Sinhala script summary

Updated 4 February, 2019 • tags sinhala, scriptnotes

This page provides basic information about the Sinhala script and its use for the Sinhalese language. It is not authoritative, peer-reviewed information – these are just notes I have gathered or copied from various places as I learned. For character-specific details follow the links to the Sinhala character notes.

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.

Sample (Sinhala)

1 වන වගන්තිය සියලු මනුෂ්‍යයෝ නිදහස්ව උපත ලබා ඇත. ගරුත්වයෙන් හා අයිතිවාසිකම්වලින් සමාන වෙති. යුක්ති අයුක්ති පිළිබඳ හැඟීමෙන් හා හෘදය සාක්ෂියෙන් යුත් ඔවුන්, ඔවුනොවුන්ට සැළකිය යුත්තේ සහෝදරත්වය පිළිබඳ හැඟීමෙනි.

2 වන වගන්තිය ජාති, වංශ, වර්ණ, ස්ත්‍රී පුරුෂ භාවය, භාෂාව, ආගම්, දේශපාලන ආදී කවර බේදයක් හෝ සමාජ, ජාතික, දේපළ, උපත ආදී කවර තත්ත්වයක විශේෂයක් හෝ නොමැතිව මේ ප්‍රකාශනයේ සඳහන් සියලු හිමිකම්වලට හා ස්වාධීනත්වයන්ට සෑම පුද්ගලයකුම උරුම වන්නේය. තවද යම් පුද්ගලයකු අයත්වන රටේ දේශපාලන, නීතිමය හෝ ජාත්‍යන්තර තත්ත්වයන් පිළිබඳ කිසිදු විශේෂයක් ද ඒ රටේ ස්වාධීන, භාරකාර, අස්වාධීන ආදී කවර තත්ත්වයක් පිළිබඳ විශේෂයක් ද නොමැතිව මේ හිමිකම් ඔහු සතු වන්නේය.

Usage & history

From Scriptsource:

The Sinhala script is used for writing the Sinhala language, spoken by approximately 15,500,000 people in Sri Lanka, and for transcribing the ancient Pali and Sanskrit languages. The script is derived from Brahmi, and shows close similarities to the Grantha script which was used in southern India until the 16th century. Sinhala is a diglossic language, that is, the spoken and written forms of the language show considerable variation. ...

There are two forms of the Sinhala script. The standard, 'pure', form which is taught in schools is called eḷu hōḍiya or śuddha hōḍiya. This system contains twenty consonant and twenty vowel letters and can be used to represent the sounds of the spoken language almost perfectly. However, to adhere to current spelling conventions - some of which represent archaic pronunciations - and to accurately transcribe Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi and English loanwords, a wider set of letters is needed. This set is called 'mixed alphabet' miśra hōḍiya and contains an additional eighteen consonant letters, many of which are aspirated equivalents of existing letters.

From Wikipedia:

The Sinhalese alphabet (Sinhalese: සිංහල අක්ෂර මාලාව) (Siṁhala Akṣara Mālāva) is an alphabet used by the Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere to write the Sinhalese language and also the liturgical languages Pali and Sanskrit. The Sinhalese alphabet, which is one of the Brahmic scripts, a descendant of the ancient Indian Brahmi script closely related to the South Indian Grantha script and Kadamba alphabet.

Sinhalese is often considered two alphabets, or an alphabet within an alphabet, due to the presence of two sets of letters. The core set, known as the śuddha siṃhala (pure Sinhalese, ශුද්ධ සිංහල) or eḷu hōḍiya (Eḷu alphabet එළු හෝඩිය), can represent all native phonemes. In order to render Sanskrit and Pali words, an extended set, the miśra siṃhala (mixed Sinhalese, මිශ්‍ර සිංහලimg), is available.

Distinctive features

The Sinhala script is an abugida, ie. consonants carry an inherent vowel sound that is overridden using vowel signs. In Sinhala, consonants carry an inherent vowel a. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features, taken from the Script Comparison Table.

Modern Sinhala can be written using a subset of the letters available in the Sinhala Unicode block. The remainder are used for representing the sounds of Sanskrit, Pail and other languages, and include all the aspirated consonants (which are pronounced in the same way as the unaspirated ones).

Unusually for indic scripts, there is a set of prenasalised consonants, and there is also an æ vowel.

The virama is usually displayed in consonant clusters. However, it is also possible to render clusters using conjunct forms (ligatures or reduced glyphs). Zero width joiner is used after the virama to signal the intention for that. Putting the ZWJ before the virama produces another form of conjunct, where adjacent consonants touch each other, but this is not used for modern Sinhalese.

Character lists

The Sinhala script characters in Unicode 10.0 are spread across 2 blocks:

  1. Sinhala (59 letters, 20 marks, 1 punctuation, 10 numbers : total 90)
  2. Sinhala Archaic Numbers (20 numbers : total 20)

The following links give information about characters used for languages associated with this script. The numbers in parentheses are for non-ASCII characters.

