Tibetan/Section One - The Alphabet

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
< Tibetan
Jump to: navigation, search

When learning a new language, it's always a good idea to begin by knowing how to read and write. The Tibetan script has 30 consonants. The vowels are a, i, u, e, o. As in other Indic scripts, each consonant letter includes an inherent a, and the other vowels are indicated by marks; thus ཀ ka, ཀི ki, ཀུ ku, ཀེ ke, ཀོ ko. There is no distinction between long and short vowels in written Tibetan, except in loanwords, especially transcribed from the Sanskrit.

Syllables are separated by a tseg ་; since many Tibetan words are monosyllabic, this mark often functions almost as a space. Spaces are not used to divide words.

Although some Tibetan dialects are tonal, because the language had no tone at the time of the scripts invention, tones are not written. However, since tones developed from segmental features they can usually be correctly predicted by the spelling of Tibetan words.

ཀ ka [ká] ཁ kha [kʰá] ག ga [ɡà/kʰà] ང nga [ŋà]
ཅ ca [tɕá] ཆ cha [tɕʰá] ཇ ja [dʑà/tɕʰà] ཉ nya [ɲà]
ཏ ta [tá] ཐ tha [tʰá] ད da [dà/tʰà] ན na [nà]
པ pa [pá] ཕ pha [pʰá] བ ba [bà/pʰà] མ ma [mà]
ཙ tsa [tsá] ཚ tsha [tsʰá] ཛ dza [dzà/tsʰà] ཝ wa [wà]
ཞ zha [ʑà] ཟ za [zà] འ 'a [ʔà] ཡ ya [jà]
ར ra [rà] ལ la [là] ཤ sha [ɕá] ས sa [sá]
ཧ ha [há] ཨ a [ʔá]

The h or apostrophe (’) usually signifies aspiration, but in the case of zh and sh it signifies palatalization and the single letter h represents a voiceless glottal fricative.

Old Tibetan had no letter w, which was instead a digraph for 'w.

The Sanskrit "cerebral" (retroflex) consonants are represented by mirror forms of the letters ta, tha, da, na, and sha to give ཊ ṭa (Ta), ཋ ṭha (Tha), ཌ ḍa (Da), ཎ ṇa (Na), and ཥ ṣa (Sa).

As in other Indic scripts, clustered consonants are often stacked vertically. Unfortunately, some fonts and applications do not support this behavior for Tibetan, so these examples may not display properly; you might have to download a font such as Tibetan Machine Uni.

W, r, and y change form when they are beneath another consonant; thus ཀྭ kwa; ཀྲ kra; ཀྱ kya. R also changes form when it is above most other consonants; thus རྐ rka. An exception is the cluster རྙ rnya.