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 segmental writing system (abugida) of Indic origin used to write certain Tibetic languages, including Tibetan, Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Ladakhi, Jirel and Balti. It has also been used for some non-Tibetic languages in close cultural contact with Tibet, such as Thakali[5] and Old Turkic. The printed form is called uchen script while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umê script. This writing system is used across the Himalayas and Tibet.

The script is closely linked to a broad ethnic Tibetan identity, spanning across areas in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.[6] The Tibetan script is of Brahmic origin from the Gupta script and is ancestral to scripts such as Meitei,[3] Lepcha,[7] Marchen and the multilingual ʼPhags-pa script.[7]


According to traditional Tibetan historiography, the Tibetan script was introduced by Thonmi Sambhota in the first half of the 7th century, mainly for the codification of the sacred Buddhist texts.[8][9] From a contemporary academic perspective, this is merely a legend invented in the second half of the 11th century.[10] New research and writings suggest that there were one or more Tibetan scripts in use prior to the introduction of the current script by Songtsen Gampo and Thonmi Sambhota. The Dunhuang manuscripts are key evidence for this hypothesis.[11]

Three orthographic standardisations were developed. The most important, an official orthography aimed to facilitate the translation of Buddhist scriptures, emerged during the early 9th century. Standard orthography has not altered since then, while the spoken language has changed by, for example, losing complex consonant clusters. As a result, in all modern Tibetan dialects and in particular in the Standard Tibetan of Lhasa, there is a great divergence between current spelling (which still reflects the 9th-century spoken Tibetan) and current pronunciation. This divergence is the basis of an argument in favour of spelling reform, to write Tibetan as it is pronounced; for example, writing Kagyu instead of Bka'-rgyud.[12]

The nomadic Amdo Tibetan and the western dialects of Ladakhi, as well as Balti, come very close to the Old Tibetan spellings.[10] But the grammar of these varieties has considerably changed. To write the modern varieties according to the classical orthography and grammar of Classical Tibetan would be the same as to write Italian according to that of Latin, or to write Hindi according to that of Sanskrit.[10] However, modern Buddhist elites in the Indian subcontinent insisted the classical orthography should not be altered even when used for lay purposes. This became an obstacle for many modern Tibetic languages to modernize or to introduce a written tradition. Amdo Tibetan was one of a few examples where the Buddhist elites initiated a spelling reform.[10] A spelling reform in Ladakhi was controversial due in part because it was first initiated by Christian missionaries.[10]


Basic alphabet

In the Tibetan script, the syllables are written from left to right. Syllables are separated by a tsek (་); since many Tibetan words are monosyllabic, this mark often functions almost as a space. Spaces are not used to divide words.[13]

The Tibetan alphabet has thirty basic letters, sometimes known as "radicals", for consonants.[7] As in other Indic scripts, each consonant letter assumes an inherent vowel; in the Tibetan script it is /a/. The letter is also the base for dependent vowel marks.

Although some Tibetan dialects are tonal, the language had no tone at the time of the script's invention, and there are no dedicated symbols for tone. However, since tones developed from segmental features, they can usually be correctly predicted by the archaic spelling of Tibetan words.

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/[14] ⟨ʼa⟩ /ja/
medium /ra/ /la/ /ʃa/ /sa/
high /ha/ /a/ ⟨ꞏa⟩
  1. ^ a b c d e f g These voiced values are historical. They have been devoiced in modern Standard Tibetan.

Consonant clusters

Components of a Tibetan syllable
Tibetan map of the Kizil Caves, Tarim Basin. 13th century CE

One aspect of the Tibetan script is that the consonants can be written either as radicals or they can be written in other forms, such as subscript and superscript forming consonant clusters.

