The classical or traditional Mongolian script (in Mongolian script: ᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ ᠪᠢᠴᠢᠭ Mongγol bičig; in Mongolian Cyrillic: Монгол бичиг Mongol bichig), also known as Hudum Mongol bichig, was the first writing system created specifically for the Mongolian language, and was the most successful until the introduction of Cyrillic in 1946. Derived from the Old Uyghur alphabet, Mongolian is a true alphabet, with separate letters for consonants and vowels. The Mongolian script has been adapted to write languages such as Oirat and Manchu. Alphabets based on this classical vertical script are used in Inner Mongolia and other parts of China to this day to write Mongolian, Xibe and experimentally, Evenki.
The Mongolian vertical script developed as an adaptation of the Sogdian to the Mongolian language. From the seventh and eighth to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Mongolian language separated into southern, eastern and western dialects. The principal monuments of the middle period are: in the eastern dialect, the famous text The Secret History of the Mongols, monuments in the square script, materials of the Chinese-Mongolian glossary of the fourteenth century, and materials of the Mongolian language of the middle period in Chinese transcription, etc.; in the western dialect, materials of the Arab-Mongolian and Persian-Mongolian dictionaries, Mongolian texts in Arabic transcription, etc. The main features of the period are that the vowels ï and i had lost their phonemic significance, creating the i phoneme (in the Chakhar dialect, the Standard Mongolian in Inner Mongolia, they're still distinct); intervocal consonants γ/g, b/w had disappeared and the preliminary process of the formation of Mongolian long vowels had begun; the initial h was preserved in many words; grammatical categories were partially absent, etc. The development over this period explains why Mongolian script looks like a vertical Arabic script (in particular the presence of the dots system).
Eventually, minor concessions were made to the differences between the Uyghur and Mongol languages: In the 17th and 18th centuries, smoother and more angular versions of tsadi became associated with [dʒ] and [tʃ] respectively, and in the 19th century, the Manchu hooked yodh was adopted for initial [j]. Zain was dropped as it was redundant for [s]. Various schools of orthography, some using diacritics, were developed to avoid ambiguity.
Mongolian is written vertically. The Uyghur script and its descendants—Mongolian, Oirat Clear, Manchu, and Buryat—are the only vertical scripts written from left to right. This developed because the Uyghurs rotated their Sogdian-derived script, originally written right to left, 90 degrees counterclockwise to emulate Chinese writing, but without changing the relative orientation of the letters.
Mongols learned their script as a syllabary, dividing the syllables into twelve different classes, based on the final phonemes of the syllables, all of which ended in vowels. The Manchus followed the same syllabic method when learning Manchu script, also with syllables divided into twelve different classes based on the final phonemes of the syllables.
Despite the alphabetic nature of its script, Manchu was not taught phoneme by phoneme per letter like western languages are, rather, Manchu children were taught to memorize all the syllables in the Manchu language separately as they learned to write, like Chinese characters. Manchus when learning, instead of saying l, a---la; l, o---lo; etc., were taught at once to say la, lo, etc. Many more syllables than are contained in their syllabary might have been formed with their letters, but they were not accustomed to arrange them otherwise than as they there stand. They made, for instance, no such use of the consonants I, m, n, and r, as westerners do when they called them liquid; hence if the Manchu letters s, m, a, r, t, were joined in that order, a Manchu would not able to pronounce them as English speaking people pronounce the word "smart". Manchu children were taught the language via the syllabic method.
Some westerners learn the script in an alphabetic manner instead.
Today, the opinion on whether it is alphabet or syllabic in nature is still split between different experts. In China, it is considered syllabic and Manchu is still taught in this manner. The alphabetic approach is used mainly by foreigners who want to learn the language. Studying Manchu script as a syllabary takes a longer time.
The Traditional Mongolian script is known by a wide variety of names. Due to its shape like Uighur script, it became known as the Uighurjin Mongol script (Mongolian: Уйгуржин монгол бичиг). During the communist era, when Cyrillic became the official script for the Mongolian language, the traditional script became known as the Old Mongol script (Mongolian: Хуучин монгол бичиг), in contrast to the New script (Mongolian: Шинэ үсэг), referring to Cyrillic. The name Old Mongol script stuck, and it is still known as such among the older generation, who didn't receive education in the new script.
