Updated 16 April, 2022
This page brings together basic information about the Newa (or Pracalit) script and its use for the Newar language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Newar using Unicode.
𑐩𑐸𑐮𑐸𑐎𑐫𑑂 𑐰𑑅𑐐𑐸 𑐬𑐵𑐖𑐣𑑁𑐟𑐶𑐎 𑐫𑐬𑐶𑐰𑐬𑑂𑐟𑐣 𑐤𑐹𑐐𑐸 𑐳𑐰𑐶𑐢𑐵𑐣𑑄 𑐣𑐾𑐫𑐵𑑅𑐫𑐵𑐟 𑐳𑑄𑐑𑐷𑐫 𑐮𑑀𑐎𑐟𑐵𑐣𑑂𑐟𑑂𑐬𑐎 𑐐𑐞𑐟𑐣𑑂𑐟𑑂𑐬 𑐣𑐶𑐬𑑂𑐩𑐵𑐞 𑐫𑐵𑐂𑐐𑐸 𑐖𑐹𑐐𑐸𑐮𑐶𑑄 𑐬𑐾𑐥𑐵𑑅𑐫𑐵 𑐁𑐡𑐶𑐰𑐵𑐳𑐷 𑐣𑐾𑐰𑐵𑑅𑐟𑐣𑐫𑐸𑐳𑑄 𑐣𑐾𑐰𑐵𑑅 𑐳𑐵𑐫𑐟𑑂𑐟 𑐬𑐵𑐖𑑂𑐬𑐫𑐵 𑐩𑐵𑐐 𑐫𑐵𑑅𑐐𑐸 𑐚𑑂𑐬𑐸 𑑋
Newa (also known as Prachalit or Nepaalalipi) is a Brahmi-derived script used principally to write the Tibeto-Burman language Newar (also known as Nepal Bhasa). The language is spoken by around 800,000 people, predominantly in the Kathmandu valley (the 5th most spoken language in Nepal), plus 14,000 in Sikkim, where it is recognised as a state language. The Newar language is mostly written in Devanagari, but there is a movement to promote more use of the Newa script.
It has also been used to write Sanskrit, Bengali, Maithili, and Hindi.
𑐣𑐾𑐰𑐵𑑅 𑐨𑐵𑐫𑑂 newaː bʱaj Newa (Newar)
𑐣𑐾𑐥𑐵𑐮 𑐨𑐵𑐲𑐵 nepal bʱasa Newar (Nepalese)
The script emerged in the 10th century and was actively used until Gorkha rule ended the reign of Newar dynasties in 1769, after which the use began to decline. The use of the Newa script and Newar language was banned by the Rana government in 1905, with harsh treatment of proponents. When Rana rule ended in 1951, the ban was lifted, but the effects are still felt.
A revival initiative gained momentum in the 1980s, and a standard was created by the Nepal Lipi Guthi with the help of leading scholars in 1989
Newa is one of at least 6 scripts used for writing Nepali languages, which include Ranjana, Bhujimol, Kutila, Golmol, and Litumol.
Sources L2/12-003R and Scriptsource.
The Newa script 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 Newar orthography.
Newa runs left to right in horizontal lines.
Words are separated by spaces.
The 29 consonant letters used for Newar include precomposed characters for 4 out of 6 murmured consonants .
Consonant clusters are normally rendered using fused forms . A visible virama may be used. Initial RA is rendered as a reph over the top right of the following consonant.
The inherent vowel is a . There are 9 vowel-signs, and 10 independent vowels. All vowel-signs are combining characters and are stored after the base character, including 1 pre-base form, and 4 circumgraphs that form only in certain character combinations. There are no composite vowels, as such, however vowel signs can be combined with the visarga, candrabindu and anusvara to indicate vowel length and nasalisation.
There is a set of 4 vocalics , each with vowel-sign and independent forms, but only 1 is used, and not in modern Newa.
Newa has native digit shapes.
Danda (from the Devanagari block) is used at the end of a sentence, and usually preceded by a space. Otherwise, most of the punctuation is ASCII.
A unusual feature of Newa orthography is that vowel-signs with a wavy horizontal line replace the flat headstroke of the base consonant.
