During the 7th Century AD Songstem Gampo [སྲོང་བཙན་སྒམ་པོ་]
(569-649AD), the 33rd king of the Yarlung Dynasty of southern Tibet and the
first Emperor of Tibet, sent Thonmi Sambhota, one of his ministers, to India to gather information
on Buddhism. The minister then reputedly devised a script for Tibetan
based on the Devanagari
model and also wrote a grammar of Tibetan based on Sanskrit grammars.
The new Tibetan alphabet was used to write Tibetan translations of
Buddhists texts. The first Sanskrit-Tibetan dictionary, Mahavyutpatti,
appeared in the 9th century. Wood block printing, introduced from China,
was used in Tibet from an early date and is still used in a few monasteries.
Tibetan literature is mainly concerned with Buddhist themes and includes
works translated from Sanskrit and Chinese and original Tibetan works.
There are also literary works about the Bon religion, a pre-Buddhist
religion indigenous to Tibet. The most unusual genre of Tibetan literature
is that of gter-ma (གཏེར་མ་)
or 'rediscovered' texts - reputedly the work of ancient masters which have
been hidden in remote caves for many centuries.
Type of writing system: syllabic alphabet or abugida. Each letter
has an inherent vowel /a/. Other vowels can be indicated using a variety
of diacritics which appear above or below the main letter.
Direction of writing: left to right in horizontal lines.
Syllables are separated by a dot.
Consonant clusters are written with special conjunct letters.
Used to write:
a Sino-Tibetan language spoken by about 6 million
people in China (Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan), India, Bhutan, Sikkim,
Ladakh and Nepal. In Mongolia Tibetan is considered the Classical language
of Buddhism and was widely taught until quite recently.
Before 1949-50, Tibet comprised of three provinces: Amdo, now split between
the Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces; Kham, now largely incorporated into
the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai, and U-Tsang, which, together with
western Kham, is now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region, which was created in
(རྫོང་ཁ), which is spoken by about
130,000 people in Bhutan, where it is the national language, and also in Nepal
and India. It is a Sino-Tibetan language which is quite closely related to Tibetan
and distantly related to Chinese.
a Southern Tibetan language spoken by about 70,300 people in Sikkim.
It is closely related to Dzongkha and less closely related to Tibetan.
The Tibetan alphabet
The form of the alphabet shown below, known as u-chen (དབུ་ཅན་)
is used for printing. Cursive versions of the alphabet, such as the gyuk yig or
'flowing script' (རྒྱུག་ཡིག་)
are used for informal writing.
This table includes the standard consonant combinations used for
native Tibetan words. It does not include other combinations found in common
loan words or the thousands of combinations used for translitterating Sanskrit
words in religious texts.
Download a Tibetan alphabet chart in Excel,
or PDF format
Sample text - Tibetan (དབུ་ཅན་: u-chen script)
Sample text - Tibetan (རྒྱུག་ཡིག་: gyuk yig script)
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Tibetan script for Sanskrit
These are the Tibetan letters used to write Sanskrit. Some of them
are not used in Tibetan.