'Pags Pa

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

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 Yuan dynasty, and it fell out of use with the advent of the Ming dynasty.[citation needed]

It was used to write and transcribe varieties of Chinese, the Tibetic languages, Mongolian, the Uyghur language, Sanskrit, Persian,[1][2] and other neighboring languages during the Yuan era.[3][4] 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 ʼPhags-pa (see Origin of Hangul). During the Pax Mongolica the script has even made numerous appearances in western medieval art.


ʼPhags-pa script: ꡏꡡꡃ ꡣꡡꡙ ꡐꡜꡞ mongxol tshi, "Mongolian script";

Mongolian: дөрвөлжин үсэг dörvöljin üseg, "square script";

Tibetan: ཧོར་ཡིག་གསར་པ་, Wylie: hor yig gsar ba "new Mongolian script";

Yuan dynasty Chinese: 蒙古新字; pinyin: měnggǔ xīnzì "new Mongolian script";

Modern Chinese: 八思巴文; pinyin: bāsībā wén "ʼPhags-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.[citation needed] 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[2] to encompass Mongol and Chinese, evidently Central Plains Mandarin.[5] 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.[citation needed]

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.[2] It is unique among Brahmic scripts in that it is written top bottom,[2] 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[6] 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.[citation needed]

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.[2]

An imperial edict in ʼPhags-pa
The ʼPhags-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 • bullet.)

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.[2]

Typographic forms[]

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 蒙古篆字 měnggǔ zhuànzì "Mongolian Seal Script"), used for imperial seals and the like, was more elaborate, with squared sinusoidal lines and spirals.[citation needed]

Korean records state that hangul was based on an "Old Seal Script" (古篆字), which may be ʼPhags-pa and a reference to its Chinese name 蒙古篆字 měnggǔ zhuànzì (see origin of hangul). However, it is the simpler standard form of ʼPhags-pa that is the closer graphic match to hangul.


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.[citation needed]

36 initials in 蒙古字韵 Menggu Ziyun
No. Name Phonetic
1 jiàn *[k] g-
2 *[kʰ] kh-
3 qún *[ɡ] k-
4 *[ŋ] ng-
5 duān *[t] d-
6 tòu *[tʰ] th-
7 dìng *[d] t-
8 *[n] n-
9 zhī *[ʈ] j-
10 chè *[ʈʰ] ch-
11 chéng *[ɖ] c-
12 niáng *[ɳ] ny-
13 bāng *[p] b-
14 pāng *[pʰ] ph-
15 bìng *[b] p-
16 míng *[m] m-
17 fēi *[p̪] f- Normal form of the letter fa
18 *[p̪ʰ] f¹- Variant form of the letter fa
19 fèng *[b̪] f- Normal form of the letter fa
20 wēi *[ɱ] w- Letter wa represents [v]
21 jīng *[ts] dz-
22 qīng *[tsʰ] tsh-
23 cóng *[dz] ts-
24 xīn *[s] s-
25 xié *[z] z-
26 zhào *[tɕ] j-
27 穿 chuān *[tɕʰ] ch-
28 chuáng *[dʑ] c-
29 shěn *[ɕ] sh¹- Variant form of the letter sha
30 chán *[ʑ] sh- Normal form of the letter sha
31 xiǎo *[x] h- Normal form of the letter ha
32 xiá *[ɣ] x-
h¹- Variant form of the letter ha
33 yǐng *[ʔ] ʼ- 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 *[ɲ] zh-


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

The Unicode block for ʼPhags-pa is U+A840–U+A877:[citation needed]

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 U+A78F LATIN LETTER SINOLOGICAL DOT from the Latin Extended-D Unicode block.[7]

See also[]


  1. ^ "CHINESE-IRANIAN RELATIONS viii. Persian Lang. – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "BabelStone : 'Phags-pa Script : Description". www.babelstone.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  3. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. "The 'Phags-pa Script (www.chinaknowledge.de)". www.chinaknowledge.de. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  4. ^ "BabelStone : Phags-pa Script : Overview". www.babelstone.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  5. ^ Coblin, W. South (2002). "Reflections on the Study of Post-Medieval Chinese Historical Phonology". In 何大安 (ed.). 第三屆國際漢學會議論文集: 語言組. 南北是非 : 漢語方言的差異與變化 [Papers from the Third International Conference on Sinology, Linguistics Section. Dialect Variations in Chinese]. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica. pp. 23–50. ISBN 978-957-671-936-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-05-16. Retrieved 21 October 2011. p. 31.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ West, Andrew (2009-04-04). "L2/09-031R: Proposal to encode a Middle Dot letter for Phags-pa transliteration" (PDF).

Further reading[]

External links[]