Tibetan script

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Tibetan script
Font Abugida
languages Tibetan
inventor Thonmi Sambhota
Usage time since 650
Used in China ( Tibet ), Bhutan , India ( Ladakh )
Officially in Bhutan
ancestry Protosinaitic script
 →  Phoenician script
  →  Aramaic script
   →  Brahmi script
    →  Gupta script
     →  Siddham
      →  Tibetan script
Derived Lepcha script
Phagpa script
particularities Belongs to the Indian font family.
Unicode block U + 0F00 – U + 0FFF
ISO 15924 Tibt
Antique Tibetan text fragment from Turfan

The Tibetan script is one of the Indian scripts . Like this, it is an intermediate form of alphabet and syllabary , a so-called Abugida . Due to its syllable structure, it differs fundamentally from the other Indian scripts. The Tibetan script is mainly used to write the Tibetan language in Tibet , the Dzongkha in Bhutan and the Bhoti in the Indian Union Territory of Ladakh . It is the script in which the sacred texts of the Tibetan Buddhists are written.


Like many other Indian scripts, the Tibetan script has its origin in the Brahmi script , which was first used in the 3rd century BC. Is occupied. Over the course of time, numerous regional variants developed from this font, some of which differ greatly.

The invention of the Tibetan script is traditionally attributed to Thonmi Sambhota . This is said to have been sent to northern India (probably to Kashmir ) in 632 AD on the orders of the King of Tibet, Songtsen Gampo , to learn the local script and adapt it to the Tibetan language. According to current knowledge, the resulting Tibetan script is based on the Gupta script .

Although this narrative is still widespread, there is increasing doubt that Thonmi Sambhota really invented the Tibetan script. In Tibetan annals that were discovered in Dunhuang , it is written that the Buddhist texts were translated in 655, which, given the length of time, could hardly have happened so soon after the invention of writing. In addition, an inscription was found in Gopalpur, India, in a script almost identical to the Tibetan script, which was dated to the year 500 AD, well before the alleged invention of the Tibetan script.

On the basis of the Tibetan script, the Lepcha script emerged in the 17th century . The letter forms of the Phagspa script are also derived from the Tibetan script. Since 1992 there has been a transfer of the Tibetan script to Braille with the Tibetan Braille .

Font styles

The older style of this font དབུ་ ཅན dbu can (“with head”) from the 7th century is still the common print font today . It is extremely similar in shape to the Gupta inscriptions. As cursive common དབུ་ མེད dbu med ( "headless") only came to around the 12th century. There are numerous cursive scripts that fall under the term dbu med ; the most famous representatives include the འབྲུ་ ཚ 'bru tsha and the འཁྱུག་ ཡིག ' khyug yig . The difference between the two fonts is that the dbu can has a top line (a head) that is missing from the slightly more italic dbu med .


The Tibetan script is mainly used for two closely related languages: the Tibetan language, the official language in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China , and Dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan. The Tibetan script is also used for most of the dialects of Tibetan, such as the Ladakhi language or the Sherpa . For the Balti , which is written with the Arabic script today, a change to the Tibetan script is also being considered, but additional letters would have to be created, as not all Balti sounds can be represented by the existing Tibetan characters.

Working principle

Title page of a Tibetan-English dictionary
Title page of a Tibetan-English dictionary

As with the other Indian scripts , the Tibetan script is an intermediate form of the alphabet and syllabary , a so-called Abugida . In an Abugida, any consonant that does not have a vowel sign has the inherent vowel a . This inherent vowel can be changed by adding vowel signs that are positioned above or below the consonant sign. The consonant is therefore a ka , while ཀི is a ki . The Tibetan script is written from left to right and does not distinguish between uppercase and lowercase letters.

As a big difference to the other Indian scripts, the syllables in the Tibetan script are separated by a character called ཚེག tsheg , which looks roughly like a small triangle and is at the level of the topline . According to the rules of Tibetan orthography , a syllable may contain an initial, a basic letter with a vowel mark and an end. So z. B. the word བདུད bdud ("demon") from the initial b , the basic letter you and the final d . The initial and final sounds are usually no longer spoken in modern Tibetan, but are still written.

Another difference to other Indian scripts is that the ligatures for consonant clusters are only written vertically from top to bottom and never horizontally from left to right, as is the case with most of the ligatures in Devanagari .


Compared to the other Indian scripts, the Tibetan script has only a few vowels, which is due to the fact that in classical Tibetan the vowel length was not meaningful.

