Next Previous Contents

3. Mongolia - Land, People, Language

3.1 Where do Mongolians live?

Mongolians live in:

3.2 What Happened When? A Chronological View at Mongolian History

An overview of Mongolian history is given here in tabular manner. There are still many gaps in this list which are to be filled later. This is a starter, and should actually be accompanied by the notorious Site under Construction warning. Since this is an overview only, neither all geographical nor all personal names can be explained and commented in detail here. The reader interested in in-depth information is kindly requested to consult history books on Mongolian history; an introductory bibliography (see also the last item of this FAQ) can be found at SROM - Suggested Readings on Mongolia.

Speaking in geopolitical terms, the epicentres of Mongolian history are the conquest of Central Asia in the 13th century, the Golden Horde (m. altan orda) in today's Russia lasting to the beginning of the 16th century, the comparatively shortlived Il Khanate (from 1220 to ca. 1350) and the Yuan Khanate (dynasty, ulus) in China (from 1279 to 1368), and, by the point of view of the Golden Horde, East Mongolia which is more or less identical with modern Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. This very brief sketch does not contain the history of Mongolians in India, nor many other contacts between Mongolia and the West. Huge volumes have been written about every single of these subjects, and the researcher who wants to fully understand by own reading of historical sources the panorama of Mongolian history has to master, besides Mongolian, a range of about a dozen totally different languages, from Latin to Chinese as geographical poles, with Arabian, Persian, Turkish, Armenian etc. etc. in between. Few scholars have ever achieved this first source knowledge, which is one of the reasons why we have no all-encompassing history of the Mongols out of the hands of one author alone.

At this point the onset of this historical overview coincides with Khabul Khan's activities. Neither the early Hunnu (Xiongnu) nor the East Turkic empires are included here.


Khabul Khan unites the Mongxol and forms a tribal group.

around 1167

Birth of Temujin, grandson Khabul Khan's, who will later receive the name Chinggis.

around 1195

Temujin reigns the Mongxol and is entitled Khan besides receiving the name Chinggis. The etymology of this name could not yet be clarified in a satisfactory manner.


At the Onon river, clean leaders hold an assembly (m. xuriltai) at which Chinggis Khan is confirmed as the leader of the Mongol Federation.


Mongols invade Xixia, also known as Tangut.


Beijing falls to Mongols.


Mongol campaign towards the West; Karakitai falls in 1218; Buchara and Samarkand fall in 1220. The latter date is considered by some as the initial year of the Il Khanate.


Mongols beat a united army of Qipchak Turks (Cumans) and Russians at the Kalka river (enters the Sea of Azov near Zhdanov via the Kal'mius river); modern name Kal'qik, it is a tributary to the Kal'mius river, but some sources give the name Kalec and point to the modern city of Taganrog as its mouth); this date is considered by some as the beginning of the Golden Horde.


Death of Chinggis Khan. Fall of the Tangut.


Election of Ögödäi as Great Khan.


The Secret History of the Mongols probably written in this year, if not 12 years later. Marking the onset of Mongolian literature, the Secret History of the Mongols of which no truly original text is preserved (only a transcription of the Mongolian language with Chinese characters survived) is at the same time Mongolia's first history, her first genealogy and her first epos. Besides that, it is as well a piece of poetry as a piece of lore; until today it is a keystone of Mongolian literature.


Battle of Liegnitz marking the westernmost expansion of the Mongol empire. Death of Ögödäi.


John of Plano Carpini travels to Mongolia.


Begin of the campaigns against Korea.


William Rubruk travels to the Mongols and is sent to Karakorum. Carpini's and Rubruk's travelogues belong to the earliest western sources on medieval Mongolia.


Death of Batu, first Khan of the Golden Horde.


Bagdad conquered by Hülägü.


Death of Möngkä.


Death of Hülägü, the first Il Khan.


Death of Bärkä, Khan of the Golden Horde.


Khubilai adopts Chinese dynastic title Yuan.


First attempt to conquer Japan.


End of Song resistance against Mongols is considered the founding date of the Yuan dynasty, or Yuan Ulus.


