Mongolic Language
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Mongolic Language
Mongolia; Inner Mongolia, Buryatia, Kalmykia (Russia) and Herat (Afghanistan)
Linguistic classificationKhitan-Mongolic[1] (see below)
Otherwise one of the world's primary language families
ISO 639-5xgn
Topographic map showing Asia as centered on modern-day Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Areas are marked in multiple colors and attributed some of the language names of Mongolic languages. The extent of the colored area is somewhat less than in the previous map.
Geographic distribution of the Mongolic languages

The Mongolic languages are a group of languages spoken in East-Central Asia, mostly in Mongolia and surrounding areas and in Kalmykia and Buryatia. The best-known member of this language family, Mongolian, is the primary language of most of the residents of Mongolia and the Mongol residents of Inner Mongolia, with an estimated 5.7+ million speakers.[4]

The closest relatives of the Mongolic languages appear to be the extinct Khitan[1] and Tuyuhun languages. Some linguists have grouped Mongolic with Turkic, Tungusic and possibly Koreanic and Japonic as part of the widely discredited Altaic family.[5]


The stages of Historical Mongolic are:

  • Pre-Proto-Mongolic, from approximately the 4th century AD until the 12th century AD, influenced by Common Turkic, and previously by Bulgar Turkic.
  • Proto-Mongolic, from approximately the 13th century AD, spoken around the time of Chinggis Khan.
  • Middle Mongol (depending on classification spoken from the 13th century until the early 15th century[6] or late 16th century;[7] given the almost entire lack of written sources for the period in between, an exact cutoff point cannot be established)
  • Classical Mongolian, from approximately 1700 to 1900
  • Standard Mongolian The standard Mongolian language has been in official use since 1919, and this form of the language is used in the economic, political, and social fields.The script for standard Mongolian uses a version of the Russian alphabet called the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet. It was introduced in the 1940s in the Mongolian People's Republic under Soviet influence, after a brief period where Latin was used as the official script. After the Mongolian democratic revolution in 1990, the traditional Mongolian script was considered to replace Cyrillic, but this plan was not adopted.

Contemporary Mongolic languages are classified as follows.


Alexander Vovin (2007) identifies the extinct Tab?a? or Tuoba language as a Mongolic language.[8] However, Chen (2005)[9] argues that Tuoba (Tab?a?) was a Turkic language. Vovin (2018) suggests that the Ruanruan language of the Rouran Khaganate was a Mongolic language, close but not identical to Middle Mongolian.[10]

The classification and numbers of speakers above follow Janhunen (2006)[11] except for Southern Mongolic, which follows Nugteren (2011).[12] In another classificational approach,[13] there is a tendency to call Central Mongolian a language consisting of Mongolian proper, Oirat and Buryat, while Ordos (and implicitly also Khamnigan) is seen as a variety of Mongolian proper. Within Mongolian proper, they then draw a distinction between Khalkha on the one hand and Southern Mongolian (containing everything else) on the other hand. A less common subdivision of Central Mongolic is to divide it into a Central dialect (Khalkha, Chakhar, Ordos), an Eastern dialect (Kharchin, Khorchin), a Western dialect (Oirat, Kalmyk), and a Northern dialect (consisting of two Buryat varieties).[14] The broader delimitation of Mongolian may be based on mutual intelligibility, but an analysis based on a tree diagram such as the one above faces other problems because of the close contacts between, for example, Buryat and Khalkha 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 ayal?u) and Mundart (aman ayal?u).

Rybatzki (2003: 388-389)[15] recognizes the following 6 areal subgroups of Mongolic.

Mixed languages

The following are mixed Sinitic-Mongolic languages.


Pre-Proto-Mongolic's position on the chronological tree of Mongolic language

Pre-Proto-Mongolic is the name for the stage of Mongolic that precedes Proto-Mongolic.

Proto-Mongolic can be clearly identified chronologically with the language spoken by the Mongols during Genghis Khan's early expansion in the 1200-1210s.

