Uchen

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Example of the uchen (dbu can) script using Sogyal Rinpoche's calligraphy
Example of the umé (dbu med) script

The uchen (Wyl. dbu can) script is an abugida (meaning the consonants have an implicit vowel) of Indic origin used to write the Tibetan language (also the Dzongkha, Ladakhi, and sometimes Balti languages). The meaning of the words u chen is "with a head", while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umé (Wyl. dbu med) meaning "without a head".

History

The creation of the Tibetan script is attributed to Thonmi Sambhota of the mid-7th century. The tradition holds that Thonmi Sambhota, a minister of Songtsen Gampo (569-649), was sent to India to study the art of writing, and upon his return introduced the uchen script. The form of the letters is based on an Indic script of that period, but which specific Indic script inspired the uchen alphabet remains controversial.

There were three orthographic standardizations after the script's invention. The most important one - an official one aimed to facilitate the translation of Buddhist scriptures - took place during the early 9th century. While the spoken language has continued to evolve, in most cases losing the pronunciation of complex consonant clusters, the Tibetan orthography has not altered since then.

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