|Creator||Drogön Chögyal Phagpa|
|1269 - c. 1360|
|Horizontal square script|
|Lepcha, Meitei. Marchen|
|ISO 15924||Phag, 331 , Phags-pa|
|The Brahmic script and its descendants|
The ʼPhags-pa script is an alphabet designed by the Tibetan monk and State Preceptor (later Imperial Preceptor) Drogön Chögyal Phagpa for Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan dynasty, as a unified script for the written languages within the Yuan. The actual use of this script was limited to about a hundred years during the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, and it fell out of use with the advent of the Ming dynasty.
It was used to write and transcribe varieties of Chinese, the Tibetic languages, Mongolian, the Uyghur language, Sanskrit, Persian, and other neighboring languages during the Yuan era. For historical linguists, the documentation of its use provides clues about the changes in these languages.
Its descendant systems include Horizontal square script, used to write Tibetan and Sanskrit. There is a theory that the Korean Hangul alphabet had very limited influence from ʼPhags-pa (see Origin of Hangul). During the Pax Mongolica the script has even made numerous appearances in western medieval art.
ʼPhags-pa script: mongxol tshi, "Mongolian script";
Mongolian: ? dörvöljin üseg, "square script";
During the Mongol Empire, the Mongols wanted a universal script to write down the languages of the people they subjugated. The Uyghur-based Mongolian alphabet is not a perfect fit for the Middle Mongol language, and it would be impractical to extend it to a language with a very different phonology like Chinese. Therefore, during the Yuan dynasty (c. 1269), Kublai Khan asked the Tibetan monk ʼPhags-pa to design a new alphabet for use by the whole empire. ʼPhags-pa extended his native Tibetan alphabet to encompass Mongol and Chinese, evidently Central Plains Mandarin. The resulting 38 letters have been known by several descriptive names, such as "square script" based on their shape, but today are primarily known as the ʼPhags-pa alphabet.
Descending from Tibetan script it is part of the Brahmic family of scripts, which includes Devanagari and scripts used throughout Southeast Asia and Central Asia. It is unique among Brahmic scripts in that it is written top bottom, like how Chinese used to be written; and like the Manchu alphabet or later Mongolian alphabet.
Despite its origin, the script was written vertically (top to bottom) like the previous Mongolian scripts. It did not receive wide acceptance and was not a popular script even among the elite Mongols themselves, although it was used as an official script of the Yuan dynasty until the early 1350s when the Red Turban Rebellion started. After this it was mainly used as a phonetic gloss for Mongols learning Chinese characters. It was also used as one of the scripts on Tibetan currency in the twentieth century, as script for Tibetan seal inscriptions from the Middle Ages up to the 20th century and for inscriptions on the entrance doors of Tibetan monasteries.
Unlike the ancestral Tibetan script, all ʼPhags-pa letters are written in temporal order (that is, /CV/ is written in the order C-V for all vowels) and in-line (that is, the vowels are not diacritics). However, vowel letters retain distinct initial forms, and short /a/ is not written except initially, making ʼPhags-pa transitional between an abugida, a syllabary, and a full alphabet. The letters of a ʼPhags-pa syllable are linked together so that they form syllabic blocks.
ʼPhags-pa was written in a variety of graphic forms. The standard form (top, at right) was blocky, but a "Tibetan" form (bottom) was even more so, consisting almost entirely of straight orthogonal lines and right angles. A "seal script" form (Chinese ? m?ngg? zhuànzì "Mongolian Seal Script"), used for imperial seals and the like, was more elaborate, with squared sinusoidal lines and spirals.
Korean records state that hangul was based on an "Old Seal Script" (), which may be ʼPhags-pa and a reference to its Chinese name ? m?ngg? zhuànzì (see origin of hangul). However, it is the simpler standard form of ʼPhags-pa that is the closer graphic match to hangul.
The following 41 are the basic ʼPhags-pa letters.
Letters 1-30 and 35-38 are base consonants. The order of Letters 1-30 is the same as the traditional order of the thirty basic letters of the Tibetan script, to which they correspond. Letters 35-38 represent sounds that do not occur in Tibetan, and are either derived from an existing Tibetan base consonant (e.g. Letters 2 and 35 are both derived from the simple Tibetan letter KHA, but are graphically distinct from each other) or from a combination of an existing Tibetan base consonant and the semi-vowel (subjoined) letter WA (e.g. Letter 36 is derived from the complex Tibetan letter KHWA).
As is the case with Tibetan, these letters have an inherant [a] vowel sound attached to them in non-final positions when no other vowel sign is present (e.g. the letter KA with no attached vowel represents the syllable ka, but with an appended vowel i represents the syllable ki).
