Zou script

Ian James & Mattias Persson
© March 2012


Zoulai is a script for the Zou language created by M. Siahzathang of Churachandpur, Manipur in 1952. Zou (or Zo or Zomi) is a northern Kukish language of the Tibeto-Burman family, spoken by hill tribes in NE India and Myanmar. Missionaries were introducing the Latin alphabet at this time and, in contrast with neighbouring Mong and Akha, this proved quite adequate for reading and writing. Zoulai has had little uptake, and information is virtually absent from Zou culture websites.

The Alphabet

The script is an alphabet where vowels may sometimes join to the bottom or lower-right side of their consonant. The glyphs seem to match individual phonemes in most cases, but there is some sense of the alphabet being cyphers for the newly introduced Latin letters. This can be observed in the similarities between letters which would lie next to each other in the Latin alphabet, such as A–B, E–F, K–L, M–N and S–Sh. The alphabet does not show any tonal information.

Main letters

This shows the letter shapes and letter names, as published by Zou Laiteng Sai Pawl. The larger forms to the left are possibly capitals.


Ligatures and numerals

There are some extra consonantal phoneme glyphs, and some letter combinations with a special form: diphthongs, and a few consonant+vowel cases. Numerals six and nine are the same as Burmese.

Letter assemblies

Unfortunately there is very little information about the language, let alone the script, to present a complete picture of the alphabet in use. In Manipur, some books were produced in Zoulai, but no details are currently accessible via the internet. Here is Mattias Persson’s chart of glyphs, showing known consonant-vowel combinations with tentative phoneme labels:

view larger image

A Font for Zoulai

There is an interesting assortment of letter shapes, which would potentially look good in printed form (the sources we have seen are handwritten). But there is also a lack of inherent unity among the shapes, in particular the vertical positioning of features, the general shape outlines, and the irregular attachment of certain vowels. This made creating a nice-looking font very challenging. It was necessary to accentuate common features, and take away some non-essential tails and swashes. I also took the liberty of rationalizing the vowel system to a maximum of one alternative. For vowels A, Ou, O' and U, consonants which have right-hand descenders take a full inline form of the vowel, and those which don’t, take a small form underneath (curiously these subscripts look like 0 1 2 and 3). For want of meaningful text, I have simply printed out consonants and vowels in alternation.

Zolai font example by Ian James
Aa be dea rou gi ho fo' nu
ja che shea kou pi kho mo' ngu
sa te vea zou yi lo tho'
ga nou no' nu nie.

hornbill, emblem of Zou


All material on this page © Ian James, unless otherwise stated.
Last modified Apr.1,2012