Second attempt to conquer Japan. Fleet defeated prior to landing in Japan by storms praised by Japanese as ``Winds of Godly power'' - kamikaze.


Mongols defeated in Java.


Rabban Sauma (also known as Bar Sawma) sent to Europe by Il Khan Arghun.


Özbäg becomes the last powerful Mongol ruler of the Golden Horde.


Death of Abu Sa'id, the last Il Khan of Hülägü's line, probably by poisoning. Beginning decline of the Il Khanate. No new ruler powerful enough to govern the whole Khanate emerges. Within a few years, the Il Khanate collapses.


The Yuan rule in China collapses and yields to the Ming dynasty.


Sheikh Ahmad becomes last Khan of the Golden Horde.


Sheikh Ahmad's troups defeated by Mengli Girai.


The peace between Lituania and Russia is considered as the end of the Golden Horde.


Alexander of Lituania has Sheikh Ahmad executed.


Ärdänä Zuu founded.


Altan Khan awards the title of Dalai Lama to the Tibetan priest Bsod-nams Rgya-mcho. Eastern Mongolia embraces Tibetan buddhism.


Ligdan Khan becomes last of the Mongolian Great Khans.


Mongolian rulers fail to recognize Ligdan Khan's attempts to unify the Mongolian tribes; at Ligdan's death in 1634 even the remaining Caxar flee; the collapse of Mongolian power leads to Manchu claims over southern and east Mongolian territory which will now be called ``Inner Mongolia''.


Ming toppled with Mongolian assistance; Qing dynasty founded.


Lifan Yuan founded. The equivalent of the ``India Office'' in some aspects, it was responsible for Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur and Russian affairs.

around 1651

Ix Xürää probably founded as a nomadic monastery.


Zanabazar invents Soyombo script.


Manchu-Russian Treaty of Nerchinsk. Russian border defined.


Council of Dolon nor. Xalx Mongol rulers submit formally to the Manchu Court.


Final organization of the Lifan Yuan.

around 1779

Ix Xürää becoming settled.


End of Qing Dynasty. 8th Yebcundamba Xutugtu enthroned as Head of Autonomous Mongolia.


Treaty of Kyakhta. Russia and China maintain various privileges in Autonomous Mongolia (the third partner) without Autonomous Mongolia being able to decide her own territorial issues.


Baron of Ungern-Sternberg in Xalx.


Provisional Revolutionary People's Government in Xalx.


Death of Süxbaatar, revolutionary hero of modern Mongolia.


Death of the 8th (and last) Zebcundamba Xutugtu. Foundation of the Mongolian People's Republic (MPR; in Mongolian: BNMAU, Bügd Naïramdax Mongol Ard Uls); first national assembly, Ardyn Ix Xural or Great People's Hural held. Örgöö (Urga) renamed Ulaanbaatar.


Battle of Xalxyn Gol between Japanese-Manchukuo and Soviet- Mongolian forces.


Inner Mongol Autonomous Region founded.


Mongolian People's Republic joins UNO; membership strongly supported by India.


Mongolian People's Republic becomes COMECOM member.

March 1986

The 19th Party Congress of MAXN addresses issues of political openness and economic efficiency. Similar to Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union, this was originally intended as an attempt to revitalize socialism. It was, in retrospect, the start of the end of socialism in Mongolia.

December 1989

The first opposition group, the Mongolian Democratic Union is formed on 10 December (now a national holiday). This coincides with MAXN's Seventh Central Committee Plenum, which considered the need for greater reforms.

January 1990

Social-Democratic Movement (forerunner of the Mongolian Social-Democratic Party) founded.

1990, March

Mongolian demonstrators demand reforms, glasnost' and multi-party elections. New parties are founded by young Mongolian intellectuals.


COMECON dismantled; Mongolia deeply hit by economical crisis.

1992, Feb.

Mongolian People's Republic adopts new constitution and is renamed Mongol Uls - Mongolia.

1992, June

Mongolia hold elections; the old Communist party MAXN wins with a comfortable majority of seats in the new parliament. Jasraï becomes Prime Minister.

