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This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.
Type Abugida
Spoken languages Sinhala
Time period c. 700–present
Parent systems
Child systems Dhives Akuru
Sister systems Telugu script
Kannada script
Malayalam script
Tamil script
Tulu script
Unicode range U+0D80–U+0DFF
ISO 15924 Sinh
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.
Poster in Sinhala script for GCE Advanced Level Political science tuition class in Matale. The main text (in blue) reads dēśapālana vidyāva Jayasēna Beligala. The first two words mean "political science", the latter two are the tutor's name.

The Sinhala script is an abugida script used in Sri Lanka to write the official language Sinhala and also sometimes the liturgical languages Pali and Sanskrit.[1] Being a member of the Brahmic family of scripts, the Sinhala script can trace its ancestry back more than 2000 years.[1]

Sinhala is often considered two alphabets, or an alphabet with another alphabet, due to the presence of two different sets of letters. The core set, known as the śuddha siṃhala (Pure Sinhala, ශුද්ධ සිංහලimg) or eḷu hōḍiya (Eḷu alphabet එළු හෝඩියimg), can represent all native phonemes. In order to render Sanskrit and Pali words, an extended set, the miśra siṃhala (Mixed Sinhala, මිශ්‍ර සිංහලimg), is available.[2]



The basic form of the letter k is ක "ka". For "ki", a small arch is placed over the ක: කි. This replaces the inherent /a/ by /i/. It is also possible to have no vowel following a consonant. In order to produce such a pure consonant, a special marker, the hal kirīma has to be added: ක්. This marker suppresses the inherent vowel.

The alphabet is written from left to right. The Sinhala writing system can be called an abugida, as each consonant has an inherent vowel (/a/), which can be changed with the different vowel signs (see image on left).

Most of the Sinhala letters are curlicues; straight lines are almost completely absent from the alphabet. This is because Sinhala used to be written on dried palm leaves, which would split along the veins on writing straight lines. This was undesirable, and therefore, the round shapes were preferred.

The core set of letters forms the śuddha siṃhala alphabet (Pure Sinhala, ශුද්ධ සිංහලimg), which is a subset of the miśra siṃhala alphabet (Mixed Sinhala, මිශ්‍ර සිංහලimg). This 'pure' alphabet contains all the graphemes necessary to write Eḷu (classical Sinhala) as described in the classical grammar Sidatsan̆garā (1300 AD).[3] This is the reason why this set is also called Eḷu hōdiya ('Eḷu alphabet' එළු හෝඩියimg).

The definition of the two sets is thus a historic one. Out of pure coincidence, the phoneme inventory of present day colloquial Sinhala is such that yet again the śuddha alphabet suffices as a good representation of the sounds.[3]

All native phonemes of the Sinhala spoken today can be represented in śuddha, while in order to render special Sanskrit and Pali sounds, one can fall back on miśra siṃhala. This is most notably necessary for the graphemes for the Middle Indic phonemes that the Sinhalese language lost during its history, such as aspirates.[3]

Sinhalese had special symbols to represent numerals, which were in use until the beginning of the [19th] century. This system is now superseded by Arabic numerals.[4][5]

Neither the Sinhala numerals nor U+0DF4 ෴ Sinhala punctuation kunddaliya is in general use today. The kunddaliya was formerly used as a full stop; it is included for scholarly use. The Sinhala numerals are not presently encoded.[6]

History and usage

The Sinhala script originated as an offshoot from Brahmi.[1] and is found in the southern branch of this family, sharing a lineage with scripts such as , Malayalam, and Tamil.[7] The writing system was originally used in inscriptions, the oldest ones dating from the 6th century BCE on pottery[8], with lithic inscriptions dating from the second century B.C.[9] By the ninth century C.E.., literature written in Sinhala script had emerged and the script began to be used in other contexts. For instance, the Buddhist literature of the Theravada-Buddhists of Sri Lanka, written in Pali, used the Sinhala alphabet.