In contrast to the other Indian scripts, the Tibetan script has no independent vowel characters. The symbol dar is used to represent individual vowels without associated consonants . This serves as a kind of vowel carrier, since it has no sound value itself, but can carry any of the four vowel signs or the inherent vowel a.

The Tibetan script does not recognize any signs for diphthongs either , but these can be provisionally formed with the consonant ', for example to represent foreign proper names in the Tibetan script.

character Transliteration Sound value
a [⁠ a ⁠]
ཨི i [⁠ i ⁠]
ཨུ u [⁠ u ⁠]
ཨེ e [⁠ e ⁠]
ཨོ O [⁠ o ⁠]


Consonant table
Table of consonants in the Tibetan script

The Tibetan script has 30 consonant signs (including the vowel carrier, which itself is not a sound). The transliteration is shown in this table without the inherent vowel a, which is normally always present when the consonant does not have a vowel sign.

The letters ts , tsh and dz were created by adding a small hook called ཙ་ འཕྲུ tsa 'phru to the respective letters c , ch and j , as they have no equivalents in other Indian scripts. The tsa 'phru is sometimes used - similar to the Indian nukta - to create additional characters to represent foreign words, such as ཕ ༹ f from ph or བ ༹ v from b . Today these sounds are mostly represented by consonant clusters, for example for the f ཧྥ h + ph . The character w was created later in order to be able to write foreign words from Sanskrit that begin with this letter.

The consonant ' , called ཨ་ ཆུང a chung in the Tibetan language (“small a”, in contrast to , which is called ཨ་ ཆེན a chencapital a”), has no sound value. It is usually used as a vowel carrier in the internal and final form, but can also appear as a basic letter like the .

character Transliteration Sound value
k [⁠ k ⁠]
kh [ ]
G [⁠ ɡ ⁠]
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 [⁠ w ⁠]
zh [⁠ ʑ ⁠]
z [⁠ z ⁠]
' -
y [⁠ j ⁠]
r [⁠ r ⁠]
l [⁠ l ⁠]
sh [⁠ ɕ ⁠]
s [⁠ s ⁠]
H [⁠ h ⁠]


In contrast to most of the other Indian scripts, clusters of consonants in the Tibetan script do not merge in horizontal ligatures, but are written vertically from top to bottom. The descender may be omitted, but the consonants themselves do not change their form. The vowel sign u is always written under all consonants. For example, the consonants s and d and the vowel sign u result in the consonant cluster སྡུ sdu . In modern Tibetan, up to three consonants can be written one below the other, in classical texts, in some cases, much larger chains can be found.

However, there are a few exceptions that must be noted:

  • An r at the beginning of a consonant cluster merges in most cases with the consonant below to form a ligature. As a rule, the lower line of the r is combined with the upper line of the following consonant. Exceptions are the clusters རྙ rnya and རླ rla , which do not form any ligatures, and rwa , where the w takes a special form (see below).
  • If the letters r , y or w come at the end of a consonant cluster, they form special forms. An r at the end of a consonant cluster becomes a hook to the left. The y becomes a hook that first goes to the left, but then curves to the right. w at the end of a consonant cluster forms a small hollow triangle that attaches to the descender; in this position it is also called wazur and is mainly used to distinguish homophones , since the sign has become silent in modern Tibetan.

The following table shows all the special cases mentioned using the example of the consonant ka .

character Transliteration Sound value
རྐ rka
ཀྲ kra
ཀྱ kya
ཀྭ kwa

Extensions for Sanskrit

Manistein with mantras in Tibetan script

Often words from Sanskrit are also taken over into Tibetan. In order to be able to reproduce the sounds of Sanskrit in the Tibetan script, various extensions were introduced. As a rule, these are not included in the Tibetan alphabet.