1996, June

Mongolia holds elections; the old Communist party MAXN is defeated, and the Democrats gain a landslide victory. They come close by one seat to the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendmends. New Prime Minister is Änxsaïxan.

1997, May 18

Bagabandi (MAXN) elected President of Mongolia, replacing P. Oqirbat.

1998, spring

The Mongolian government, crippled by internal disputes, forces the cabinet to resign. Mongolia is effectively without government during several months.

1999, December 24

The recent experiences with nominations for Prime Ministers and their consequent repeated denial by the President leads to an amendment of the constitution; seven issues are discussed and passed in less than 40 minutes. Major items concern the quorum, or required presence of a simple majority of MPs, as well as the simplification of the nomination procedure for cabinet members.

2000, July 2nd

Mongolia holds parliamentary elections; the MAXN, after their first defeat in history, claims a stunning victory and gains 72 of 76 seats in Parliament. The Democratic Parties are --- despite their positive record on inflation and economic stability --- punished by the voters for their mismanagement, their corruption scandals and their in-fighting between various factions culminating in the founding of a handful of new parties within months of the election.

3.3 Who is Who among the Khans?

The genealogy of the founders of the Mongolian empires is given here; complete biographies exceed the scope of the FAQ and will be found in the Who is Who part of Infosystem Mongolei.

                  [I] Chinggis Khan (*1167? -- +1227)
                    |        |              [II]            |
  Four sons:      Jochi     Chaghatai     Ögädäi          Tolui
                  (*1180?)                (*1186)         (*1190?)
                  (+1227)   (+1242)       (+1241)         (+1232/3)
                    |        |               |              |
                    |        |               |              |
                  Batu,     Chaghatai        |              |
                  2nd son    Khans         [III]            |
                  (*1207)                  Guyuk            |
                    |                                       |
                    |                                       |
                    |                                       |
              Khans of the                                  |
              Golden Horde                                  |
                   [IV]             [V]        |            |
                  Möngkä          Khubilai   Hulegu       Ariq-Bökä
                  (*1208)         (*1215)    (*1218)      (*?)
                  (+1259)         (+1294)    (+1265)      (+1266)
                                     |         |
                                    Yuan     Il Khans

          The Great Khans ruled in following chronological order:

          Chinggis Khan:  1206-1227
          Ögädäi:         1229-1241
          Guyuk:          1246-1248
          Möngkä:         1251-1259
          Khubilai:       1260-1294

3.4 How does the Mongolian National Flag look like, and what does it mean?

The Mongolian flag consists of three bands, red, blue, and red, of equal width. In the left red band there is the national symbol, called Soyombo. Its history dates back to the 17th century AD to the creation of the Soyombo script by Zanabazar (see also the paragraph on Mongolian writing below).

The three-tongued flame on top symbolizes the nation's past, present and future prosperity (this and the following paragraph quoted from: This is Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar 1991), sun and crescent, immediately below the flame, are old Mongolian totems. The two triangles in the upper and lower part tell about the people's determination to uphold their freedom and independence. The rectangles and walls stand for strength, uprightness and honesty. The Yin-Yang symbol in the center is interpreted in two ways: some see the unity of pairs of natural elements, fire and water, earth and sky, man and woman; others see two fishes standing for continuous movement since fishes neever sleep as they cannot close their eyes.

In 1924 the first Great People's Hural (National Assembly) decided to crown the symbol with a 5-pointed star which was abolished with the new constitution of 1992.

3.5 How do Mongolians live? (Economy Basics)

Pastoral Nomadism

The prevailing Mongolian style of life is pastoral nomadism. Mongolia proper has an immense richness in livestock; the Five Species of Animal, as they are traditionally counted in Mongolian (tawun xoshuu mal) are sheep, goat, camel, horse and cattle. Sheep deliver wool, goat and cattle deliver milk and meat, camel and cattle provide transport, and horses are used for riding.

Between twice and four times a year a typical herders' family moves between a winter camp and a summer camp.

