Punjab was divided between the nations of India and Pakistan following the partition in 1947. While Punjabi is still spoken as a first language in the two provinces, different writing systems are in vogue on either side of the international border - Gurmukhi script in Eastern Punjab and Shahmukhi script in the Western part. This module deals with the Gurmukhi script.

Gurmukhī, which means 'from the mouth of the Guru', was standardized in the 16th century by the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad. The alphabet is also called 'Pæntī' meaning 'thirty five'. Later on, new letters were added to accommodate Persian sounds. The present alphabet consists of forty one letters. The letters are systematically arranged:

  • Row 1 contains the vowels and fricatives.
  • Rows 2-6 contains phonetically arranged consonants.
  • Row 7 contains miscellaneous consonants (approximants, lateral and trill).
  • Row 8 contains the consonants added later to accommodate Persian sounds.

The arrangement of consonants in rows 2-6 is based on the Devanagari alphabet - each row contains consonants with a common place of articulation (but varying in aspiration, voicing, tone and nasalization); the rows, themselves, are ordered by the place of articulation moving in an outward fashion, beginning with the velar consonants, followed by palatals, retroflexes, dentals and ending at the labials.

A Gurmukhi vowel is called a 'mātrā'. Gurmukhi is an abugida in which all consonants have an inherent vowel. Diacritics, which can appear above, below, before or after the consonant they belong to, are used to change the inherent vowel. In the absence of a consonant, the vowel signs are indicated on the first three letters of the alphabet.

Gurmukhi also has three sub-joined conjuncts, which will be discussed later in the module. Gurmukhi also has the capability to write half consonants (lacking an inherent schwa ending) as in Devanagari; however these are infrequent, except for two consonants, which will be discussed along with the other conjuncts. Gurmukhi has its own set of numerals, 0 through 9, which have been supplanted by the Hindu-Arabic numerals. The usage of punctuation marks is almost identical to that in English, except for a vertical bar representing the end of a sentence. The script does not make any distinction between upper and lower case letters as in the Latin script.

Gurmukhi is a near phonetic script, where each sound is represented by a unique combination of consonants and vowels. Thus once the learner becomes well acquainted with the letters and the sounds they represent, transliteration into Latin script will no longer be required to supplement the Gurmukhi spellings to indicate pronunciation. Thus, it will be dispensed with in subsequent modules. It is, therefore, important that you thoroughly learn and practise the letters before moving on to the subsequent modules of the book.