The Tangut script (Tangut: 𗼇𗟲; Chinese: 西夏文; pinyin: Xī Xià Wén; lit.: 'Western Xia script') was a logographic writing system, used for writing the extinct Tangut language of the Western Xia dynasty. According to the latest count, 5863 Tangut characters are known, excluding variants. The Tangut characters are similar in appearance to Chinese characters, with the same type of strokes, but the methods of forming characters in the Tangut writing system are significantly different from those of forming Chinese characters. As in Chinese calligraphy, regular, running, cursive and seal scripts were used in Tangut writing.
According to the History of Song (1346), the script was designed by the high-ranking official Yeli Renrong in 1036. The script was invented in a short period of time, and was put into use quickly. Government schools were founded to teach the script. Official documents were written in the script (with diplomatic ones written bilingually). A great number of Buddhist scriptures were translated from Tibetan and Chinese, and block printed in the script. Although the dynasty collapsed in 1227, the script continued to be used for another few centuries. The last example of the script occurs on a pair of Tangut dharani pillars found at Baoding in present-day Hebei province, which were erected in 1502.
[Tangut] is remarkable for being written in one of the most inconvenient of all scripts, a collection of nearly 5,800 characters of the same kind as Chinese characters but rather more complicated; very few are made up of as few as four strokes and most are made up of a good many more, in some cases nearly twenty... There are few recognizable indications of sound and meaning in the constituent parts of a character, and in some cases characters which differ from one another only in minor details of shape or by one or two strokes have completely different sounds and meanings.
Tangut characters can be divided into two classes: simple and composite. The latter are much more numerous. The simple characters can be either semantic or phonetic. None of the Tangut characters are pictographic, while some of the Chinese characters were at the time of their creation; this is one of the major differences between Tangut and Chinese characters.
Most composite characters comprise two components. A few comprise three or four. A component can be a simple character, or part of a composite character. The composite characters include semantic-semantic ones and semantic-phonetic ones. A few special composite characters were made for transliterating Chinese and Sanskrit.
There are a number of pairs of special composite characters worth noting. The members of such a pair have the same components, only the location of the components in them is different (e.g. AB vs. BA, ABC vs. ACB). The members of such a pair have very similar meanings.
The Sea of Characters (Chinese: 文海; pinyin: wén hǎi), a 12th century monolingual Tangut rhyming dictionary, analyzes what other characters each character is derived from. Unlike Chinese, a component does not have a fixed semantic meaning or phonetic value, but rather the semantic meaning or phonetic value of the character that the component is derived from. For example, the person radical 𘤊 can have the meaning of bird (𗿼 *dźjwow), as in 𗿝 *dze "wild goose" = 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird" + 𗨜 *dze "longevity". But it is also used as a component to convey meanings of smoke, food, and time, among others.
Some components take different shape depending on what part of the character they appear in (e.g., left side, right side, middle, bottom).
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6,125 characters of the Tangut script were included in Unicode version 9.0 in June 2016 in the Tangut block. 755 Radicals and components used in the modern study of Tangut were added to the Tangut Components block. An iteration mark, U+16FE0 𖿠 TANGUT ITERATION MARK, was included in the Ideographic Symbols and Punctuation block. Five additional characters were added in June 2018 with the release of Unicode version 11.0. Six additional characters were added in March 2019 with the release of Unicode version 12.0. A further nine Tangut ideographs were added to the Tangut Supplement block and 13 Tangut components were added to the Tangut Components block in March 2020 with the release of Unicode version 13.0.
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- West, Andrew (May 21, 2009). "Untangling the Web of Characters". www.babelstone.co.uk. Retrieved 2020-08-13.
- Unicode version 9.0.0
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