To understand how this works, one can look at the radical /ka/ and see what happens when it becomes ཀྲ /kra/ or རྐ /rka/ (pronounced /ka/). In both cases, the symbol for /ka/ is used, but when the /ra/ is in the middle of the consonant and vowel, it is added as a subscript. On the other hand, when the /ra/ comes before the consonant and vowel, it is added as a superscript.[7] /ra/ actually changes form when it is above most other consonants, thus རྐ rka. However, an exception to this is the cluster རྙ /ɲa/. Similarly, the consonants /ra/, and /ja/ change form when they are beneath other consonants, thus ཀྲ /ʈ ~ ʈʂa/; ཀྱ /ca/.

Besides being written as subscripts and superscripts, some consonants can also be placed in prescript, postscript, or post-postscript positions. For instance, the consonants /kʰa/, /tʰa/, /pʰa/, /ma/ and /a/ 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 /kʰa/, /na/, /pʰa/, /tʰa/, /ma/, /a/, /ra/, /ŋa/, /sa/, and /la/. The third position, the post-postscript position is solely for the consonants /tʰa/ and /sa/.[7]

Head letters

The head (མགོ in Tibetan, Wylie: mgo) letter, or superscript, position above a radical is reserved for the consonants /ra/, /la/, and /sa/.

Sub-joined letters

The subscript position under a radical can only be occupied by the consonants /ja/, /ra/, /la/, and /wa/. In this position they are described as བཏགས (Wylie: btags, IPA: /taʔ/), in Tibetan meaning "hung on/affixed/appended", for example བ་ཡ་བཏགས་བྱ (IPA: /pʰa.ja.taʔ.t͡ʃʰa/), except for , which is simply read as it usually is and has no effect on the pronunciation of the consonant to which it is subjoined, for example ཀ་ཝ་ཟུར་ཀྭ (IPA: /ka.wa.suː.ka/).

Vowel marks

The vowels used in the alphabet are /a/, ཨི /i/, ཨུ /u/, ཨེ /e/, and ཨོ /o/. While the vowel /a/ is included in each consonant, the other vowels are indicated by marks; thus /ka/, ཀི /ki/, ཀུ /ku/, ཀེ /ke/, ཀོ /ko/. The vowels ཨི /i/, ཨེ /e/, and ཨོ /o/ are placed above consonants as diacritics, while the vowel ཨུ /u/ is placed underneath consonants.[7] Old Tibetan included a reversed form of the mark for /i/, the 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.

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

Numerical digits

Main article: Tibetan numerals

Tibetan numerals
Devanagari numerals
Arabic numerals 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Tibetan fractions
Arabic fractions -0.5 0.5 1.5 2.5 3.5 4.5 5.5 6.5 7.5 8.5

Punctuation marks

Name Function
༄༅། ། ཡིག་མགོ
yig mgo
marks beginning of a text, before a headline, front page of a pecha
gter yig mgo
used in place of the yig mgo in terma texts
yig mgo a phyed
used in place of the yig mgo in terma texts
dpe rnying yig mgo
a variant of the yig mgo found in very old Tibetan texts
bskur yig mgo
list enumerator (Dzongkha)
syllable delimiter, also used as a spacer to justify text in pechas
full stop, comma, or semicolon (marks end of a sentence or clause, and originates from the danda of Indic scripts)
། ། ཉིས་ཤད
nyis shad
marks end of a paragraph or topic (cp. pilcrow)
༎ །། བཞི་ཤད
bzhi shad
marks end of a chapter or entire section
། །། གསུམ་ཤད
gsum shad
same as bzhi shad, but used when the preceding character is ཀ or ག
rin chen spungs shad
replaces shad after single, orphaned syllables, indicating to the reader that the preceding syllable continues from text on the previous line
tsheg shad
variant of rin chen spungs shad
nyis tsheg shad
variant of rin chen spungs shad
sbrul shad
marks the start of a new text, often in a collection of texts, separates chapters, and surrounds inserted text
gter shad
replaces shad and variants thereof in terma texts
rgya gram shad
sometimes used in place of the yig mgo in terma texts
che mgo
literally, "big head"—used preceding a reference to the Dalai Lama or the name of another important lama or tulku that demands great respect
bsdus rtags
'dzud rtags me long can
caret (indicates text insertion)
ang khang g.yon 'khor
left roof bracket
ang khang g.yas 'khor
right roof bracket
gug rtags g.yon
left bracket
gug rtags g.yas
right bracket

Extended use

A text in Tibetan script suspected to be Sanskrit in content. From the personal artifact collection of Donald Weir.