For character-specific details see Sinhala character notes.

Show transcriptions

Text direction

Sinhala script is written horizontally and left to right.

Vowels

Inherent vowel

Each consonant symbol has an inherent following vowel sound, typically transcribed as a, and pronounced ə. So [U+0D9A SINHALA LETTER ALPAPRAANA KAYANNA] is actually pronounced ka.

Vowel absence

When the inherent vowel is not pronounced, [U+0DCA SINHALA SIGN AL-LAKUNA] is attached to the consonant. So to indicate just the sound k, use ක්.

Vowel-signs

To produce a different vowel than the inherent one, Sinhala uses a combining character called a vowel-sign after the base consonant, eg. කී kiː.

Characters that represent vowel-signs are all combining marks, and are always typed and stored after the preceding consonant, whether or not the vowel-signs precede it when displayed. The font takes care of the glyph positioning. In principle a single character is used per base consonant, but several vowel signs decompose to more than one character.

The vowel letters of Sinhala are divided into a core set and extended set (the latter for writing Sanskrit, Pali, and Tamil words).

The core (ʃuddʰa) alphabet includes the following.

ා␣ැ␣ෑ␣ි␣ී␣ු␣ූ␣ෙ␣ේ␣ො␣ෝ

The extended (miʃra) letters are as follows, but see also vocalics:

ෛ␣ෞ

The pronunciations of [U+0D85 SINHALA LETTER AYANNA] and [U+0D86 SINHALA LETTER AAYANNA] vary, but in a fairly predictable way. The former is a in the first syllable, except for a few words, and before double consonants or clusters, and ə word finally and before single consonants. The latter represents everywhere except word-finally, where it may be a, depending on the word structure. Similar length rules apply to e and o in final position.

One particular affix, යි yi, is pronounced j and treated as a final consonant.

Multipart vowels

The following vowel signs have strokes that appear on both sides of the base. In decomposed text (NFD) these could be represented by multiple code points, but the Sinhala encoding standards recommends that only the single code point is used.

list all
ේē
ොo
ෝō
ෞau

The list above shows both precomposed and decomposed forms of the vowels. Click on the red text to see the composition.

Vowel-sign placement

The following list shows where vowel-signs are positioned around a base consonant to produce vowels, and how many instances of that pattern there are.

Standalone vowels

Standalone vowels are not preceded by a consonant, and may appear at the beginning or in the middle of a word.

Sinhala represents standalone vowels using a set of independent vowel letters. The set includes a character to represent the inherent vowel sound.

The core (ʃuddʰa) alphabet includes the following.

අ␣ආ␣ඇ␣ඈ␣ඉ␣ඊ␣උ␣ඌ␣එ␣ඒ␣ඔ␣ඕ

The extended (miʃra) letters are as follows, but see also vocalics:

ඓ␣ඖ

Vocalics

Vocalics are letters derived from Sanskrit that generally behave like vowels, but represent r/l followed by a vowel. They are often available both as vowel-signs and independent vowel letters.

These are all classed as extended (miʃra) letters.

ඍ␣ඎ␣ඏ␣ඐ␣ෘ␣ෲ␣ෟ␣ෳ

Consonants

As for vowels, Sinhala uses a core set of consonants for writing the modern, spoken language of Sinhalese, but has an extended set used for writing Sanskrit, Pali, and Tamil words.

Basic (ʃuddʰa) consonants

The core set, or ʃuddʰa hōɖiya, is based on the classical grammar of the middle ages (called එළු හෝඩිය ẹɭu hōɖiya) and contains the following consonants:

ක␣ග␣ඟ␣ච␣ජ␣ට␣ඩ␣ණ␣ඬ␣ත␣ද␣ඳ␣ප␣බ␣ම␣ඹ␣ය␣ර␣ල␣ළ␣ව␣ස␣හ

miʃra & other consonants

The full set of consonants, known as miʃra hōɖiya (mixed alphabet), includes the following additional consonants.

ඛ␣ඝ␣ඥ␣ඞ␣ඡ␣ඣ␣ඤ␣ඦ␣ඨ␣ඪ␣ථ␣ධ␣න␣ඵ␣භ␣ශ␣ෂ␣ෆ

Note that the aspirated miʃra consonants are mapped to the same sounds as the unaspirated ʃuddʰa ones, and the retroflex and are each pronounced without retroflexion.

Sinhalese has a new character for f, [U+0DC6 SINHALA LETTER FAYANNA]. Sometimes, instead, a character is used that combines the Latin letter 'f' with the Sinhalese p, [U+0DB4 SINHALA LETTER ALPAPRAANA PAYANNA].