Pre-Proto-Mongolic, by contrast, is a continuum that stretches back indefinitely in time. It is divided into Early Pre-Proto-Mongolic and Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic. Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic refers to the Mongolic spoken a few centuries before Proto-Mongolic by the Mongols and neighboring tribes like the Merkits and Keraits. Certain archaic words and features in Written Mongol go back past Proto-Mongolic to Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic (Janhunen 2006).

Relationship with Turkic

Pre-Proto-Mongolic has borrowed various words from Turkic languages.

In the case of Early Pre-Proto-Mongolic, certain loanwords in the Mongolic languages point to early contact with Oghur (Pre-Proto-Bulgaric) Turkic, also known as r-Turkic. These loanwords precede Common Turkic (z-Turkic) loanwords and include:

  • Mongolic ikere (twins) from Pre-Proto-Bulgaric ikir (versus Common Turkic ekiz)
  • Mongolic hüker (ox) from Pre-Proto-Bulgaric hekür (Common Turkic öküz)
  • Mongolic jer (weapon) from Pre-Proto-Bulgaric jer (Common Turkic yäz)
  • Mongolic biragu (calf) versus Common Turkic buzagu
  • Mongolic siri- (to smelt ore) versus Common Turkic siz- (to melt)

The above words are thought to have been borrowed from Oghur Turkic during the time of the Xiongnu.

Later Turkic peoples in Mongolia all spoke forms of Common Turkic (z-Turkic) as opposed to Oghur (Bulgharic) Turkic, which withdrew to the west in the 4th century. The Chuvash language, spoken by 1 million people in European Russia, is the only living representative of Oghur Turkic which split from Common Turkic around the 1st century AD.

Words in Mongolic like dayir (brown, Common Turkic yagiz) and nidurga (fist, Common Turkic yudruk) with initial *d and *n versus Common Turkic *y are sufficiently archaic to indicate loans from an earlier stage of Oghur (Pre-Proto-Bulgaric). This is because Chuvash and Common Turkic do not differ in these features despite differing fundamentally in rhotacism-lambdacism (Janhunen 2006). Oghur tribes lived in the Mongolian borderlands before the 5th century, and provided Oghur loanwords to Early Pre-Proto-Mongolic before Common Turkic loanwords.[16]


Proto-Mongolic, the ancestor language of the modern Mongolic languages, is very close to Middle Mongol, the language spoken at the time of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Most features of modern Mongolic languages can thus be reconstructed from Middle Mongol. An exception would be the voice suffix like -caga- 'do together', which can be reconstructed from the modern languages but is not attested in Middle Mongol.

The languages of the historical Donghu, Wuhuan, and Xianbei peoples might have been related to Proto-Mongolic.[17] For Tabghach, the language of the founders of the Northern Wei dynasty for which the surviving evidence is very sparse, and Khitan, for which evidence exists that is written in the two Khitan scripts (large and small) which have as yet not been fully deciphered, a direct affiliation to Mongolic can now be taken to be most likely or even demonstrated.[18]


Juha Janhunen (2006) classified the Khitan language into the "Para-Mongolic" family, meaning that it is related to the Mongolic languages as a sister group, rather than as a direct descendant of Proto-Mongolic.[1]Alexander Vovin (2017)[19] has also identified several possible loanwords from Koreanic languages into the Khitan language.

