Mongolian alphabet

The Mongolian language historically has four writing systems that have been used over the centuries.



Two writing systems based on simplified Chinese ideograms and Sinogram-typed alphabetic block (see Hangul), respectively, were used to write the Mongolic language of Khitan, and also to write the Tungusic Jurchen language in their modified forms. These two systems, called "Khitan/Jurchen big characters" and "Khitan/Jurchen small characters" fell into disuse when North China reverted to a homogenous Han Chinese culture.


During the Yuan Dynasty, the Kublai Khan asked Phagspa to design a new writing system to be used by the whole empire. Phagspa in turn modified the traditional Tibetan script and gave birth to a new set of characters called Phagspa characters. These characters did not receive wide acceptance and fell into disuse with the collapse of the Yuan dynasty in 1368. After this it became mainly a way for Mongolians to learn Chinese characters instead. Some scholars believe that it had been the source of the Hangul alphabet.

For the purpose of encoding in digital media, Phagspa characters are allocated a block of 56 characters from U+A840 to U+A87F, and they will be available in Unicode 4.1, scheduled to be published after April 2005.

Mongolian script proper

Intermediate between these is the Mongolian script proper, which was derived in the 12th-13th centuries from the Uyghur alphabet, a descendant of Sogdian alphabet that came from Syriac alphabet. It is used in Inner Mongolia to this day. Perhaps its two most notable features are that it is a vertical script, and that it is the only such script that is written from left to right. (All other vertical writing systems are written right to left.) In fact, the Uighurs changed the orientation of their script from horizontal to vertical to emulate the Chinese writing system. The visual effect is that of Syriac rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. This alphabet fails to distinguish several vowels (o/u, /, final a/e) and consonants (t/d, k/g, sometimes ž/y). The situation is somewhat comparable to the various dialects of English, which must represent 10 or more vowels with only 5 letters, and uses the digraph th regardless of voicing. However, two regional variants of the Mongol script use diacritics to represent all phonemic distinctions unambiguously: the western "Clear script" derived c. 1648 for the Oirats and Kalmyks, and still in use today in Jungaria; and its recent offshoot, a northern Buryat script developed in 1905.

Besides the Mongolian language, the Evenk language is written in the Mongolian script.


The most recent Mongolian alphabet is a slightly modified Cyrillic script (the Russian alphabet plus 2 additional letters: Өө and Үү). This alphabet is a phonemic alphabet, meaning that there is a high level of consistency in the representation of individual sounds. It was introduced following the communist revolution in Mongolia, but is currently being phased out again in favor of the Mongolian alphabet proper, described above.

See also

External links

de:Mongolische Schrift ja:モンゴル文字 zh:蒙古文


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