Were there any attempts to alphabetize Chinese that did not involve writing systems existing in other languages already? This would be something like a Chinese analogue to the development of the Korean writing system.

Pinyin, Wade-Giles, Gwoyeu Romatzyh, and Bopomofo were all developed in the modern period, and are all examples of romanization specifically, so I'm not considering these.

I would also be interested in learning more about phoneticization via the influence of non-romance languages too. For example, Wikipedia mentions that Chinese itself became more phonetic when Chinese linguists started to recognize "initial" and "final" sounds while transliterating Buddhist mantras originally written in Sanskrit.

  • There is even discussion of "romanized" mandarin writing and speaking from time to time. Mandarin itself is not form by "alphabet", but roots and radical, it is pretty common sense that you don't compare apple and orange. But we never lack of people without common sense.
    – mootmoot
    Dec 19, 2016 at 14:49

2 Answers 2


Yes, there was such an attempt during the Yuan dynasty. The 'Phags-pa script was created for writing languages that were under control of Yuan, including Chinese:

The 'Phags-pa script (Mongolian: дөрвөлжин үсэг "Square script") is an alphabet designed by the Tibetan monk and State Preceptor (later Imperial Preceptor) Drogön Chögyal Phagpa for Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan dynasty, as a unified script for the written languages within the Yuan. The actual use of this script was limited to about a hundred years during the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and it fell out of use with the advent of the Ming dynasty. The documentation of its use provides clues about the changes in the varieties of Chinese, the Tibetic languages, Mongolian and other neighboring languages during the Yuan era.

  • This is a great example and I would be interested to know of any other similar attempts. I also find it interesting that 1. This script is still related to the Brahmic script and 2. This script is speculated to have influenced Hangul. I also learned some people believe there are Latin cognates for some elements if Hangul.
    – Elliott B.
    Dec 18, 2016 at 17:50
  • @ElliottB. I can't say for sure there were no other attempts, but there was surely nothing of comparable extent and importance.
    – 米好 '-'
    Dec 18, 2016 at 21:03

if you are talking about hangul, as the analogue to alphabetize chinese, i think it's a no. no-one tried to alphabetise chinese (漢字) in the past.

about the influence of non-romance languages to the chinese, i guess sanskrit & tibetan are the two most important sources. if you can read literary chinese, in traditional script, certain books are very interesting :)

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