Prenasalised consonants

A peculiarity of Sinhalese among indic scripts is the inclusion of prenasalised consonants, representing a nasal sound followed by a stop. The orthography distinguishes these graphemes from the more straightforward nasal consonant followed by a stop. For example, compare අඬ ạⁿɖ aⁿɖa sound and අණ්ඩ ạn͓ɖ aɳɖa egg.

ඟ␣ඬ␣ඳ␣ඹ␣ඥ␣ඦ

The prenasalised shapes are formed from a combination of the shapes of the participating characters.

Final consonants

Two combining characters are used to represent syllable-final consonant sounds.

ං␣ඃ

◌ං [U+0D82 SINHALA SIGN ANUSVARAYA​] usually represents the sound ŋ, eg. සිංහල siŋ̽hl siŋhala Sinhala.

◌ඃ [U+0D83 SINHALA SIGN VISARGAYA​] is also in the repertoire. Not clear how it's used in Sinhala. 

Either of these 'semi-consonants' must be used after a vowel or after a consonant+vowel (including the inherent vowel), and must be the last combining character in the syllable.

Consonant clusters

Consonant cluster handling is a little unusual in Sinhala, compared to other indic scripts.

There are 3 ways of managing consonant clusters. Modern Sinhala uses only the first two alternatives.

  1. Show a virama over the first character in the cluster. Unlike Devanagari, this is the default for Sinhala.
  2. Use a reduced or ligated form, especially for r or y. Since the approach changes the shape of the constituent components, the cluster is referred to as a conjunct.
  3. Make the consonants touch.

In all cases, ◌් [U+0DCA SINHALA SIGN AL-LAKUNA​], called al lakuna, is used as the virama, however, different joining behaviour can be produced by adding ZWJ [U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER] before or after.

Using a visible virama

The first approach simply shows the virama visually over the preceding consonant(s). The shape of the virama can take two forms, depending on the base character it is appended to: with k you get ක්; with kh you get ඛ්.

Conjuncts

The second approach uses ZWJ after the virama to produce a conjunct, ie. ◌් + ZWJ [U+0DCA SINHALA SIGN AL-LAKUNA + U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER]. It is principally used when combining r or y with another consonant (both before and after, in the case of r), and produces a reduced or ligated form.

The forms with r or y look like this when combined with k: ර්‍ක r͓₊k, ක්‍ර k͓₊r, and ක්‍ය k͓₊y. There are also forms using both, eg. ක්‍ය්‍ර k͓₊y͓₊r (k͓₊y͓₊ra) Kyra and කාර්‍ය්‍යාලය kār͓₊y͓₊yāly (kār͓₊y͓₊yālaya) the office.

Although the use of the conjunct with r is required in normal Sinhalese text, it is possible to not use it: both කර්ම kr͓m and කර්‍ම kr͓₊m are valid ways to write karma.s

Wikipediaw lists several more conjuncts, some of which are reproduced below. The availability of these conjuncts is font dependent, eg. ඳ්‍ව ⁿd͓₊v doesn't ligate using the default font of this page, but may with another.

list all
ක්‍වk͓₊v
ක්‍ෂk͓₊ʃ̇
ත්‍ථt͓₊tʰ
ත්‍වt͓₊v
න්‍දṅ͓₊d
න්‍ධṅ͓₊dʰ
න්‍ද්‍රṅ͓₊d͓₊r

Touching consonants

The third approach is used in ancient scriptures but is not used in modern Sinhala.w It hides the virama and moves the consonants alongside each other, so that they are touching, eg. ම‍්ම mm (cf. මම). For this use ZWJ first, ie.:
ZWJ + ◌් [U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER + U+0DCA SINHALA SIGN AL-LAKUNA​].

Combining characters

Of the 20 combining characters in the Sinhala block, 17 are vowel signs. The remainder include the virama, the anusvara, and the visarga. Follow the links to find descriptions of these.

්␣ං␣ඃ

Numbers, dates, currency, etc.

Sinhala uses european digits.

There is, however, a set of native digits, that were used into the 20th century, but mostly associated with horoscopes. The shapes of some of these are identical to characters used for other purposes.

෦␣෧␣෨␣෩␣෪␣෫␣෬␣෭␣෮␣෯

There is also another, older set that were used in an archaic number system, called Sinhala Illakkam, prior to 1815. These are all in the Sinhala Archaic Numbers block.

𑇡␣𑇢␣𑇣␣𑇤␣𑇥␣𑇦␣𑇧␣𑇨␣𑇩␣𑇪␣𑇫␣𑇬␣𑇭␣𑇮␣𑇯␣𑇰␣𑇱␣𑇲␣𑇳␣𑇴

Glyph shaping & positioning

Contextual shaping

Similarly to the Tamil script, the u and ū vowels assume various different shapes and connection points, depending on what consonant they follow.

