The Tangut script was modelled on the Chinese
and Khitan scripts. It was apparently devised by one
'Teacher Iri' in 1037 and was used for the translation of Buddhist texts from
Sanskrit and other languages. It was used until the 16th century - the most
recent known inscription in the Tangut script dates to 1502.
The Tangut script was deciphered with help from a Chinese-Tangut glossary
put together by the Chinese diplomatic service during the 12th century.
Many scholars have worked on the decipherment of Tangut, including Nikolai
Aleksandrovich Nevsky (Николай
Невский) (1892–1937), who compiled
a Tangut Dictionary and made it possible to read Tangut texts thanks to his
work on reconstructing Tangut grammatical particles. While it is possible to
make some sense of Tangut, current understanding of the language is imperfect,
particularly of its syntax.
There are some 10,000 volumes of manuscripts in Tangut, the majority of
which are Buddhist texts, legal documents and law codes dating from between
the mid-11th century and the early 13th century. There are also Confucian
classics and original works in Tangut.
Type of writing system: semanto-phonetic
Direction of writing:
Number of characters: about 6,600
The Tangut characters represent meanings and sounds, though only
about 10% of them are thought to include a phonetic element.
Used to write
Tangut (Xīxià/Hsihsia/西夏文), an extinct
Sino-Tibetan language that was spoken in the Tangut kingdom in north-western
China until about the 16th century. Tangut was one of the official languages
of the Western Xia Dynasty, which became independent from the Song Dynasty
and the start of the 11th century and disappeared after Mongols led by
Genghis Khan invaded in 1226.
Tangut phonology (in the IPA)
Some words in Tangut
Note: I think the numbers represent tones: Tangut had two tones (flat and rising).