Depending on the area (grasslands in the east, semi-desert and desert in the south (gobi literally means desert)) the composition of the livestock changes significantly.

Traditionally, pastoral nomadism secures a kind of self-sufficient life; the wool is used to produce fabric and felt for the gär, the traditional Mongolian round tent (aka yurt); hides are processed into leather for all kinds of goods from boots to household ustensils; in the summer, milk is processed into dairy products; only surplus meat is traded against grain and rice. Only around one percent of Mongolia's surface is used as arable land for grain production.

Industrialized Cities

The nomadic type of economy is challenged by modern-day's industrial production with its typical and profound division of labour; the industrial society which prevails in the few major cities of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar (being the capital), Darxan (in the north) and Ärdänät (the mining centre) is based on trade and the exploitation of natural resources like ores and coal; this economy is virtually detached from the countryside and was hit hardest during the economical crisis of the early 1990s.

The rift between countryside and city is so big that food stores in Ulaanbaatar offer German jam, butter from New Zealand, cheese from Russia, mustard from Czechia, and juice from Poland (these are just examples), but virtually no products of Mongolian origin besides bread and sausage. Mongolia lacks the technical means to produce and transport dairy products in winter; with temperatures below -30 centigrades milk and cheese have to be heated rather than to be cooled! As a consequence, relying on imported foodstuff without access to local resources is an expensive endeavour for the average city dweller stretching the family budget to its limits.

Mongolian Economy in China

In some areas (e.g. in Gansu and Yunnan) the population of Mongolian origin leads a sedentary life and engages in agricultural work.

The life in Southern Mongolia (Inner Mongol Autonomous Region) is mainly determined by the industrialization which took place in the first quarter of the 20th century; big cities like Xöxxot (Huhhot) and Baotou (the major metal-processing centre of Southern Mongolia) show little affinity to traditional Mongolian life.

What Currency is used in Mongolia?

The currency unit of Mongolia is named tögrög, conventionally rendered as Tugrik in western languages. One American dollar is roughly equivalent to anything from 1000 to 1080 tugrik (subject to daily fluctuation) in recent years. The currency symbol is a double-barred T.

Inner Mongolia uses the Chinese Yuan (Renminbi or RMB). The Chinese banknotes carry inscriptions in five languages (Chinese, Mongol, Tibetan, Uighur and Zhuang).

3.6 Where to call in distress?

Nobody hopes to run into emergency situations, but it is nonetheless good to know which telephone number to call in case of a case. In Ulaanbaatar, dial 101 for fire alarm, 102 for police, and 103 for medical emergencies.

Ulaanbaatar is implementing a Japanese-style police system in the city with little police booths in the residential areas. At least for long-term residents it is advised to contact the nearest police booth and enquire for their telephone number.

3.7 Who speaks Mongolian?

Virtually all citizens of Mongolia proper speak Mongolian. Some do not because they are either of Kazakh or other ethnic origin. Not all ethnic Mongols in Southern Mongolia do speak Mongol, many of them have switched to Chinese. Similar phenomena can be observed in Buryatia where many inhabitants speak Russian. The minor communities scattered over China ( Dongxiang (cf. article in Infosystem Mongolei), Dagur, Eastern Yugur, Tuzu, Bao'an etc.) and Afghanistan (Moghol) speak some very old varieties of Mongolian which have developed into proper languages in their own right. Some of these languages are not well documented. The Kalmyks speak a form of Mongolian known as Kalmyk which even developed its own modified form of writing known as ``Tod'' or ``clear'' writing because it identifies vowels and some consonants (k/g, t/d) in an unambiguous manner.

