Tibetan script

From Academic Kids

Missing image
"Om Mani Padme Hum", the primary mantra of Tibetan Buddhism written in the Tibetan script, on a rock outside the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

The creation of the Tibetan script is traditionally ascribed to Thonmi Sambhoṭa in the mid-7th century. However no Old Tibetan texts mention such a person. The Tibetan script was most likely introduced for administrative purposes in 650 (the first dated year in the Old Tibetan Annals).

The letters which are based in form on an Indic alphabet of that period, but which specific Indic script inspired the Tibetan alphabet remains controversial.

The printed form of the script is called Dbu-can (with a head) while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called Dbu-med.

Although the Tibetan script accurately reflects the pronunciation of the Tibetan at the time of its invention. In some dialects, in particular Lhasa, due to phonetic change, the pronuncation and spelling differ significantly. Many amatueres are in favour of transliterating Tibetan "as it is pronounced" without ever specifying what is meant my that. One thus often sees Kagyu instead of Bka' rgyud. This practice is analogous to spelling the French name Jacques as 'Zhak'.

This article employs the Wylie transliteration system.

The 30 consonants, which are deemed to possess an inherent sound a, are the following (with alternative transliterations in parentheses):

  1. ཀ ka, ཁ kha (ka), ག ga, ང nga (n̄a),
  2. ཅ ca, ཆ cha, ཇ ja, ཉ nya (a),
  3. ཏ ta, ཐ tha (ta), ད da, ན na,
  4. པ pa, ཕ pha (pa), བ ba, མ ma,
  5. ཙ tsa, ཚ tsha (tsa), ཛ dza,
  6. ཝ wa, ཞ zha (a), ཟ za,
  7. འ 'a , ཡ ya, ར ra, ལ la,
  8. ཤ sha (sa), ས sa,
  9. ཧ ha, ཨ a.

The h or apostrophe () usually signifies aspiration, but in the case of zh and sh it signifies palatalization and the single letter h represents a voiceless glottal fricative.

Old Tibetan had no letter w, which was instead a digraph for 'w.

Consonantal letter variations include:

  • The Sanskrit "cerebral" (retroflex) consonants are represented by the letters ta, tha, da, na, and sha turned the other way to give ཊ ṭa (Ta), ཋ ṭha (Tha), ཌ ḍa (Da), ཎ ṇa (Na), and ཥ ṣa.
  • As in other Indic scripts, clustered consonants are often stacked vertically. Unfortunately, some fonts and applications do not support this behavior for Tibetan, so these examples may not display properly; you might have to download a font such as Tibetan Machine Uni (
    • W, r, and y change form when they are beneath another consonant; thus ཀྭ kwa, ཏྭ twa, པྭ pwa; ཀྲ kra, པྲ pra; ཀྱ kya. R also changes form when it is above most other consonants; thus རྐ rka, however རྙ rnya.

The vowels are a, i, u, e, o. As in other Indic scripts, each consonant letter includes an inherent a, and the other vowels are indicated by marks; thus ཀ ka, ཀི ki, ཀུ ku, ཀེke, ཀོ ko (again, these marks may not display properly). Old Tibetan included a gigu 'verso' of uncertain meaning. There is no distinction between long and short vowels in written Tibetan, except in loanwords, especially transcribed from the Sanskrit.

Syllables are separated by a tseg ་; since many Tibetan words are monosyllabic, this mark often functions almost as a space.

Although some Tibetan dialects are tonal, because the language had no tone at the time of the scripts invention, tones are nor written. However, since tones developed from segmental features they can ususlly be correctly predicted by the spelling of Tibetan words.

Tibetan in Unicode

The Unicode Tibetan block is U+0F00 — U+0FFF. It includes letters, digits and various punctuation marks and special symbols used in religious texts (you will have to install Unicode fonts covering this block to view the table properly in your web browser):

F30 ༿
F70 ཿ
FB0 ྿
FF0 ࿿

Besides Tibetan, the Dzongkha language is written in the Tibetan script.

External links

eo:Tibeta alfabeto ja:チベット文字 zh-tw:藏文字母 ru:Тибетский алфавит


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