|Region||Western Tibet and Central Asia|
Zhang-Zhung (Tibetan: ཞང་ཞུང, Wylie: zhang zhung) is an extinct Sino-Tibetan language that was spoken in what is now western Tibet. The term 'Zhang-zhung language' has been used to refer to two different entities. One of these occurs occasionally in the scriptures of the Bön religion. The other, 'Old Zhang-zhung', appears in a small number of documents preserved in Dunhuang. The language of these texts was identified as 'Zhang-zhung' by F. W. Thomas and this identification has been accepted by Takeuchi Tsuguhito (武内紹人). However, Dan Martin questions the wisdom of identifying these as variants of the same language.
A Cavern of Treasures (mDzod phug)
A Cavern of Treasures (Tibetan: མཛོད་ཕུག, Wylie: mdzod phug) is a terma uncovered by Shenchen Luga (Tibetan: གཤེན་ཆེན་ཀླུ་དགའ, Wylie: gshen chen klu dga') in the early eleventh century. Martin (n.d.: p. 21) identifies the importance of this scripture for studies of the Zhang-zhung language:
For students of Tibetan culture in general, the mDzod phug is one of the most intriguing of all Bön scriptures, since it is the only lengthy bilingual work in Zhang-zhung and Tibetan (some of the shorter but still significant sources for Zhang-zhung are signalled in Orofino 1990)."
Bradley (2002) says Zhangzhung "is now agreed to have been a Kanauri or West Himalayish language." Guillaume Jacques (2009) rebuts earlier hypotheses that Zhangzhung might have originated in eastern (rather than western) Tibet by having determined it to be a non-Qiangic language.
A number of scripts are recorded as being used for writing the Zhang-Zhung language:
- Marchen or Greater Mar script (Tibetan: སྨར་ཆེན, Wylie: smar chen)
- Marchung or Lesser Mar script (Tibetan: སྨར་ཆུང, Wylie: smar chung)
- Pungchen or Greater Pung script (Tibetan: སྤུངས་ཆེན, Wylie: spungs chen)
- Pungchung or Lesser Pung script (Tibetan: སྤུངས་ཆུང, Wylie: spungs chung)
- Drusha script (Tibetan: བྲུ་ཤ, Wylie: bru sha)
However, these scripts appear to have little existence outside of calligraphy manuals. One extant document, a seal originally held at Tsurpu monastery, is written in the Marchen script.
In the words of McKay (2003: p. 447):
"There is also a Zhang-zhung alphabet, but despite its rather unusual appearance to anyone who is unfamiliar with the Indo-Tibetan ornate style of lettering known as lan-tsha, one observes that it is modeled letter by letter upon Thon-mi Sambhota's alphabet of thirty letters."
Marchen script was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2016 with the release of version 9.0.
The Unicode block for Marchen is U+11C70–U+11CBF:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
- Zhang-Zhung at MultiTree on the Linguist List
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Zhangzhung". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Berzin, Alexander (2005). The Four Immeasurable Attitudes in Hinayana, Mahayana, and Bön. Study Buddhism. Source:  (accessed: June 6, 2016)
- Martin, Dan (n.d.). "Comparing Treasuries: Mental states and other mdzod phug lists and passages with parallels in Abhidharma works of Vasubandhu and Asanga, or in Prajnaparamita Sutras: A progress report." University of Jerusalem. Source:  (accessed: Monday March 1, 2010)
- Jacques, Guillaume (2009). Yasuhiko Nagano, ed. "Zhangzhung and Qiangic Languages" (Portable Document Format (PDF)). Issues in Tibeto-Burman Historical Linguistics. SENRI ETHNOLOGICAL STUDIES 75: 121–130. Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- West, Andrew (30 April 2011). "Proposal to encode the Marchen script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF).
- West, Andrew (2013-10-22). "N4491: Final proposal to encode the Marchen script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF).
- West, Andrew (1 January 2008). "Zhang Zhung Royal Seal".
- McKay, Alex (2003). The history of Tibet, Volume 1. Volume 9 of International Institute of Administrative Sciences monographs The History of Tibet. Source:  (accessed: Sunday November 1, 2009), p.447
- Martin, Dan (n.d.). "Comparing Treasuries: Mental states and other mdzod phug lists and passages with parallels in Abhidharma works of Vasubandhu and Asanga, or in Prajnaparamita Sutras: A progress report." University of Jerusalem.
- David Bradley (2002) "The Subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman", in Chris Beckwith, Henk Blezer, eds., Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages. Brill.
- Dan Martin (2004), "Zhang-zhung Dictionary".
- Haarh, Erik. The Zhang-zhung Language: A Grammar and Dictionary of the Unexplored Language of the Tibetan Bönpos. Universitetsforlaget i Aarhus og Munksgaard, 1968.
- Hummel, Seigbert and Guido Vogliotti, ed. and trans. On Zhang-zhung. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2000.
- Namgyal Nyima Dagkar. “Concise Analysis of Zhang Zhung Terms in the Documents of Dunhuang.” In Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan Studies I, edited by Henk Blezer, Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000, vol. 1, pp. 429–439. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
- Namgyal Nyima (Rnam rgyal nyi ma). Zhang-zhung – Tibetan – English Contextual Dictionary. Berlin, 2003. Description: This new dictionary of Zhangzhung terminology from the Bön tradition of Tibetan religion includes 3875 entries drawn from 468 sources. These entries include Tibetan and English definitions as well as the citation of passages in which they occur with full bibliographical information for these passages.
- Tsuguhito Takeuchi. “The Old Zhangzhung Manuscript Stein Or 8212/ 188.” In Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages, edited by Christopher Beckwith, Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000, vol. 6, pp. 1–11. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
- Takeuchi, Tsuguhito; Nishida, Ai (2009). "The Present Stage of Deciphering Old Zhangzhung" (PDF). In Nagano, Yasuhiko. Issues in Tibeto-Burman Historical Linguistics. Senri Ethnological Studies. 75. pp. 151–165.