'Phags-pa Script
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Yang Wengshe 1314.jpg
Christian tombstone from Quanzhou dated 1314, with inscription in the 'Phags-pa script ?ung sh? yang shi mu taw 'tomb memorial of Yang Wengshe'
CreatorDrogön Chögyal Phagpa
Time period
1269 - c. 1360
Parent systems
Child systems
Possibly Hangul
Sister systems
ISO 15924Phag, 331
Unicode alias
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

The 'Phags-pa script[1] 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 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,[2][3] and other neighboring languages during the Yuan era.[4][5] 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 was also partly inspired by 'Phags-pa (see Origin of Hangul). During the Pax Mongolica the script has even made numerous appearances in western medieval art.


'Phags-pa script: mongxol tshi, "Mongolian script";

Mongolian: ? dörvöljin üseg, "square script";

Tibetan: , Wylie: hor yig gsar ba "new Mongolian script";

Yuan dynasty Chinese: ?; pinyin: m?ngg? x?nzì "new Mongolian script";

Modern Chinese: ?; pinyin: b?s?b? wén "'Phags-pa 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 'Phags-pa to design a new alphabet for use by the whole empire. 'Phags-pa extended his native Tibetan alphabet[3] to encompass Mongol and Chinese, evidently Central Plains Mandarin.[6] 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 'Phags-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.[3] It is unique among Brahmic scripts in that it is written top bottom,[3] 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[7] when the Red Turban Rebellion started. After this it was mainly used as a phonetic gloss for Mongolians 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.[]

Syllable formation

Although it is an alphabet, phagspa is written like a syllabary or abugida, with letters forming a single syllable glued or 'ligated' together.[3]

An imperial edict in 'Phags-pa
The 'Phags-pa script, with consonants arranged according to Chinese phonology. At the far left are vowels and medial consonants.

Top: Approximate values in Middle Chinese. (Values in parentheses were not used for Chinese.)
Second: Standard letter forms.
Third: Seal script forms. (A few letters, marked by hyphens, are not distinct from the preceding letter.)

Bottom: The "Tibetan" forms. (Several letters have alternate forms, separated here by a o bullet.)

Unlike the ancestral Tibetan script, all 'Phags-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 'Phags-pa transitional between an abugida, a syllabary, and a full alphabet. The letters of a 'Phags-pa syllable are linked together so that they form syllabic blocks.[3]

Typographic forms

'Phags-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 'Phags-pa and a reference to its Chinese name ? m?ngg? zhuànzì (see origin of hangul). However, it is the simpler standard form of 'Phags-pa that is the closer graphic match to hangul.


Following are the initials of the 'Phags-pa script as presented in Menggu Ziyun. They are ordered according to the Chinese philological tradition of the 36 initials.[]

36 initials in ? Menggu Ziyun
No. Name Phonetic
1 ? jiàn *[k] ? g-
2 ? q? *[k?] ? kh-
3 ? qún *[?] ? k-
4 ? *[?] ? ng-
5 ? du?n *[t] ? d-
6 ? tòu *[t?] ? th-
7 ? dìng *[d] ? t-
8 ? *[n] ? n-
9 ? zh? *[?] ? j-
10 ? chè *[] ? ch-
11 ? chéng *[?] ? c-
12 ? niáng *[?] ? ny-
13 ? b?ng *[p] ? b-
14 ? p?ng *[p?] ? ph-
15 ? bìng *[b] ? p-
16 ? míng *[m] ? m-
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]
21 ? j?ng *[ts] ? dz-
22 ? q?ng *[ts?] ? tsh-
23 ? cóng *[dz] ? ts-
24 ? x?n *[s] ? s-
25 ? xié *[z] ? z-
26 ? zhào *[t?] ? j-
27 ? chu?n *[t] ? ch-
28 ? chuáng *[d?] ? c-
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
32 ? xiá *[?] ? x-
? h¹- Variant form of the letter ha
33 ? y?ng *[?] ? '- glottal stop
? y- Normal form of the letter ya
34 ? *[j] ? - null initial
? y¹- Variant form of the letter ya
35 ? lái *[l] ? l-
36 ? *[?] ? zh-


'Phags-pa script was added to the Unicode Standard in July 2006 with the release of version 5.0.

The Unicode block for 'Phags-pa is U+A840-U+A877:[]

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

U+A856 ? PHAGS-PA LETTER SMALL A is transliterated using LATIN LETTER SINOLOGICAL DOT from the Latin Extended-D Unicode block.[8]

See also


  1. ^ 'Phags-pa script: mongxol tshi, "Mongolian script"; Mongolian: ? dörvöljin üseg, "square script"; Tibetan: , Wylie: hor yig gsar ba "new Mongolian script"; Chinese: ?; pinyin: m?ngg? x?nzì "new Mongolian script" (Yuan dynasty usage) or Chinese: ?; pinyin: b?s?b? wén "'Phags-pa writing" (modern usage)
  2. ^ "CHINESE-IRANIAN RELATIONS viii. Persian Lang. - Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Retrieved .
  3. ^ a b c d e f "BabelStone : 'Phags-pa Script : Description". www.babelstone.co.uk. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. "The 'Phags-pa Script (www.chinaknowledge.de)". www.chinaknowledge.de. Retrieved .
  5. ^ "BabelStone : Phags-pa Script : Overview". www.babelstone.co.uk. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Coblin, W. South (2002). "Reflections on the Study of Post-Medieval Chinese Historical Phonology". In (ed.). : . ?  [Papers from the Third International Conference on Sinology, Linguistics Section. Dialect Variations in Chinese]. Taibei: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica. pp. 23-50. ISBN 978-957-671-936-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-05-16. Retrieved 2011. p. 31.
  7. ^ Strange Names of God: The Missionary Translation of the Divine Name and the Chinese Responses to Matteo Ricci's "Shangti" in Late Ming China, 1583-1644, by Sangkeun Kim, p139
  8. ^ West, Andrew (2009-04-04). "L2/09-031R: Proposal to encode a Middle Dot letter for Phags-pa transliteration" (PDF).

Further reading

  • Coblin, W. South (2006). A Handbook of 'Phags-pa Chinese. ABC Dictionary Series. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3000-7.
  • Everding, Karl-Heinz (2006). Herrscherurkunden aus der Zeit des mongolischen Großreiches für tibetische Adelshäuser, Geistliche und Klöster. Teil 1: Diplomata Mongolica. Mittelmongolische Urkunden in 'Phags-pa-Schrift. Eidtion, Übersetzung, Analyse. Halle: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies. ISBN 978-3-88280-074-6.
  • Poppe, Nicholas (1957). The Mongolian Monuments in hP´ags-pa Script (Second ed.). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Schuh, Dieter (1981). Grundlagen tibetischer Siegelkunde. Eine Untersuchung über tibetische Siegelaufschriften in 'Phags-pa-Schrift. Sankt Augustin: VGH Wissenschaftsverlag. ISBN 978-3-88280-011-1.
  • Sampson, Geoffrey (1985). Writing Systems: A Linguistic Introduction. Great Britain: Anchor Brenton Ltd. ISBN 978-0-09-156980-8.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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