Sunday, 12 April 2009

The three script-sages of Naxi, Chinese and Tibetan

It is written in the Dongba scriptures that in ages past there were three sages, responsible for creating the Chinese, Tibetan and Naxi writing systems, born at the same time, but in different places.

There is a Dongba word for these three sages - 'la ie piu so si kv1' (see the above picture) - and it is generally accepted that the word has a composite meaning - in Naxi, 'la ie' means intelligent, 'piu so' means scripture and 'si kv' means three people; so taken as a whole the word means 'the three gifted sages who created [the three writing systems for] scriptures'. In the Dongba character, the three sages are sitting on the glyph for throne. This is all legend, of course, with no grounding in reality, and there is no record of these legendary people's names.

What the legend does reveal however is the closeness and common ground that the Naxi people have with the Han and the Tibetans. At any rate, it's a neat character; and it goes some way to reinforcing my belief that to truly understand the nature of the Naxi language and its Dongba script, one must have a solid grasp of both Chinese and Tibetan.

Photo and explanation from Fang Guoyu 方国瑜 , 纳西象形文字谱 (A record of Naxi pictographic characters).

1I have used the Naxi romanisation system and not the IPA that Fang uses in his book; mainly because I'm having difficulty getting IPA fonts to work properly.

1 comment: