Tibetan script: Wikis


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This article contains Tibetan script. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Tibetan characters.
Type Abugida
Spoken languages Tibetan
Time period c. 650–present
Parent systems
Child systems Limbu
Unicode range U+0F00–U+0FFF
ISO 15924 Tibt
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The Tibetan script is an abugida of Indic origin used to write the Tibetan language as well as the Dzongkha language, Denzongkha, Ladakhi language and sometimes the Balti language. The printed form of the script is called uchen script (Tibetan: དབུ་ཅན་Wylie: dbu-can; "with a head") while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umé script (Tibetan: དབུ་མེད་Wylie: dbu-med; "headless"). The script is very closely linked to a broad ethnic Tibetan identity. Besides Tibet, the writing system has also been used for Tibetan languages in Bhutan and in parts of India and Nepal and even Pakistan (Chamberlain 2008). In addition, the Tibetan script has influenced the creation of other scripts, including both the Lepcha script and the 'Phags-pa script [1].

The Tibetan script is romanized in a variety of ways[2]. This article employs the Wylie transliteration system.



Polychrome text left of center is the primary mantra of Tibetan Buddhism, Sanskrit Oṃ Maṇi Padme Hūṃ (Tibetan: ༀམནིཔདྨེཧཱུྃWylie: oMmanipad+mehU~M). Monochrome text right of center reads Sanskrit "Oṃ Vajrasattva Hūm" (Tibetan: ༀབཛྲསཏྭཧཱུཾWylie: oM badzrasatwa hUM), an invocation to the embodiment of primeval purity.

The creation of the Tibetan script is attributed to Thonmi Sambhota of the mid-7th century. Tradition holds that Thonmi Sambhota, a minister of Songtsen Gampo (569-649), was sent to India to study the art of writing, and upon his return introduced the Tibetan script. The form of the letters is based on an Indic alphabet of that period.[3]

There were three orthographic standardizations after the script's invention. The most important one, an official one aimed to facilitate the translation of Buddhist scriptures, took place during the early 9th century. The Tibetan orthography has not altered since then, while the spoken language keeps changing, for example, losing the complex consonant clusters. As a result, in all modern Tibetan dialects, in particular in the Lhasa dialect, the spelling, which reflects the 9th-century spoken Tibetan, differs from the reading significantly. This is why some people are in favour of transliterating Tibetan "as it is pronounced", for example, writing "Kagyu" instead of "Bka'-rgyud".


"Tibetan script"

The Tibetan script has 30 consonants, otherwise known as radicals [1]. As in other Indic scripts, each consonant letter includes an inherent a. However, a unique aspect of the Tibetan writing system is that the consonants can be written simply as radicals, or they can even be written in other forms, such as superscripts and subscripts. The superscript position above a radical is reserved for the consonants r, l, and s, while the subscript position under a radical is for the consonants y, r, l, and w. To understand how this works, one can look at the radical "ka" and see what happens when it becomes "kra" or "rka". In both cases, the symbol for "ka" is used, but when the r is in the middle of the consonant and vowel, it is added as a subscript. On the other hand, when the r comes before the consonant and vowel, it is added as a superscript [1]. R actually changes form when it is above most other consonants; thus རྐ rka. However, an exception to this is the cluster རྙ rnya. Similarly, the consonants w, r, and y change form when they are beneath other consonants; thus ཀྭ kwa; ཀྲ kra; ཀྱ kya.

Besides being written as subscripts and superscripts, some consonants can also be placed in prescript, postscript, or post-postscript positions. For instance, the consonants g, d, b, m, and ’a (’a chung) can be used in the prescript position to the left of other radicals, while the position after a radical (the postscript position), can be held by the ten consonants g, n, b, d, m, ’a, r, n̄, s, and l. The third position, the post-postscript position, is solely for the consonants d and s [1].

The vowels used in the script are a, i, u, e, and o. While the vowel a is included in each consonant or radical, the other vowels are indicated by marks; thus ka, ཀི ki, ཀུ ku, ཀེ ke, ཀོ ko. The vowels i, e, and o are placed above consonants as diacritics, while the vowel u is placed underneath consonants [1]. 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.

In the Tibetan writing system, the syllables are written from left to right [4]. Syllables are separated by a tseg ; since many Tibetan words are monosyllabic, this mark often functions almost as a space. Spaces are not used to divide words.