3.8 What kind of a language is Mongolian?

Mongolian - Language

Mongolian belongs to the Altaic family of languages showing structural (and partially lexical) similarities with languages of the Tungusic group of this family (e.g. Manju) and the Turkic group of this family (e.g. Turkish). Mongolian has strong vowel harmony: all vowels within one word and even all grammatical particles must be chosen from one of two vowel sets which are known as male and female or back and front vowels. Mongolian has a total of seven short vowels. There are also seven long vowels. The distinction between short and long vowels is essential as it alters the meaning: [tos] is ``grease, oil'' while [toos] is ``dust''. Besides simple short and long vowels there are also diphtongs which have duration values similar to long vowels. The stress is usually put on the first syllable if all syllables of a word are short; otherwise the stress is put on the first syllable carrying a long vowel. The set of consonants has many constraints: [r] may not occur at the beginning of a word. [f] only occurs in foreign loans and is frequently converted to [p]. [w] and [b] though phonetically different do not form an opposition on the phonological level. The same holds true for [c] and [q] ([c] as [ts]ar, [q] as [ch]ill) as well as [j] (as in [j]eep) and [z] (best described as fairly unvoiced [ds]). Both pairs are expressed by the same symbol in Classical writing and the development of different phonetical realisations is mainly due to vowel environment and dialect situation. The consonants [k] and [g] are linked to vowel harmony. In words containing back vowels, [k] changes to [x] and [g] becomes [G] (a voiced velar). Beginners frequently confuse the latter with something like a French [r].

Mongolian - Grammar

The grammar is fairly simple: all predicates are put at the end of the sentence resulting in a S.O.P. (subject - object - predicate) structure. There are no subordinate clauses in the sense of Indo-European languages. Attributes are placed in front of the denominated entity. Indo-European style subordinate clauses (Relativsatz, etc.) are resolved as attribute constructions. Verbs can be collated to form new meanings or expand or intensify the meaning of the main verb. Verbs occur in two distinct categories: 1) the ``genuine'' or finite verb forms finish phrases, serve as predicates and can be compared to ordinary verbs of Indo-European languages; 2) all other verb forms, be they converbs (modifiers of other verbs), verbal nouns (usually translated as verbs but with the complete behaviour of nouns like the ability to form oblique cases) or the equivalents to participles and gerundial forms cannot be used to finish phrases. As a rule of thumb, a Mongolian phrase usually has numerous occurrences of verbs of the second class but only one finite verb at the end of the phrase. As an exception to this rule of thumb, under certain circumstances phrases may also end with a verbal noun as predicate. All grammatical functions and relations are expressed by suffixes which are ``glued'' to the end of a root be it noun or verb hence the term ``agglutinative language''. More than one suffix can be attached to a word: e.g. tääsh ``bag''; tääshääs ``out of the bag''; tääshääsää ``out of his/her bag''); bolgoomj ``care''; bolgoomjtoï ``with care'' -> careful (as adjective); bolgoomjtoïgoor ``acting with care'' -> doing something carefully (as adverb).

The repetitive nature of similar endings has strongly influenced traditional lyrics which uses line alliterations and line-internal alliterations as a main element for structuring versed speech. The emphasized beginnings of words thus form a healthy offset to the grammatical suffices.

Mongolian - Writing

Mongolian writing is a fairly complex topic. In the history of the written language, numerous scripts were either accepted from other cultures or domestically designed. The most important scripts are Uighur, Chinese, Phagsba, Soyombo and Cyrillic. Other scripts than these five were also employed at given times in history, e.g. Latin which had been used during the 1930s.

Mongolian Writing: Uighur

The traditional Mongolian script is written in vertical lines from left to right, very much like an Arab page turned counter-clockwise by 90 degrees. Though this script (called Uighur script because the Uighurs had used it first) has been the main vehicle of written Mongolian, a number of other writing systems have been and are being employed. The earliest documents still existing date back to the 13th century.

Despite numerous other attempts to introduce different types of writing, this script has proven to be to most stable vehicle of written Mongolian. It was used up to the 1930s in Mongolia when it was first replaced with a short-lived Latin script (until 1938) and then replaced by a modified Cyrillic script in 1940.

In Southern Mongolia or China's Inner Mongolia (Inner Mongol Autonomous Region, or Öwörr Mongol Öörtöö Zasax Oron) Uighur or Classical Mongolian writing is still the official writing system.

Similar to the historical orthography of English, Classical Mongolian as it is used today contains a lot of phonological archaisms and historical features which make it sometimes not perfectly easy to learn but which offer valuable insight for linguists and provide enough of dialect neutrality for modern-day speakers from most Mongolian language areas.

