Phagpa script

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Phagpa script
Font Abugida
languages Mongolian , Tibetan , Sanskrit , Chinese
inventor Chögyel Phagpa
Emergence 1269
Usage time 1270s to today
Officially in Yuan Dynasty
ancestry Indian script circle
 →  Tibetan script
  →  Phagpa script
Unicode block U + A840 - U + A877
ISO 15924 Phag
Phagspa imperial edict dragon year.jpg
Tibetan name
Tibetan script :
ཧོར་ ཡིག་ གསར་པ་
Wylie transliteration :
hor yig gsar pa
Chinese name
Simplified :
蒙古 新 字
Pinyin :
Menggu xinzi

The Phagpa script , also Phagspa script , is a letter font of the Abugida type. It was invented by Chögyel Phagpa Lodrö Gyeltshen during the Yuan Dynasty and was supposed to represent all languages ​​of the Mongolian Empire . Most of it went out of use after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, but is still used in a modified form in Tibet today.


In 1260 the ruler of the Mongolian empire Kublai Khan (1215–1294) commissioned the Tibetan clergyman Chögyel Phagpa Lodrö Gyeltshen to develop a new script. It was supposed to replace the Mongolian script and represent not only Mongolian , but also the other languages ​​of the Mongolian Empire: Chinese , Tibetan and Uighur . This syllable script ( Abugida ), created in 1269, is named after its inventor "Phagpa script" or "square script" ( ᠳᠥᠷᠪᠥᠯᠵᠢᠨ ᠪᠢᠴᠢᠭ᠌ / дөрвөлжин бичиг) after its shape . Although it was based on the Tibetan script , it was written from top to bottom based on the model of the Mongolian script.

Although the ruler initiated schooling in the new script, among other things, it was hardly able to gain acceptance among the population. Their use was mainly limited to official documents, with most people continuing to use their ancestral script. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368, the script was removed from official use.

However, the Phagpa script never completely disappeared. It is still used in Tibet as seal script , for inscriptions on the walls of Tibetan monasteries and for inscriptions on coins.

Font styles

There are three different font styles of the Phagpa script.

The standard font was mainly used in printed works such as manuscripts. It is characterized by its relatively round shape. Next to it there was also the seal script. In contrast to the standard font, it is completely angular and the typeface therefore resembles a labyrinth. It was mainly used on official seals .

The typeface used in Tibet today has evolved from the seal script, but is generally used as the standard font, both for seals and on printed works.


Since the Phagpa script was not accepted by the population, the existing corpus from the time of the Yuan dynasty is mostly limited to official documents.

Most of the texts in Phagpa script are written in Chinese, with most of the text written biscriptally in Chinese characters and in Phagpa script. Most of these are imperial edicts, banknotes, coins and seals. One of the most important works in Phagpa script is the 蒙古 字 韻Mĕnggŭ Zìyùn , a rhyming dictionary for 9,000 Chinese characters, which uses the Phagpa script as transcription. Texts in Phagpa script can also be found for Mongolian, although these are mainly official documents. Phagpa texts in Tibetan or Uighur from the time of the Yuan dynasty, however, are extremely rare.

Working principle

As in the Tibetan script, the Phagpa script is a so-called Abugida . This means that all consonants have the inherent vowel a . This can be changed with vowel signs, which are always written after the corresponding consonant. The vowel signs other than a have different forms depending on whether they start or follow a consonant.

The Phagpa script, like the Mongolian script, is written from top to bottom in columns from left to right. The characters combine with each other as in the Mongolian script. The characters of the Phagpa script are grouped into words separated by a space.

Basic drawing inventory

Character table from the Shūshĭ Huìyào

The basic character inventory, consisting of 41 characters, is described in contemporary works such as the 書 史 會 要Shūshĭ Huìyào . These consist of 34 consonants, five vowel symbols and two symbols for consonants that occur in the middle of a syllable. In the table below, the inherent vowel a , which is usually present with all consonants, is omitted.

character Transliteration Sound value
k [⁠ k ⁠]
kh [ ]
G [⁠ g ⁠]
ng [⁠ ŋ ⁠]
c [ ]
ch [ tɕʰ ]
j [ ]
ny [⁠ ɲ ⁠]
t [⁠ t ⁠]
th [ ]
d [⁠ d ⁠]
n [⁠ n ⁠]
p [⁠ p ⁠]
ph [ ]
b [⁠ b ⁠]
m [⁠ m ⁠]
ts [⁠ ts ⁠]
tsh [ tsʰ ]
dz [⁠ dz ⁠]
w [⁠ v ⁠]
zh [⁠ ʑ ⁠]
z [⁠ z ⁠]
- -
y [⁠ j ⁠]
r [⁠ r ⁠]
l [⁠ l ⁠]
sh [⁠ ɕ ⁠]
s [⁠ s ⁠]
H [⁠ h ⁠]
' -
i [⁠ i ⁠]
u [⁠ u ⁠]
e [⁠ ɛ ⁠]
O [⁠ o ⁠]
q [⁠ q ⁠]
x [⁠ x ⁠]
f [⁠ f ⁠]
gg unknown, possibly [⁠ ʔ ⁠]
ee [⁠ e ⁠]
w [⁠ w ⁠]
y [⁠ j ⁠]