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The traditional or classical Mongolian alphabet, sometimes called Hudum 'traditional' in Oirat in contrast to the Clear script (Todo 'exact'), is the original form of the Mongolian script used to write the Mongolian language. It does not distinguish several vowels (o/u, ö/ü, final a/e) and consonants (syllable-initial t/d and k/g, sometimes ǰ/y) that were not required for Uyghur, which was the source of the Mongol (or Uyghur-Mongol) script. The result is somewhat comparable to the situation of English, which must represent ten or more vowels with only five letters and uses the digraph th for two distinct sounds. Ambiguity is sometimes prevented by context, as the requirements of vowel harmony and syllable sequence usually indicate the correct sound. Moreover, as there are few words with an exactly identical spelling, actual ambiguities are rare for a reader who knows the orthography.
Letters have different forms depending on their position in a word: initial, medial, or final. In some cases, additional graphic variants are selected for visual harmony with the subsequent character.
Note that in some browsers, letters are rotated 90° counterclockwise. If the letter for 'a' (ᠠ) resembles a 'W' and not a 'Σ', rotate the letters 90° clockwise.
Handwriting-specific finals: The final letterforms with a right-swinging tail (a, e, n, q, ү, m, l, and d) may have the notch (tooth) preceding the tail, more or less reduced to a curve in handwriting.:096
A separate vowel:5:28 is a word stem- or suffix-final a or e which is also usually written separate from these, while remaining an integral part.:42:104 Both vowels appear as ⟨ᠠ᠋⟩ – preceded by a gap and a final-shaped consonant (as in ᠬᠠ᠋ q-a, ⟨ᠷᠠ᠋⟩ r-a/r-e, etc). These forms are triggered by inserting a U+180E MONGOLIAN VOWEL SEPARATOR (HTML
MVS) between the consonant and vowel – transliterated with a hyphen. The combination of MVS and vowel is highlighted in yellow (⟨ᠠ᠋⟩ -a/-e) in the table below.
NOTE: these separated vowels should not be confused with the identically shaped but more loosely spaced traditional dative-locative suffix a/e exemplified below. This form is however more commonly found in older texts, and can also take the forms of ⟨ᠲ᠋ᠤᠷ⟩ tur/tür or ⟨ᠳ᠋ᠤᠷ⟩ dur/dür.:15
Suffixes:30 are in many cases preceded by a gap. This gap is represented by a U+202F NARROW NO-BREAK SPACE (HTML
NNBSP). The combination of NNBSP and its following glyph is highlighted in light blue in the table below (as in ᠨ n).
Single-letter suffixes appear as final-formed a/e, i, or u/ü (as in ᠭᠠᠵᠠᠷ ᠠ᠋ γaǰar a 'to the country' and ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠡ᠋ edür e 'on the day',:39 or ᠤᠯᠤᠰ ᠢ ulus i 'the state' etc).:23 Multi-letter suffixes can start with an initial-, medial-, or variant-shaped glyph (medial/variant-shaped u in the two-letter suffix ⟨ᠤᠨ⟩ un/ün being exemplified in the adjacent picture).:27
Isolate citation forms of syllables containing o, u, ö, and ü may in dictionaries appear without a final tail as in ⟨ᠪᠣ⟩ bo/bu or ⟨ᠮᠣ᠋⟩ mo/mu, and with a vertical tail as in ⟨ᠪᠥ᠋⟩ bö/bü or ⟨ᠮᠥ᠋⟩ mö/mü (as well as in transcriptions of Chinese syllables).:105
Mongolian vowel harmony divides vowels into three groups. A word (and its suffixes) can only contain vowels from either of the first two groups below, and neutral i can appear in both cases. This might not apply for foreign words however. The three vowel groups are::11:10:4
NOTE: Palatalized phonemes have been excluded. These are conditioned by a following i.:178
|Unicode char.||Contextual (letter/
|A||ᠠ||ᠠ||ᠠ||ᠠ||a||а||Transcribes Chakhar /ɑ/; Khalkha /a/, /ə/, and /∅/.:40-42
Medial and final forms may be distinguished from those of other tooth-shaped letters through: vowel harmony (e), the shape of adjacent consonants (see QA-q/k and GA-γ/g below), and position in syllable sequence (n, ng, q, γ, d).
The final tail extends to the left after bow-shaped consonants (such as b, p, f, KA-g, and KHA-k), and to the right in all other cases.
|E||ᠡ||ᠡ||ᠡ||ᠡ||e||э||Transcribes Chakhar /ə/; Khalkha /i/, /e/, /ə/, and /∅/.:40-42
Medial and final forms may be distinguished from those of other tooth-shaped letters through: vowel harmony (a) and its effect on the shape of a words consonants (see QA-q/k and GA-γ/g below), or position in syllable sequence (n, ng, d).
