Language of the week: Mongolian

Better late than never. After all, if my University can send around an e-mail saying Wednesday (today) is a Monday, my Monday feature can clearly appear in the day of the week!

This week language of the week is Mongolian, because of the post in a comment on languagehat’s blog which intimated that there was not enough Mongolian on the site. Given that I am up to M and slack in posting to boot, Joshua Smith is in luck.

Mongolian is, of course, the national language of Mongolia. The standard language is based on the Khalkha dialect. It’s Altaic, if you believe in Altaic. Mongolian is also spoken in China by rapidly diminishing numbers of people.

Mongolian is of course famous for its vowel harmony, and people disagree about the details of the system. On the descriptions I have seen, it seems to be some sort of tenseness harmony, with e, o and u belonging to one set, and a, ʊ, and ɔ making up the other set. i is a neutral vowel (that is, it does not participate in the harmony system). There are also long versions of each of the above.

The consonant system is also truly wild. There’s no phonemic voicing, of which is of course something I always like to see. Except, the uvulars are all voiced and anything further forward is voiceless. They have no lateral approximant, but they do have a lateral fricative which can be palatalised phonemically.

Here’s a random collection of links:

  • inLinguamongolia a: a new site on Mongolian
  • The Omniglot discussion of the scripts that Mongolian has been written in
  • A FAQ on Mongolian history
  • A site for Mongolian tourism in case any of my readers would like to find out more about their fantastic vowel harmony system,
  • The Mongolian section of Monumenta Altaica.
  • A site where you can find Mongolian pen-friends and language partners for IMing and chat.

21 responses to “Language of the week: Mongolian

  1. David Marjanović

    Of course there’s ordinary vowel harmony, too, with [œ] and [ʏ] not appearing together with back vowels and so on.

    Who needs phonemic voicing? My native southern German doesn’t have that either (unless you count /f/ vs /v/) — and the southeastern dialects, such as mine, do not aspirate the other plosive series, leaving a pure lenis-fortis contrast. Now that’s rare!

    Also, read this and then tell me you don’t believe in Altaic… :-)

  2. I’ve always viewed voicing as baroque and unnecessary (well, ever since I started working on Australian languages..) And nope, sorry, I still don’t believe in Altaic.

  3. David Marjanović

    Why? :-)

  4. David Marjanović

    I forgot to add this link (abstract and free pdf of another paper).

  5. Hi David, I’m not ignoring you, but I have a lot of reasons… so I’m planning a full post on the topic when I’ve finished the learner’s guide.

  6. David Marjanović

    Oh, good! Many thanks in advance!

  7. David Marjanović

    That’s great! Many thanks in advance! :-)

  8. i am a writing tutor, & after i worked with one student i found out he was from Mongolia. i really really wanted to ask him just to say something in that language–but i wisely refrained.


  9. But you could have added data to my blog post! :)

  10. David Marjanović

    Did I answer twice in a row?

    Anyway, a kind soul sent me the introduction to the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages (270 pages, no kidding!) which, well, closes the case. If you want it (pdf)…

  11. Hi David, sorry for not getting back to you sooner. Let me do a before and after post. As in, the reasons I currently think that Altaic is unconvincing, and then let me see if I change my mind when reading the etymological dictionary.

  12. David Marjanović

    Sounds good!

    Do you have the dictionary, or should I send you the introduction?

  13. Nope, I don’t have it.

  14. David Marjanović

    Good, how do I send?

  15. David Marjanović

    Just sent it, now that I have your e-mail address.

  16. hi what is up

  17. what is up are you interested in mongolia

  18. do you can help me to find the mongolian lexique\dictionary pleaz. thanks

  19. Hasanbay hadi, you can visit my blog, I will soon post dictionaries, textbooks and vocabulary lists about Mongolian language. Hope it ca help you!

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