Letters 31-34 and 39 are vowels. Letters 31-34 follow the traditional order of the corresponding Tibetan vowels. Letter 39 represents a vowel quality that does not occur in Tibetan, and may be derived from the Tibetan double-E vowel sign.
Unlike Tibetan, in which vowels signs may not occur in isolation but must always be attached to a base consonant to form a valid syllable, in the ʼPhags-pa script initial vowels other than a may occur without a base consonant when they are not the first element in a diphthong (e.g. ue) or a digraph (e.g. eeu and eeo). Thus in Chinese ʼPhags-pa texts the syllables u ? wú, on ? wán and o ? é occur, and in Mongolian ʼPhags-pa texts the words ong qo chas "boats", u su nu (gen.) "water", e du -ee "now" and i hee -een "protection" occur. These are all examples of where 'o, 'u, 'e, 'i etc. would be expected if the Tibetan model had been followed exactly. An exception to this rule is the Mongolian word 'er di nis "jewels", where a single vowel sign is attached to a null base consonant. Note that the letter EE is never found in an initial position in any language written in the ʼPhags-pa script (for example, in Tao Zongyi's description of the Old Uighur script, he glosses all instances of Uighur e with the ʼPhags-pa letter EE, except for when it is found in the initial position, when he glosses it with the ʼPhags-pa letter E instead).
However, initial semi-vowels, diphthongs and digraphs must be attached to the null base consonant 'A (Letter 30). So in Chinese ʼPhags-pa texts the syllables 'wen ? yuán, 'ue ? w?i and 'eeu ? yú occur; and in Mongolian ʼPhags-pa texts the words 'eeu lu "not" and 'eeog bee.e "gave" occur. As there is no sign for the vowel a, which is implicit in an initial base consonant with no attached vowel sign, then words that start with an a vowel must also use the null base consonant letter 'A (e.g. Mongolian 'a mi than "living beings"). In Chinese, and rarely Mongolian, another null base consonant -A (Letter 23) may be found before initial vowels (see "Letter 23" below).
|Derivation||Letter Name||Transcription||Mongolian Examples||Chinese Examples|
|1||?||TIBETAN LETTER KA ? [U+0F40]||KA||k||Only used for words of foreign origin, such as kal bu dun (gen. pl.) from Sanskrit kalpa "aeon" [cf. Mongolian galab ], with the single exception of the common Mongolian word ye kee "large, great" [cf. Mongolian yeke ?]||kiw ? qiú
kue ? kuí
|2||?||TIBETAN LETTER KHA ? [U+0F41]||KHA||kh||kheen "who" [cf. Mongolian ken ]||khang ? k?ng
kheeu ? q?
|3||?||TIBETAN LETTER GA ? [U+0F42]||GA||g||bi chig "written document, book" [cf. Mongolian bi?ig ]||ging ? j?ng
gu ? g?
|4||?||TIBETAN LETTER NGA ? [U+0F44]||NGA||ng||deng ri "heaven" [cf. Mongolian tengri ]||ngiw ? niú
ngem ? yán ding ? d?ng
|5||?||TIBETAN LETTER CA ? [U+0F45]||CA||c||cay ? chái
ci ? chí
|6||?||TIBETAN LETTER CHA ? [U+0F46]||CHA||ch||cha q-an "white" [cf. Mongolian ?a?an ]||chang ? ch?ng
cheeu ? ch?
|7||?||TIBETAN LETTER JA ? [U+0F47]||JA||j||jil "year" [cf. Mongolian ?il ]||jim ? zh?n|
|8||?||TIBETAN LETTER NYA ? [U+0F49]||NYA||ny||nyiw ? ni?|
|9||?||TIBETAN LETTER TA ? [U+0F4F]||TA||t||Mostly used in words of foreign origin, such as 'er ti nis (also 'er di nis) "jewels" [cf. Mongolian erdenis ?] and ta layi "sea, ocean" [cf. Mongolian dalai ]||ten ? tián
tung ? tóng
|10||?||TIBETAN LETTER THA ? [U+0F50]||THA||th||thu thum "each, all" [cf. Mongolian tutum ]||thang ? t?ng
thung ? t?ng
|11||?||TIBETAN LETTER DA ? [U+0F51]||DA||d||u ri da nu (gen.) "former, previous" [cf. Mongolian urida ]||dung ? d?ng
du ? d?
|12||?||TIBETAN LETTER NA ? [U+0F53]||NA||n||ma nu "our" [cf. Mongolian manu ?]||nee ? niè
nung ? nóng gon ? gu?n
|13||?||TIBETAN LETTER PA ? [U+0F54]||PA||p||Only used in words of foreign origin, such as pur xan "Buddha" [cf. Mongolian burqan ]||pang ? páng
pay ? bái
|14||?||TIBETAN LETTER PHA ? [U+0F55]||PHA||ph||phon ? p?n
phu ? p?