ᠡ᠋ = a traditional initial form.:6
The final tail extends to the left after bow-shaped consonants (such as b, p, QA-k, and GA-g), and to the right in all other cases.
|I||ᠢ||ᠢ||ᠢ||ᠢ||i||и||Transcribes Chakhar /i/ or /ɪ/; Khalkha /i/, /ə/, and /∅/.:40-42
Today often absorbed into a preceding syllable when at the end of a word.
The first medial form follows a consonant, the second a vowel.[note 1]
|O||ᠣ||ᠣ||ᠣ||ᠣ||o||о||Transcribes Chakhar /ɔ/; Khalkha /ɔ/, /ə/, and /∅/.:40-42
ᠣ᠋ = the final form used in loanwords.:98
|U||ᠤ||ᠤ||ᠤ||ᠤ||u||у||Transcribes Chakhar /ʊ/; Khalkha /ʊ/, /ə/, and /∅/.:40-42|
|OE||ᠥ||ᠥ||ᠥ᠋||ᠥ||ö||ө||Transcribes Chakhar /o/; Khalkha /o/[ɵ], /ə/, and /∅/.:40-42
ᠥ᠋ = an older final form; also used in loanwords.:105
The first medial form is used in the first syllable of native words,:546 and in subsequent medial positions of loanwords.
|UE||ᠦ||ᠦ||ᠦ᠋||ᠦ||ü||ү||Transcribes Chakhar /u/; Khalkha /u/, /ə/, and /∅/.:40-42
ᠦ᠋ = an older final form; also used in loanwords.:105
The first medial form is used in the first syllable of native words,:546 and in subsequent medial positions of loanwords.
|EE||ᠧ||ᠧ||ᠧ||ᠧ||ē/é||е||Stands in for e in loanwords.:104, 108|
|NA||—||ᠨ||ᠨ||ᠨ||n||н||Transcribes Chakhar /n/; Khalkha /n/, and /ŋ/.:40-42
Distinction from other tooth-shaped letters by position in syllable sequence.
Dotted before a vowel (attached or separated); undotted before a consonant (syllable-final) or a white space.:20:546:6 Final dotted n is also found in modern mongolian words.:101 Historically also consistently undotted (ᠨ᠋ etc).:20:114:97
|ANG||—||(—)||ᠩ||ᠩ||ng/ŋ||нг||Transcribes Chakhar /ŋ/; Khalkha /ŋ/.:40-42
Only at end of word (medial for composites).
Transcribes /ng/ in Tibetan ང /nga/; Sanskrit ङ /ṅa/.:28
|BA||—||ᠪ||ᠪ||ᠪ||b||б||Transcribes Chakhar /b/; Khalkha /p/, /w/, and /∅/.:40-42
For Classical Mongolian, latin v is used only for transcribing foreign words, so most в (v) in Cyrillic Mongolian correspond to б (b) in Classical Mongolian.
|PA||—||ᠫ||ᠫ||(ᠫ)||p||п||Transcribes Chakhar /p/; Khalkha /pʰ/.:40-42|
|QA||—||ᠬ||ᠬ||(ᠬ)||q||х||Transcribes Chakhar /x/; Khalkha /x/.
Variously dotted/undotted, or written Kaph-shaped as an initial in early ortography.:114
|ᠬᠡ||ᠬᠡ||ᠬᠡ||ᠬᠡ||ke||хэ||Transcribes Chakhar /x/; Khalkha /x/.|
|GA||—||ᠭ||ᠭ||ᠭ||γ||г||Transcribes Chakhar /ɣ/; Khalkha /ɢ/, and /∅/.:40-42
Also transliterated with latin ɣ.
|—||(ᠭ᠌)||ᠭ᠌||ᠭ᠌||g||г||Transcribes Chakhar /g/; Khalkha /g/.|
|MA||—||(ᠮ)||ᠮ||ᠮ||m||м||Transcribes Chakhar /m/; Khalkha /m/.:40-42|
|LA||—||ᠯ||ᠯ||ᠯ||l||л||Transcribes Chakhar /l/; Khalkha /ɮ/.:40-42|
|SA||—||ᠰ||ᠰ||ᠰ||s||с||Transcribes Chakhar /s/, or /ʃ/ before i;:58 Khalkha /s/, or /ʃ/ before i.|
|SHA||—||ᠱ||ᠱ||(ᠱ)||š||ш||Transcribes Chakhar /ʃ/; Khalkha /ʃ/.|
|TA||—||ᠲ||ᠲ||(—)||t||т||Transcribes Chakhar /t/; Khalkha /t/.:40-42|
|DA||—||ᠳ||ᠣᠠ||ᠳ||d||д||Transcribes Chakhar /d/; Khalkha /t/, and /tʰ/.:40-42
Positional variants on Lamedh ⟨ᠳ᠋/ᠲ/ᠳ᠋⟩ are used consistently for d in foreign words.:23
|CHA||—||ᠴ||ᠴ||(ᠴ)||č||ч||Transcribes Chakhar /t͡ʃ/; Khalkha /t͡ʃʰ/, or /t͡sʰ/ (also transliterated with cyrillic ц).:§1.2:2 Distinction between /t͡ʃʰ/ and /t͡sʰ/ in Khalkha Mongolian.|
|JA||—||ᠵ||ᠵ||(ᠵ)||ǰ||ж||Transcribes Chakhar /d͡ʒ/; Khalkha /d͡ʒ/, or d͡z (also transliterated with cyrillic з).:§1.2:2 Distinction by context between /d͡ʒ/ and /d͡z/ in Khalkha Mongolian.
