|16th century CE-present|
Gurmukhi (IPA: [m?k?i]; Gurmukhi (the literal meaning being "from the Guru's mouth")) is a Sikh script modified, standardized and used by the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad (1504-1552). Gurmukhi is used by Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus to write the Punjabi language, a language that is also written in Perso-Arabic Shahmukhi script by Punjabi Muslims.
Modern Gurmukh? has thirty-eight consonants (akhar), 10 vowel symbols (l?ga m?tr?), two symbols for nasal sounds (bindi and ?ipp?), and one symbol which duplicates the sound of any consonant (addak). In addition, four conjuncts are used: three subjoined forms of the consonants Rara, Haha and Vava, and one half-form of Yayya. Use of the conjunct forms of Vava and Yayya is increasingly scarce in modern contexts.
The Gurmukhi script has roots in the Brahmi script like most Indian, Tibetan, and Southeast Asian languages. In a cursory look, the Gurmukhi script appears different from other Indic scripts such as Bengali, Oriya, Tibetan or Devanagari, but a closer examination reveals they are similar except for angles and structural emphasis.
There are two major theories on how the Proto-Gurmukh? script emerged in the 15th century. G.B. Singh (1950), while quoting al-Biruni's Ta'rikh al-Hind (1030 CE), says that the script evolved from Ardhanagari. Al-Biruni writes that the Ardhanagari script was used in Bathinda and western parts of the Punjab in the 10th century. For some time, Bathinda remained the capital of the kingdom of Bhati Rajputs of the Pal clan, who ruled North India before the Muslims occupied the country. According to al-Biruni, Ardhanagari was a mixture of Devanagari used in Ujjain and Malwa and Siddha Matrika or the last stage of Siddha? script, a variant of the rad? script used in Kashmir. This theory is confusing as Gurmukh? characters have a very close resemblance to "Siddh Matrika" inscriptions found at several sacred wells in Punjab as Singh notes, one being the Hathur inscription dating to just before the birth of Guru Nanak. Siddh Matrika seems to have been the prevalent script for devotional writings in Punjab right up to the founding of Sikhism, after which its successor Gurmukh? appears.
Pritam Singh (1992) has also traced the origins of Gurmukh? to the Siddha Matrika. "Siddha Matrika" along with its sister Takri alphabet has its origins in the rad? script of Kashmir.
Tarlochan Singh Bedi (1999) writes that the Gurmukh? script developed in the 10-14th centuries from the Devasesha stage of the rad? script, the intermediate phase being Siddha Matrika, before the final evolution into Gurmukh?. His argument is that from the 10th century, regional differences started to appear between the rad? script used in Punjab, the Hill States (partly Himachal Pradesh) and Kashmir. The regional rad? script evolved from this stage until the 14th century, when it starts to appear in the form of Gurmukh?. Indian epigraphists call this stage Devasesha, while Bedi prefers the name Pritham Gurmukh? or Proto-Gurmukh?.
The Sikh gurus adopted proto-Gurmukh? to write the Guru Granth Sahib, the religious scriptures of the Sikhs. Other contemporary scripts used in the Punjab were Takri and the La scripts. The Takri alphabet developed through the Devasesha stage of the rad? script and is found mainly in the Hill States such as Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, where it is called Chambyali, and in Jammu Division, where it is known as Dogri. The local Takri variants got the status of official scripts in some of the Punjab Hill States, and were used for both administrative and literary purposes until the 19th century. After 1948, when Himachal Pradesh was established as an administrative unit, the local Takri variants were replaced by Devanagari.
Meanwhile, the mercantile scripts of Punjab known as the La scripts were normally not used for literary purposes. Landa means alphabet "without tail", implying that the script did not have vowel symbols. In Punjab, there were at least ten different scripts classified as La, Mahajani being the most popular. The La scripts were used for household and trade purposes. Compared to the La, Sikh Gurus favoured the use of Proto-Gurmukh?, because of the difficulties involved in pronouncing words without vowel signs.
The usage of Gurmukh? letters in Guru Granth Sahib meant that the script developed its own orthographical rules. In the following epochs, Gurmukh? became the prime script applied for literary writings of the Sikhs. Later in the 20th century, the script was given the authority as the official script of the Punjab, India.
The word Gurmukh? translates as "from the Mouth of the Guru,".
