Mongolian languages

Mongolian languages,

group of languages forming a subdivision of the AltaicAltaic
, subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languages). Some scholars still consider Altaic an independent linguistic family. Spoken by over 130 million people, who occupy parts of a territory that stretches from E Europe across the Central
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 subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languagesUralic and Altaic languages
, two groups of related languages thought by many scholars to form a single Ural-Altaic linguistic family. However, other authorities hold that the Uralic and Altaic groups constitute two unconnected and separate language families.
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). The Mongolian languages are spoken by about 6 million people, mainly in the Republic of Mongolia, in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China, and in the region of Lake Baykal in Siberia. There are also some speakers of Mongolian tongues in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and in Manchuria, both in China. The Mongolian languages fall into two principal divisions: Western Mongolian, to which Kalmyck belongs, and Eastern Mongolian, which includes Buryat, Khalkha, and others. Khalkha, or Mongol proper, is the most important Mongolian language. The official tongue of the Republic of Mongolia, it is native to more than 2 million people. Like the other Uralic and Altaic languages, the Mongolian tongues exhibit vowel harmony and are agglutinative. They lack grammatical gender and use postpositions instead of prepositions. For many centuries the Mongols had their own system of writing, which was ultimately derived from the Aramaic script, a Semitic alphabet. After 1941 the traditional Mongol script yielded to a modified Cyrillic alphabet in the Republic of Mongolia. In Inner Mongolia, owing to the policy of the People's Republic of China, the traditional Mongol script is being replaced by a writing based on the Roman alphabet.


See N. N. Poppe, Introduction to Mongolian Comparative Studies (1955) and Mongolian Language Handbook (1970); J. E. Bosson, Modern Mongolian (1964).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mongolian Languages


the languages of the Mongolian peoples, which developed out of the dialects of early Mongolian (spoken by all the Mongol tribes) between the 14th and 16th centuries after the disintegration of the empire founded by Genghis Khan. The Mongolian languages comprise the northern Mongolian, synharmonic languages, including Mongolian proper, Buriat, Kalmyk, and Oirat; the southeastern, nonsynharmonic languages, including Daghur in northeastern China and Tunghsiang, Monguor, and Paoan in Tsinghai and Kansu provinces (all these languages are unwritten); and the intermediate languages—the Old Mongolian literary language and the Mogul language in Afghanistan.

Prior to the formation of a national state, the Mongols did not have a well-developed literary language and writing system that could serve as a means of written communication and preserve their cultural unity. The disintegration of the Mongol state in the 16th and 17th centuries did not result in the disappearance of Mongolian proper because it had become a literary language, serving as a means of cultural and linguistic contact between the northern and southern (or Outer and Inner) Mongols. Mongolian proper, Buriat, and Kalmyk are the best known of the Mongolian languages.


Vladimirtsov, B. la. Sravnitel’naia grammatika mongol’skogo pis’mennogo iazyka i khalkhaskogo narechiia: Vvedenie ifonetika. Leningrad, 1929.
Sanzheev, G. D. Sravnitel’naia grammatika mongol’skikh iazykov, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1953–64.
Todaeva, B. Kh. Mongol’skie iazyki i dialekty Kitaia. Moscow, 1960.
Poppe, N. Introduction to Mongolian Comparative Studies. Helsinki, 1955.
Altaistik, Zweiter Abschnitt, Mongolistik. Leiden-Cologne, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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