In the beginning of the 1990s, Mongolia was considering the return to the Classical script despite the heavy financial and social cost: New schoolbooks had to be compiled and many adults who were born after 1940 must now learn a completely different writing system which does not only look different but which also represents a different historical development stage of the Mongolian language. In 1992, A law was passed to the effect that from 1994 on Mongolian Classical script be the official writing of Mongolia again. Even the new constitution of Mongolia passed in 1992 was printed in Modern (Cyrillic) and Classical (Uighur) Mongolian (see the Constitution in Modern Mongolian, MLS-encoded and Constitution in Classical Mongolian, MLS-encoded, both in Infosystem Mongolei) but one year after this magic date nothing really changed substantially.

Mongolian Writing: Chinese

Astonishing as it may sound, Chinese has been the writing of choice for important Mongolian documents during the 13th and 14th century. Chinese characters (a virtually canonical set of some 500 characters) were used according to their pronounciation. Some characters failed to render the pronounciation and were prefixed (or affixed) with modifiers, small Chinese characters indicating whether the main consonant (or `initial') of the syllable had to be pronounced in a velar manner of not. The most important document written with Chinese characters is the Secret History of the Mongols. It was an achievement of the late 19th and the early 20th century to decypher the text and restore its original Mongolian shape. The problems linked to this work are manyfold: One has to understand Early Mandarin (the name of the specific form of Chinese used for this script) phonology, and one has to understand words which appear only in this text but no other source, not even the famous Hua Yi Yi Yu or Barbarian Glossaries, Chinese dictionaries of the Middle Ages dealing with a number of Central and North-East Asian languages. The most promiment scholars contributing to the understanding of these texts were the Japanese K. Shiratori, the German E. Haenisch, the Japanese Hattori, to name just a few.

Using Chinese characters for writing Mongolian had the big advantage that a message encoded in this system was obscure to a Chinese messenger but perfectly transparent to a Mongolian listener. Despite this advantage of privacy, the system ceased to be used in the early 14th century.

Mongolian Writing: Phagsba

The Phagsba or Square Writing was developed in the 13th century by a famous Tibetan monk and scholar, Phagsba. Designed as the Unified Writing of the Yuan (emphasis through capitalisation added by OC), it combined the features of Tibetan (e.g., rich consonant inventory) with the features of Chinese (vertical writing direction) and Mongolian (additional vowels were provided). Despite its functionality, it could not establish itself properly and came largely out of use after the fall of the Yuan dynasty.

The Phagsba or Square Writing is a valuable research tool because 14th century dictionaries give us a deep insight in the phonetics and phonology of Mongolian (and, by the way, Chinese) of those days.

Mongolian Writing: Soyombo

Another writing the design of which was politically motivated was the Soyombo script designed by the monk and scholar Zanabazar in 1686. It is of intriguing beauty and complexity yet never really succeeded as script for everyday use. The only symbol of that script which can be seen literally everywhere is the Soyombo symbol. More about the Soyombo script and symbol can be found at the Soyombo Script page of Infosystem Mongolei.

Mongolian Writing: Horizontal Square, or Xäwtää Dörwöljin

Zanabazar created a second writing system which looks very much like a horizontal version of the Phagsba script, and indeed it shares the same Tibetan roots. Horizontal Square Writing has a close resemblance to many Tibetan characters, and similar to the Soyombo alphabet, it shows the same typical arrangement of short and long vowels, together with basically the same order of consonants.

Only a few documents in Horizontal Square Writing have survived, and the script was never popularized.

Mongolian Writing: Tibetan

In the last centuries, monks at the Gandan monastery in Ulaanbaatar used Tibetan letters to write Mongolian texts, thus continuing Phagsba's and Zanabazar's tradition with simplified means: they did not create an extra alphabet which was based on Tibetan principles, they directly used the Tibetan letters to spell out Mongolian words.

Documents surviving contain several Tibetan-Mongolian dictionaries of religous terms.

