Manchu writing consists of 34 elements, viz., 6 vowels, 18 essentially Manchu consonants and 10 marks specially intended for rendering of Chinese syllables (vide Table).
The 6 vowels are a, e (ä), i, o, u, ū, (not ō as generally represented).
The 18 consonants are k, g, h, n, b, p, s, š, t, d, l, m, c, j, y, r, f, w.
The 10 marks are kʽ, gʽ, hʽ, tsʽ, ts, dz, ž, sy, cʽy, jy.
k, g, h, t, d have two forms, one when followed by a, o, ū, the other when followed by e, i, u.
o in the middle or at the end of words may be doubled and then stands for oo or ao.
If u or ū is followed by a or e, w is placed between them: juwe (two) pronounced jue.
If a vowel is followed by i, the latter is doubled, except at the end of a word.
No word commences with r, nor with two or more consonants.
t after a vowel and before a consonant, or at the end of a word, is written like on.
To distinguish f from w, the rule is: at the beginning of a word w occurs only when followed by a or e. F before a and e has an additional stroke at the right.
Manchu is written from top to bottom, the lines following from left to right.
Many of the Manchu words are now pronounced with some Chinese peculiarities of pronunciation, so k before i and e=chʽ, g before i and e=ch, h and s before i=hs, etc. H before a, o, u, ū, is the guttural Scotch or German ch.
n is the ordinary sonorous liquid; only as initial, when followed by iya, iye, iyo, io, it is pronounced like ny: e.g. niyalma man=nyalma; niyengniyeri spring=nyingnyiri; niolhon smooth=nyolhon (Radloff, Phonetik, p. 162).
š=sh; c=ch in Chinese; j=j in judge; y when initial=y in yonder.
a, i, o, u, ū as in German.
e=ä, ö; e.g. ejen master, Tungusic äjän; inenggi day, Tung. inägî; elgembi to lead, Tung. ölgöjäm; edun wind, Tung. ödyn.
i=i, y (=Russian ы); hali meadow=Tung. kowyr.
y with an e before and after, is not pronounced: beye bod=bee (bēö). Nor is it heard between i and a, or i and e.
ž=j in jardin.
The accent lies always on the last syllable, the same as in Mongolian.
2. Harmony of Vowels.
Manchu writing distinguishes 6 vowels; there are, however, in reality eight, which all occur in stem syllables: a, ä, o, ö, y, i, u, ü. As regards long and short vowels u only has two separate signs.
- The name of the Emperor 舜 shun is given in Manchu as šūn.
- The y in these 3 Chinese syllables represents the vowel transcribed by Wade with ŭ as in tzŭ and ssŭ, with ih as in chih and shih.
- This alphabet was adopted by the Uigurs from a Syriac or Mandaic source, thence adapted to the Mongolian language and in 1599 slightly altered to suit the pronunciation of Manchu. Unfortunately 3 vowels were left unrepresented: ö, ü, y. By comparing the Tungusic dialects these vowels can be partly restored.