Mongolian scripts and writing culture

Mongolian script

Researchers say that world speaks 3000 different languages, which of only 13 are spoken among large populations over 50 millions. Mongolian language and writings, however being used in small populations, has created very specific characteristics including numerous different scripts and characters representing particular ethnic groups and their dialects.

This language has been mastered through its turbulent historical periods including “Pax Mongolica“, when Mongolians have conquered half of the world states between 13th to 15th centuries, then the collapse of “Great Mongols“, when it became a part of Manchurians and lost its sovereignty, even then the period of Cold war, as this country was under an umbrella of Soviet Union.

Sometimes, it is very proud to see numerous sophisticated and well-developed scripts and characters created by Mongolians as a reflection of its rich history and peculiar culture. Considering the number of Mongolian population during its each historical times, it is a rare, but valuable contribution to the development of world languages and culture.

According to linguistic studies, Mongolian is considered as an ancient group of language. It has been confirmed by Vladimortsov, a famous researcher in Mongol studies, that development of this language can be classified into 4 periods; ancient, early, medieval and modern. For instance: he claims that ancient period must be counted from the separation of Mongolian from Altai language group; then early period belongs to the very origin of this language from 11th to mid-12th; then medievel period until 16th, up to then it is considered as modern type of development.

Stele of Genghis Khagan

Of course, there are so many archeological findings underlying such researches, which one of them is “Chinggisiin Chuluunii Bichees” consists of a 5 tracks and 20 words, commemorating Yesunge’s fascinating achievement of over 400 meters exact shot by archery during a festival near a place named Bukhai Sachigai. This monument is 2 meters in length, 66 cm in width, 22 cm in thickness, found near Kharkhiraa river in Mongolia, now being stored in Hermitage museum in St Peterburg.

If we see the world from a linguistic point of view, there are only a few dominating characters such as latin, cyrillic, chinese and arabic. Civilizations in Asian continent were wholy influenced by chinese language and adopted “hanzi“. But for Mongolians, the story was different. According to Shagdarsuren, a linguist and a historian, ancient characters of Mongolian script were first created by Uygurs, but it was developed by Mongolians to reach a form of a systematic writing. Even it was regarded as an official script by the declaration of Chinggis Khan, during the age of Great Mongols. In 1240, the great legacy of “Mongolian Secret History” was written in Mongolian script, too. Thus, it is misunderstanding to claim that Mongolians have had no exact writing system as a nomadic tribe.

Besides Mongolian scripts, we had created numerous other characters as repeatedly stated above. Khublai Khan, while ruling the Yuan dynasty, decreed Tibetian Pagva monk to originate a new system of characters to use within its territory. These new characters were named “Durvuljin”, which simply means square characters. Learning of “Durvuljin” were promoted heavily among state officials through tax discount and other personal benefits and all officials were suggested to use it by 1270’s.

After the collapse of Yuan Dynasty, all Mongolian states were under depression and unstability. This period coincided outreach of Buddism in Mongolia that religion played a tremendous role in the development of characters and writings. On the other hand, allowing religous influence to every corner of life could be regarded as a state policy to promote cultural immunity to protect from heavy influence of Chinese culture.

For instance: in 1587, Ayush Gush from Inner Mongolia, created a new characters called “Ali Gali” that could phoneticize directly-adopted foreign words into Mongolian. Provided that it became easier to note foreign words and religous literature from Indian or Tibetian language could be translated into Mongolian without any bias in their meaning.

Ayush Gush, himself was a guru of his time, praised by king of Manchuis and respected at the same level of Dalai Lama. Looking back to that time, the main purpose of originating “Ali Gali“ could be preventing religous impact of Tibet through organizing foreign words systematically appropriate way.

At the same time in outer Mongolia, a literate named Zay Banid Namkhajamts was developing a new character “Tod“, which was designated to translate Buddist canons into Mongolian without relying on Tibetian scripts. His endeavor was respected by Dalai Lama and awarded with a highest honor “Ogtorgui Dalai“. His work was mainly to protect the independence of Mongolian language out of cultural influence of Tibetian language.

Another remarkable educationalist of outer Mongolia was “Undur gegeen“ Zanabazar, who has created the “Soyombo” character based on an idea of Indian lanz characters. Soyombo means self-enlightment in Samgardi language. However, this character has not sproud out much because of its complicated structure of 90 different characters and notes, scientific conrtibution of Soyonbo should not be neglected. Likewise, Mongolian script as a whole, was a flexible and classical system that contains all the different dialects of Mongolian language including Western, Durvud, Buriyat and Inner Mongolia in one writing. All those writing systems and characters, in a common, had a purpose to prevent foreign cultural influence to infect our cultural immunity. However, after then, Mongolians have failed to keep their traditional and cultural legacy of Mongolian scripts by introducing foreign writing systems.

At first, Mongolians have adopted the latin and transitioned into totally foreign writing culture during 1930’s by phonetisizing Mongolian words into latin characters. It was introduced with an intensive and integrated movement including massive training clubs and forceful projects to general public. But, this movement was suspended in a short time without any successful outreach.

Comparing to latin, introduction of cyrillic was successful enough under a huge political pressure from Soviet Union during mid-1940’s. All the history and memories including Mongolian ancestors, tradition and religion behind the Mongolian script was broken down in one moment. At the same time, Mongolians were isolated from the things, which were primary of our cultural identity. As we have officially and fully adopted cyrillic in mid-1950’s, it has taken only a decade to erase a nation’s cultural values.

Sometimes, researchers tend to explain the dilemma of choosing cyrillic as a prevention of China’s influence in Mongolia. But, having our language and culture alive by using them is the core of a nation to exist as a part of this world on their own. Thus, it is a duty of our generation to restore Mongolian scripts and writing culture and use them in our everyday life.

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