Updated 11 November, 2023
This page brings together basic information about the Lepcha (Róng) script and its use for the Lepcha language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Lepcha using Unicode.
Richard Ishida, Lepcha Orthography Notes, 11-Nov-2023, https://r12a.github.io/scripts/lepc/lep
ᰣᰦᰣᰤᰧᰳᰶᰀᰦ ᰣᰫᰵᰀᰤᰩᰵ ᰣᰦᰛᰬ ᰝᰪᰉᰧ ᰣᰦᰓᰪ ᰣᰪ ᰣᰦᰕᰩ ᰚᰴ ᰋᰧᰀᰫᰵ ᰉᰧᰀᰫᰵᰠᰍᰪᰰ ᰜᰧᰓᰦᰮ ᰕ᰻
᱁᰿ ᰝᰦᰰᰕᰫᰛᰬ ᰃᰨ ᰣᰦᰛᰬ ᰕᰫᰵ ᰕᰬ ᰚᰴᰠᰦ ᰣᰦᰛᰧᰵᰶᰛᰬ ᰃᰦ ᰇᰬᰳ ᰓᰦᰡᰦ ᰿᱂᰿ ᰀᰦᰚᰫ ᰛᰩᰵᰍᰪᰛᰬ ᰕᰫᰵ ᰕᰬ ᰚᰴ ᰜᰧᰰᰶᰓᰫᰛᰬ ᰀᰦᰚᰫ ᰕᰪᰙᰪᰀᰦ ᰋᰧ ᰙᰩᰭᰌᰨᰭ ᰀᰦᰚᰫ ᰕᰦᰭᰛᰬ ᰕᰫᰵᰛᰬ ᰙᰨ ᰕᰬ ᰜᰧ ᰿᱃᰿ ᰡᰬᰰᰜᰦ ᰕᰫᰵ ᰜᰧᰰᰶᰓᰫ ᰀᰦᰚᰫᰠᰦ ᰣᰦᰛᰧᰵᰶᰛᰬ ᰛᰴᰠᰲᰶᰌᰨᰮ ᰜᰦ ᰀᰦᰚᰫ ᰕᰫᰵ ᰚᰴ ᰜᰧ ᰿᱄᰿ ᰝᰪᰌᰨᰠᰦ ᰡᰫ ᰂᰪᰳ ᰉᰧᰶᰢᰦᰮᰓᰫ ᰝᰪᰌᰨᰢᰦ ᰝᰪ ᰑᰦᰳᰓᰦ ᰑᰦᰳ ᰂᰪᰳᰡᰨᰓᰫ ᰡᰧᰓᰦ ᰡᰧ ᰂᰪᰳᰡᰨᰓᰫ ᰣᰨᰙᰴ ᰂᰪᰳ ᰉᰧᰶᰢᰦᰮᰓᰫ ᰝᰪᰌᰨᰮ ᰜᰦ ᰀᰦᰚᰫ ᰕᰫᰵ ᰚᰴ ᰜᰧᰢᰧᰮᰓᰫ
The Lepcha language (natively referred to as Róng) is spoken in Sikkim and in the Darjeeling district of the West Bengal state of India by around 53,000 people@Ethnologue,https://www.ethnologue.com/language/lep/. It is an official language of Sikkim, and is currently taught in schools. The Sikkim Herald is published in various scripts, including Lepcha.
The script was derived from Tibetan writing, with rotated glyphs. It is thought to have been invented around 1720 by the Sikkim king Phyag-rdor rNam-rgyal (“Chakdor Namgyal”). Recent innovations added 3 letters for retroflex sounds, which had previously been written using a sequence of characters.
The Lepcha script is an abugida. Each consonant has an inherent vowel. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Lepcha orthography. Each syllable typically contains a base consonant letter followed by one or more combining characters to express vowel sounds and medial and final consonant sounds.
Lepcha text runs from left to right in horizontal lines. Words are separated by spaces. The orthography is unicameral.
Modern Lepcha uses 39 basic consonant letters as syllable onsets. Three retroflex sounds (introduced via Tibetan) used to be written using a sequence of characters that include a medial RA and an optional nukta, but dedicated letters were recently introduced for these sounds. ❯ consonants
Lepcha represents medial consonants using diacritics, for -r and -j, but onset clusters that involve -l are represented by 7 dedicated letters. There are 9 syllable-final consonants, all combining marks. Two of the final consonants (both representing the sound ŋ) are rendered to the left of all other syllable components. ❯ onsets ❯ finals
Lepcha has 3 medial consonants for syllable onsets, and 9 syllable-final consonants, all combining marks. Two of the final consonants (both representing the sound ŋ) are rendered to the left of all other syllable components. ❯ onsets ❯ finals
Lepcha has no conjuncts and no virama. ❯ clusters ❯ gemination
Lepcha is an abugida with one inherent vowel, pronounced ə.
