Soyombo alphabet

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Soyombo script
Soyombo symbol.png
Type
Languages Mongolian, Tibetan, Sanskrit
Creator Zanabazar, 1686
Time period
17th century–18th century
Parent systems
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

The Soyombo alphabet (Mongolian: Соёмбо бичиг, soyombo bichig) is an abugida developed by the monk and scholar Zanabazar in 1686 to write Mongolian. It can also be used to write Tibetan and Sanskrit.

A special character of the script, the Soyombo symbol, became a national symbol of Mongolia, and has appeared on the national flag since 1921, and on the Emblem of Mongolia since 1960, as well as money, stamps, etc.

Creation[edit]

The Soyombo script was created as the fourth Mongolian script, only 38 years after the invention of the Clear script. The name of the script alludes to this story. It is derived from the Sanskrit word Svayambhu "self-created".

The syllabic system in fact appears to be based on Devanagari, while the base shape of the letters is derived from the Ranjana alphabet. Details of individual characters resemble traditional Mongolian alphabets and the Old Turkic alphabet.

It is unclear whether Zanabazar designed the Soyombo symbol himself or if it had existed beforehand.

Use[edit]

Example of Syllable combination

The eastern Mongols used the script primarily as a ceremonial and decorative script. Zanabazar had created it for the translation of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit or Tibetan, and both he and his students used it extensively for that purpose.

As it was much too complicated to be adopted as an everyday script, its use is practically nonexistent today. Aside from historical texts, it can usually be found in temple inscriptions. It also has some relevance to linguistic research, because it reflects certain developments in the Mongolian language, such as that of long vowels.

Form[edit]

The Soyombo script was the first Mongolian script to be written horizontally from left to right, in contrast to earlier scripts that had been written vertically. As in the Tibetan and Devanagari scripts, the signs are suspended below a horizontal line, giving each line of text a visible "backbone".

The two variations of the Soyombo symbol are used as special characters to mark the start and end of a text. Two of its elements (the upper triangle and the right vertical bar) form the angular base frame for the other characters.

Within this frame, the syllables are composed of one to three elements. The first consonant is placed high within the angle. The vowel is given by a mark above the frame, except for u and ü which are marked in the low center. A second consonant is specified by a small mark, appended to the inside of the vertical bar, pushing any u or ü mark to the left side. A short oblique hook at the bottom of the vertical bar marks a long vowel. There is also a curved or jagged mark to the right of the vertical bar for the two diphthongs.

Alphabet[edit]

The Mongolian characters of the Soyombo script. The upper line shows vowels and special characters, the lower lines show starting and ending consonants.

The first character of the alphabet represents a syllable starting with a short a. Syllables starting with other vowels are constructed by adding a vowel mark to the same base character. All remaining base characters represent syllables starting with a consonant. A starting consonant without a vowel mark implies a following a.

In theory, 20 consonants and 14 vowels would result in almost 4000 combinations, but not all of those actually occur in Mongolian. There are additional base characters and marks for writing Tibetan or Sanskrit.

Apart from the Soyombo symbol, the only punctuation mark is a full stop, represented by a vertical bar. In inscriptions, words are often separated by a dot at the height of the upper triangle.

Unicode[edit]

As of Unicode 6.0, the Soyombo script has not yet been encoded. It is tentatively allocated to the Supplementary Multilingual Plane. A preliminary proposal to encode Soyombo has submitted by Anshuman Pandey to the Unicode Technical Committee.[1]

The Menksoft IMEs provide alternative input methods.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Соёмбын нууц ба синергетик. Эмхэтгэсэн Б. Болдсайхан, Б. Батсанаа, Ц. Оюунцэцэг. Улаанбаатар 2005. (Secrets and Synergetic of Soyombo. Compiled by B. Boldsaikhan, B. Batsanaa, Ts. Oyuntsetseg. Ulaanbaatar 2005.)