Tibetan script

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A text in Tibetan script suspected to be in Sanskrit. From the personal artifact collection of Donald Weir.
Script type
Time period
c. 650–present
Directionleft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
Sister systems
Sharada, Siddham, Kalinga, Bhaiksuki
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Tibt (330), ​Tibetan
Unicode alias
U+0F00–U+0FFF Final Accepted Script Proposal of the First Usable Edition (3.0)
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Tibetan script is a way of writing that is used for different Tibetic languages like Tibetan, Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Balti, Ladakhi, and Purgi. It's also been used for some languages not from Tibet but close to its culture, like Thakali, Sanskrit and Old Turkic. The printed form is called uchen script, and the cursive form used for everyday writing is called umê script. People use this writing system in the Himalayas and Tibet.[3]

The script is closely connected to the Tibetan identity, which includes people from areas in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. The Tibetan script comes from the Gupta script.[4]

Alphabets[change | change source]

In Tibetan writing, the syllables go from left to right, and a mark called a tsek (་) separates syllables. Because many Tibetan words have only one syllable, this mark is almost like a space. They don't use spaces to separate words.

Basic Alphabets[change | change source]

The Tibetan alphabet has thirty main letters, also called "radicals," for consonants. Like in other Indic scripts, each consonant letter has a built-in vowel, which is /a/. The letter ཨ is also the starting point for adding extra vowel marks.

Even though some Tibetan dialects have tones, the language didn't have tones when they made the script. There are no special symbols for tones. But because tones came from certain features in the language, you can usually tell the tone by looking at how Tibetan words were spelled in the past.[5]

Letter IPA Letter IPA Letter IPA Letter IPA
Guttural /ka/ /kʰa/ [a] /ɡa/ /ŋa/
Palatal /tʃa/ /tʃʰa/ [a] /dʒa/ /ɲa/
Dental /ta/ /tʰa/ [a] /da/ /na/
Labial /pa/ /pʰa/ [a] /ba/ /ma/
Dental /tsa/ /tsʰa/ [a] /dza/ /wa/
low [a] /ʒa/ [a] /za/ /ɦa/[6] ⟨ʼa⟩ /ja/
medium /ra/ /la/ /ʃa/ /sa/
high /ha/ /a/ ⟨ꞏa⟩
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 These voiced values are historical. They have been devoiced in modern Standard Tibetan.

Vowels[change | change source]

Vowel mark IPA Vowel mark IPA Vowel mark IPA Vowel mark IPA
/i/ /u/ /e/ /o/

Extended alphabet[change | change source]

When the Tibetan alphabet is used to write languages like Balti, Chinese, and Sanskrit, they sometimes add or change letters from the regular Tibetan alphabet to show different sounds.

Letter Used in Romanization & IPA
Balti qa /qa/ (/q/)
Balti ɽa /ɽa/ (/ɽ/)
ཁ༹ Balti xa /χa/ (/χ/)
ག༹ Balti ɣa /ʁa/ (/ʁ/)
ཕ༹ Chinese fa /fa/ (/f/)
བ༹ Chinese va /va/ (/v/)
གྷ Sanskrit gha /ɡʱ/
ཛྷ Sanskrit jha /ɟʱ, d͡ʒʱ/
Sanskrit ṭa /ʈ/
Sanskrit ṭha /ʈʰ/
Sanskrit ḍa /ɖ/
ཌྷ Sanskrit ḍha /ɖʱ/
Sanskrit ṇa /ɳ/
དྷ Sanskrit dha /d̪ʱ/
བྷ Sanskrit bha /bʱ/
Sanskrit ṣa /ʂ/
ཀྵ Sanskrit kṣa /kʂ/

References[change | change source]

  1. Daniels, P.T. (January 2008). "Writing systems of major and minor languages". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. Masica, Colin (1993). The Indo-Aryan languages. p. 143.
  3. Laufer, Berthold (1918). "Origin of Tibetan Writing". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 38: 34–46. doi:10.2307/592582. ISSN 0003-0279.
  4. "Tibetan script | writing system | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2023-11-25.
  5. Daniels, Peter T. and William Bright. The World's Writing Systems. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  6. Hill, Nathan W. (2005b). "Once more on the letter འ" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 28 (2): 111–141.; Hill, Nathan W. (2009). "Tibetan <ḥ-> as a plain initial and its place in Old Tibetan phonology" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 32 (1): 115–140.