Guru Angad is credited in the Sikh tradition with the Gurmukhi script, which is now the standard writing script for Punjabi language in India, in contrast to Punjabi language in Pakistan where now an Arabic script called Nastaliq is the standard. The original Sikh scriptures and most of the historic Sikh literature have been written in the Gurmukhi script.
The Gurmukh? alphabet contains thirty-five letters. The first three are distinct because they form the basis for vowels and are not consonants, and except for æ?a are never used on their own. See the section on vowels for further details.
? |: | and ? |: | are rarely used. They cannot begin a syllable or be placed between two consonants, and occur most often as an allophone of n before specific consonant phonemes.
The pronunciation of ? will vary between v and w depending on the word.
In addition to these, there are six consonants created by placing a dot (bindi) at the foot (pair) of the consonant (these are not present in Sri Guru Granth Sahib). These are used most often for loanwords, though not exclusively:
|s?s:? p b?nd?i|
|kk?:? p b?nd?i||x?|
|g?g:? p b?nd?i|
|dd:? p b?nd?i||z?|
|pp?:? p b?nd?i||f?|
|l?l:? p b?nd?i|
|l?l:? p b?nd?i| was only recently added to the Gurmukh? alphabet. It was not a part of the traditional orthography, the phonological difference between 'l' and '?' was not reflected in the script. Some sources do not consider it a separate letter.
Three "subscript" letters are utilised in Gurmukh?: forms of ?(h), ?(r), and ?(v). ?(r) and ?(v) are used to make consonant clusters and behave similarly; subjoined ?(h) raises tone.
Gurmukh? is similar to Brahmi scripts in that all consonants are followed by an inherent 'a' sound (unless at the end of a word when the 'a' is usually dropped). This inherent vowel sound can be changed by using dependent vowel signs which attach to a bearing consonant. In some cases, dependent vowel signs cannot be used - at the beginning of a word or syllable for instance - and so an independent vowel character is used instead.
Independent vowels are constructed using three bearer characters: Ura (?), Aira (?) and Iri (?). With the exception of Aira (which represents the vowel 'a') they are never used without additional vowel signs.
|Vowel||Transcription||IPA||Closest English equivalent|
|?||(none)||?||Mukt?||a||[?]||like a in about|
|?||?||Kann?||?||[?] , [ä]||like a in car|
|?||?||Sih?r?||i||[?]||like i in it|
|?||?||Bih?r?||?||[i]||like i in litre|
|?||?||Onka?||u||[?]||like u in put|
|?||?||Dulanka?||?||[u]||like oo as in food|
|?||?||L?v||?||[e]||like e in Chile|
|?||?||Dul?v||e||[?]||like e in sell|
|?||?||H||?||[o]||like o in Spanish amor|
|?||?||Kan||o||[?]||like o in off|
Dotted circles represent the bearer consonant. Vowels are always pronounced after the consonant they are attached to. Thus, Sihari is always written to the left, but pronounced after the character on the right.
?ippi ( ? ) and bindi ( ? ) are used for producing a nasal phoneme depending on the following obstruent or a nasal vowel at the end of a word. All short vowels use ?ippi and all long vowels are paired with bindi except for Dulankar ( ? ), which uses ?ippi instead. Older texts may follow other conventions.
Bindi ( ? ) is also used for nasalisation.
The use of addak ( ? ) indicates that the following consonant is geminate. This means that the subsequent consonant is doubled or reinforced.
The halant ( ? ) character is not used when writing Punjabi in Gurmukh?. However, it may occasionally be used in Sanskritised text or in dictionaries for extra phonetic information. When it is used, it represents the suppression of the inherent vowel.
The effect of this is shown below:
The visarg symbol (? U+0A03) is used very occasionally in Gurmukh?. It can either represent an abbreviation (like period is used in English) or it can act like a Sanskrit Visarga where a voiceless 'h' sound is pronounced after the vowel.
The udaat symbol (? U+0A51) occurs in older texts and indicates a high tone.
Gurmukh? has its own set of digits, used exactly as in other versions of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system. These are used extensively in older texts. In modern contexts, they have been replaced by standard Western Arabic numerals.
The Unicode block for Gurmukh? is U+0A00-U+0A7F:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Panjab Digital Library has taken up digitisation of all available manuscripts of Gurmukh? Script. The script is just 500 years old, hence a lot of literature written in all these years is still traceable. Panjab Digital Library has digitised over 5 million pages from different manuscripts and most of them are available online.