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.
Words are not separated by spaces, nontheless double-clicking or other selection methods are expected to identify word boundaries. There are 2 alternative approaches for managing this.
Shan uses a mixture of ASCII and native punctuation.
Observation: The question mark can be seen in Wikipedia, eg. ၵူႈၵေႃႉ ၶဝ်ႈႁဵတ်းသၢင်ႈၼႂ်း wiki ႁင်းၶေႃ ၸွင်ႇလႆႈ?
Observation: Wikipedia also very rarely uses a comma in Shan text (maybe only once on a page). A comma was also seen in the middle of embedded Latin text. It's not clear whether this is typical usage.
Shan commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.
Observation: ꧦ [U+A9E6 MYANMAR MODIFIER LETTER SHAN REDUPLICATION] appears to produce repetitive sounds. Here are some examples of usage.
ၵႃႈၵွၼ်ႇတွၼ်းဢွၼ် တႃႇတေပဵၼ်မႃး ပပ်ႉသႅၼ်သမ်ႇ ဢၼ်ဝႃႈၼၼ်ႉ ၽူႈလူင်ႉလႅၼ်ႇၶဝ်၊ ၸဝ်ႈၶူးမေႃၶဝ် လႆႈပၼ် ၶၢဝ်းယၢမ်းတင်းၼမ် တႅမ်ႈꧦမၢႆꧦသေ ႁဵတ်းပဵၼ်ပပ်ႉယဝ်ႉ။ ၵႃႈၶၼ်ပပ်ႉသႅၼ်သမ်ႇ ၼိုင်ႈထဝ်ႇၼၼ်ႉၵေႃႈ တေႃႈဢမ်ႇငၢႆႈꧦ။
Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Shan orthography.
This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.
Shan uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.
You can experiment with counter styles using the Counter styles converter. Patterns for using these styles in CSS can be found in Ready-made Counter Styles, and we use the names of those patterns here to refer to the various styles.
The Shan orthography uses numeric styles.
The shan numeric style is decimal-based and uses these digits.rmcs
The most common approach to writing lists in Shan puts the counters in parentheses.
This section is for any features that are specific to thisScript and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.