The classical or traditional Mongolian script,[a] also known as the Hudum Mongol bichig,[b] was the first writing system created specifically for the Mongolian language, and was the most widespread until the introduction of Cyrillic in 1946. It is traditionally written in vertical lines Top-Down, right across the page. 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.
Copy of the Stele of Yisüngge [ru], with the earliest known inscription in the Mongolian script
The Mongolian vertical script developed as an adaptation of the Old Uyghur alphabet for the Mongolian language.:545 From the seventh and eighth to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Mongolian language separated into southern, eastern and western dialects. The principal documents 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 [zh], 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, these vowels are still distinct); inter-vocal 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 the Mongolian script looks like a vertical Arabic script (in particular the presence of the dot system).:1–2
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 the letter 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.:545
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.
The reed pen was the writing instrument of choice until the 18th century, when the brush took its place under Chinese influence.:422 Pens were also historically made of wood, reed, bamboo, bone, bronze, or iron. Ink used was black or cinnabar red, and written with on birch bark, paper, cloths made of silk or cotton, and wooden or silver plates.:80–81
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 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.[c] During the communist era, when Cyrillic became the official script for the Mongolian language, the traditional script became known as the Old Mongol script,[d] in contrast to the New script,[e] 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.
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 digraphth 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.
The below rules for writing apply specifically for the Mongolian language, unless stated otherwise.
The back, masculine,hard, or yang vowels a, o, and u.
The front, feminine,soft, or yin vowels e, ö, and ü.
The neutral vowel i, able to appear in all words.
Any Mongolian word can contain the neutral vowel i, but only vowels from either of the other two groups. The vowel quality of visually separated vowels and suffixes are likewise affected by those of the preceding word stem. Such suffixes are written with front or neutral vowels when preceded by a word stem containing only neutal vowels. Any of these rules might not apply for foreign words however.:11, 39:10:4
Two examples of the two kinds of letter separation: with the suffix ‑un( ) and the final vowel ‑a( )
A separated final form of vowels a or e is common, and can appear at the end of a word, word stem, or suffix. This form requires a final-shaped preceding consonant and an inter-word gap in between. The vowels themselves appear as ᠠ⟨⟩,
and with consonants as ᠬᠠ⟨⟩q‑a, ᠷᠠ⟨⟩r‑a/r‑e, etc.(?) This gap can be transliterated with a hyphen . In digital typesetting, these forms are triggered by inserting a U+180EMONGOLIAN VOWEL SEPARATOR (HTML ᠎·MVS) between the consonant and vowel.:30, 77:42:104:27:534–535
The presence or lack of a separated a or e can also indicate differences in meaning between different words (compare ᠬᠠᠷᠠ(?)qar‑a 'black' with ᠬᠠᠷᠠqara 'to look').:3:535
Its form could be confused with that of the identically shaped traditional dative-locative suffix ‑a/‑e exemplified further down. That form however, is more commonly found in older texts, and more commonly takes the forms of ⟨ᠲ᠋ᠤᠷ⟩tur/tür or ⟨ᠳ᠋ᠤᠷ⟩dur/dür instead.:15
Single-letter suffixes appear as final-formed a/e, i, or u/ü (as in ᠭᠠᠵᠠᠷ ᠠγaǰar‑a 'to the country' and ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠡedür‑e 'on the day',:39 or ᠤᠯᠤᠰ ᠢulus‑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 newspaper logo).:27
Isolate citation forms for 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
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.
Separated suffixes starting with, or made up by the letter, include: ‑e (vocative or dative-locative), ‑eče (ablative), and ‑ečegen (reflexive+ablative).
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).
Separated suffixes starting with the letter, include: ‑nar/‑ner or ‑nuγud/‑nügüd (plural).
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 whitespace.:20:546:6 Final dotted n is also found in modern Mongolian words.:101 Also fully or inconsistently undotted historically (ᠨ᠋ etc.).:2, 20, 25–26:114:97–98
Transcribes Chakhar /ɣ/; Khalkha /ɢ/, and /∅/.:40–42
Only in words with backa, o, and u vowels.:15:10
Dotted before a vowel (attached or separated); undotted before a consonant (syllable-final) or a whitespace.:21:546:5
May turn silent between two adjacent vowels, and merge these into a long vowel or diphthong.:36–37:49Qaγan (ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ) 'Khagan' for instance, is read as Qaan unless reading classical literary Mongolian. Some exceptions like tsa-g-aan 'white' exist.
