Mongolian is an Altaic language spoken by approximately 5 million
people in Mongolia, China, Afghanistan and Russia. There are a number
of closely related varieties of Mongolian: Khalkha or
Halha, the national language of Mongolia, and
Oirat, Chahar and Ordos,
which are spoken mainly in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China.
Other languages considered part of the Mongolian language family,
but separate from Mongolian, include Buryat
and Kalmyk, spoken in Russia
and Moghul or Mogul, spoken in Afghanistan.
In 1208 Chinggis Khan defeated the Naimans, Turkic tribes living
in Central Asia, and captured their Uyghur scribe Tatar-Tonga, who
apparently adapted the Old
Uyghur alphabet to write Mongolian. The alphabet created by
Tatar-Tonga is now known as the Uighur/Uyghur Script, the classical
or traditional Mongol Script, the Old Script, or Mongol Bichig in Mongolian.
The traditional Monogolian script was not ideal for writing the
Mongolian language, and even less suited for writing Chinese, so
during the 13th century a Tibetan monk called Drogön Chögyal
Phagpa was asked by Kublai Khan to create a new scirpt for the Mongol
empire. Phagpa came up with the 'Phags-pa
script, which is also known as the Mongolian new script, and was
based on the Tibetan script. This script was never widely used
and after the Yuan dynasty fell in 1368, 'Phags-pa was used mainly
to provide Mongolian phonetic glosses in Chinese texts.
In the late 17th century a Mongolian monk and scholar called
Bogdo Zanabazar created a new script for Mongolian called Soyombo,
which could also be used to write Chinese and Sanskrit. It was used
mainly for Mongolian translations of Buddhist texts and in temple
Bogdo Zanabazar also created another script for Mongolian known
as the Mongolian Square Script or Mongolian Horizontal Square Script,
бичиг / Xäwtää Dörböljin
in Mongolian), which was rediscovered in 1801. It was based on
the Tibetan script, but what it was used for is uncertain.
In 1567 the translator and scholar Ayuush Güüsh added extra letters
to the traditional Mongol Script to make it possible to write loanwords
from Tibetan, Sanskrit and Chinese in Mongolian texts. This version of
the script is known as the Galik script.
In February 1941 the Mongolian government abolished the traditional
Mongolian script and from 1st February to 25 Match 1941 Mongolian was
written with a version of the Latin alphabet. Then the Cyrillic alphabet
was adopted as the official writing system in Mongolia. The official
reasons for abandoning the Latin alphabet were the the spelling system
used did not represent the sounds of Mongolian very well, however books
and newspapers were published in the Latin alphabet, and the decision
to switch to the Cyrillic alphabet might have been political.
Since 1994 there have been efforts to reintroduce the traditional
Mongolian script and it is now taught to some extent in schools,
though is mainly used for decorative purposes by artists, designers,
calligraphers and poets. The average person in Mongolia knows little
or nothing about the traditional Mongol script, though there is high
literacy in Cyrillic. In Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China
the traditional Mongolian script is still used.
Traditional Mongolian script
Type of writing system: phonemic alphabet with separate letters for
consonants and vowels.
Direction of writing: left to right in vertical columns running from
top to bottom.
The letters have a number of different shapes, the choice of which
depends on the position of a letter in a word and which letter follows it.
The Mongolian script is traditionally taught as syllables rather than
The first set of numbers (tegen, nigen, etc.) are classical Mongolian,
the others are modern Mongolian.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)