Distinctive characteristics: headline replacement, contextual circumgraphs, fused conjuncts dominate.
These are sounds for the Kathmandu dialect of the Newar 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 of the vowels and diphthongs can be nasalised (see length_nasalisation).
o, oː and u can also be pronounced ɔ, ɔː, and ʊ.wl,#Vowels
The sound ɑ, or something close to it, is used in the Dolakhar Newa dialect, used outside Kathmandu.wl,#Vowels
|stops||p b||t d||ʈ ɖ||k ɡ|
|aspirated||pʰ bʱ||tʰ dʱ||ʈʰ ɖʱ||kʰ ɡʱ|
The retroflex sounds only occur in the small Dolakha Newar dialect, located to the West of Kathmandhu.wl,#Consonants
Tap consonants ɾ and ɾʱ can occur as word-medial alternates of t, d, dʱ, or (in Dolakha) ɖ.wl,#Consonants
ŋ occurs only in word-final position in the Kathmandu dialect.wl,#Consonants
Newar consonants have an inherent vowel sound. Other, non-inherent vowel sounds following a consonant are written using vowel-signs and other symbols. Vowels have short and long lengths, and are regularly nasalised.
Standalone vowels are written using independent vowel letters.
Additional symbols are used to express length and nasalisation.
This section maps Newar vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Newa orthography, where vs indicates a vowel-sign, and s a standalone vowel. 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, etc.
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 𑐎 [U+1140E NEWA LETTER KA].
Non-inherent vowel sounds that follow a consonant are mostly represented using vowel-signs, eg. kiː is written 𑐎𑐷 [U+1140E NEWA LETTER KA + U+11437 NEWA VOWEL SIGN II].
Newar uses the following vowel-signs. They may be used on their own, or in combination with other characters (see composite_vowels).
Newar vowel-signs are all combining characters. All vowel-signs are stored after the base consonant, and the font puts them in the correct place for display. This also applies for the 5 circumgraphs, where a single code point produces glyphs on more than one side of the consonant base.
Five vowel-signs are spacing marks, meaning that they consume horizontal space when added to a base consonant.
A rather unusual feature of Newa orthography is that vowel-signs with a wavy horizontal line replace the flat headstroke of the base consonant.
This includes vowels written with the following vowel-signs: 𑐾 [U+1143E NEWA VOWEL SIGN E], 𑑀 [U+11440 NEWA VOWEL SIGN O], 𑐿 [U+1143F NEWA VOWEL SIGN AI], and 𑑁 [U+11441 NEWA VOWEL SIGN AU].p,6
The sound u is produced by the letter 𑐸 [U+11438 NEWA VOWEL SIGN U], but that letter can have a different shape when attached to different consonant letters. The vowel-sign used to represent the long uː sound also has contextual variations, though not as many as the short vowel. All of these orthographic variants are produced automatically by the font; there is no need to use different characters.
The short sound is rendered as a curved shape with the following 4 consonant letters:p,7
The alternative shape is shown in fig_u_shape.
Both short and long sounds are also written as ligatures with the consonant letters 𑐖 [U+11416 NEWA LETTER JA] and 𑐬 [U+1142C NEWA LETTER RA], as shown in fig_u_ligatures.
The consonants 𑐨 [U+11428 NEWA LETTER BHA] and 𑐴 [U+11434 NEWA LETTER HA] also take on special shapes when followed by a u-vowel (see bha_ha).
The short i sound is written using 𑐶 [U+11436 NEWA VOWEL SIGN I], which appears to the left of the base consonant letter or cluster.
This combining mark is always typed and stored after the base consonant. The font places the glyph before the base consonant.
