AskDefine | Define Mongolic

Dictionary Definition

Mongolic n : a family of Altaic language spoken in Mongolia [syn: Mongolian, Mongolic language]

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Extensive Definition

The Mongolic languages are a group of thirteen languages spoken in Central Asia. Some linguists propose the grouping of Mongolic with Turkic and Tungusic as Altaic languages, but this hypothesis is not universally agreed upon.
The best-known member of this language family, Mongolian (in Cyrillic orthography as used in Mongolia, Монгол Хэл, and in the vertical Uygur-derived script as used in Inner Mongolia, China, Mongγol Kele), is the primary language of most of the residents of Mongolia, and is spoken by around 5.7 million people in Mongolia, Russia, and China. Nikudari, an archaic and unclassified Mongolian language, remains preserved by a few hundred speakers in Herat, Afghanistan.


This classification is only one among many. Notably, there is a tendency among Mongolian linguists to include Central Mongolic, Western Mongolic and Northern Mongolic into one "Mongolian language" as opposed to the rest of the languages which are then labelled as "Mongolic". This may depend on Mutual intelligibility, but an analysis based on a tree diagram such as the one above faces other problems due to the close contacts eg between Buryat and Khalkh Mongols during history thus creating or preserving a dialect continuum. Another problem lies in the sheer comparability of terminology as Western linguists use language and dialect, while Mongolian linguists use the Grimmian trichotomy language (kele), dialect (nutu-un ayalu) and Mundart (aman ayalu).


Prehistoric Mongolic

The Mongolic languages originated from the Proto-Mongolic language that was spoken at the time when Činggis qaγan united a number of tribes speaking Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic languages. The Proto-Mongolic language is the origin of all subsequent Mongolic languages. Insofar as its elements are preserved in these languages, it is possible to speak of Common Mongolic. There are languages believed to be related to Proto-Mongolic, namely Tabghach (the language of the founders of the Northern Wei dynasty) and Khitan. In the case of Tabghach, the surviving evidence is very sparse, thus one can state that a generic relationship is possible. In the case of Khitan, there is rich evidence, but most of it is written in the two Khitan scripts that have as yet not been deciphered. However, from the available evidence it has to be concluded that a generic relationship to Mongolic is extremely likely. The common ancestor language of these two languages and Proto-Mongolic is termed Pre-Proto-Mongolic.

Historical Mongolian

The first surviving Mongolian text is the Stele of Yisüngge, a report on sports in Mongolian script on stone, that is most often dated at the verge of 1224 and 1225. Other early sources are written in Mongolian, Phagspa (decrets), Chinese (the Secret history), Arabic (dictionaries) and a few other western scripts. These comprise the Middle Mongolian language that was spoken from the 13th to the early 15th or late 16th century. The documents in Mongolian script show some distinct linguistic characteristics and are therefore often distinguished by terming their language Preclassical Mongolian. The next distinct period is Classical Mongolian that is dated from the 17th to the 19th century. It is a written language with a high degree of standardization in orthography and syntax that sets it quite apart from the subsequent Modern Mongolian. The most notable documents in this language are the Mongolian Kanjur and Tanjur as well as a bunch of chronicles.

Changes in phonology


Middle Mongolian documents show only two velar plosives and (and one allophone for each), but in some instances the disappeared and in others not. There is no hint as to how this might be related to contextual factors, and while there is a hypothesis that this is related to distinctive vowel length or stress , it is a matter of dispute whether there is any factual evidence for this. Now there is a word-initial that disappeared during the Middle Mongolian stage. This might be the same phoneme as one of the instances of (possibly [x]). Thus, it is likely that x > h > Ø. Eg Phagspa , Preclassical Mongolian , reconstructed in Proto-Mongolic as *haran ‘person’, became Modern Mongolian . Phagspa čaqa’an, Preclassical čaγaγan, reconstructed for Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic as *ʧʰagahan ‘white’, became Modern Mongolian /ʦʰaga:n/. As also apparent from this example, affricates were fronted in Northern Modern Mongolian dialects such as Khalkha. /kʰ/ was spirantized to /x/ in Ulaanbaatar Khalkha and the Mongolian dialects South of it, eg Preclassical Mongolian , reconstructed as *kʰynty ‘heavy’, became Modern Mongolian /xunt/ (but in Erdenet many speakers will say / kʰunt/). Originally word-final turned into ; if *n was originally followed by a vowel that later dropped, it remained unchanged, eg *kʰen became /xiŋ/, but *kʰoina became /xɔin/. After i-breaking, *[ʃ] became phonemic. Consonants in words containing back vowels that were followed by *i in Proto-Mongolian became palatalized in Modern Mongolian. In some words, word-final *n was dropped with most case forms, but still appeared with the ablative, dative and genitive.


