Mongolian language

The Mongolian language (Монгол), is the best-known member of the Mongolian language family, and the primary language of most of the residents of Mongolia. If the Altaic theory is correct, then Mongolian also belongs to the larger Altaic language family. It is also spoken in some of the surrounding areas in provinces of China and the Russian Federation. The majority of speakers speak the Khalkha (or Halh) dialect.

Mongolian (Mongol [Монгол])
Spoken in: Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, China
Region: All of Mongolia, Buryatia in Russia, Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan, and Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang provinces in China
Total speakers: 5.7 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Altaic?


Official status
Official language of: Mongolia
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1mn
ISO 639-2mon
See also: LanguageList of languages


Mongolian is a Mongolian language. The Altaic theory, still very controversial, proposes that the Mongolian family is a member of the larger Altaic family, which would also include the Turkic and Tungusic languages. Related languages include Kalmyk spoken near the Caspian Sea and Burit of East Siberia, as well as a number of minor languages in China and the Mogholi language of Afghanistan.

Geographic distribution

Over two million people speak Mongolian throughout Mongolia. There is also a significant number of speakers in Russia, primarily in the Buryat ASSR, and millions of speakers in Northern China.

Official status

Khalkha Mongolian is the national language of Mongolia.


The most prestigious dialect is Khalkha, which is spoken in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaan-Baatar, and most of Mongolia. However, the dialect spoken in Inner Mongolia and northern Mongolia has around a million more speakers than Khalkha.


Template:IPA notice


Front Central Back
Short Long Short Long Short Long
Close [ i ] [ u ]
Close-Mid [ e ] [ o ]
Open [ a ]

Mongolian also has four diphthongs, /ui/, , , and /ai/. Short /o/ is phonetically . The traditional analysis of the vowel system of Mongolian had . However, /y/ is now analyzed as /u/, while /u/ is analyzed as . Likewise, is analyzed as /o/ and /o/ is analyzed as .


Labial Dental Postalveolar Velar Uvular
Palatalized Plain Palatalized Plain Palatalized Plain
Plosive Voiceless aspirated
Voiceless [ p ] [ t ]
Affricate Voiceless aspirated
Fricative [ s ] [ x ]
Nasal [ m ] [ n ]
Lateral fricative
Approximant [ w ] [ r ] [ j ]

Mongolian lacks a true phoneme /l/; instead, it has a voiced lateral fricative, . Syllable-finally, /n/ is realized as . The phonemes , , /f/, /k/, and only occur in loanwords, and so they are not shown in the table.


The full inventory of long and short vowels can only occur in word-initial syllables. In word-internal and word-final syllables, vowels are reduced. Long vowels can only appear in initial syllables. In many non-initial syllables, there is, phonemically, no vowel at all (for example, хоёр, "two," ажил, "work," and саармаг, "neutral" are, phonemically, , , and , repectively (examples from Svantesson et al)). An epenthetic vowel is allophonically inserted, and the form of the epenthetic vowel is predictable from the preceding vowel: the epenthetic vowel is just a centralized version of the vowel in the preceding syllable. In the examples given, the words are phonetically , , and . However, in the epenthetic vowel in a syllable after /u/ is a centralized /e/, and if there is an /i/ in the preceding syllable, then an epenthetic vowel's phonetic form is determined by the vowel in the syllable preceding the /i/, that is, two syllables before the epenthetic vowel. Another factor affecting the form of the epenthetic vowel is the preceding consonant: if it is postalveolar or palatalized, then the epenthetic vowel is a centralized /i/, as in .

No discussion of the phonology of Mongolian would be complete without discussing the language's vowel harmony. Mongolian groups vowels into two groups. Traditionally, these groups have been seen as "front vowels" and "back vowels," but Svantesson et al analyze the groups instead as (what they term) "non-pharyngeal" (e, u, o) and "pharyngeal" (a,','). /i/ is a neutral vowel, and does not belong in either group. The type of vowel which occurs in the first syllable of a word determines what vowels can occur in the rest of the word. If the first vowel is pharyngeal, then all the vowels of the word must be either /i/ or a pharyngeal vowel. Similarly, if the first vowel is a non-pharyngeal vowel, then all the vowels of the word must be either /i/ or a non-pharyngeal vowel.


Mongolian is agglutinative, like Turkish or Finnish, meaning it strings together affixes, adding them to roots. A halmark of agglutinative languages is that these affixes, unlike in fusional languages, are almost always monomorphemic, composed of a single morpheme. So one affix is required to express plurality, and a separate one to indicate the case of a noun, and so on.


Mongolian has only first and second person pronouns; in place of third person pronouns, the demonstrative pronouns "this" (en), "that" (ter), "these" (ed nar), and "those" (ted nar) are used.

Writing system

Main article: Mongolian alphabet

Mongolian has been written in a variety of alphabets over the years.

The official Mongolian alphabet was created in the 12th century, although it has undergone transformations and occasionally been supplanted by other scripts. The Mongolian alphabet was used in Mongolia until 1943, when it was replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet, and Cyrillic is still the most common script found in Mongolia, while the traditional alphabet is being slowly reintroduced in the public school system. In Inner Mongolia (in China), the traditional alphabet has always been used, although Cyrillic was considered briefly before the Sino-Soviet split.

The modified Cyrillic alphabet used for Mongolian is as follows:

Cyrillic IPA Transliteration Cyrillic IPA Transliteration
Аа a a Пп ( ), ( ) ( p )
Бб p, b Рр r, r
Вв w, v, w Сс s s
Гг ,, g Тт , t
Дд t, d Уу u
Ее je ye Үү u
Ёё yo Фф ( f ) ( f )
Жж j Хх x, kh
Зз (d)z Цц ts
Ии i i Чч ch
Йй j y Шш sh
Кк ( k ), ( ) ( k ) Щщ ( ) ( s(h)ch )
Лл , l Ыы i y
Мм m, m Ьь y, '
Нн n, n Ээ e e
Оо o Юю yu
Өө o Яя ja ya

External links


  • Mongolian Phrasebook. Lonely Planet Publications: Victoria, Australia, 1995.
  • Svantesson et al. The Phonology of Mongolian. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Template:InterWikibg:Монголски език de:Mongolische Sprachen eo:Mongola lingvo fr:Mongol he:מונגולית io:Mongola lingui mn:Монгол хэл nl:Mongools ja:モンゴル語 pl:Języki mongolskie ru:Монгольский язык fi:Mongolin kieli th:ภาษามองโกเลีย zh:蒙古语


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