Other post-consonant vowels are written using 7 combining marks (vowel signs), all single combining marks. There are no vowel letters. ❯ vowels
Lepcha has 3 pre-base glyphs. but no circumgraphs (although, one vowel sign wraps around the left and top sides of the base consonant).
There are no multipart vowels, however another diacritic, ᰶ, is commonly added after all other syllable elements, even though its semantic value is disputed.. ❯ ran
Vowel length is not distinctive in Lepcha and not indicated in the written form. ❯ vowellength
Standalone vowel sounds are written using the vowel-carrier ᰣ and a vowel sign. There are no independent vowel letters. ❯ standalone_vowels
Punctuation includes that used for the Latin script, but older texts include some extras. Lepcha has its own set of digits. ❯ phrase
Line-breaking and justification are primarily based on inter-word spaces.
The following represents the general repertoire of the Sunwar language.
Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.
Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.
i is shorter in closed syllables than open ones.p,10
e occurs in open syllables and before -ŋ and -k; there is free variation between e~ɛ~ɪ in most other closed syllables.p,11
a has the allophone ɑ.p,11
o and ɔ distinctions are often lost, especially among Nepali speakers.p,12
|stop||p b||t d||ʈ ɖ||c||k ɡ||ʔ|
|fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ||h|
Before i and e velar k and ɡ become palatalised kʲ and ɡʲ.p,13
Before i, fricatives s and ʃ are merged.wl,#Phonology
The sounds z and ʒ are realised as one of z~d͡z~ʒ.wl,#Phonology
Under Nepali influence, some Lepcha speakers merge pʰ with f, and v with w.wl,#Phonology
Lepcha has no tones.
Only the following appear as syllable-final consonants, and the stops are unreleased and pronounced with a simultaneous ʔ.
-ʔp̚ -ʔt̚ -ʔk̚ -m -n -ŋ -r -l
ⓘ represents the inherent vowel. Diacritics are added to the vowels to indicate nasalisation (not shown here).
For additional details see vowel_mappings.
ᰀ kə U+1C00 LETTER KA
ə following a consonant is normally not written, but is seen as an inherent part of the consonant letter, so kə is written by simply using the consonant letter.
ᰀᰪ kɯ U+1C00 LETTER KA, U+1C2A VOWEL SIGN U
Lepcha uses the following dedicated combining marks for vowels.
Six vowel signs are spacing marks, meaning that they consume horizontal space when added to a base consonant.
Although 1C36 occurs commonly in Lepcha spelling, it's function appears to be a subject of debate. Plaisier describes it as follows:
Although the original function of the [RAN] sign is still unclear, it is often present in closed syllables, in which case the circumflex sign should be written above the final consonant sign. It has been suggested that the function of the [RAN] is to indicate stress or pitch, in order to distinguish stressable syllables from syllables that never appear in a stressed position, and this hypothesis may well be correct (Plaisier 2003: 28-29, Sprigg 1983: 316). However, because the function of the [RAN] sign is unclear to most writers, nowadays the sign is used by the Lepcha in a variety of ways and opinions vary strongly as to which is the correct usage.
It is only used over a consonant with an inherent vowel (including the vowel-carrier), or a consonant with ᰧ. It is typed and stored after any final consonant in a syllable.
Lepcha represents standalone vowels using the vowel-carrier ᰣ combined with a vowel sign.
There are no independent vowels, but the vowel-carrier without any vowel sign represents ə, the sound of the inherent vowel.
ᰀᰧ ki U+1901 LETTER KA + U+1927 VOWEL SIGN I
Three vowels are represented by a combining character that appears to the left of the consonant onset.
The combining mark is always stored after the base consonant. The rendering process places the glyphs relative the base consonant, as needed. Note that the vowel sign is also typed and stored after any medial consonant and before any final-consonant mark, regardless of the positions of those marks when rendered.
Vowel length is not a distinctive feature for Lepcha.
Nasalisation is not a distinctive feature for Lepcha.
Lepcha is not a tonal language.
This section maps Lepcha vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Lepcha orthography. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
Standalone vowels use ᰣ followed by the same characters as shown below. The inherent vowel and i may also be associated with ᰶ (see ran).
For additional details see consonant_mappings.