|15||?||TIBETAN LETTER BA ? [U+0F56]||BA||b||ba sa "then, still, also" [cf. Mongolian basa ?]||ban ? b?n
been ? bi?n
|16||?||TIBETAN LETTER MA ? [U+0F58]||MA||m||'a mi than "living beings" [cf. Mongolian amitan ]||min ? m?n
mew ? miáo gim ? j?n
|17||?||TIBETAN LETTER TSA ? [U+0F59]||TSA||ts||tsaw ? cáo
tsin ? qín
|18||?||TIBETAN LETTER TSHA ? [U+0F5A]||TSHA||tsh||Only used in words of foreign origin, such as sha tshin "religion"||tshay ? cài
tshiw ? qi?
|19||?||TIBETAN LETTER DZA ? [U+0F5B]||DZA||dz||dzam ? z?n
dzew ? ji?o
|20||?||TIBETAN LETTER WA ? [U+0F5D]||WA||w||Only used in words of foreign origin, such as wa chi ra ba ni "Vajrapi"||wan ? wàn
wu ? w? xiw ? hóu gaw ? g?o
|21||?||TIBETAN LETTER ZHA ? [U+0F5E]||ZHA||zh||zheeu ? rú
zhew ? ráo
|22||?||TIBETAN LETTER ZA ? [U+0F5F]||ZA||z||Only found in the single word za ra "month" [cf. Mongolian sara ?]||zeeu ? xú
zi ? xí
|23||?||TIBETAN LETTER -A ? [U+0F60]||-A||-||This letter is found rarely initially, e.g. -ir gee nee (dat./loc.) "people" [cf. Mongolian irgen ], but frequently medially between vowels where it serves to separate a syllable that starts with a vowel from a preceding syllable that ends in a vowel, e.g. er khee -ud "Christians" and q-an "emperor, khan" [cf. Mongolian qa?an ] (where q-an is a contraction for the hypothetical qa -an)||-an ? ?n
-ing ? y?ng -eeu ? yù
|24||?||TIBETAN LETTER YA ? [U+0F61]||YA||y||na yan "eighty" [cf. Mongolian nayan ]||yi ? y?
yang ? yáng day ? dài hyay ? xiè
|25||?||TIBETAN LETTER RA ? [U+0F62]||RA||r||chee rig "army" [cf. Mongolian ?erig ]|
|26||?||TIBETAN LETTER LA ? [U+0F63]||LA||l||al ba "tax, tribute" [cf. Mongolian alba ?]||leeu ? l?
lim ? lín
|27||?||TIBETAN LETTER SHA ? [U+0F64]||SHA||sh||shi nee "new" [cf. Mongolian ?ine ?]||shi ? shí
shwang ? shu?ng
|28||?||TIBETAN LETTER SA ? [U+0F66]||SA||s||hee chus "end, goal" [cf. Mongolian e?üs ?]||su ? s?
syang ? xiàng
|29||?||TIBETAN LETTER HA ? [U+0F67]||HA||h||Initially in words that now have null initials, such as har ban "ten" [cf. Mongolian arban ], and medially only in the single word -i hee -een (or -i h-een) "protector, guardian"||hwa ? hu?
sh.hi ? sh? l.hing ? l?ng j.hang ? zhu?ng
|30||?||TIBETAN LETTER A ? [U+0F68]||'A||'||'eeu lu "not" [cf. Mongolian ülü ]||'wang ? wáng
'eeu ? yú
|31||?||TIBETAN VOWEL SIGN I ? [U+0F72]||I||i||-i hee -een (or -i h-een) "protection"||li ? l?
n.hing ? néng heei ? x?
|32||?||TIBETAN VOWEL SIGN U ? [U+0F74]||U||u||u su nu (gen.) "water" [cf. Mongolian usun ?]||u ? wú
mue ? méi
|33||?||TIBETAN VOWEL SIGN E ? [U+0F7A]||E||e||e du -ee "now" [cf. Mongolian edüge ]||ze ? xiè
jem ? zh?n gue ? guó
|34||?||TIBETAN VOWEL SIGN O ? [U+0F7C]||O||o||ong qo chas "boats" [cf. Mongolian ong?o?as ?]||no ? n?
mon ? m?n
|35||?||TIBETAN LETTER KHA ? [U+0F41]||QA||q||qa muq "all" [cf. Mongolian qamu? ]|
|36||?||TIBETAN LETTER KHA [U+0F41] plus TIBETAN SUBJOINED LETTER WA [U+0FAD]||XA||x||Only used in words of foreign origin, such as pur xan "Buddha" [cf. Mongolian burqan ]||xu ? hú
xong ? huáng
|37||?||TIBETAN LETTER HA [U+0F67] plus TIBETAN SUBJOINED LETTER WA [U+0FAD]||FA||f||fang ? f?ng
fi ? fèi
|38||?||TIBETAN LETTER GA ? [U+0F42]||GGA|
|39||?||TIBETAN VOWEL SIGN EE ? [U+0F7B]||EE||ee||el deeb "various" [cf. Mongolian eldeb ] (Poppe reads this word as eel deeb, as the only example of an initial letter EE, but I think that it is clear from the rubbing of the inscription that the initial letter is a slightly deformeed letter E)||chee ? ch?
seeu ? x? geeing ? j?ng
|40||?||TIBETAN SUBJOINED LETTER WA ? [U+0FAD]||SUBJOINED WA||w||xway ? huái
jwaw ? zhu? gwang ? gu?ng
|41||?||TIBETAN SUBJOINED LETTER YA ? [U+0FB1]||SUBJOINED YA||y||hya ? xià
gya ? ji? dzyang ? ji?ng
|Derivation||Letter Name||Transcription||Sanskrit or Tibetan Examples|
|42||?||TIBETAN LETTER TTA ? [U+0F4A]||TTA||tt||sha tt-a pa ... i ta (Sanskrit ?a? p?ramit?) [Ill.3 Line 6]|
|43||?||TIBETAN LETTER TTHA ? [U+0F4B]||TTHA||tth||pra tish tthi te (Sanskrit pratihite) [Ill.3 Line 8] (TTHA plus unreversed I)
dhish tthi te (Sanskrit dhihite) [Tath?gatah?daya-dh?ra Line 16] (TTHA plus reversed I) nish tthe (Sanskrit nihe) [Tath?gatah?daya-dh?ra Line 10] (TTHA plus reversed E)
|44||?||TIBETAN LETTER DDA ? [U+0F4C]||DDA||dd||dann dde (Sanskrit daaya) [Tath?gatah?daya-dh?ra Line 14]
'-a kad ddha ya (Sanskrit ?kahaya) [Ill.4 Line 7] (DDA plus reversed HA)
|45||?||TIBETAN LETTER NNA ? [U+0F4E]||NNA||nn||sb-a ra nna (Sanskrit sphara?a) [Ill.3 Line 3]
ush nni ... (Sanskrit u?a) [Ill.3 Line 6] (NNA plus reversed I) kshu nnu (Sanskrit k?u?u) [Tath?gatah?daya-dh?ra Line 2] (NNA plus reversed U)
ha ra nne (Sanskrit hara?e) [Ill.4 Line 5] (NNA plus reversed E) pu nn.ya (Sanskrit pu?ya) [Tath?gatah?daya-dh?ra Line 13] (NNA plus reversed subjoined Y)
|46||?||TIBETAN SUBJOINED LETTER RA ? [U+0FB2]||Subjoined RA||r||bh-ru^ (Sanskrit bhr) [Ill.3 Line 2]
mu dre (Sanskrit mudre) [Ill.3 Line 9] ba dzra (Sanskrit vajra) [Ill.3 Line 9]
bkra shis (Tibetan bkra-shis "prosperity, good fortune") [Ill.5]
|47||?||TIBETAN LETTER RA ? [U+0F62]||Superfixed RA||sangs rgyas (Tibetan sangs-rgyas "Buddha") [Ill.6]|
|48||?||TIBETAN SIGN SNA LDAN ? [U+0F83]
DEVANAGARI SIGN CANDRABINDU [U+0901]
|Candrabindu||^||o^ bh-ru^ bh-ru^ (Sanskrit o? bhr bhr) [Ill.3 Line 2]
sa^ ha ... (Sanskrit sa?hatana) [Ill.3 Line 9]
Following are the initials of the ʼPhags-pa script as presented in Menggu Ziyun. They are ordered according to the Chinese philological tradition of the 36 initials.
|17||? f?i||*[p?]||?||f-||Normal form of the letter fa|
|18||? f?||*[p]||?||f¹-||Variant form of the letter fa|
|19||? fèng||*[b?]||?||f-||Normal form of the letter fa|
|20||? w?i||*[?]||?||w-||Letter wa represents [v]|
|29||? sh?n||*[?]||?||sh¹-||Variant form of the letter sha|
|30||? chán||*[?]||?||sh-||Normal form of the letter sha|
|31||? xi?o||*[x]||?||h-||Normal form of the letter ha|
|?||h¹-||Variant form of the letter ha|
|33||? y?ng||*[?]||?||ʼ-||glottal stop|
|?||y-||Normal form of the letter ya|
|34||? yù||*[j]||?||-||null initial|
|?||y¹-||Variant form of the letter ya|
ʼPhags-pa script was added to the Unicode Standard in July 2006 with the release of version 5.0.
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)