Lanna script vs Burmese script

How to transcribe Pāḷi in Lanna and Burmese

As descendants of the Old Mon script, both Burmese and Lanna can and are used to transcribe Pāḷi, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, akin to Latin’s role in Roman Catholicism. In fact, for hundreds of years, both Burmese and Lanna have historically served as vehicles of knowledge transfer in Mainland Southeast Asia, used in to transcribe Pali texts and religious commentaries on inscriptions and manuscripts.

I explore the conventions of Pali transcription in both Lanna and Burmese below. The similarities almost render Lanna transcriptions readable to a literate Burmese speaker.

Note: You may not be able to view the Tai Tham/Lanna letters in the text. The Tai Tham font I’ve used is Lanna Alif (can be downloaded here), which removes the stylistic flourishes commonly found in Lanna writing. There’s also an ambitious project to create a open source Tai Tham font, Hariphunchai, at hariphunchai.unifont.org.

Transcription of Consonants

The chart below shows all of the Pali consonant forms and their corresponding forms in the Burmese and Lanna scripts. I’ve organized the chart using the traditional Burmese alphabetic order and included the letter “a” (which is technically a vowel). Burmese letters are sorted into 6 groups called vagga in Pali. The Burmese form is to the left and bolded, while the Lanna form is to the right and unbolded.

Burmese and Tai Tham alphabet consonant comparison

Full resolution here.

 Consonant Stacking

Burmese and Lanna letters all have inherent vowels, meaning that a consonant written alone would produce a full vowel. For Pāḷi words that contain 2 consonants with no intervening vowel between them (buddha, dhamma, etc.), Burmese and Lanna both stack the consonant possessing the full vowel underneath the one without a full vowel.

(For non-Indic vocabulary, Burmese uses a virama diacritic [အသတ်] to represent a consonantal final, whereas Lanna uses consonant stacking across the board).

Both Burmese and Lanna share rules governing consonant stacking. The main rule is that both consonants must be part of the same consonant group (vagga) in order for stacking to occur.

For example, the Pali word for ‘beast,’ tiracchāna, would be transcribed တိရစ္ဆာန, not တိရစ်ဆာန, in Burmese (ᨲᩥᩁᨧ᩠ᨨᨶ in Lanna).

The table below is an exhaustive list of all the possible stacked consonant combinations, grouped by vagga:

Group Pali Burmese Lanna
KA -kk- က္က ᨠ᩠ᨠ
-kkh- က္ခ ᨠ᩠ᨡ
-gg- ဂ္ဂ ᨣ᩠ᨣ
-ggh- ဂ္ဃ ᨣ᩠ᨥ
-ṅk- င်္က ᩘᨠ
-ṅkh- င်္ခ ᩘᨡ
-ṅg- င်္ဂ ᩘᨣ
-ṅgh- င်္ဃ ᩘᨥ
CA -cc- စ္စ ᨧ᩠ᨧ
-cch- စ္ဆ ᨧ᩠ᨨ
-jj- ဇ္ဇ ᨩ᩠ᨩ
-jjh- ဇ္ဈ ᨩ᩠ᨫ
-ñc- ဉ္စ ᨬ᩠ᨧ
-ñj- ဉ္ဇ ᨬ᩠ᨩ
-ññ- ᨬ᩠ᨬ
ṬA -ṭṭ- ဋ္ဋ ᨭ᩠ᨭ
-ṭṭh- ဋ္ဌ ᨭ᩠ᨮ
-ḍḍ- ဍ္ဍ ᨯ᩠ᨯ
-ḍḍh- ဍ္ဎ ᨯ᩠ᨰ
-ṇṭ- ဏ္ဍ ᨱ᩠ᨭ
-ṇṇ- ဏ္ဏ ᨱ᩠ᨱ
TA -tt- တ္တ ᨲ᩠ᨲ
-tth- တ္ထ ᨲ᩠ᨳ
-dd- ဒ္ဒ ᨴ᩠ᨴ
-ddh- ဒ္ဓ ᨴ᩠ᨵ
-nt- န္တ ᨶ᩠ᨲ
-nth- န္ထ ᨶ᩠ᨳ
-nd- န္ဒ ᨶ᩠ᨴ
-ndh- န္ဓ ᨶ᩠ᨵ
-nn- န္န ᨶ᩠ᨶ
PA -pp- ပ္ပ ᨸ᩠ᨸ
-bb- ဗ္ဗ ᨻ᩠ᨻ
-bbh- ဗ္ဘ ᨻ᩠ᨽ
-mp- မ္ပ ᨾ᩠ᨸ
-mb- မ္ဗ ᨾ᩠ᨻ
-mbh- မ္ဘ ᨾ᩠ᨽ
-mm- မ္မ ᨾ᩠ᨾ
A -yy- ယျ ᨿ᩠ᨿ
-ll- လ္လ ᩃ᩠ᩃ
-ss-
-ḷḷ- ဠ္ဠ ᩊ᩠ᩊ

