Tibetan script and fonts#

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History of Tibetan script#

While Tibetan script is (remotely) related to Western Latin script via there common ancestor Proto-Sinaitic, the first alphabetic script, the Tibetan language is part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, without common ancestor with Indo-European or Afro-Asiatic languages. The following is a short overview of the relations between different scripts and languages:

Script development#

The following table compares five consonants in different scripts. With exception of Proto-Sinaitic, Gupta, Rañjanā, Lantsa, and Nāgarī (which are images due to not yet being part of Unicode), correct display requires the corresponding Unicode fonts being installed. If fonts are missing (visible as a row in the table just being placeholder-boxes), it’s easiest to install the Noto family of fonts.

Development of Tibetan script#

This table shows the development of consonants b, d, m, r, and t:

Script

b

d

m

r

t

Time period

Hieroglyphic

𓉐

𓉿

𓈖

𓁶

𓏴

c. 3200 BC - AD 400

Proto-Sinaitic1

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-b.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-d.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-m.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-r.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-t.jpg

1900 BC - 1500 BC

Phoenician

𐤁

𐤃

𐤌

𐤓

𐤕

1050 BC - 150 BC

Aramaic

𐡁

𐡃

𐡌

𐡓

𐡕

800 BC - AD 600

Brāhmī

𑀩

𑀤

𑀫

𑀭

𑀢

300 BC - AD 500

Gupta2

../_images/Gupta_b.jpg

../_images/Gupta_d.jpg

../_images/Gupta_m.jpg

../_images/Gupta_r.jpg

../_images/Gupta_t.jpg

AD 400 - AD 600

Siddhaṃ

𑖤

𑖟

𑖦

𑖨

𑖝

AD 600 - AD 1200

Rañjanā3

../_images/Ranjana_b.jpg

../_images/Ranjana_d.jpg

../_images/Ranjana_m.jpg

../_images/Ranjana_r.jpg

../_images/Ranjana_t.jpg

AD 1100 - present

Lantsa4

../_images/Lantsa_b.jpg

../_images/Lantsa_d.jpg

../_images/Lantsa_m.jpg

../_images/Lantsa_r.jpg

../_images/Lantsa_t.jpg

AD 1100 - present

Nāgarī5

../_images/Nagari_b.jpg

../_images/Nagari_d.jpg

../_images/Nagari_m.jpg

../_images/Nagari_r.jpg

../_images/Nagari_t.jpg

AD 100 (early), AD 700 - present

Devanagari

AD 100 (early) AD 700 - present

Tibetan

AD 650 - present

Mongolian ‘phags pa

(vertical script, turn 90° clockwise!) AD 1300 - present

According to William Woodville Rockhill,6 Tibetan was developed based on Nāgarī script:

The 7th century Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo ordered that all foreign books be transcribed into Tibetan language, and sent his ambassador Tonmi Sambota to India to acquire alphabet and writing methods, who returned with Sanskrit Nāgarī script from Kashmir corresponding to 24 Tibetan sounds and innovating new symbols for 6 local sounds. Wikipedia

For comparison: development of Latin script#

The common ancestor of all alphabetic system based scripts is Proto-Sinaitic. Additionally, Old Italic was influenced by Phoenician:7

Proto-Sinaitic is considered the earliest trace of alphabetic writing and the common ancestor of both the Ancient South Arabian script and the Phoenician alphabet, which led to many modern alphabets including the Greek alphabet.8

Script

b

d

m

r

t

Time period

Hieroglyphic

𓉐

𓉿

𓈖

𓁶

𓏴

c. 3200 BC - AD 400

Proto-Sinaitic1

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-b.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-d.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-m.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-r.jpg

../_images/ProtoSinaitic-t.jpg

1900 BC - 1500 BC

Phoenician

𐤁

𐤃

𐤌

𐤓

𐤕

1050 BC - 150 BC

Greek

Β

Δ

Μ

Ρ

Τ

800 BC - present

Old Italic

𐌁

𐌃

𐌌

𐌓

𐌕

700 BC - 100 BC

Latin

B

D

M

R

T

700 BC - present

Runes

AD 150 - AD 1100

Inter-relations#

Open questions#

Note: the relations between Hieroglyphs, Indus script, Proto-Sinaitic, and Cuneiform are subject of active research, and there are different theories on origins and relations between these scripts.

Among current theories are:

  • Geoffrey Sampson stated that Egyptian hieroglyphs “came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and, probably, [were] invented under the influence of the latter”,9 and that it is “probable that the general idea of expressing words of a language in writing was brought to Egypt from Sumerian Mesopotamia”.1011

Alternate theories on Tibetan scripts#

  • According to Ribur Ngawang Gyatso12, Thonmi Sambota, being sent to India by Srongtsan Gampo to search for a script, upon his return to Tibet, formulated the Tibetan script from Lantsa and Vartu.

Historical evidence however shows that a modified version of the Rañjanā script was adopted as Lantsa for use of creating Sanskrit titles.