The Tibetan alphabet, when used to write other languages such as Balti, Chinese and Sanskrit, often has additional and/or modified graphemes taken from the basic Tibetan alphabet to represent different sounds.

Extended alphabet

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/

Extended vowel marks and modifiers

Vowel Mark Used in Romanization & IPA
Sanskrit ā /aː/
ཱི Sanskrit ī /iː/
ཱུ Sanskrit ū /uː/
Sanskrit ai /ɐi̯/
Sanskrit au /ɐu̯/
ྲྀ Sanskrit ṛ /r̩/
Sanskrit /r̩ː/
ླྀ Sanskrit /l̩/
Sanskrit /l̩ː/
Sanskrit aṃ /◌̃/
Sanskrit aṃ /◌̃/
ཿ Sanskrit aḥ /h/
Name Used in Function
srog med Sanskrit suppresses the inherent vowel sound
paluta Sanskrit used for prolonging vowel sounds

Consonant Clusters

In addition to the use of supplementary graphemes, the rules for constructing consonant clusters are amended, allowing any character to occupy the superscript or subscript position, negating the need for the prescript and postscript positions.

Romanization and transliteration

Romanization and transliteration of the Tibetan script is the representation of the Tibetan script in the Latin script. Multiple Romanization and transliteration systems have been created in recent years, but do not fully represent the true phonetic sound.[note 1] While the Wylie transliteration system is widely used to Romanize Standard Tibetan, others include the Library of Congress system and the IPA-based transliteration (Jacques 2012).

Below is a table with Tibetan letters and different Romanization and transliteration system for each letter, listed below systems are: Wylie transliteration (W), Tibetan pinyin (TP), Dzongkha phonetic (DP), ALA-LC Romanization (A)[15] and THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription (THL).

Letter W TP DP A THL Letter W TP DP A THL Letter W TP DP A THL Letter W TP DP A THL
ka g ka ka ka kha k kha kha kha ga* k* kha* ga* ga* nga ng nga nga nga
ca j ca ca cha cha q cha cha cha ja* q* cha* ja* ja* nya ny nya nya nya
ta d ta ta ta tha t tha tha ta da* t* tha* da* da* na n na na na
pa b pa pa pa pha p pha pha pa ba* p* pha* ba* ba* ma m ma ma ma
tsa z tsa tsa tsa tsha c tsha tsha tsa dza* c* tsha* dza* dza* wa w wa wa wa
zha* x* sha* zha* zha* za* s* sa* za* za* 'a - a 'a a ya y ya ya ya
ra r ra ra ra la l la la la sha x sha sha sha sa s sa sa sa
ha h ha ha ha a a a a a  
* – Only in loanwords

Input method and keyboard layout


Tibetan keyboard layout

The first version of Microsoft Windows to support the Tibetan keyboard layout is MS Windows Vista. The layout has been available in Linux since September 2007. In Ubuntu 12.04, one can install Tibetan language support through Dash / Language Support / Install/Remove Languages, the input method can be turned on from Dash / Keyboard Layout, adding Tibetan keyboard layout. The layout applies the similar layout as in Microsoft Windows.

Mac OS-X introduced Tibetan Unicode support with OS-X version 10.5 and later, now with three different keyboard layouts available: Tibetan-Wylie, Tibetan QWERTY and Tibetan-Otani.


Dzongkha keyboard layout

Main article: Dzongkha keyboard layout

The Dzongkha keyboard layout scheme is designed as a simple means for inputting Dzongkha text on computers. This keyboard layout was standardized by the Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) and the Department of Information Technology (DIT) of the Royal Government of Bhutan in 2000.