Today, the alphabet is used by approx. 16,000,000 people to write the Sinhalese language in very diverse contexts, such as newspapers, TV commercials, government announcements, graffiti, and schoolbooks.

Sinhala is the main language written in this alphabet, but rare instances of Sri Lanka Malay written in this script are recorded.

Areas of use of the Sinhala alphabet. Sinhala is more prominent in the Southern and Western regions, while the Tamil language and alphabet are used more often in the north of the island.

Relations between orthography and phonology

Most phonemes of the Sinhalese language can be represented by a śuddha letter or by a miśra letter, but normally only one of them is considered correct. This one-to-many mapping of phonemes onto graphemes is a frequent source of misspellings.[10]

While a phoneme can be represented by more than one grapheme, each grapheme can be pronounced in only one way. This means that the actual pronunciation of a word is always clear from its orthographic form.

Śuddha graphemes

The śuddha graphemes are the mainstay of the Sinhala alphabet and are used on an everyday-basis. Every sequence of sounds of the Sinhalese language of today can be represented by these graphemes. Additionally, the śuddha set comprises graphemes for retroflex <ḷ> and <ṇ>, which are no longer phonemic in modern Sinhala. These two letters were needed for the representation of Eu, but are now obsolete from a purely phonemic view. However, words which historically contain these two phonemes are still often written with the graphemes representing the retroflex sounds.



The śuddha alphabet comprises 8 stops, 2 fricatives, 2 affricates, 2 nasals, 2 liquids and 2 glides. Additionally, there are the two graphemes for the retroflex sounds /ɭ/ and /ɳ/, which are not phonemic in modern Sinhala, but which still form part of the set. These are shaded in the table.

The voiceless affricate (ච [t͡ʃa]) is not included in the śuddha set by purists since it does not occur in the main text of the Sidatsan̆garā. The Sidatsan̆garā does use it in examples though, so this sound did exist in Eu. In any case, it is needed for the representation of modern Sinhala.[3]

The basic shapes of these consonants carry an inherent /a/ unless this is replaced by another vowel or removed by the hal kirīma.

voiceless voiced
unicode translit. IPA unicode translit. IPA
velar 0D9A ka [ka] 0D9C ga [ɡa] velar
retroflex 0DA7 a [ʈa] 0DA9 a [ɖa] retroflex
dental 0DAD ta [ta] 0DAF da [da] dental
labial 0DB4 pa [pa] 0DB6 ba [ba] labial
Other graphemes
unicode translit. IPA unicode translit. IPA
fricatives 0DC3 sa [sa] 0DC4 ha [ha] fricatives
affricates (ච) (0DA0) (ca) ([t͡ʃa]) 0DA2 ja [d͡ʒa] affricates
nasals 0DB8 ma [ma] 0DB1 na [na] nasals
liquid 0DBD la [la] 0DBB ra [ra] liquid
glide 0DC0 va [ʋa] 0DBA ya [ja] glide
retroflex 0DAB a [na] 0DC5 a [la] retroflex
Display this table as an image


The vocalic diacritics for u and ū vary according to the consonant to which they are attached.

Vowels come in two shapes: independent and diacritic. The independent shape is used when a vowel does not follow a consonant, e.g. at the beginning of a word. The diacritic shape is used when a vowel follows a consonant. Depending on the vowel, the diacritic can attach at several places. The diacritic for <i> attaches above the consonant, the diacritic for <u> attaches below, the diacritic for <ā> follows, while the diacritic for <e> precedes. <o> finally is marked by the combination of preceding <e> and following <ā>.

