The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Mongolian alphabet

The Mongolian language historically has four writing systems that have been used over the centuries.



Two writing systems based on simplified Chinese ideograms and Sinogram-typed alphabetic block (see Hangul), respectively, were used to write the Mongolic language of Khitan, and also to write the Tungusic Jurchen language in their modified forms. These two systems, called "Khitan/Jurchen big characters" and "Khitan/Jurchen small characters" fell into disuse when North China reverted to a homogenous Han Chinese culture.


During the Yuan Dynasty, the Kublai Khan asked Phagspa to design a new writing system to be used by the whole empire. Phagspa in turn modified the traditional Tibetan script and gave birth to a new set of characters called Phagspa characters . These characters did not receive wide acceptance and fell into disuse with the collapse of the Yuan dynasty in 1368. After this it became mainly a way for Mongolians to learn Chinese characters instead.

Mongolian script proper

Intermediate between these is the Mongolian script proper, which was derived in the 12th-13th centuries from the Uighur alphabet, a descendant of Sogdian alphabet which came from Syriac alphabet. Perhaps its two most notable features are that it is a vertical script, and that it is the only such script that is written from left to right. (All other vertical writing systems are written right to left.) In fact, the Uighurs changed the orientation of their script from horizontal to vertical to emulate the Chinese writing system. The visual effect is that of Syriac rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. This alphabet is reasonably accurate with respect to the representation of consonants, but fails to distinguish several vowels. The situation is somewhat comparable to the various dialects of English, which must represent 10 or more vowels with only 5 letters.


The most recent Mongolian alphabet is a slightly modified Cyrillic script (the Russian alphabet plus 2 additional letters: Өө and Үү). This alphabet is a phonemic alphabet, meaning that there is a high level of consistency in the representation of individual sounds.

See also

External links

  • Mongolian Alphabet
  • SCA: Mongol Scripts
  • Mongolian Alphabet

Last updated: 02-11-2005 05:49:49
Last updated: 05-01-2005 16:34:51