There are however, some minor differences in how consonant stacking is realized in Burmese, as compared to Lanna:

  • To represent -ññ-: Lanna stacks 2 , whereas Burmese does not. This is because Burmese has separated 2 forms of the ñ consonant: ဉ for ñ and ည for -ññ-.

Transcription of Vowels

Unlike Thai and Lao, Burmese and Lanna both possess independent vowel symbols, which show obvious semblance to one another. When used with consonants, vowels are indicated in the form of diacritics placed above, below, to the left and to the right of the modified consonant. Below is a chart of Pāḷi vowel transcription in both the Burmese and Lanna alphabets:

Comparison of Burmese and Tai Tham vowels

Full resolution here.

For example, the Pali word for ‘woman,’ itthiya, would be transcribed တ္ထိယ, not အိတ္ထိယ in Burmese (ᩍᨲ᩠ᨳᩥᨿ in Lanna).

Pāḷi Recitations in Burmese and Lanna Scripts

Below, I’ve compared Burmese and Lanna transcriptions of standard Pāḷi recitations used in Theravada Buddhist ceremony. The samples indicate a clear relationship between the 2 written scripts, especially with respect to consonant stacking.

Homage to the Buddha (Vandana)

HOMAGE TO THE BUDDHA (VANDANA) Pali salutation to the Buddha in Burmese and Tai Tham

Pāḷi:

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammā sambuddhassa.

English translation:

I pay homage to the Buddha who is an Arahat and the Fully Self-Awakened One.

9 Attributes of the Buddha

9 ATTRIBUTES OF THE Buddha

Pāḷi:

Itipi so bhavagā araham sammāsambuddho
Vijjācarana sampanno sugato lokavidū
Anuttaro purisadamma sarathi
Satthā deva manussanam buddhobhagavāti

English translation:

The Lord is indeed thus: an Arahat; Completely self-awakened;
Perfect in knowing and doing (knowledge and conduct); Going along well (well gone); One who can see all worlds;
An incomparable trainer of those ready for training;
Teacher of gods and men; Awake; Exalted.

6 Attributes of the Dhamma

Six Attributes of the Dhamma

Pāḷi:

Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo,
Sandiṭṭhiko akāliko,
Ehipassiko opanayiko
Paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhīti

English translation:

The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Exalted One,
Visible here and now, timeless,
Inviting all to come and see, leading onward,
To be seen by the wise each for themselves.

9 Attributes of the Sangha

Nine Attributes of the Saṅgha

Pāḷi:

Supaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Ujupaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Ñāyapaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Sāmīcipaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Yadidaṃ cattāri purisayugāni aṭṭha purisapuggalā
Esa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho
Āhuṇeyyo pāhuṇeyyo dakkhiṇeyyo añjalikaraṇīyo
Anuttaraṃ puññakkhettaṃ lokassāti.

English translation:

The Community of the Noble Disciples of the Lord are of good conduct;
The Community of the Noble Disciples of the Lord are of straight conduct;
The Community of the Noble Disciples of the Lord are of conduct conforming with the Path;
The Community of the Noble Disciples of the Lord are of dutiful conduct;
That is to say, the four pairs of noble men or the eight types of noble individuals,
This, indeed, is the Community of the Noble Disciples of the Lord,
Worthy of veneration with offering, worthy of hospitality; worthy of gifts; worthy of respectful greeting;
The incomparable field in which merit grows for the whole world.

2 thoughts on “How to transcribe Pāḷi in Lanna and Burmese

  1. Zoran says:

    You’ve compared certain Burmese and Lanna TRANSLITERATED TEXTS of some standard Pāḷi recitations.They don’t seem to be “transcriptions”,

    QUOTE:
    “I’ve compared Burmese and Lanna transcriptions of standard Pāḷi recitations used in Theravada Buddhist ceremony. “

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