The alphabet ~ හෝඩිය

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1.2 The alphabet
To see the standard Sinhalese alphabet go to this appendix.

The alphabet and its evolution[edit]

The above alphabet is the standard alphabet for Sinhalese. There are 18 vowels and 42 consonants in this modern alphabet. It has been using as the standard alphabet by Sri lankan National Institute of Education (NIE) since 1989. The first occurred Sinhalese alphabet is in the journal called "Sidhath Sangarawa" (සිදත් සඟරාව; meaning, "The Journal of Theories") which was written in medieval Sinhalese in the age of Dambadeniya (1220–1345). It is called "Sidhath Sangara Hodiya" (සිදත් සඟරා හෝඩිය; meaning, "The Alphabet of The Journal of Theories"). There are only 10 vowels and 20 consonants in this alphabet. It has been modifying and evolving to the modern Sinhalese for centuries.

How to pronounce[edit]

Try to memorize the letters and the sounds of each letter. 'අ' is the only letter in Sinhalese which can be pronounced in two ways. It is explained in the highlighted part of the previous lesson. Sound ə is never pronounced with the letter 'අ' which is always written in the beginning of a word, but with a consonant which has joined with the vowel sound of 'අ'. So, it is called "letter 'අ' (IPA: ʌ)". 'ඏ' and 'ඐ' are letters that are currently not in use, still the National Institute of Education hasn't removed them from the alphabet. All other vowels are just very simple and easy to understand. Listen to the audio files and practice to pronounce them.

Vowels[edit]

Vowel Audio Sinhala IPA American English IPA British English IPA Pronunciation Notes Signs that are
used in this book
/a/ ʌ or ə ʌ or ə like u in run;
like a in above*
*Used only when the letter
is joined with a consonant.

අ appears only at the beginning of a word. e.g. අම්මා ammā (mother)

a or ə
/aː/ ɑ ɑː like a in father ā
/æ/ æ æ like a in at æ
/æː/ æ æ like a in ant ǣ
/i/ ɪ ɪ like i in king i
/iː/ i like ee in see ī
/u/ ʊ ʊ like u in put u
/uː/ u like oo in cool ū
/ri/ ɛɹ æɹ like re in brewer
/ru/ - - like re in brew Not written in the beginning
of a word;
Long sound of
/li/ - - - Not in use -
/liː/ - - - Not in use -
/e/ ɛ ɛ like e in bed e
/eː/ like a in ancient ē
/ai/ like i in rice ei
/o/ ɑ ɒ like o in not o
/oː/ əʊ like o in go ō
/au/ like ou in house ou
Key
short monophthong
long monophthong
diphthong

Consonants[edit]

In the following table, the IPA for each consonant is shown without the inherent vowel for clarity. Note: in English, voiceless stops (/k, t, p/) are pronounced aspirated at the start of words when followed immediately by a vowel: cat /kʰæt/, tap /tʰæp/, pack /pʰæk/. Aspiration has been lost in modern Sinhala, so now the aspirated consonants are pronounced identically to their non-aspirated counterparts.

