The Kitan script was a historic combination writing system used in Manchuria from 916 to 1125 CE. It is also called Khitan and Liao in Mandarin. A scholar of the royal court named Diela invented the script after the visit of an Uyghur ambassador who had shown him the distant nation's vertical script. While the Uyghur off which it was based is an alphabet, Kitan combined elements of logogram, syllabary, and alphabet.

The text of Kitan was written in the fashion of Chinese, with characters lining up vertically and read from right to left. It was divided into a 'large' script and 'small' script. The large script was logographic, with the characters bearing no relation to the sounds of the word they marked. Many of these were borrowed directly from Chinese, however some logograms cannot be traced directly to any Chinese origin and may have been devised independently. The small script consisted of several syllabic and alphabetic characters marking initial, medial, and final sounds. Each element of the word was arranged in a block, much like the syllabic block structure of modern Hangul for Korean. Elements were paired, and an odd-numbered final would be centered beneath the word block. The elements of a block were read starting at the left corner and reading to the right and down. This method gave small script words the appearance of a Chinese logogram, thus preserving aesthetic integrity in Kitan texts. Over time many logograms denoting short words began to be used themselves as both elements of the large and small script, transforming Kitan small script slowly from predominantly alphabetic to predominantly syllabic. Small script was sometimes connected in cursive style.


Daniels, Peter T., Bright, William. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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