Tibetan Script Child System- Limbu Script

Although some Tibetan dialects are tonal, because the language had no tone at the time of the scripts invention, tones are not written. However, since tones developed from segmental features they can usually be correctly predicted by the spelling of Tibetan words.

ཀ ka ཁ kha ག ga ང nga
ཅ ca ཆ cha ཇ ja ཉ nya
ཏ ta ཐ tha ད da ན na
པ pa ཕ pha བ ba མ ma
ཙ tsa ཚ tsha ཛ dza ཝ wa (not originally part of the alphabet)
ཞ zha ཟ za འ 'a
ཡ ya ར ra ལ la
ཤ sha ས sa 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.

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.

Transliteration of Sanskrit


Devanagari IAST Tibetan Dependent Vowel Signs
ā ཨཱ
i ཨི
ī ཨཱི
u ཨུ
ū ཨཱུ
e ཨེ
ai ཨཻ
o ཨོ
au ཨཽ
अं aṃ ཨཾ
अँ ཨྃ
अः aḥ ཨཿ ཿ


Devanagari IAST Tibetan
gha གྷ
jha ཛྷ
ḍha ཌྷ
dha དྷ
bha བྷ
क्ष kṣa ཀྵ

The Sanskrit "cerebral" (retroflex) consonants are represented by the letters ta, tha, da, na, and sha turned horizontally to give ཊ ṭa (Ta), ཋ ṭha (Tha), ཌ ḍa (Da), ཎ ṇa (Na), and ཥ ṣa (Sa).

It is a classic rule to transliterate च छ ज झ (ca cha ja jha) to ཙ ཚ ཛ ཛྷ(tsa tsha dza dzha). Nowadays, ཅ ཆ ཇ ཇྷ(ca cha ja jha) can also be used.


The Unicode Tibetan block is U+0F00–U+0FFF[5]. It includes letters, digits and various punctuation marks and special symbols used in religious texts. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points.

Unicode.org chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+0F3x ༿
U+0F7x   ཿ
U+0FBx   ྿

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Daniels, Peter T. and William Bright. The World’s Writing Systems. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  2. ^ See for instance [1] [2]
  3. ^ Which specific Indic script inspired the Tibetan alphabet remains controversial. Recent study suggests Tibetan script was based on an adaption from Khotan of the Indian Brahmi and Gupta scripts taught to Thonmi Sambhota in Kashmir (Berzin, Alexander. A Survey of Tibetan History - Reading notes taken by Alexander Berzin from Tsepon, W. D. Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1967: http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/e-books/unpublished_manuscripts/survey_tibetan_history/chapter_1.html).
  4. ^ Asher, R. E. ed. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Tarrytown, N. Y.: Pergamon Press, 1994. 10 vol.
  5. ^ Unicode block U+0F00 – U+0FFF; Tibetan script.


  • Asher, R. E. ed. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Tarrytown, N. Y.: Pergamon Press, 1994. 10 vol.
  • Beyer, Stephan V. (1993). The Classical Tibetan Language. Reprinted by Delhi: Sri Satguru.
  • Chamberlain, Bradford Lynn. 2008. Script selection for Tibetan-related languages in multiscriptal environments. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192:117-132.
  • Csoma de Kőrös, Alexander (1983). A Grammar of the Tibetan Language. Reprinted by Delhi: Sri Satguru.
  • _____ (1980-1982). Sanskrit-Tibetan-English Vocabulary. 2 vols. Reprinted by Delhi: Sri Satguru.
  • Daniels, Peter T. and William Bright. The World’s Writing Systems. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Das, Sarat Chandra: “The sacred and ornamental characters of Tibet”. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. 57 (1888), pp. 41-48 and 9 plates.
  • Das, Sarat Chandra (1996). An Introduction to the Grammar of the Tibetan Language. Reprinted by Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  • Jäschke, Heinrich August (1989). Tibetan Grammar. Corrected by Sunil Gupta. Reprinted by Delhi: Sri Satguru.

External links

The number plate of a car registered in Jammu and Kashmir, in Roman and Tibetan scripts.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Tibetan script

Tibetan scripts

Tibetan script (plural Tibetan scripts)

  1. An abugida writing system of Indic origin used to write Tibetan as well as Dzongkha, Ladakhi, and sometimes Balti.

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