Consonant IPA Audio Transliteration Pronunciation Notes
/k/ k c in picnic /pʰɪkk/.
/k/ (/kʰ/) kh (digraph) Modern: c in picnic /pʰɪkk/.
Ancient: c in cat cat /æt/.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/ɡ/ g g in game /ɡeɪm/.
/ɡ/ (/ɡʰ/) gh (digraph) Modern: g in game /ɡeɪm/.
Ancient: no English equivalent. g with a puff of air immediately afterwards.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/ŋ/ ng (digraph) ng in sing /sɪŋ/. This letter is not used in modern Sinhala. ශ්‍රී ලංකා (Sri Lanka) use to be spelt with this letter, but now the dependent stroke බිංදුව bingduwa (the small circle) is used instead.
/ᵑɡ/ ng Similar to, but not exactly the same as, ng in stronger /stɹɒŋɡə/ where the g has a "hard" sound. This letter is written like ග three letters before, but with a small stroke at the start to indicate the pre-nasalisation.
/t͡ʃ/ c ch in itcht͡ʃ/. The transliteration is c, not ch, to avoid confusion with the aspirated letter transcribed ch.
/t͡ʃ/ (/t͡ʃʰ/) ch (digraph) Modern: ch in itcht͡ʃ/.
Ancient: ch in chin /t͡ʃʰɪn/.
The transliteration is ch, not chh, to maintain consistency with the transcriptions of the other aspirated letters.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/d͡ʒ/ j j in jug /d͡ʒʌɡ/.
/d͡ʒ/ (/d͡ʒʰ/) jh (digraph) Modern: j in jug /d͡ʒʌɡ/.
Ancient: no English equivalent. j with a puff of air immediately afterwards.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/ɲ/ gn (digraph) ñ in señor (Spanish) /seˈɲoɾ/.
/ᶮd͡ʒ/ nj Similar to, but not exactly the same as, ng in orange /ˈɒɹɪnd͡ʒ/. This letter is written like ජ three letters before, but with a small stroke at the start to indicate the pre-nasalisation. There is no example of any word in modern or ancient Sinhala that uses this letter.
/ʈ/ t Similar to, but not exactly the same as, t in pat /pʰæt/. /ʈ/ in Sinhala is close enough to /t/ in English that most people won't hear the difference.
/ʈ/ (/ʈʰ/) th (digraph) Modern: Similar to, but not exactly the same as, t in pat /pʰæt/.
Ancient: Similar to, but not exactly the same as, t in tack /æk/.
/ʈ/ in Sinhala is close enough to /t/ in English that most people won't hear the difference.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/ɖ/ d Similar to, but not exactly the same as, d in disc /dɪsk/. /ɖ/ in Sinhala is close enough to /d/ in English that most people won't hear the difference.
/ɖ/ (/ɖʰ/) dh (digraph) Modern: Similar to, but not exactly the same as, d in disc /dɪsk/.
Ancient: no English equivalent. Similar to d with a puff of air immediately afterwards.
/ɖ/ in Sinhala is close enough to /d/ in English that most people won't hear the difference.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/n/ n n in net /nɛt/. This letter ණ used to be pronounced /ɳ/, differently from න /n/, but in modern Sinhala they are both pronounced /n/.
/ᶯɖ/ nd Similar to, but not exactly the same as, nd in andnd/. This letter is written like ඩ three letters before, but with a small stroke at the start to indicate the pre-nasalisation.
/t̪/ th (digraph) No exact equivalent in English. Somewhat similar to th in teeth /tiːθ/. If you have trouble saying /t̪/, you can replace it with /θ/ and still be understood.
/t̪/ (/t̪ʰ/) th (digraph) Modern: No exact equivalent in English. Somewhat similar to th in teeth /tiːθ/.
Ancient: No exact equivalent in English. Somewhat similar to th in thin /θʰɪn/.
If you have trouble saying /t̪/, you can replace it with /θ/ and still be understood.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/d̪/ d No exact equivalent in English. Somewhat similar to th in this /ðɪs/. If you have trouble saying /d̪/, you can replace it with /ð/ and still be understood.
/d̪/ (/d̪ʰ/) th (digraph) Modern: No exact equivalent in English. Somewhat similar to th in this /ðɪs/.
Ancient: No exact equivalent in English. Somewhat similar to th in this /ðɪs/ with a puff of air immediately afterwards.
If you have trouble saying /d̪/, you can replace it with /ð/ and still be understood.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/n/ n n in net /nɛt/. ණ used to be pronounced /ɳ/, differently from this letter න /n/, but in modern Sinhala they are both pronounced /n/.
/ⁿd̪/ nth (trigraph) No exact equivalent in English. Somewhat similar to n th in when this /wɛɪs/. This letter is written like ද three letters before, but with a small stroke at the start to indicate the pre-nasalisation.
/p/ p p in tap /tæp/. ප /p/ is used for some old loanwords before ෆ /f/ was included in the alphabet, e.g. "France" is ප්‍රංශය /praŋʃəjə/ (Prangshaya).
/p/ (/pʰ/) ph (digraph) Modern: p in tap /tæp/.
Ancient: Similar to p in pen /ɛn/.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/b/ b b in big /bɪɡ/.
/b/ (/bʰ/) bh (digraph) Modern: b in big /bɪɡ/.
Ancient: no English equivalent. b with a puff of air immediately afterwards.
No aspiration in modern Sinhala.
/m/ m m in mat /mæt/.
/ᵐb/ mb (digraph) Similar to, but not exactly the same as, mb in amber /æmbə(ɹ)/. This letter is written like a cross between ම one letter before, and බ three letters before.
/j/ y y in yet /jɛt/.
/r/ r Similar to r in red /ɹɛd/. /r/ is a trilled r. The plain r in English is /ɹ/. Either sound is acceptable.
/l/ l l in list /lɪst/. ළ used to be pronounced /ɭ/, differently from this letter ල /l/, but in modern Sinhala they are both pronounced /l/.
/v~ʋ~w/ v, w v in vivid /ˈvɪvɪd/, w in water /ˈwɔːtə(ɹ)/. /v/, /ʋ/, /w/ are all allophones of ව. Each word has only a single pronunciation. E.g. වතුුර (water) is pronounced /wat̪urə/, not /vat̪urə/.
/ʃ/ sh (digraph) sh in ship /ʃɪp/. ශ්‍රී ලංකා (Sri Lanka) and other words with ශ්‍රී srī (honourable, holy) are pronounced as if they're spelt with ස /s/ instead of ශ /ʃ/.
/ʃ/ (/ʂ/) sh (digraph) Modern: sh in ship /ʃɪp/.
Ancient: no English equivalent. Somewhat similar to sh in ship /ʃɪp/.
This letter ෂ is pronounced the same as ශ in modern Sinhala.
/s/ s s in set /sɛt/. Some words that use හ /h/ in the spoken language use ස /s/ instead in the written language.
/h/ h h in hat /hæt/. Some words that use ස /s/ in the written language use හ /h/ instead in the spoken language.
/l/ l l in list /lɪst/. This letter ළ used to be pronounced /ɭ/, differently from ල /l/, but in modern Sinhala they are both pronounced /l/.
/f/ f f in fin /fɪn/. Sinhala used to not include a sound for /f/. However, due to the foreign influences of Portuguese, Dutch and finally English, a new letter ‌ෆ was added to the alphabet. Most Sinhalese can pronounce this sound now, but historically, those who couldn't pronounced it as /p/ instead, e.g. The Sinhala word for France is ප්‍රංශය /praŋʃəjə/ (Prangshaya).


Key
unaspirated
aspirated
nasal
pre-nasal
approximant / trill
fricative
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