What was the original script of Sindhi? Sindhi lacked an authentic script/alphabet. It was either written in more than eight different scripts:
Even 300 years after the Arab conquest, at the time of Mahmud Ghazni, Al-Biruni, historian, found three scripts current --- Ardhanagari, Saindhu and Malwari, all variations of Devnagri.
When the British arrived, they found the Pandits writing Sindhi in Devnagri. Traders --- including Khojas and Memons --- were using a variety of "Modi" or "Vanika" scripts, without any vowels. Hindu women were using Gurmukhi and government employees, some kind of Arabic script.
British scholars found the language Sanskritic and said that the Devnagri script would be right for it. In 1849 they produced an English-Sindhi dictionary in Devnagri. A year later they translated the Bible in Sindhi, again in the Devnagri script. Government servants, many of whom were Hindus, favoured the Arabic script, since they did not know Devnagri, and had to learn it anew.
A big debate started, with Capt. Burton favouring the Arabic script and Capt. Stack favouring Devnagri. Sir Bartle Frere, the Commissioner of Sindh, referred the matter to the Court of Directors of the British East India Company, which favoured Arabic on the ground that Muslim names could not be written in Devnagri.
Sir Richard Burton, an orientalist, with the help of local scholars Munshi Thanwardas and Mirza Sadiq Ali Beg evolved a 52-letter Sindhi alphabet. Since the Arabic script could not express many Sindhi sounds, a scheme of dots was worked out for the purpose. As a result, the Sindhi script today not only has all its own sounds, but also all the four Z's of Arabic.
The present script predominantly used in Sindh as well as in many states in India and elsewhere where migrant Sindhis have settled, is Arabic in Naskh styles having fifty two alphabets. However, in some circles in India, Devanagari is used for writing Sindhi. The Government of India recognizes both scripts.
Technical Characteristics Sindhi Alphabet
The graphic representation of each alphabet has more than one form depending on its position. In general each letter has four forms: beginning, middle, final and standalone.
The phonological system of Sindhi in most respects resembles that of other Indo-Aryan languages. Sindhi has 53 distinct sound-units: 39 consonants, 3 semivowels, 10 vowels, and a unit of nasalization.
The Sindhi consonant system consists of 25 stops (including 4 palatal-affricates), 5 nasals, 6 fricatives and 3 liquids. Consonantal sounds show five-fold contrast in the place of articulation: labial, dental, retroflex, palatal and velar.
Sindhi has the fullest stop system of any of the Indo- Aryan languages. The stop series shows contrast between voicing and unvoicing, aspiration and pressure and suction.
A series of four implosive stops – (bbe, DDe, jje, gge : in sounding them breath is drawn in instead of being expelled as in be, De, je, ge) is a striking characteristic of Sindhi phonology.
In Sindhi vao, ye, he function similarly to consonants in initial and certain medial positions. But in final postion and also medially when preceeding or following a consonant, these occur as vocalic glides; thus forming dipthongs with preceding or following vowels; these are classified as semivowels.
Sindhi has a ten-vowel system, showing three-fold contrast in the tongue-position: front, central and back; and five-fold contrast in the tongue-height: high, lower-high, lower-mid and low. Every vowel has a nasalized counterpart in the language.
Syllable division in a word is predictable in Sindhi. Word stress is also predicted on the strength of the syllable structure. Sindhi is primarily an open-syllable language, i.e. syllables mostly end with a vowel or semivowel. Words in Sindhi mostly have vocalic ending and the occurrence of consonant cluster is also sporadic in the language. Close syllables are very infrequent in the language.
A syllable in Sindhi consists of at least one vowel or at most five sound units, in which one is a vowel and others are non-vocalic sounds (consonants or semivowels preceding or following the vowel). Open syllable with a single consonant (CV) are most frequent in the language.
In Sindhi, stress has only a limited use of demarcating words and putting emphasis on a particular word in an utterance. There are three main stresses: word stress, emphatic stress and drawled stress.
The Sindhi-Arabic script is adapted from the Persian system of writing, which itself is an adaptation of the Arabic system. Arabic characters are written from right to left. The script comprises of fifty-two characters and seven diacritic signs.
i. Twenty-nine characters of the Arabic script.
ii. Three modified characters adopted from the Persian script:
iii. Twenty modified characters to represent Sindhi sounds:
Retroflex sounds :
Rest: Voiceless Aspirates :
Voiced Aspirates :
The Sindhi-Devanagari script is adapted from the Sanskrit system of writing. Each character in the Devanagari system represents a syllable. It consists of either a vowel or a consonant followed by the vowel. Devanagari characters are written from left to right.
Character Set Considerations
The alphabet of Sindhi is a super set of Arabic, Persian and Urdu languages, and contains 52 basic characters. Additionally there are a few diacritic marks, numerals, and punctuations.
Special characters :
Letters(and), and(in) are also used in text.
Sindhi numerals are similar to Urdu. Numerals are written left to right. The decimal separator in Urdu numerals is called "ASHARYA" (U+066B) and is similar to "HAMZA" in shape. A dot may also be used in place of "ASHARYA".
Considering the Arabic script, as mentioned earlier, that it being used for writing Sindhi, calligraphic shapes, multiple alternate shapes are possible for a single letter. The shape is determined by the position of the character in a word and/or character next to it.
Character Cell Size
The characters cell height is fixed and can be controlled. The script is a linear script and line height of text can be fixed.
Glyphs to be supported in Sindhi Fonts:
All the basic shapes plus alternate shapes required for a character have to be provided. A single character thus would have at least four or more glyphs for it. The diacritic marks along with special symbols used are provided. The numerals, and punctuations are also provided.
Source: Sindhi Design Guide, Technology Development for Indian Languages.