Sinhala Language - Writing System

Writing System

The Sinhala alphabet, Sinhala hodiya, is based on ancient Brahmi, as are most Indo-Aryan scripts. In design, the Sinhala alphabet is what is called an "abugida" or "alphasyllabary", meaning that consonants are written with letters while vowels are indicated with diacritics (pilla) on those consonants, unlike English where both consonants and vowels are full letters, or Urdu where vowels need not be written at all. Also, when no diacritic is used, an "inherent vowel", either /a/ or /ə/, is understood, depending on the position of the consonant within the word. For example, the letter ක k on its own indicates ka, either /ka/ or /kə/. The various vowels are written කා , කැ , කෑ (after the consonant), කි ki, කී (above the consonant), කු ku, කූ (below the consonant), කෙ ke, කේ (before the consonant), කො ko, කෝ (surrounding the consonant). There are also a few diacritics for consonants, such as r. For simple /k/ without a vowel, a vowel-cancelling diacritic (virama) called hal kirīma is used: ක් k. Several of these diacritics occur in two forms, which depend on the shape of the consonant letter. Vowels also have independent letters but these are only used at the beginning of words where there is no preceding consonant to add a diacritic to.

The complete alphabet consist of 54 letters, 18 for vowels and 36 for consonants. However, only 36 (12 vowels and 24 consonants) are required for writing colloquial spoken Sinhala (suddha Sinhala). The rest indicate sounds that have gotten lost in the course of linguistic change, such as the aspirates, are restricted to Sanskrit and Pali loan words.

Sinhala is written from left to right and the Sinhala character set (the Sinhala script) is only used for this one language. The alphabetic sequence is similar to those of other Brahmic scripts:

a/ā ä/ǟ i/ī u/ū e/ē o/ō k g ṅ c j ṭ ṭ ḍ ṇ t d n p b m y r l v s h ḷ f

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