Also fully or inconsistently undotted historically,.:2, 21, 25–26:114:97–98
Only in words with neutral i and fronte, ö, and ü vowels.:15:10
Undistinguished from QA-k.:15, 24:9 When it must be distinguished from k medially, it can be written twice (as in ᠥᠭᠭᠦᠭᠰᠡᠨöggügsen 'given', compared with ᠦᠬᠦᠭᠰᠡᠨükügsen 'dead').:59
Not occurring word-initially with a consonant following it, except in loanwords such as ᠭᠱᠠᠨ(?)gšan 'moment', or ᠭᠷᠠᠮᠮ(?)gramm 'gram'.:15, 32, 34 The final form is also found written like Manchu final ᡴ᠋k.:104
May turn silent between two adjacent vowels, and merge these into a long vowel or diphthong.:36–37:49Deger for instance, is read as deer. Some exceptions like ügüi 'no' exist.
Derived from Old Uyghur kaph.:539–540, 545–546:111, 113, 115:98
Separated suffixes starting with the letter, include: ‑daki/‑deki (dative-locative or ordinal), ‑daγ/‑deg (regular action), ‑daγan/‑degen (reflexive+dative-locative), ‑duγar/‑düger (ordinal), and ‑du(r)/‑dü(r) (dative-locative).
Syllable-initially undistinguished from t in native words.:23:9 When it must be distinguished from t medially, it can be written twice, and with both medial forms (as in ᠬᠤᠳᠳᠤᠭqudduγ 'well', compared with ᠬᠤᠲᠤᠭqutuγ 'holy').:59
The belly-tooth-shaped form is used before consonants (syllable-final), the other before vowels.:58:5
Derived from Old Uyghur taw (initial, belly-tooth-shaped medial, and final) and lamedh (other medial form).:539–540, 545–546:111, 113:98
Positional variants on lamedh ⟨ᠳ᠋/ᠲ/ᠳ᠋⟩ are used consistently for d in foreign words.:23 (As in ᠳ᠋ᠧᠩdeng / дэнden, ᠳᠡᠳ᠋ded / дэдded, or ᠡᠳ᠋ed / эдed).
Mixed Manchu–Mongolian text with diacritical dots offset downward from their respective letters. Note ᠴᠢᠭᠤᠯᠭᠠᠨ ᠤ(?)čiүulүan‑u and ᠤᠯᠠᠭᠠ(?)ulaү‑a.:58
The final tails of a, e, n, and d can become elongated vertically to fill up the remainder of a line; examplified above on the two rightmost lines.:25–26:58:546
Final letterforms with a right-pointing tail (a, e, n, q, ү, m, l, s, š, and d) may have the notch (or tooth) preceding it in printed form, handwritten in a span between more or less tapered to a fully rounded curve.:62–63:211–215
A crossed shin (resh, l/r) can appear as two teeth, from noticeably angled and overlapping, to simply adjacent. Like the Galik letter k⟨ᠺ⟩, two angled teeth can also replace the upper notch of a kaph (k/g). The looped shin (lamedh, t/d) may appear simply as an oval loop, or more angular, with an either closed or open counter (as with Galik t⟨᠊ᢐ⟩, d⟨᠊ᢑ⟩, or Todod⟨᠊ᡑ⟩). Initial taw (t/d) and final m can likewise be found written quite explicitly loopy (Like Todo t⟨ᡐ⟩ and m⟨ᡏ⟩.:8–11
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 Qingseals.
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 dynastyQianlong 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. However, there are multiple design issues in Mongolian Unicode that have not been fixed until now. The model is extremely unstable and the user group dislike the 1999 design.
The 1999 Mongolian script Unicode codes are duplicated and not searchable.
The 1999 Mongolian script Unicode model has multiple layers of FVS (free variation selectors), MVS, ZWJ, NNBSP, and those variation selections conflict with each other, which create incorrect results. Furthermore, different vendors understood the definition of each FVS differently, and developed multiple applications in different standards.
The Mongolian User Group is in a panic, and over 10,000 users signed up in 10 days in 2019 April to request local authority to fundamentally review the 1999 Unicode model.
Mongolian Wikipedia preview. A representation of what mn.wiki would look like if Mongolian script support was properly implemented. Mn.wiki already exists, but support has not been implemented. Not all text is "real Mongolian" — only the text and name of the article are, the rest of the text being English written in Mongolian script.
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.
Mongolian script can be represented in LaTeX with the MonTeX package.
Sometimes even if a font is installed the script may display as horizontal rather than vertical depending on the operating system or font.
In text sample below, the appearance of the scripts should match. The more specific shapes include the final shapes on lines 1 (yin suffix), 3 (separated a), and 4/6 (vowel harmony dependent g) in the middle column, and the interrogative particle uu/üü in the rightmost column. Note that in some browsers, letters are rotated 90° counterclockwise. If the isolate letter a (ᠠ) resembles a 'W' and not a 'Σ', rotate the letters 90° clockwise.