Current consensus#

It is however consensus that all alphabetic scripts have Proto-Sinaitic as common ancestor.

graph TD; BA(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megalithic_graffiti_symbols'>Megalithic graffiti symbols</a>)-.->BB(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indus_script'>Indus script</a><br><small>3500 BC - 1900 BC<small/>); CA(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_Elamite'>Linear Elamite script</a><br><small>3000 BC - 1850 BC</small>)-->CB(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elamite_cuneiform'>Cuneiform Elamite</a><br><small>3000 BC - 400 BC</small>); CB-->CD(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform#Sumero-Akkadian_cuneiform'>Cuneiform Sumerian</a><br><small>2300 BC - 2000 BC</small>); CD-->CE(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform#Sumero-Akkadian_cuneiform'>Cuneiform Akkadian</a><br><small>2000 BC - 1800 BC</small>); L0A(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_hieroglyphs'> Egyptian Hieroglyphs</a><br><small>3200 BC - AD 400</small>)-->LA(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Sinaitic_script'>Proto-Sinaitic script</a><br><small>1900 BC - 1500 BC</small>); LA-->LB(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_alphabet'>Phoenician alphabet</a><br><small>1050 BC - 150 BC</small>); LB-->LC(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramaic_alphabet'>Aramaic alphabet</a><br><small>800 BC - AD 600</small>); LC-->LD(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmi_script'>Brāhmī</a><br><small>300 BC - AD 500</small>); LD-->LE(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gupta_script'>Gupta</a><br><small>AD 400 - AD 600</small>); LE-->LF(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddha%E1%B9%83_script'>Siddhaṃ</a><br><small>AD 600 - AD 1200</small>); LF-->LF2(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nepalese_scripts'>Nepalese</a><br><small>AD 1100 - AD 1950</small>); LF2-->LF3(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranjana_script'>Rañjanā</a><br><small>AD 1100 - present</small>); LF3-->LF4(<a href='http://www.lantsha-vartu.org/'>Lantsa, Lanthsa</a><br><small>AD 1100 - present</small>) LF-->LG(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C4%81gar%C4%AB_script'>Nāgarī</a><br><small>AD 100 early, AD 700 - present</small>); LG-->LH(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devanagari'>Devanagari</a><br><small>AD 100 early AD 700 - present</small>); LG-->LI; LH-.->LI(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_script'>Tibetan script</a><br><small>AD 650 - present</small>); LA-->LK(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_alphabet'>Greek alphabet</a><br><small>800 BC - present</small>); LK-->LL(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Italic_scripts'>Old Italic script</a><br><small>700 BC - 100 BC</small>); LL-->LM(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_alphabet'>Latin alphabet</a><br><small>700 BC - present</small>); LL-->LN(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runes'>Runes</a><br><small>AD 150 - AD 1100</small>); LI-->LI2(<a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CA%BCPhags-pa_script'>Mongolian 'phags pa script</a><br><small>AD 1300 - present</small>) BB-.->LD; BB-.->BA; BB-.->CA; CA-.->BB; LB-.->LL; LE-.->LI; BB-.->LA; LA-.->BB; LI-.->LF4;

Source: compiled from Wikipedia 2022-05

Language development#

graph TD; AAA[Sino-Tibetan language family]-->AAB[Tibeto-Kanauri]; AAB-->AAC[Bodish]; AAC-->AAD[Tibetic]; AAD-->AAE[Old Tibetan]; AAE-->AAF[Tibetan]; AAA-->AAG[Sinitic]; AAG-->AAH[Chinese];
graph TD; AA[Indo-European language family]-->AB[Indo-Iranian]; AB-->AC[Indo-Aryan]; AC-->AD[Sanskrit]; AA-->ABA[Germanic]; ABA-->ABB[West Germanic]; ABB-->ABC[High German]; ABC-->ABD[German]; ABB--> ABBA[North Sea Germanic]; ABBA-->ABBB[Anglo-Frisian]; ABBB-->ABBC[Anglic]; ABBC-->ABBD[English]; AA-->ACA[Italo-Celtic?]; ACA-->ACB[Italic]; ACB-->ACC[Romance]; ACC-->ACD[Western Romance]; ACD-->ACE[Gallo-Romance]; ACE-->ACF[Oïl]; ACF-->ACG[French];
graph TD; AH[Afro-Asiatic language family]-->AI[Semitic]; AI-->AJ[East Semitic]; AJ-->AK[Akkadian]; BE[Sumerian language isolate]<-.->AK; AI-->AM[Central Semitic]; AM-->AN[Northwest Semitic]; AN-->AO[Aramaic]; AO-->AP[Eastern Aramaic]; AP-->AQ[Northeastern Neo-Aramaic]; AQ-->AR[Assurian];

Sources: compiled from Wikipedia 2022-05


1(1,2)

Not yet (2022-05) part of Unicode, glyphs from: https://omniglot.com/writing/protosinaitc.htm. Unicode proposal for proto sinaitic.

2

Not yet (2022-05) part of Unicode, glyphs from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gupta_script by: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mhss

3

Not yet (2022-05) part of Unicode, glyphs from Unicode proposal: https://www.unicode.org/L2/L2016/16015-ranjana.pdf

4

Tibetan adaptation of Rañjanā, not yet (2022-05) part of Unicode, glyphs from Unicode proposal: https://www.unicode.org/L2/L2016/16015-ranjana.pdf

5

Not part of Unicode, considered variant of Devanagari, glyphs from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C4%81gar%C4%AB_script by: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Benedettou&amp;action=edit&amp;redlink=1

6

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.

7

The Old Italic alphabets clearly derive from the Phoenician alphabet, although the precise chain of cultural transmission is unknown. (WP)

8

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Sinaitic_script

9

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform#cite_note-b1-37

10

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform#cite_note-38

11

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform#cite_note-39

12

Ribur Ngawang Gyatso: A Short History of Tibetan Script.