|Region||Western Tibet and Central Asia|
Zhang-Zhung (Tibetan: ?, Wylie: zhang zhung) is an extinct Sino-Tibetan language that was spoken in what is now western Tibet. It is attested in a bilingual text called A Cavern of Treasures (mDzod phug) and several shorter texts.
A small number of documents preserved in Dunhuang contain an undeciphered language that has been called Old Zhangzhung, but the identification is controversial.
A Cavern of Treasures (Tibetan: , Wylie: mdzod phug) is a terma uncovered by Shenchen Luga (Tibetan: , Wylie: gshen chen klu dga') in the early eleventh century. Martin (n.d.: p. 21) identifies the importance of this scripture for studies of the Zhang-zhung language:
For students of Tibetan culture in general, the mDzod phug is one of the most intriguing of all Bön scriptures, since it is the only lengthy bilingual work in Zhang-zhung and Tibetan (some of the shorter but still significant sources for Zhang-zhung are signalled in Orofino 1990)."
Bradley (2002) says Zhangzhung "is now agreed" to have been a Kanauri or West Himalayish language. Guillaume Jacques (2009) rebuts earlier hypotheses that Zhangzhung might have originated in eastern (rather than western) Tibet by having determined it to be a non-Qiangic language.
Widmer (2014:53-56) classifies Zhangzhung within the eastern branch of West Himalayish, and lists the following cognates between Zhangzhung and Proto-West Himalayish.
|diminutive suffix||-tse||*-tse ~ *-tsi|
|old (person)||shang ze||*?(j)a?|
A number of scripts are recorded as being used for writing the Zhang-Zhung language:
However, these scripts appear to have little existence outside of calligraphy manuals. One extant document, a seal originally held at Tsurpu monastery, is written in the Marchen script.
In the words of McKay (2003: p. 447):
"There is also a Zhang-zhung alphabet, but despite its rather unusual appearance to anyone who is unfamiliar with the Indo-Tibetan ornate style of lettering known as lan-tsha, one observes that it is modeled letter by letter upon Thon-mi Sambhota's alphabet of thirty letters."
Marchen script was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2016 with the release of version 9.0.
The Unicode block for Marchen is U+11C70–U+11CBF:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
F. W. Thomas suggested that three undeciphered Dunhuang manuscripts in a Tibetan script were written in an older form of the Zhang-zhung language. This identification has been accepted by Takeuchi Tsuguhito (?), who called the language "Old Zhangzhung" and added two further manuscripts. However, David Snellgrove, and more recently Dan Martin, have rejected Thomas's identification of the language of these texts as a variant of Zhang-zhung.
Two of these manuscripts are in the Stein collection of the British Library and three in the Pelliot collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale. In each case, the relevant text is written on the reverse side of a scroll containing an earlier Chinese Buddhist text. The texts are written in a style of Tibetan script dating from the late 8th or early 9th centuries. Takeuchi and Nishida claim to have partially deciphered the documents, which they believe to be separate medical texts.