  (-a) -u
kකුකූ
pපුපූ
rරුරූ
ළුළූ
Shape variants for the u and ū vowel signs.

Other idiosyncratic combinations are also possible, such as the rendering of .

ra
රැ
රෑ
Shape variants for the æ and ǣ vowel signs.

Combining characters may need to be adapted to fit the consonants they are attached to.

ක් ඛ්    පි රි ඬි

Two different versions of hal kirīma (left); differently shaped i in pi, ri and ⁿɖi (right).

As described above, consonant clusters may cause conjuncts to form, as a way of indicating that there are no intervening vowels. Conjunct ligations are generally expected for r and y, and other conjuncts depend on font availability. Generally, a conjunct is formed by reducing the non-final consonant shapes.

ක්‍ව    ක්ව

Conjoined kv (left), and kv with hal kirīma (left).

Context-based positioning

Vowel signs may appear above, below, to the right, to the left, or on both sides of the base consonant.

ක කි කු කැ කෙ කො

Position of vowel signs for the sequence ka ki ku kæ ke ko.

Vowels signs are positioned around an orthographic syllable, rather than around a specific consonant. So a part of a vowel sign that appears to the left of its base will appear to the left of a conjunct.

ක්‍වො

In the syllable kvo the vowel sign appears on either side of the conjunct, not the letter v.

When a u vowel (or the long vowel) appears below a conjunct, it is placed below the final consonant, eg. ක්‍යු k͓₊yu.

Structural boundaries & markers

Word boundaries

The concept of 'word' is difficult to define in any language (see What is a word?). Here, a word is a vaguely-defined, but recognisable semantic unit that is typically smaller than a phrase and may comprise one or more syllables.

Words are separated by spaces.

Phrase boundaries

Sinhala uses western punctuation.

The punctuation character [U+0DF4 SINHALA PUNCTUATION KUNDDALIYA] once functioned to indicate the end of a paragraph, but is not used for modern Sinhala content.

TBD

Further information needed for this section includes:

Glyph shaping & positioning
    Cursive text
    Context-based shaping
    Multiple combining characters
    Context-based positioning
    Transforming characters

Structural boundaries & markers
    Grapheme, word & phrase boundaries
    Hyphens & dashes
    Bracketing information
    Quotations
    Abbreviations, ellipsis, & repetition
    Emphasis & highlights
    Inline notes & annotations

Inline layout
    Inline text spacing
    Bidirectional text

Line & paragraph layout
    Line breaking
    Hyphenation
    Text alignment & justification
    Counters, lists, etc.
    Styling initials
    Baselines & inline alignment

Page & book layout
    General page layout & progression
    Directional layout features
	Grids & tables
    Notes, footnotes, etc.
    Forms & user interaction
    Page numbering, running headers, etc.

Input

The Sinhala keyboards has deadkeys which change the assignments of keys around them when pressed. For example, pressing the key for e will change several keys to letters that start with the same symbol.

Sinhala keyboard in default state.

Sinhala keyboard after the key for e is pressed.

Note also, in the bottom left corner, that the keyboard has a key for the combination of ◌් + ZWJ + [U+0DCA SINHALA SIGN AL-LAKUNA​ + U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER + U+0DBB SINHALA LETTER RAYANNA], ie. the conjoined -r. The shifted layout has a similar key for -y.

There is a rephaya key (for the sequence + ◌් + ZWJ [U+0DBB SINHALA LETTER RAYANNA + U+0DCA SINHALA SIGN AL-LAKUNA​ + U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER]), but it is typed after the consonant that normally follows it in memory. The input method then has to rearrange the codepoints in canonical order.

Effectively, you type characters or parts of multipart characters in visual order, and the system then has to rearrange things to produce the expected codepoint order.

TBD

Further information needed for this section includes:

Glyph shaping & positioning
    Cursive text
    Context-based shaping
    Multiple combining characters
    Context-based positioning
    Transforming characters

Structural boundaries & markers
    Grapheme, word & phrase boundaries
    Hyphens & dashes
    Bracketing information
    Quotations
    Abbreviations, ellipsis, & repetition
    Emphasis & highlights
    Inline notes & annotations

Inline layout
    Inline text spacing
    Bidirectional text

Line & paragraph layout
    Text direction
    Line breaking
    Hyphenation
    Text alignment & justification
    Counters, lists, etc.
    Styling initials
    Baselines & inline alignment

Page & book layout
    General page layout & progression
    Directional layout features
	Grids & tables
    Notes, footnotes, etc.
    Forms & user interaction
    Page numbering, running headers, etc.

References

  1. [ u ] The Unicode Standard v10.0, Sinhala, pp513-514.
  2. [ d ] Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507993-0, pp408-412
  3. [ w ] Sinhalese alphabet.
  4. [ s ] Sri Lanka Standard, Sinhala Character Code for Information Exchange.
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