Also transliterated with latin j.
|YA||—||ᠶ||ᠶ||(ᠶ)||y||й (е*, ё*, ю*, я*)||Transcribes Chakhar /j/; Khalkha /j/.:40-42|
|RA||—||(ᠷ)||ᠷ||ᠷ||r||р||Transcribes Chakhar /r/; Khalkha /r/.:40-42
Not normally at the beginning of words.[note 4]
|WA||—||ᠸ||ᠸ||(ᠸ)||w||в||Transcribes Chakhar /w/;
Also transliterated with latin v.
|FA||—||ᠹ||ᠹ||ᠹ||f||ф||Transcribes Chakhar /f/;
Used to transcribe foreign words.
|KA||—||ᠺ||ᠺ||ᠺ||g||к||Transcribes Chakhar /k/;
Also transliterated with latin k.
|KHA||—||ᠻ||ᠻ||ᠻ||k||к||Also transliterated with latin kh.|
|TSA||—||ᠼ||ᠼ||ᠼ||c||ц||Transcribes Chakhar /t͡s/;|
|ZA||—||ᠽ||ᠽ||ᠽ||z||з||Transcribes Chakhar /d͡z/;|
|HAA||—||ᠾ||ᠾ||ᠾ||h||х||Transcribes Chakhar /h/[x];|
|ZRA||—||ᠿ||—||—||ž||ж||Transcribes Chakhar /ʐ/;
Transliterates /ʒ/ in Tibetan ཞ /ʒa/.:254 (紗)
|LHA||—||ᡀ||—||—||lh||лх||Transcribes Tibetan lh. Example: ᡀᠠᠰᠠ lhasa.|
|ZHI||—||ᡁ||—||—||zh||з||Transcribes zh in the Chinese syllable zhi – used in Inner Mongolia.:105|
|CHI||—||ᡂ||—||—||ch||ч||Transcribes ch in the Chinese syllable chi (as in 蚩 Chī) – used in Inner Mongolia.:91, 145, 153, 246:28|
|᠀||бярга byarga /
|Marks start of a book, chapter, passage, or first line|
|᠁||Цуваа цэг tsuvaa tseg /
ᠴᠤᠪᠤᠬ᠋ᠠ᠋ ᠴᠡᠭ čubuγ-a čeg
|᠂||Цэг tseg /
|᠃||Давхар цэг davkhar tseg /
ᠳᠠᠪᠬᠤᠷ ᠴᠡᠭ dabqur čeg
|Period / full stop|
|᠅||Дөрвөлжин цэг dörvöljin tseg /
ᠳᠥᠷᠪᠡᠯᠵᠢᠨ ᠴᠡᠭ dörbelǰin čeg
|Marks end of a passage, paragraph, or chapter|
|᠊||Нуруу nuruu /
|(Non-breaking) hyphen, or stem extender|
'Genghis Khan' in Mongolian script
1912 brush-written page from the mongolian declaration of independence
19th century poem by Vanchinbalyn Injinash
13th century imperial seal
|ᠸᠢᠺᠢᠫᠧᠳᠢᠶᠠ᠂ ᠴᠢᠯᠦᠭᠡᠲᠦ ᠨᠡᠪᠲᠡᠷᠬᠡᠢ ᠲᠣᠯᠢ ᠪᠢᠴᠢᠭ ᠪᠣᠯᠠᠢ᠃||ᠸ w|
The Mongol script has been the basis of alphabets for several languages. First, after overcoming the Uyghur script ductus, it was used for Mongolian itself.