While <a,e,i,o> are regular, the diacritic for <u> takes a different shape according to the consonant it attaches to. The most common one is represented on the image on the right for the consonant ප (p). The k-shape is used for some consonants ending at the lower right corner (ක (k),ග (g), ත(t), but not න(n) or හ(h)). Combinations of ර(r) or ළ() with <u> have idiosyncratic shapes.[11]

short long
independent diacritic independent diacritic
0D85 a [a] inherent a [a, ə] 0D86 ā [aː] 0DCF ā [aː]
0D91 e [e] 0DD9 e [e] 0D92 ē [eː] 0DDA ē [eː]
0D89 i [i] 0DD2 i [i] 0D8A ī [iː] 0DD3 ī [iː]
0D94 o [o] 0DDC o [o] 0D95 ō [oː] 0DDD ō [oː]
0D8B u [u] 0DD4 u [u] 0D8C ū [uː] 0DD6 ū [uː]
0D87 æ/ä [æ] 0DD0 æ [æ] 0D88 ǣ [æː] 0DD1 ǣ [æː]
Display this table as an image

Prenasalized consonants

The prenasalized consonants resemble their plain counterparts. <m̆b> is made up by the left half of <m> and the right half of <b>, while the other three are just like the grapheme for the stop with a little stroke attached to their left.[12] Vowel diacritics attach in the same way as they would to the corresponding plain stop.

Prenasalized consonants
nasal obstruent prenasalized
unicode translit. IPA
velar 0D9F ga [ⁿɡa] velar
retroflex 0DAC n̆ḍa [ⁿɖa] retroflex
dental 0DB3 da [ⁿda] dental
labial 0DB9 ba [mba] labial
Display this table as an image

Non-vocalic diacritics

The two shapes of the hal kirīma for p (left) and b (right).

The Anusvara (often called binduva 'zero' ) is represented by one small circle ං (unicode 0D82),[13] and the Visarga (technically part of the miśra alphabet) by two ඃ (unicode 0D83). The inherent vowel can be removed by a special diacritic, the hal kirīma(්), which varies in shape according to the consonant it attaches to. Both are represented in the image on the right side. The first one is the most common one, while the second one is used for letters ending at the top left corner.

Miśra set

The miśra alphabet is a superset of śuddha. It adds letters for aspirates, retroflexes and sibilants, which are not phonemic in today's Sinhala, but which are necessary to represent non-native words, like loanwords from Sanskrit, Pali or English. The use of the extra letters is mainly a question of prestige. From a purely phonemic point of view, there is no benefit in using them, and they can be replaced by a (sequence of) śuddha letters as follows: For the miśra aspirates, the replacement is the plain śuddha counterpart, for the miśra retroflex liquids the corresponding śuddha coronal liquid,[14] for the sibilants, <s>.[15] ඤ (ñ) and ඥ (gn) cannot be represented by śuddha graphemes, but are only found in less than 10 words each. ෆ fa can be represented by ප pa with a Latin <f> inscribed in the cup.

Extra miśra stops
voiceless voiced
unicode translit. IPA unicode translit. IPA
velar 0D9B kha [ka] 0D9D gha [ɡa] velar
retroflex 0DA8 ha [ʈa] 0DAA ha [ɖa] retroflex
dental 0DAE tha [ta] 0DB0 dha [da] dental
labial 0DB5 pha [pa] 0DB7 bha [ba] labial
Other additional miśra graphemes
unicode translit. IPA unicode translit. IPA
sibilants 0DC1 śa [sa] 0DC2 a [sa] sibilants
aspirate affricates 0DA1 cha [t͡ʃa] 0DA3 jha [d͡ʒa] aspirate affricates
nasals 0DA4 ña [ɲa] 0DA5 gna [ɡna] nasals
other 0D9E a [ŋa] 0DC6 fa [fa, ɸa, pa] other
other 0DA6 n̆ja[16] [nd͡ʒa] fප n/a fa [fa, ɸa, pa] other
Display this table as an image

There are six additional vocalic diacritics in the miśra alphabet. The two diphthongs are quite common, while the syllabic is much rarer, and the syllabic is all but obsolete. They are almost exclusively found in loanwords from Sanskrit.[17]

The miśra <> can be also be written with śuddha <r>+<u> or <u>+<r>, which corresponds to the actual pronunciation. The miśra syllabic <> is obsolete, but can be rendered by śuddha <l>+<i>.[18] Miśra <au> is rendered as śuddha <awu>, miśra <ai> as śuddha <ayi>.