It was updated in 2009 to accommodate additional characters added to the Unicode & ISO 10646 standards since the initial version. Since the arrangement of keys essentially follows the usual order of the Dzongkha and Tibetan alphabet, the layout can be quickly learned by anyone familiar with this alphabet. Subjoined (combining) consonants are entered using the Shift key.

The Dzongkha (dz) keyboard layout is included in Microsoft Windows, Android, and most distributions of Linux as part of XFree86.


Main article: Tibetan (Unicode block)

Tibetan was originally one of the scripts in the first version of the Unicode Standard in 1991, in the Unicode block U+1000–U+104F. However, in 1993, in version 1.1, it was removed (the code points it took up would later be used for the Burmese script in version 3.0). The Tibetan script was re-added in July, 1996 with the release of version 2.0.

The Unicode block for Tibetan is U+0F00–U+0FFF. It includes letters, digits and various punctuation marks and special symbols used in religious texts:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+0F3x ༿
U+0F7x ཿ
U+0FBx ྿
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
3.^ Unicode code points U+0F77 and U+0F79 are deprecated in Unicode 5.2 and later

See also


  1. ^ See for instance [1] [2]



  1. ^ Daniels, Peter T. (January 2008). "Writing systems of major and minor languages". In Kachru, Braj B.; Kachru, Yamuna; Sridhar, S. N. (eds.). Language in South Asia. pp. 285–308. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511619069.017. ISBN 978-0-521-78653-9.
  2. ^ Masica, Colin (1993). The Indo-Aryan languages. p. 143.
  3. ^ a b Chelliah, Shobhana Lakshmi (2011). A Grammar of Meithei. De Gruyter. p. 355. ISBN 9783110801118. Archived from the original on 2023-04-13. Retrieved 2023-03-19. Meithei Mayek is part of the Tibetan group of scripts, which originated from the Gupta Brahmi script
  4. ^ Singh, Harimohon Thounaojam (January 2011), The Evolution and Recent Development of the Meetei Mayek Script, Cambridge University Press India, p. 28
  5. ^ Manzardo, Andrew E. "Impression Management and Economic Growth: The Case of the Thakalis of Dhaulagiri Zone" (PDF). Kailash: A Journal of Himalayan Studies. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2023-11-20. Retrieved 2023-11-20.
  6. ^ Chamberlain 2008
  7. ^ a b c d e f Daniels, Peter T. and William Bright. The World's Writing Systems. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  8. ^ William Woodville Rockhill, Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, p. 671, at Google Books, United States National Museum, page 671
  9. ^ 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://studybuddhism.com/web/en/archives/e-books/unpublished_manuscripts/survey_tibetan_history/chapter_1.html Archived 2016-06-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ a b c d e Zeisler, Bettina (2006). "Why Ladakhi must not be written – Being part of the Great Tradition Another kind of global thinking". In Anju Saxena; Lars Borin (eds.). Lesser-Known Languages of South Asia. p. 178.
  11. ^ Phuntsok, Thubten. བོད་ཀྱི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་སྤྱི་དོན་པདྨ་ར་གཱའི་ལྡེ་མིག "A General History of Tibet".
  12. ^ Gamble, R. (2018). Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism: The Third Karmapa and the Invention of a Tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-19-069078-6. Retrieved 2024-05-12.
  13. ^ Chan, A.; Noble, A. (2009). Sounds in Translation: Intersections of Music, Technology and Society. DOAB Directory of Open Access Books. ANU E Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-921536-55-7. Retrieved 2024-05-12.
  14. ^ Hill, Nathan W. (2005b). "Once more on the letter འ" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 28 (2): 111–141. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-06-16. Retrieved 2022-06-01.; 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. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-06-01. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
  15. ^ "ALA-LC Romanization of Tibetan script (PDF)" (PDF). Library of Congress. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-04-13. Retrieved 2017-12-29.


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  • Chamberlain, Bradford Lynn. 2008. Script Selection for Tibetan-related Languages in Multiscriptal Environments. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192:117–132.
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