When an orthographic syllable begins with a consonant cluster that is rendered as a conjunct, the vowel-sign is rendered before the start of the syllable, eg. here are 3 sets of consonant clusters, each followed by i when spoken, but the vowel-sign appears to the left of each cluster.𑐗𑑂𑐏𑐶 𑐳𑑂𑐟𑐶 𑐧𑑂𑐬𑐶 jkhi sti bri
Another idiosyncracy of Newa orthography is that 5 vowel-signs change shape when attached to the base consonants that don't have a headstroke. Four of those vowel-signs are so-called 'wavy-headed', and when combined with the 7 headless consonants they are rendered as circumgraphs.p,6
The following table shows the various forms, combined with both KA (has headstroke) and GA (headless). The last 4 vowel-signs combined with the headless GA produce the circumgraphs.
|With headstroke||Without headstroke|
|𑐵 [U+11435 NEWA VOWEL SIGN AA]||𑐎𑐵||𑐐𑐵|
|𑐾 [U+1143E NEWA VOWEL SIGN E]||𑐎𑐾||𑐐𑐾|
|𑑀 [U+11440 NEWA VOWEL SIGN O]||𑐎𑑀||𑐐𑑀|
|𑐿 [U+1143F NEWA VOWEL SIGN AI]||𑐎𑐿||𑐐𑐿|
|𑑁 [U+11441 NEWA VOWEL SIGN AU]||𑐎𑑁||𑐐𑑁|
No special encoding is needed to create these circumgraph forms. The shape change should be effected automatically by the font. Also, unlike some other Indic scripts, it is not possible to compose these circumgraph forms by combining other Newa characters, since the shapes don't exist in the character set. This makes life a little easier.
It is common to see Newar vowels described in a chart which shows long and nasalised forms.
Vowel length is indicated by using a dedicated character in the case of 𑐷 [U+11437 NEWA VOWEL SIGN II] and 𑐹 [U+11439 NEWA VOWEL SIGN UU], but otherwise by adding 𑑅 [U+11445 NEWA SIGN VISARGA].
Nasalisation is indicated using 𑑃 [U+11443 NEWA SIGN CANDRABINDU] for a short vowel, and 𑑄 [U+11444 NEWA SIGN ANUSVARA] for a long vowel.
The following matrix shows these various forms for the vowel-signs. The same rules apply to the standalone vowel letters. Note that long, nasalised ĩː and ũː vowels use the short form of the vowel-sign.m,5-6
|Short||Long||Short nasal||Long nasal|
The composite vowels in Newa are described in length_nasalisation, just above.
Newa uses 𑑂 [U+11442 NEWA SIGN VIRAMA] (the Newa equivalent of the Sanskrit virama) to indicate that there is no inherent vowel after a consonant, eg. the following explicitly represents just the sound k.𑐎𑑂
A word that ends in a consonant shows a virama. This is commonly seen in vowels that end with j, such as at the end of this word: 𑐧𑐶𑐮𑐫𑑂 bily͓
Consonant clusters also use this character, but if the cluster forms a conjunct then the virama is not rendered visibly (see clusters).
Newa represents standalone vowels using a set of independent vowel letters. The set includes a character to represent the inherent vowel sound, a.
Nasalisation and length are marked in the same way as for vowel-signs.
In Sanskrit texts, elision of an initial a due to sandhi is indicated using 𑑇 [U+11447 NEWA SIGN AVAGRAHA].
Newa has a set of vocalic letters and vowel-signs, but they are used for other languages, such as Sanskrit, and not for Newar.
This section maps Newar consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Newa 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, etc.
This section distinguishes between letters representing sounds of the Kathmandu dialect of the Newar language (shown in the table just above), and letters used in other dialects, or other languages (such as Sanskrit). The latter letters are grouped in boxes labelled 'Other languages/dialects'.
A feature of Newar is the number of consonants, besides the plosives, that are pronounced with accompanying breathiness. The following list shows these sounds and the way they are written.
Unicode provides single characters for most of these.
Observation: Sources indicate that wʰ and jʰ are also part of the Newar phonetic repertoire, and are represented by these conjunct forms, but Unicode doesn't provide precomposed characters for them. They therefore have to be composed as consonant clusters.
Observation: One source stated that when these sounds are used for transcriptions of Sanskrit, they should all be written as consonant clusters, rather than using the precomposed characters.
The following 7 consonant letters have no headstroke. This leads to some special shaping for 5 vowel-signs, including 4 that are changed into circumgraphs. See circumgraphs for details.