A few more comments on this table:

  • The letters - and 'do not have their own pronunciation and are used for different purposes depending on the language. In Mongolian the letters are used as a kind of vowel carrier, as both characters can carry all vowels (the 'also carries the inherent vowel a ). In Tibetan and Sanskrit inscriptions the - is used to mark a long vowel, the 'is used as in Mongolian. In Chinese inscriptions, the two letters are written at the beginning of the syllable for etymological reasons.
  • The letter gg is included in contemporary character lists, but there is no surviving inscription that uses this character. From the positioning of the character in the alphabet it can be concluded that this character represents a sound that did not appear in Tibetan. A thesis is that this is around the glottal stop, which in Persian language occurs and the character ع is shown. Since there are no surviving inscriptions in which Persian is written in Phagpa script, this thesis can neither be proven nor refuted.

Additional characters

The Phagpa script also has some additional characters. While these are not listed in the contemporary character lists, they are used in inscriptions such as the Sanskrit inscription on the Great Wall of China . They are needed to represent Sanskrit and Tibetan texts true to the original.

  • The cerebrals from Sanskrit ṭ, ṭh, ḍ and ṇ are formed like in Tibetan by mirroring the corresponding dental consonants. However, this also means that the connecting line is on the other side, which means that subsequent vowels or the consonant ꡜ h must be mirrored so that they also have the connecting line on the other side. (The ꡡ o is not mirrored because it is axially symmetrical.)
    The cerebral ṣ, which also occurs in Sanskrit and was also adopted in the Tibetan script, is not documented in the Phagpa script. This may be because the mirrored consonant ꡚ sh looks exactly like the ꡖ - .
  • The two consonants r correspond to the lower and upper r from the Tibetan script and are used accordingly.
  • The Chandrabindu corresponds in Sanskrit to both the local Chandrabindu and the Anusvara . It represents both the nasalization of a vowel and a nasal consonant. Unlike all other Phagpa symbols, it is always written at the beginning of a syllable.
character Transliteration Sound value
dd [⁠ ʈ ⁠]
tth [ ʈʰ ]
dd [⁠ ɖ ⁠]
nn [⁠ ɳ ⁠]
r [⁠ r ⁠]
r [⁠ r ⁠]
^ see notes

Punctuation marks

Punctuation marks were rarely used during the Yuan Dynasty. When used, they were mostly taken from the Mongolian or Chinese script.

In Tibet, however, their own punctuation marks were designed to correspond to the Tibetan punctuation marks. The two characters ꡶ and ꡷ correspond to the Tibetan shad and are used accordingly: the first character is used to close a sentence, the second character is used to close a paragraph or verse. The characters ꡴ and ꡵ are based on the Tibetan yig mgo and are used as head characters at the beginning of a text.

Relationship to Hangeul

The American Koreanologist Gari Keith Ledyard developed the thesis that the basic Hangeul symbols are derived from the Phagpa script.

see description opposite
top row: The Phagpa letters k, t, p, s and l and their Hangeul equivalents k, t, p, ts and l .
bottom line: In the Phagpa script, the characters for w, v and f are derived from the letter h with w underneath ; the Hangeul equivalents are formed by the letter p and its derivatives with a circle below it.


As of Unicode 5.0, the Phagpa script is coded in the code points U + A840 to U + A877 (see Unicode block Phagspa ).

U + 0 1 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9 A. B. C. D. E. F.

Individual references and sources

  1. a b c BabelStone: Phags-pa Script: Overview
  2. Proposal to encode the Phags-pa script (PDF; 2.2 MB)
  3. ^ BabelStone: Phags-pa Script: Script Styles
  4. BabelStone: Phags-pa Script: Menggu Ziyun
  5. a b c d e f BabelStone: 'Phags-pa Script: Description

See also

Commons : Phagpa font  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Karl-Heinz Everding: Rulers' certificates from the time of the Mongolian Empire for Tibetan noble houses, clergy and monasteries. Part 1: Diplomata Mongolica. Central Mongolian documents in 'Phags-pa script. Edition, translation, analysis . International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, Halle 2006.
  • Nicholas Poppe : The Mongolian Monuments in hP'ags-pa Script . 2nd Edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1983.
  • Dieter Schuh : Basics of Tibetan sealing knowledge. An investigation into Tibetan seal inscriptions in 'Phags-pa' script . VGH Wissenschaftsverlag, Sankt Augustin 1981.
  • Michael Weiers : Development of the Mongolian Scripts. In: Studium Generale. Volume 20, Berlin 1967.
  • Phagspa (BabelStone)
  • (PDF; 2.2 MB)