Vovin (2015) identified the extinct Tuyuhun language as yet another Para-Mongolic language.[20]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Juha Janhunen (2006). The Mongolic Languages. Routledge. p. 393. ISBN 978-1-135-79690-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ Presumed extinct.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mongolic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Svantesson et al. (2005:141)
  5. ^ e.g. Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak (2003); contra e.g. Vovin (2005)
  6. ^ Rybatzki (2003:57)
  7. ^ Poppe (1964:1)
  8. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2007. 'Once again on the Tab?a? language.' Mongolian Studies XXIX: 191-206.
  9. ^ Chen, Sanping 2005. Turkic or Proto-Mongolian? A Note on the Tuoba Language. Central Asiatic Journal 49.2: 161-73.
  10. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2019). "A Sketch of the Earliest Mongolic Language: the Br?hm? Bugut and Khüis Tolgoi Inscriptions". International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics. 1 (1): 162-197. doi:10.1163/25898833-12340008. ISSN 2589-8825.
  11. ^ Janhunen (2006:232-233)
  12. ^ Nugteren (2011)
  13. ^ e.g. Se?enba?atur et al. (2005:193-194)
  14. ^ Luvsanvandan (1959) quoted from Se?enba?atur et al. (2005:167-168)
  15. ^ Rybatzki, Volker. 2003. "Intra-Mongolic taxonomy." In Janhunen, Juha (ed). The Mongolic Languages, 364-390. Routledge Language Family Series 5. London: Routledge.
  16. ^ Golden 2011, p. 31.
  17. ^ Andrews (1999:72), "[...] believed that at least some of their constituent tribes spoke a Mongolian language, though there is still some argument that a particular variety of Turkic may have been spoken among them."
  18. ^ see Vovin 2007 for Tabghach and Janhunen 2012 for Khitan
  19. ^ Vovin, Alexander. (2017). Koreanic loanwords in Khitan and their importance in the decipherment of the latter. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 70(2), 207-215.
  20. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2015. Some notes on the Tuyuhun () language: in the footsteps of Paul Pelliot. In Journal of Sino-Western Communications, Volume 7, Issue 2 (December 2015).


  • Andrews, Peter A. (1999). Felt tents and pavilions: the nomadic tradition and its interaction with princely tentage, Volume 1. Melisende. ISBN 978-1-901764-03-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Rybatzki, Volker (2003). "Middle Mongol". In Janhunen, Juha (ed.). The Mongolic languages. Routledge Language Family Series. London, England: Routledge. pp. 47-82. ISBN 978-0-7007-1133-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Janhunen, Juha. 2012. Khitan - Understanding the language behind the scripts. SCRIPTA, Vol. 4: 107-132.
  • Janhunen, Juha (2006). "Mongolic languages". In Brown, K. (ed.). The encyclopedia of language & linguistics. Amsterdam: Elsevier. pp. 231-234.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Luvsanvandan, ?. (1959). "Mongol hel ajalguuny u?ir". Mongolyn Sudlal. 1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Nugteren, Hans (2011). Mongolic Phonology and the Qinghai-Gansu Languages (Ph.D. thesis). Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke - LOT.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Poppe, Nicholas (1964) [1954]. Grammar of Written Mongolian. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Sechenbaatar, Borjigin (2003). The Chakhar dialect of Mongol - A morphological description. Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian society.
  • [Sechenbaatar] Se?enba?atur, Qasgerel, Tuya?-a, B. ?irannige, U Ying ?e. (2005). Mong?ul kelen-ü nutu?-un ayal?un-u sin?ilel-ün uduridqal. Kökeqota: ÖMAKQ.
  • Starostin, Sergei A.; Dybo, Anna V.; Mudrak, Oleg A. (2003). Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages. Leiden: Brill. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Svantesson, Jan-Olof; Tsendina, Anna; Karlsson, Anastasia; Franzén, Vivan (2005). The Phonology of Mongolian. New York: Oxford University Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Golden, Peter B. (2011). Studies on the Peoples and Cultures of the Eurasian Steppes. Editura Academiei Române; Editura Istros a Muzeului Br?ilei. ISBN 9789732721520.
  • Vovin, Alexander (2005). "The end of the Altaic controversy (review of Starostin et al. 2003)". Central Asiatic Journal. 49 (1): 71-132.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Vovin, Alexander. 2007. Once again on the Tabga? language. Mongolian Studies XXIX: 191-206.

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