Another idiosyncrasy of Newa is that consonant letters with headstrokes have that headstroke replaced by a wavy line by 4 of the same vowel-signs. See headstroke_vowels.
𑐨 [U+11428 NEWA LETTER BHA] and 𑐴 [U+11434 NEWA LETTER HA] have special shapes when combined with the 𑐸 [U+11438 NEWA VOWEL SIGN U] or 𑐹 [U+11439 NEWA VOWEL SIGN UU], or any of the vocalic vowel-signs.p,7
Additional contextual shaping for consonants carrying a u-related vowel-sign can be seen in u_shape.
Newa has 𑑆 [U+11446 NEWA SIGN NUKTA] that can be used to represent foreign sounds, but it doesn't appear to be used for Newar.
Word-final consonant sounds with no following consonant are represented by ordinary consonant characters, followed by a visible 𑑂 [U+11442 NEWA SIGN VIRAMA] character.
The combination 𑐫𑑂 [U+1142B NEWA LETTER YA + U+11442 NEWA SIGN VIRAMA] is common word-finally, eg. 𑐧𑐶𑐮𑐫𑑂
Syllable-final consonants that are not word-final normally form conjuncts. See clusters.
Observation: Pandey says that 𑑅 [U+11445 NEWA SIGN VISARGA] can represent syllable-final aspiration, but it's not clear whether that occurs in Newar as well as in Sanskrit.
The absence of a vowel sound between two or more consonants is visually indicated in one of the following ways.
In Unicode, the conjunct formation is achieved by adding 𑑂 [U+11442 NEWA SIGN VIRAMA] between the consonants. The font hides the virama glyph automatically when a conjunct is formed.
See also finals.
Conjuncts are normally formed by fusing glyphs for the component characters, so that they fit within the normal character height. One or both of the original letters may be unrecognisable, but generally the parts, though simplified, are recognisable.
It is most common for glyphs to merge vertically, although there are also many that merge diagonally. A few merge horizontally. See a list of combinations.
For a detailed analysis of conjunct composition see Pandey, pages 7–10.
A trailing RA has a fairly regular appearance as a subjoined glyph below the preceding consonant, though on the left side.
However, like many other Indian scripts, 𑐬 [U+1142C NEWA LETTER RA] at the beginning of a cluster is represented idiosyncratically, and appears as a small, superscript glyph over the top right of the following syllable.
In some circumstances a cluster doesn't give rise to a conjunct. In that case, the virama is displayed below the initial consonant. fig_conjunct_virama shows an example spotted in a newspaper.
If the font automatically substitutes a conjunct, but you don't want it to you can use U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER immediately after the virama to prevent the fusion of the characters. (If there is no consonant following, as in the case at the end of the line, this formatting character isn't needed.)
Newa has a few clusters involving 3 consonants. fig_conjunct_ndr gives an example.
The following is a list of the more common triple conjuncts, according to a Noto Fonts issue on GitHub.g1203
Observation: The list just above raises 2 questions: (a) why sequences such as nh don't use the precomposed code point, (b) which of these are used for Newar, as opposed to Sanskrit or another language?
Visually, several of the standalone vowels and some vowel-signs look as it they could be composed of smaller parts. This section gives guidance on which approach is best.
Newa is relatively resistant to incorrect coding techniques, but 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 some examples.
|Use||Do not use|
|𑐁 [U+11401 NEWA LETTER AA]||𑐀𑐵 [U+11400 NEWA LETTER A + U+11435 NEWA VOWEL SIGN AA]|
|𑐌 [U+1140C NEWA LETTER O]||𑐄𑑀 [U+11404 NEWA LETTER U + U+11440 NEWA VOWEL SIGN O]|
|𑑀 [U+11440 NEWA VOWEL SIGN O]||𑐾𑐵 [U+1143E NEWA VOWEL SIGN E + U+11435 NEWA VOWEL SIGN AA]|
Om.The symbol for the word Om is produced using 𑑉 [U+11449 NEWA OM].
The following code points in the Unicode block need further investigation. Their usage and/or their relevance to writing modern Newar is not clear from the research done so far.