In 1648, the Oirat Buddhist monk Zaya-pandita Namkhaijamco created this variation with the goals of bringing the written language closer to the actual pronunciation of Oirat and making it easier to transcribe Tibetan and Sanskrit. The script was used by the Kalmyks of Russia until 1924, when it was replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet. In Xinjiang, China, the Oirat people still use it.
The Manchu alphabet was developed from the Mongolian script in the early 17th century to write the Manchu language. A variant is still used to write Xibe. It is also used for Daur. Its folded variant may for example be found on Chinese Qing seals.
Another alphabet, sometimes called Vagindra or Vaghintara, was created in 1905 by the Buryat monk Agvan Dorjiev (1854–1938). It was also meant to reduce ambiguity, and to support the Russian language in addition to Mongolian. The most significant change, however, was the elimination of the positional shape variations. All letters were based on the medial variant of the original Mongol alphabet. Fewer than a dozen books were printed using it.
The Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor erroneously identified the Khitan people and their language with the Solons, leading him to use the Solon language (Evenki) to "correct" Chinese character transcriptions of Khitan names in the History of Liao in his "Imperial Liao Jin Yuan Three Histories National Language Explanation" (欽定遼金元三史國語解/钦定辽金元三史国语解 Qīndìng Liáo Jīn Yuán Sānshǐ Guóyǔjiě) project. The Evenki words were written in the Manchu script in this work.
In the 1980s, an experimental alphabet for Evenki was created.
In 1587, the translator and scholar Ayuush Güüsh (Аюуш гүүш) created the Galik alphabet (Али-гали), inspired by the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso. It primarily added extra characters for transcribing Tibetan and Sanskrit terms when translating religious texts, and later also from Chinese. Some of those characters are still in use today for writing foreign names (compare table above).
Mongolian script was added to the Unicode Standard in September 1999 with the release of version 3.0.
The Unicode block for Mongolian is U+1800–U+18AF. It includes letters, digits and various punctuation marks for Hudum Mongolian, Todo Mongolian, Xibe (Manchu), Manchu proper, and Ali Gali, as well as extensions for transcribing Sanskrit and Tibetan.
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
The Mongolian Supplement block (U+11660–U+1167F) was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2016 with the release of version 9.0:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Although the Mongolian script has been defined in Unicode since 1999, there was no native support for Unicode Mongolian from the major vendors until the release of the Windows Vista operating system in 2007 and fonts need to be installed in Windows XP and Windows 2000 to show properly, and so Unicode Mongolian is not yet widely used. In China, legacy encodings such as the Private Use Areas (PUA) Unicode mappings and GB18030 mappings of the Menksoft IMEs (espc. Menksoft Mongolian IME) are more commonly used than Unicode for writing web pages and electronic documents in Mongolian.
The inclusion of a Unicode Mongolian font and keyboard layout in Windows Vista has meant that Unicode Mongolian is now gradually becoming more popular, but the complexity of the Unicode Mongolian encoding model and the lack of a clear definition for the use variation selectors are still barriers to its widespread adoption, as is the lack of support for inline vertical display. As of 2015 there are no fonts that successfully display all of Mongolian correctly when written in Unicode. A report published in 2011 revealed many shortcomings with automatic rendering in all three Unicode Mongolian fonts the authors surveyed, including Microsoft's Mongolian Baiti.
Furthermore, Mongolian language support has suffered from buggy implementations: the initial version of Microsoft's Mongolian Baiti font (version 5.00) was, in the supplier's own words, "almost unusable", and as of 2011 there remain some minor bugs with the rendering of suffixes in Firefox. Other fonts, such as MonoType's Mongol Usug and Myatav Erdenechimeg's MongolianScript, suffer even more serious bugs.
In January 2013, Menksoft released several OpenType Mongolian fonts, delivered with its Menksoft Mongolian IME 2012. These fonts strictly follow Unicode standard, i.e. bichig is no longer realized as "B+I+CH+I+G+FVS2" (incorrect) but "B+I+CH+I+G" (correct), which is not done by Microsoft and Founder's Mongolian Baiti, MonoType's Mongol Usug, or Myatav Erdenechimeg's MongolianScript. However, due to the impact of Mongolian Baiti, many still use the Microsoft defined incorrect realization "B+I+CH+I+G+FVS2", which results in an incorrect rendering in correctly-designed fonts like Menk Qagan Tig.
Alphabet: Some scholars consider the Manchu script to be a syllabic one.
Alphabet: Some scholars consider the Manchu script to be a syllabic one. Others see it as having an alphabet with individual letters, some of which differ according to their position within a word. Thus, whereas Denis Sinor aruged in favor of a syllabic theory,30 Louis Ligeti preferred to consider the Manchu script and alphabetical one.31()
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