Proto-Mongolic had *i, *e, *y, *ø, *u, *o, *a. First, *o and *u were pharyngealized to /ɔ/ and /ʊ/, then *y and *ø were velarized to /u/ and /o/. Thus, the vowel harmony shifted from a velar to a pharyngeal paradigm. *i in the first syllable back-vocalic words was assimilated to the following vowel; in word-initial position it became /ja/. *e followed by *y was rounded to *ø. VhV and VjV sequences where the second vowel was any vowel but *i were monophthongized. Short vowels in any syllable but the first were deleted from the phonetic representation of the word; long vowels in these positions became short vowels.
Eg *imahan (*i becomes /ja/, *h disappears)> *jama:n (instable n drops; vowel reduction> jama(n) ‘goat’
and *emys- (regressive rounding assimilation)> *ømys- (vowel velaization)> *omus- (vowel reduction)> oms- ‘to wear’

Changes in morphology

Nominal system

While most case suffixes did change somewhat in form, ie were shortened, most of the modern case system remained intact. Important changes occurred with the comitative and the dative. The Middle Mongolian comitative could not be used attributively, but it was replaced by suffix that originally derived adjectives denoting possession of the stem from nouns, eg ‘having a horse’ became ‘having a horse/with a horse’. As this adjective functioned parallel to ‘not having’, it has been suggested that a “privative case” (‘without’) has been introduced into Mongolian. There have been three different case suffixes in the dative-locative-directive domain that are grouped in different ways: as locative and , as dative or and as dative and as locative , in both cases with some functional overlapping. As seems to be grammaticalized from ‘within’, thus indicating a span of time, the second account seems to be more likely. Finally, the directive of modern Mongolian has been innovated. Gender agreement was abandoned.

Changes in syntax

Word order in clauses with pronominal subject changed from Object-Predicate-Subject to Subject-Object-Predicate.



  • Γarudi (2002): Dumdadu üy-e-yin mongγul kelen-ü bütüče-yin kelberi-yin sudulul [The study of grammatical forms in Middle Mongolian]. Kökeqota: Öbür mongγul-un arad-un keblel-ün qoriy-a.
  • Janhunen, Juha (ed.) (2003): The Mongolic languages. London: Routledge.
  • Janhunen, Juha (2003a): Written Mongol. In: Janhunen 2003: 30-56.
  • Janhunen, Juha (2003b): Para-Mongolic. In: Janhunen 2003: 391-402.
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  • Poppe, Nicholas (1964 [1954]): Grammar of Written Mongolian. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Rybatzki, Volker (2003): Middle Mongol. In: Janhunen 2003: 47-82.
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  • Toγtambayar, M. (2006): Mongγul kelen-ü kele ǰüiǰigsen yabuča-yin tuqai sudulul [Grammaticalization in Mongolian]. Liyuuning-un ündüsüten-ü keblel-ün qoriy-a.
  • Tömörtogoo, D. (2005): Mongol dörvölžin üsegijn durashalyn sudalgaa [Research on the Phagspa script]. Ulaanbaatar: IAMS.
Mongolic in Aragonese: Luengas mongols
Mongolic in Breton: Yezhoù mongolek
Mongolic in Chuvash: Монгол чĕлхисем
Mongolic in Czech: Mongolské jazyky
Mongolic in German: Mongolische Sprachen
Mongolic in Spanish: Lenguas mongólicas
Mongolic in Upper Sorbian: Mongolske rěče
Mongolic in Ido: Mongola lingui
Mongolic in Mongolian: Монгол хэлний бүлэг
Mongolic in Dutch: Mongoolse talen
Mongolic in Polish: Języki mongolskie
Mongolic in Portuguese: Línguas mongólicas
Mongolic in Russian: Монгольские языки
Mongolic in Finnish: Mongolilaiset kielet
Mongolic in Swedish: Mongolspråk
Mongolic in Turkish: Moğol dilleri
Mongolic in Chinese: 蒙古语族
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