Mongolian Writing: Cyrillic

In 1940, The then Mongolian People's Republic started using a modified Cyrillic alphabet which was extended by two vowel symbols, ö and ü, the female counterparts of [o] and [u]. The orthography of Cyrillic Mongolian is based on the Xalx dialect. Despite a few orthographic instabilities, the Cyrillic system is the major vehicle of written communication today in Mongolia; virtually all newspapers, book etc. are printed in Cyrillic letters. Since the system is based on the Xalx dialect, it is not as transparent for speakers from other Mongolian areas if compared with the Classical script; on the other hand, the clearly phonemical notation makes it easy to understand written materials read aloud, and it allows easy searching of dictionaries. Despite the strong political overtones around its inception in the 1940s, the Cyrillic writing has proven to be useful and practical. Due to its structural similarity to Latin, the Cyrillic script could be integrated into the world of modern information technology (printing equipment, data interchange, computing, etc.) which further promoted the solid standing of Cyrillic writing in present day's Mongolia.

3.9 Is Mongolian easy to learn?

From the introduction about the Mongolian language we can draw the following conclusions on whether Mongolian is or is not easy to learn.

Since it is an SOP language its grammar may pose problems to speakers of most European languages and Chinese. It should however be much easier for learners with a background in Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Manchu or similar languages.

Since the assumptions on word classes ('parts of speech') sometimes differs thoroughly from most Indo-European languages, problems may arise in this field (When does an ``adjective'' need declension? Is it really what we call an adjective?).

The pronounciation does not pose enormous difficulties. Although there are no completely unfamiliar sounds for speakers of most other languages tutoring is strongly recommended during the initial phase of acquiring phonetics and phonology.

The Classical writing system should be learned under a teacher's or tutor's guidance - it is sometimes a bit tricky to master it on one's own. The number of language training materials is not overwhelming, dictionaries are only available for a few languages (notably Russian, Chinese and English; but also German and Japanese. See the document by Christopher Kaplonski and Oliver Corff: SROMDIC - Suggested Readings on Mongolia - Dictionaries in Infosystem Mongolei) The final key to success is practice, practice, practice. Expose yourself to as much printed and audio material as possible.

3.10 Are the Mongolian dialects an obstacle for the foreigner learning Mongolian?

The language[s] in Mongolia and Southern Mongolia are virtually the same: Mongolian is spoken in Mongolia and Southern Mongolia, but it is spoken in its Xalx (Khalkha) form in Mongolia but spoken in its Chahar (Cahar) dialect form in Southern (Inner) Mongolia. Besides Chahar, there are other dialects: Alashan in the western regions of Southern Mongolia, and the forms spoken in Hulunbuir (eastern part of Southern Mongolia). Nonetheless, Chahar is the quasi-standard of Southern Mongolia.

Differences can be found in lexicon, pronounciation and grammar. The differences in lexicon differs mostly in the realm of foreign loans: Chinese words are more popular in Southern Mongolia (e.g. biyanji for editor) which is redaktor in Russian-influenced Xalx; both try to re-introduce the genuinely Mongolian term nairuulagq. Other words, especially of theoretical and political nature, are often formed after completely different roots.

The pronounciation differs in the case that some sounds which were not separated in the Classical Mongolian writing (like z) are now pronounced like z in Mongolia and j in Southern Mongolia. This is a general rule which is influenced by the following vowel, i.e. whether a i or something different follows.

Grammar is occasionally distinct because elder forms are sometimes preserved in Southern Mongolian speech.

In general, it is not too difficult to speak Xalx in Southern Mongolia since Xalx is recognized as the prestigious lingua franca of the International Mongol community. It is however slightly more difficult to understand Chahar if one has only enjoyed Xalx training.

The differences are aggravated by the usage of different writing systems. Southern Mongolia keeps using the Classical Mongolian writing (which is very conservative, also for the grammatical endings of verbs etc.) while in Mongolia in the 1940s an extended Cyrillic alphabet was introduced. The extensions were necessary to accommodate the Mongolian vowels ö and ü which are usually indicated by two dots over o and u in transliterations.

Next Previous Contents