Vocalic diacritics
independent diacritic independent diacritic
diphthongs 0D93 ai [ai] 0DDB ai [ai] 0D96 au [au] 0DDE au [au] diphthongs
syllabic r 0D8D [ur] 0DD8 [ru, ur] 0D8E [ruː] 0DF2 [ruː, uːr] syllabic r
syllabic l 0D8F [li] 0DDF [li] 0D90 [liː] 0DF3 [liː] syllabic l
Display this table as an image

Note that the transliteration of both ළ ්and is <>. This is not very problematic since the second one is extremely scarce.

Names of the graphemes

The letters of the English alphabet have more or less arbitrary names, e.g. em for the letter <m> or bee for the letter <b>. The Sinhala śuddha graphemes are named in a uniform way adding -yanna to the sound produced by the letter, including vocalic diacritics.[13][19] The name for the letter අ is thus ayanna, for the letter ආ āyanna, for the letter ක kayanna, for the letter කා kāyanna, for the letter කෙ keyanna and so forth. For letters with hal kirīma, an epenthetic a is added for easier pronunciation: the name for the letter ක් is akyanna. Another naming convention is to use al- before a letter with suppressed vowel, thus alkayanna.

Since the extra miśra letters are phonetically not distinguishable from the śuddha letters, proceeding in the same way would lead to confusion. Names of miśra letters are normally made up of the names of two śuddha letters pronounced as one word. The first one indicates the sound, the second one the shape. For example, the aspirated ඛ (kh) is called bayanu kayanna. kayanna indicates the sound, while bayanu indicates the shape: ඛ (kh) is similar in shape to බ (b) (bayunu = like bayanna).

Another method is to qualify the miśra aspirates by mahāprāna (ඛ: mahāprāna kayanna) and the miśra retroflexes by mūrdhaja (ළ: mūrdhaja layanna).



Certain combinations of graphemes trigger special ligatures. Special signs exist for an ර (r) following a consonant (inverted arch underneath), a ර (r) preceding a consonant (loop above) and a ය (y) following a consonant (half a ය on the right). [14] [20] [21] Furthermore, very frequent combinations are often written in one stroke, like ddh, kv or . If this is the case, the first consonant is not marked with a hal kirīma. [14] [17] [21]

Ligatures of ද(d)+ය(y) (blue on yellow) and ක(k)+ෂ ි (ṣi)(red on white)

The image on the left shows she glyph for śrī, which is composed of the letter ś with the vowel ī marked above and a ligature indicating the r below. The image on the right shows ligatures of ද(d)+ය(y) and ක(k)+ෂි (ṣi) on the Political science course advertisement.

Similarities to other scripts

Sinhala is one of the Brahmic scripts, and thus shares many similarites with other members of the family, such as the Tamil script and Devanāgarī. As a general example, /a/ is the inherent vowel in all three scripts.[1] Other similarities include the diacritic for <ai>, which resembles a doubled <e> in all three scripts (Sinhala e:ෙ, ai:ෛ; Tamil e:ெ, ai:ை, Devanāgarī pe:पे, pai:पै). The combination of the diacritics for <e> and <ā> yields <o> in all three scripts:

  • Sinhala e: ෙ, Sinhala ā: ා, Sinhala o: ො
  • Tamil e:ெ, Tamil ā: ா, Tamil o: ொ
  • Devanāgarī e: ` ,Devanāgarī ā: ा, Devanāgarī o: ो

The diacritic for <au> is composed of preceding <e> and following <ḷ> in Sinhala (ෞ) and Tamil (ௌ).

Sinhala transliteration

Sinhala transliteration can be done in analogy to Devanāgarī transliteration. A problem is the transliteration of /අැ/, not found in Devanāgarī. This is <ä> in the German tradition of Wilhelm Geiger, and <æ> in the Anglophone tradition (e.g. James Gair).