Retroflex sounds in Lepcha generally come from Tibetan loan words, and originally there were no dedicated letters for writing them. Nowadays they can be written using ᱍ, ᱎ, and ᱏ, but previously there were written using combinations of characters.
The combinations involve 3 consonants followed by a medial -r: kr for ʈ, hr for ʈʰ, and gr for ɖ, but to distinguish them from the normal onset clusters they typically use ᰷ to modify the initial consonant.
The following examples show alternative ways of writing these sounds.
The nukta must always be typed and stored immediately after the initial consonant.
Lepcha has no virama. A consonant without a following vowel only occurs in syllable-final position, in which case a combining mark is used (see finals).
Lepcha syllables can begin with a consonant followed by -r-, -j-, or -l-. The combination -rj- is also possible. The first 2 sounds are written in Unicode by adding medial consonant combining marks to the initial consonant.
Lepcha is unusual in that combinations of an onset consonant followed by -l- are represented by a number of pre-formed ligature letters, rather than a consonant+combining mark.
Syllable-final consonants are represented by the 8 small forms above, which are implemented as combining marks. Final stops are always unvoiced, unreleased and pronounced with a glottal stop.u
The sound ŋ is represented by 2 different combining marks. Following an inherent vowel, ᰴ is used. Otherwise, use ᰵ. This latter mark is unusual in that it occurs on the left side of the syllable-initial consonant, and even to the left of any pre-base vowel sign. It is still typed and stored in order of pronunciation, and the placement is achieved during rendering.
Lepcha has no conjunct forms for consonant clusters.
Syllable-initial clusters are written using combining marks to represent the medial consonants (see onsets). Mid-word clusters are written using a syllable-final combining mark followed by a full-sized letter (see finals).
Consonant gemination doesn't appear to be common in Lepcha.
This section maps Lepcha consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography. Uppercase is not shown. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
Sounds listed as 'infrequent' are allophones, or sounds used for foreign words, etc.
ᰀ᰷ᰥ in older texts.
ᰃ᰷ᰥ in older texts.
ᰝ᰷ᰥ in older texts.
ᰠ before i.
ᰴ after the inherent vowel.
This section offers advice about characters or character sequences to avoid, and what to use instead. It takes into account the relevance of Unicode Normalisation Form D (NFD) and Unicode Normalisation Form C (NFC).
Lepcha characters don't have any precomposed vs. decomposed alternatives, but ordering of combining marks is important.
Letters should generally be typed in the order of pronunciation, but there are also ordering rules for additional characters. The order should be as follows.u,577
Note, in particular, that ᰶ is typed and stored after all other combining marks, including the syllable final consonant marks, and is not treated like a vowel sign.
Lepcha has its own set of digits, with a decimal base.
Lepcha text is written horizontally, with lines that flow from top to bottom.
This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; font styles; case & other character transforms.
You can experiment with examples using the Lepcha character app.
Lepcha letters are not joined, and are not cased.
Since the letters are all the same height, there tends not to be much variation in height of combining marks, except for ᰶ which fonts tend to move up and down depending on whether the base consonant also carries a final consonant mark as well.
Medial consonants tend to anchor to the preceding onset consonant in slightly different ways.
Special rendering rules are needed to place the pre-base vowel glyphs to the left of the syllable, and to place ᰵ to the left of those. ᰶ is also over the syllable onset consonant, even though it is encoded after vowels that extend to its right.
In Lepcha text, grapheme clusters typically correspond to whole syllables. Where combining marks appear, the combination of base and combining mark still fits within the definition of a grapheme cluster.
Each syllable onset and following combining marks typically constitute a single grapheme cluster.
Words are separated by spaces.
See type samples.
Basic phrase and section boundaries in Lepcha use ASCII punctuation.
According to the Unicode Standard, the Lepchas use traditional punctuation marks only when copying the old books. In everyday writing they use common Western punctuation marks such as comma, full stop, and question mark.u,13.12
᰻ may be rendered by a font to look like , the Tibetan shay character.
Observation: In Plaisier's sample texts, ᰿ is used to surround the numbers that introduce each glossed sentence, eg. ᰿᱃᰿.
Lepcha commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.
See type samples.
Lepcha texts may use quotation marks around quotations. Of course, due to keyboard design, quotations may also be surrounded by ASCII double and single quote marks.
|initial||” [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]|
|nested||’ [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]|
The principal line-break opportunities are inter-word spaces.
See type samples.
Full justification may be achieved by altering the width of inter-word spaces.
Lepcha uses the 'alphabetic' baseline.
This section is for any features that are specific to Lepcha and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.