New Akha

Ian James
© September 2007

A new Akha script.

The New Akha script is an alternative to the missionary Roman alphabet(s) currently being used for the otherwise script-less Akha language. Akha is spoken by a ‘hill-tribe’ people among whose neighbours are Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, Burmese, Thai and Chinese speakers. The script can be used for Akha, Hani and related languages of the South Loloish branch of the Tibeto-Burman family.

Part of the aim was to create a script which looked both authentically historic and reasonably sophisticated. The design is based on ancient Pallava/Brahmi, the parent of almost all scripts of Southeast Asia. But while the consonants are clearly derived (and will be somewhat familiar to readers of Tai- and Mon-based languages), the vowels and tones are necessarily specific to Akha.

Notable features

Primary consonants

The consonant phonemes are listed here with the international phonetic symbol and the ‘Baptist Akha’ romanization. Some of these can be devoiced, shown by the addition of a dot above. Unless in the presence of a creaky vowel-tone (see below), those will also be aspirated (breathy):

Writing Akha consonants.


Syllables end in vowels (are coda-less), except for those few with final /-m/. Some vowels are paired with lip-rounded versions. A few diphthongs are used in borrowed words.

Writing Akha vowels.

If one syllable glides smoothly into a second syllable which has only a vowel, the bridging vowel-holder consisting of a vertical bar is used in lieu of a consonant. Otherwise, initial vowels have the glottal plosive as their consonant.


Tones are at one of 3 pitches. Their markers are written as joiners between the consonant and vowel, helping to shape a syllable into a unit glyph. The addition of a ‘creaky’ symbol over the basic tone symbol gives a shorter, throaty effect to the vowel. If one of the devoiced consonants is involved, the creakiness caps any aspiration. Here, the vowel /o/ is used as an example to hang off the tone marker. The /m/ phoneme can also fill a syllable, and then like a vowel can also take a tone; there are special forms for solo low and high syllabic /m/.

Writing Akha tones.

Punctuation & Numerals

Writing Akha punctuation.

For numerals, it may be sufficient to borrow the local Burmese (modified slightly), or try a new set based loosely on the Thai:

Writing Akha numbers.

Sample text

Sample of New Akha script.

The romanized extract representing the opening passages of the Bible (Genesis) was the sample given at

A version of this page can also be found on Omniglot.


>>> Download this font

Akha textile


All material on this page © Ian James, unless otherwise stated.
Last modified Feb.5,2012