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Wylie transliteration

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This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.

The Wylie transliteration scheme is a method for transliterating the Tibetan script using only the letters available on a typical English language typewriter. It bears the name of Turrell Wylie, who described the scheme in an article A Standard System of Tibetan Transcription published in 1959.[1] It has subsequently become a standard transliteration scheme in Tibetan studies, especially in the United States.

Any Tibetan language romanization scheme is faced with a dilemma: should it seek to accurately reproduce the sounds of spoken Tibetan, or the spelling of written Tibetan? These differ widely as Tibetan orthography became fixed in the 11th century, while pronunciation continued to evolve. Previous transcription schemes sought to split the difference with the result that they achieved neither goal perfectly. Wylie transliteration was designed to precisely transcribe written Tibetan script, hence its acceptance in academic and historical studies. It is not intended to help in the correct pronouncing of a Tibetan word.


The Wylie scheme transliterates the Tibetan characters as follows:

ཀ ka ཁ kha ག ga ང nga
ཅ ca ཆ cha ཇ ja ཉ nya
ཏ ta ཐ tha ད da ན na
པ pa ཕ pha བ ba མ ma
ཙ tsa ཚ tsha ཛ dza ཝ wa
ཞ zha ཟ za འ 'a ཡ ya
ར ra ལ la ཤ shaས sa
ཧ ha ཨ a

The final letter of the alphabet, the null consonant , is not transliterated - its presence is unambiguously indicated by a vowel-initial syllable.

In Tibetan script, consonant clusters within a syllable may be represented either through the use of prefixed or suffixed letters, or by letters superfixed or subfixed to the root letter (forming a "stack"). The Wylie system does not normally distinguish these as in practice no ambiguity is possible under the rules of Tibetan spelling. The exception is the sequence gy-, which may be written either with a prefix g or a subfix y. In the Wylie system these are distinguished by inserting a period, . between a prefix g and initial y. E.g. གྱང "wall" is gyang, while གཡང་ "chasm" is g.yang.


The four vowel marks (here applied to the base letter ) are transliterated:

ཨི i ཨུ u ཨེ e ཨོ o

When a syllable has no explicit vowel marking, the letter a is inserted to represent the inherent vowel "a" (e.g. ཨ་ = a).


Many previous systems of Tibetan transliteration included internal capitalisation schemes — essentially, capitalising the root letter rather than the first letter of a word, when the first letter is a prefix consonant. Tibetan dictionaries are organized by root letter, and prefixes are often silent, so knowing the root letter gives a better idea of pronunciation. However, these schemes were often applied inconsistently, and usually only when the word would normally be capitalised according to the norms of Latin text (i.e. at the beginning of a sentence). On the grounds that internal capitalisation was overly cumbersome, of limited usefulness in determining pronunciation and probably superfluous to a reader able to use a Tibetan dictionary, Wylie specified that if a word was to be capitalised, the first letter should be capital, in conformity with Western capitalisation practices. Thus a particular Tibetan Buddhist sect (Kagyu) is capitalised Bka' rgyud and not bKa' rgyud.


Wylie's original scheme is not capable of transliterating all Tibetan-script texts. In particular, it has no correspondences for most Tibetan punctuation symbols, and lacks the ability to represent non-Tibetan words written in Tibetan script. (Sanskrit and phonetic Chinese are the most common cases.) Accordingly, various scholars adopted ad hoc and incomplete conventions as needed.

The Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library at the University of Virginia developed a standard, THDL Extended Wylie Tibetan System or EWTS, that addresses these lacks systematically. It uses capital letters and Latin punctuation to represent the missing characters. Several software systems, including TISE, now use this standard to allow one to type unrestricted Tibetan script (including the full Unicode Tibetan character set) on a Latin keyboard.

See also

External links

(Some of the following links require installation of Tibetan fonts to display properly)


  1. Wylie, Turrell V. (12 1959). "A Standard System of Tibetan Transcription". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard-Yenching Institute) 22: 261–267. 

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