𑑆 [U+11446 NEWA SIGN NUKTA] Combined with a letter to represent sounds not native to the script, such as in loan words.
𑑇 [U+11447 NEWA SIGN AVAGRAHA] Used to elide an initial A in Sanskrit as a result of sandhi.p,11
𑑈 [U+11448 NEWA SIGN FINAL ANUSVARA] Represents nasalisation in some manuscripts. In other sources, a form of punctuation.p,11
𑑌 [U+1144C NEWA DOUBLE DANDA] Indicates end of a text block larger than a sentence.p,11
𑑎 [U+1144E NEWA GAP FILLER] Used for marking breaks and filling gaps in a line at a margin.p,11
𑑏 [U+1144F NEWA ABBREVIATION SIGN] Marks abbreviations. p,11
𑑊 [U+1144A NEWA SIDDHI] Represents the Sanskrit invocation सिद्धिरस्तु siddhirastu may there be success. It is written at the beginning of a text, often with 𑑉 [U+11449 NEWA OM], eg. 𑑊𑑉. It corresponds to the sign ঀ [U+0980 BENGALI ANJI] in related scripts such as Bengali.p,11
𑑛 [U+1145B NEWA PLACEHOLDER MARK] Used for filling gaps in a line and as a mark for end of text.p,11
𑑟 [U+1145F NEWA LETTER VEDIC ANUSVARA]
𑑝 [U+1145D NEWA INSERTION SIGN]
𑑠 [U+11460 NEWA SIGN JIHVAMULIYA]
𑑡 [U+11461 NEWA SIGN UPADHMANIYA]
𑑞 [U+1145E NEWA SANDHI MARK]
For other glyphs found in Newa manuscripts, see Pandey.p,11
Newa has a set of native digits.
Pandey describes variant shapes for 3, 4, and 5, which are to be managed by font.p,10
Newa text runs left to right in horizontal lines.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Newar 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 Newa character app.
Newa text is not cursive (ie. joined up like Arabic), however there is a significant amount of interaction between glyphs, and some joining, around consonant clusters.
The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.
Headstrokes & headlines. Pandey writes:
The headstrokes of Newar letters do not connect to preceding or following letters. Connection of headstrokes of characters that form a syllable may occur, such as in the combination of a consonant letter and a dependent vowel sign. The majority of Newar manuscripts attest this behavior. However, there is no particular rule that describes the joining properties of headstrokes. Variations in the writing of headstrokes are to be attributed to scribal preferences. In modern digitized typefaces the headstrokes of glyphs connect, but this feature may be an influence of modern Devanagari typography.p,13
U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER (ZWNJ) can be used to force the production of a visible virama, rather than a conjunct form.
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.
Usually a typographic character unit correlates with the Unicode concept of grapheme clusters, but not in the case of conjuncts (in common with several other Indic scripts).
Conjuncts and any dependent combining characters should never be split.
This creates a problem when dealing with Unicode grapheme clusters, because they stop after reaching a virama. So conjuncts usually contain multiple grapheme clusters. This produces incorrect segmentation as seen on the right in fig_grapheme_conjunct. Applications need to tailor the grapheme cluster rules to avoid splitting conjuncts.
Unfortunately, this is harder than it seems, because whether a conjunct is formed or not usually depends on the capabilities of the font – it cannot be determined solely by looking at the code points in memory. If a font doesn't contain the glyphs to create a conjunct it will render the consonant cluster with a visible virama. In that case, the grapheme cluster approach is appropriate.
Word units are separated by spaces.
, [U+002C COMMA]
; [U+003B SEMICOLON]
: [U+003A COLON]
|section||𑑌 [U+1144C NEWA DOUBLE DANDA]|
Observation: The Lipi Pau newspaper in 2009 used spaces before and after the newa danda.
|initial||” [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]|
|nested||’ [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]|
Single quotation marks are used for quotations within quotations.
Lines are mostly broken at inter-word spaces.
Like most writing systems, certain characters are expected not to start or end a line. For example, periods and commas shouldn't start a line, and opening parentheses shouldn't end a line.
Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Newar language.
This section is for any features that are specific to Newa and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.