Layman's transliterations in Sri Lanka normally follow neither of these. Vowels are transliterated according to English spelling equivalences, which can yield a variety of spellings for a number of phonemes. /ī/ for instance can be <ee>, <e>, <ea>, <i>, etc.

A transliteration pattern peculiar to Sinhala, and facilitated by the absence of phonemic aspirates, is the use of <th> for the voiceless dental stop, and the use of <t> for the voiceless retroflex stop. This is presumably because the retroflex stop /ʈ/ is perceived the same as the English alveolar stop /t/, and the Sinhala dental stop /t̪/ is equated with the English voiceless dental fricative /θ/.[22] Dental and retroflex voiced stops are alway rendered as <d>, though, presumably because <dh> is not found as a representation of /ð/ in English orthography.

Sinhala in Unicode

The Unicode range for Sinhala is U+0D80–U+0DFF. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points.

Sinhala chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F

This character allocation has been adopted in Sri Lanka as the Standard SLS1134.

Computer support

Input of Sinhala characters into a terminal and Firefox on the xubuntu desktop using scim

Generally speaking, Sinhala support is less developed than support for Devanāgarī for instance. A recurring problem is the rendering of diacritics which precede the consonant and diacritic signs which come in different shapes, like the one for <u> for example.

Sinhala does not come built in with Windows XP, unlike Tamil and Hindi. However, all versions of Windows Vista come with Sinhala support by default, and do not require external fonts to be installed to read Sinhalese script.

For Linux, the scim input method selector allows to use Sinhala script in applications like terminals or web browsers.

Online resources

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Daniels (1996), p. 408.
  2. ^ Gair and Paolillo 1997:15f.
  3. ^ a b c d Gair and Paolillo 1997.
  4. ^ "Online edition of Sunday Observer - Business". Retrieved 2008-09-21.  
  5. ^ "Unicode Mail List Archive: Re: Sinhala numerals". Retrieved 2008-09-21.  
  6. ^ Roland Russwurm. "Old Sinhala Numbers and Digits". Sinhala Online. Retrieved 2008-09-23.  
  7. ^ Daniels (1996), p. 380.
  9. ^ Geiger (1995) p.2
  10. ^ Matzel (1983) p.15,17,18
  11. ^ Jayawardena-Moser (2004) p. 11
  12. ^ Fairbanks et al. (1968), p.126
  13. ^ a b Karunatillake (2004), p. xxxii
  14. ^ a b c Karunatillake (2004), p. xxxi
  15. ^ Daniels (1996), p. 410.
  16. ^ This letter is not used anywhere, neither in modern nor ancient Sinhala. Its usefulness is unclear, but it forms part of the standard alphabet (see
  17. ^ a b Matzel (1983), p.8
  18. ^ Matzel (1983), p.14
  19. ^ Fairbanks et al. (1968), p. 366
  20. ^ Fairbanks et al. (1968), p.109
  21. ^ a b Jayawardena-Moser (2004), p. 12
  22. ^ Matzel(1983), p.16


  • Daniels, Peter T. (1996). "Sinhala alphabet". The World's Writing Systems. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.  
  • Fairbanks, G.W.; J.W. Gair, MWSD Silva (1968). Colloquial Sinhalese (Sinhala). Ithaca, NY: South Asia Programm, Cornell University.  
  • Gair, J.W.; John C. Paolillo (1997). Sinhala. München, Newcastle: South Asia Programm, Cornell University.  
  • Geiger, Wilhelm (1995). A Grammar of the Sinhalese Language. New Delhi: AES Reprint.  
  • Jayawardena-Moser, Premalatha (2004). Grundwortschatz Singhalesisch - Deutsch (3 ed.). Wiesbaden: Harassowitz.  
  • Karunatillake, W.S. (1992). An Introduction to Spoken Sinhala ([several new editions] ed.). Colombo.  
  • Matzel, Klaus (1983). Einführung in die singhalesische Sprache. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.  

External links

Image list for readers with font problems

  1. ^ Sinhala-suddhasinhala-img.png
  2. ^ Sinhala-misrasinhala-img.png
  3. ^ 


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