In contrast to Tibetan, Sanskrit distinguishes between short and long vowels. To show the length of the vowel in writing, a reduced ' is appended to the consonant at the bottom right. This signals a long vowel and can be combined with the normal vowel signs.

character Transliteration Sound value
ཨཱ A.
ཨཱ ི I.
ཨཱ ུ U
ཨཱ ེ E.
ཨཱ ོ O

Sanskrit also knows the vowels ṛ and ḷ. To represent these vowels, a mirrored form of the vowel symbol i is used. This character is always used together with the respective consonant character r or l , which is written under the consonant like a consonant cluster. This can also be combined with the character for vowel length to represent long vowel ṝ / ḹ. Since a consonant already exists, if a vowel ṛ / ḷ appears at the beginning of a word, not the vowel carrier ཨ but the respective consonant sign r / l is used.

character Transliteration Sound value
རྀ ri
རཱ ྀ rI
ལྀ left
ལཱ ྀ lI

The Sanskrit diphthongs ai and au are represented by doubling the corresponding vowel symbols e and o .

character Transliteration Sound value
ཨཽ ouch
ཨཻ ai


Sanskrit knows more aspirated consonants than Tibetan. The missing aspirated consonants are represented by writing the letter h under the unaspirated consonant. For example, the Sanskrit consonant gh is represented in the Tibetan script as གྷ g + ha .

The cerebrals that Tibetan lacks are represented by mirroring the corresponding dental consonants.

character Transliteration Sound value

Other characters

Some special characters have also been adopted to correctly represent Sanskrit words that use these characters. These include the Visarga , Anusvara , Chandrabindu , Virama and Avagraha .

character Surname Transliteration Sound value
ཿ Visarga H aḥ / ḥ /
Anusvara M. aṃ / ṃ /
Chandrabindu ~ M aṃ / ṃ /
Virama ( srog med ) ? suppresses the inherent. vocal
Avagraha ( paluta ) & lengthens the vowel

Punctuation marks

The Tibetan script uses its own punctuation marks. Apart from the already mentioned tsheg, there is also the ཤད shad , a vertical horizontal bar that occurs in several variants. A single shad closes a paragraph, two consecutive shad an entire section of text.

There are also the called ཡིག་ མགོ yig mgo ( "Head mark"). This used to be used to mark the title page of a book, as traditional manuscripts usually do not show which title page is, but it is also used in modern texts.

character Surname use
ཡིག་ མགོ་
Beginning of text
སྦྲུལ་ ཤད །
Separates topics and sub-topics
Separator (morpheme separator)
ཆིག་ ཤད །
Pause (ends a paragraph)
ཉིས་ ཤད །
Pause (ends a whole section of text)
བསྡུས་ རྟགས །
rgya gram shad
End of a paragraph in buddh. Texts
བསྡུས་ རྟགས །
གུག་རྟགས་ གཡོན །
gug rtags g.yon
Left bracket
གུག་རྟགས་ གཡས །
gug rtags g.yas
Right bracket
ཨང་ ཁང་ གཡོན་ པ །
ang-khang g.yon
Left big bracket
ཨང་ ཁང་ གཡས་ པ །
ang-khang g.yas
Right big bracket
བསྐུར་ ཡིག་ མགོ །
bskur yig mgo
List enumerator (only in Dzongkha)


The Tibetan script has its own numerals , which have the same origin as the numerals of the Devanagari.

number 0 1 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9
Tibetan 7½-Skar postage stamp, marked with the symbol

There are also so-called “half digits”. These look exactly like the normal digits, but have a diagonal line. They are used to represent fractions, but are very rare.

number −0.5 0.5 1.5 2.5 3.5 4.5 5.5 6.5 7.5 8.5


There are several systems for transcribing the Tibetan script. The difficulty is in deciding whether the script should be represented in the transcription or the pronunciation, as the two are very different in Tibetan.

The legend after Wylie has established itself in the west . This is a so-called transliteration , i. That is, the transcription accurately represents the typeface, but does not allow conclusions to be drawn about the pronunciation of the words. In contrast to this, the Official Transcription of the People's Republic of China stands for Tibetan , which is a transcription and thus represents the pronunciation, but does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the spelling. THDL transcription represents a middle way between the two systems .

Tibetan in Unicode

Unicode encodes the Tibetan script in the Tibetan Unicode block in the code range U + 0F00 – U + 0FFF.

0 1 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9 A. B. C. D. E. F.
F30 ༿
F40 གྷ ཌྷ
F50 དྷ བྷ ཛྷ
F60 ཀྵ
F70 ཱ ི ཱ ུ ྲྀ ླྀ ཿ
F80 ཱ ྀ
F90 ྒྷ ྜྷ
FA0 ྡྷ ྦྷ ྫྷ
FB0 ྐྵ ྿
  1. a b c d e f g h i Code point is not assigned

Script example

The following text is the Tibetan translation of the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .

Tibetan script འགྲོ་བ་མིའི་རིགས་ རྒྱུད་ ཡོངས་ ལ་
སྐྱེས་ ཙམ་ ཉིད་ ནས་ ཆེ་ མཐོངས་ དང༌ །
ཐོབ་ ཐང་ གི་ རང་དབང་ འདྲ་མཉམ་དུ་ ཡོད་ ལ །
ཁོང་ ཚོར་ རང་ བྱུང་ གི་ བློ་ རྩལ་ དང་ བསམ་ཚུལ་
བཟང་པོ་ འདོན་ པའི་ འོས་ བབས་ ཀྱང་ ཡོད །
དེ་ བཞིན་ ཕན་ཚུན་ གཅིག་ གིས་ གཅིག་ ལ་
བུ་ སྤུན་ གྱི་ འདུ་ ཤེས་ འཛིན་ པའི་
བྱ་སྤྱོད་ ཀྱང་ ལག་ ལེན་ བསྟར་ དགོས་པ་ ཡིན ༎
Transcription (Wylie) 'gro ba mi'i rigs rgyud yongs la
skyes tsam nyid nas che mthongs dang /
thob thang gi rang dbang' dra mnyam du yod la /
khong tshor rang byung gi blo rtsal dang bsam tshul
bzang po 'don pa'i' os babs kyang yod /
de bzhin phan tshun gcig gis gcig la
bu spun gyi 'du shes' dzin pa'i
bya spyod kyang lag len bstar dgos pa yin //
Official Chinese legend Zhopamii riggyü yongla
Gye zamnyinai QE tong tang /
Tobtang ki rangwang zhanyam tu la yoi /
Kong cor rangqungki lozai tang samcü
Sangbo doin bai oipab Gyang yoi /
Texin paincün jigkijigla
pubünkyiduxê zinbai
qajoi Gyang laglêndar goibayin //
translation All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should meet one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Stroke and pronunciation letters

The following table lists the basic letters in their usual learning order. The syllable in Latin script below each Tibetan letter follows Wylie spelling. The underlines and underlines do not belong to the Wylie transliteration, but characterize the tones, ā means a with a high tone, a means a with a low tone. To the left of each letter is a small film showing the stroke order and pronunciation.

khā g a ng a
chā j a ny a
thā d a n a
phā b a m a
tsā tshā dz a w a
zh a z a ' a y a
r a l a shā
Ha -

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Scharlipp & Back, p. 11
  2. ^ A b David L. Snellgrove : The Cultural Effects of Territorial Expansion . In: Alex McKay (Ed.): The History of Tibet . The Early Period: to c. AD 850. The Yarlung Dynasty. Routledge, London 2003, ISBN 0-415-30842-9 , pp. 442 .
  3. Scharlipp & Back, p. 12
  4. ^ Stephan V. Beyer: The Classical Tibetan Language . State University of New York Press, Albany 1992, ISBN 0-7914-1100-1 , pp. 41 .
  5. Proposal for encoding the Lepcha script in the BMP of the UCS (PDF; 1.2 MB)
  6. Braille Without Borders - project description. Retrieved February 16, 2011 .
  7. Tibetan Calligraphy  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link / calligraphy.youngtibet.com  
  8. Scharlipp & Back, p. 23
  9. ^ BabelStone - Tibetan Shorthand Contractions
  10. Scharlipp & Back, p. 15ff
  11. BabelStone - Tibetan Extensions 2: Balti
  12. a b Scharlipp & Back, p. 18
  13. Beyer, p. 43
  14. BabelStone - Stacking Diacritics and Complex Tibetan Stacks
  15. The Unicode Standard, p. 254 f.
  16. Beyer, p. 81
  17. Philip Denwood: Tibetan . John Benjamin Publishing Company, Amsterdam 1999, ISBN 90-272-3803-0 , pp. 55 .
  18. a b The Unicode Standard, p. 256
  19. ^ The Unicode Standard, p. 257
  20. BabelStone - Numbers that Don't Add Up: Tibetan Half Digits
  21. Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Tibetan, Central
  22. Nicolas Tournadre, Sangda Dorje: Manual of Standard Tibetan , Snow Lion Publications, 2003, ISBN 1-55939-189-8 , pp. 41, 42, 44
  23. Tibetan at omniglot.com. Retrieved December 20, 2018.

Web links

Commons : Tibetan Script  - collection of images, videos and audio files
This article was added to the list of articles worth reading on February 19, 2011 in this version .