Mongolic languages

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EthnicityMongolic peoples
Mongolia, Inner Mongolia (China), Buryatia and Kalmykia (Russia), Herat Province (Afghanistan) and Issyk-Kul Region (Kyrgyzstan)
Linguistic classificationSerbi–Mongolic; Otherwise one of the world’s primary language families
  • Mongolic
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 language family spoken by the Mongolic peoples in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Asia and East 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.[1]


The Mongolic languages have no convincingly established living relatives.

The closest relatives of the Mongolic languages appear to be the para-Mongolic languages, which include the extinct Khitan,[2] Tuyuhun, and possibly also Tuoba languages.[3]

A few linguists have grouped Mongolic with Turkic, Tungusic and possibly Koreanic and Japonic as part of the widely discredited Altaic family.[4]


A timeline-based graphical representation of the Mongolic and Para-Mongolic languages

The possile precursors to Mongolic are:

The stages of Historical Mongolic are:

  • Pre-Proto-Mongolic, from approximately the 4th century AD until the 12th century AD, influenced by Shaz-Turkic.
  • Kipchak (also known as Proto-Mongolic), from approximately the 13th century, spoken around the time of Chinggis Khan.
  • Middle Mongol, from the 13th century until the early 15th century[5] or late 16th century,[6] depending on classification spoken. (Given the almost entire lack of written sources for the period in between, an exact cutoff point cannot be established.) Again influenced by Turkic.
  • 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.

History of Written Script[edit]


Contemporary Mongolic languages are as follows. The classification and numbers of speakers follow Janhunen (2006),[8] except for Southern Mongolic, which follows Nugteren (2011).[9]


Alexander Vovin (2007) identifies the extinct Tabγač or Tuoba language as a Mongolic language.[11] However, Chen (2005)[12] argues that Tuoba (Tabγač) 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.[13]

In another classificational approach,[14] 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).[15] 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 (nutuγ-un ayalγu) and Mundart (aman ayalγu).

Rybatzki (2003: 388-389)[16] recognizes the following 6 areal subgroups of Mongolic.

Mixed languages[edit]

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[edit]

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 Proto 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.[17]


Following Sergei Starostin, Martine Robbeets suggested that Mongolic languages belong to a "Transeurasian" superfamily also comprising Japonic languages, Korean, Tungusic languages and Turkic languages,[18] but this view has been severely criticized.[19]


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.[20] 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.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Presumed extinct.



  1. ^ Svantesson et al. (2005:141)
  2. ^ Juha Janhunen (2006). The Mongolic Languages. Routledge. p. 393. ISBN 978-1-135-79690-7.
  3. ^ Shimunek, Andrew (2017). Languages of Ancient Southern Mongolia and North China: a Historical-Comparative Study of the Serbi or Xianbei Branch of the Serbi-Mongolic Language Family, with an Analysis of Northeastern Frontier Chinese and Old Tibetan Phonology. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 978-3-447-10855-3. OCLC 993110372.
  4. ^ e.g. Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak (2003); contra e.g. Vovin (2005)
  5. ^ Rybatzki (2003:57)
  6. ^ Poppe (1964:1)
  7. ^ Official documents to be recorded in both scripts from 2025, Montsame, 18 March 2020.
  8. ^ Janhunen (2006:232–233)
  9. ^ Nugteren (2011)
  10. ^ "Glottolog 4.7 - Mogholi". Retrieved 2022-12-27.
  11. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2007. ‘Once again on the Tabγač language.’ Mongolian Studies XXIX: 191-206.
  12. ^ Chen, Sanping 2005. Turkic or Proto-Mongolian? A Note on the Tuoba Language. Central Asiatic Journal 49.2: 161-73.
  13. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2019). "A Sketch of the Earliest Mongolic Language: the Brāhmī Bugut and Khüis Tolgoi Inscriptions". International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics. 1 (1): 162–197. doi:10.1163/25898833-12340008. ISSN 2589-8825. S2CID 198833565.
  14. ^ e.g. Sečenbaγatur et al. (2005:193–194)
  15. ^ Luvsanvandan (1959) quoted from Sečenbaγatur et al. (2005:167–168)
  16. ^ Rybatzki, Volker. 2003. "Intra-Mongolic taxonomy." In Janhunen, Juha (ed). The Mongolic Languages, 364-390. Routledge Language Family Series 5. London: Routledge.
  17. ^ Golden 2011, p. 31.
  18. ^ Robbeets, Martine et al. 2021 Triangulation supports agricultural spread of the Transeurasian languages, Nature 599, 616–621
  19. ^ Tian, Zheng; Tao, Yuxin; Zhu, Kongyang; Jacques, Guillaume; Ryder, Robin J.; de la Fuente, José Andrés Alonso; Antonov, Anton; Xia, Ziyang; Zhang, Yuxuan; Ji, Xiaoyan; Ren, Xiaoying; He, Guanglin; Guo, Jianxin; Wang, Rui; Yang, Xiaomin; Zhao, Jing; Xu, Dan; Gray, Russell D.; Zhang, Menghan; Wen, Shaoqing; Wang, Chuan-Chao; Pellard, Thomas (2022-06-12), Triangulation fails when neither linguistic, genetic, nor archaeological data support the Transeurasian narrative, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, doi:10.1101/2022.06.09.495471, S2CID 249649524
  20. ^ 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."
  21. ^ see Vovin 2007 for Tabghach and Janhunen 2012 for Khitan


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Luvsanvandan, Š. (1959). "Mongol hel ajalguuny učir". Mongolyn Sudlal. 1.
  • Nugteren, Hans (2011). Mongolic Phonology and the Qinghai-Gansu Languages (Ph.D. thesis). Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke – LOT.
  • Poppe, Nicholas (1964) [1954]. Grammar of Written Mongolian. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Sechenbaatar, Borjigin (2003). The Chakhar dialect of Mongol – A morphological description. Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian society.
  • [Sechenbaatar] Sečenbaγatur, Qasgerel, Tuyaγ-a, B. ǰirannige, U Ying ǰe. (2005). Mongγul kelen-ü nutuγ-un ayalγun-u sinǰilel-ün uduridqal. Kökeqota: ÖMAKQ.
  • Starostin, Sergei A.; Dybo, Anna V.; Mudrak, Oleg A. (2003). Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages. Leiden: Brill. {{cite encyclopedia}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Svantesson, Jan-Olof; Tsendina, Anna; Karlsson, Anastasia; Franzén, Vivan (2005). The Phonology of Mongolian. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Golden, Peter B. (2011). Studies on the Peoples and Cultures of the Eurasian Steppes. Editura Academiei Române; Editura Istros a Muzeului Brăilei. ISBN 9789732721520.
  • Vovin, Alexander (2005). "The end of the Altaic controversy (review of Starostin et al. 2003)". Central Asiatic Journal. 49 (1): 71–132.
  • Vovin, Alexander. 2007. Once again on the Tabgač language. Mongolian Studies XXIX: 191–206.

External links[edit]