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What’s with this “Wren” thing?
The oldest extant version of the fable
are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology
Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche
Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”)
collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read
of nomadic tradition, yurts house semi-
urbanized Mongols on
the outskirts of Mongolia’s
capital Ulaanbaatar (Ulan
home to one third of the country’s
Language information: Little is known about the Mongol people and their language prior to
the time of the Great Mongol Conquest that began with the unification of Mongol
tribes under Temüjin, later known as Genghis Khan (Jengis Qaghan, Čingis Xaan,
ca. 1162–1227). It was
at that time that a body of Mongol documents began to be amassed. While Mongol
might subdued numerous Eurasian nations and integrated
many of them into its power structure, Mongolian culture
blossomed at great speed in part because of
contacts. Compared with Europe, Mongolia, at that time Europe’s worst nightmare, was remarkably open-minded and tolerant with regard to
cultural diversity and personal beliefs as long as this did not dilute essential
Mongol identity and domination. Shamanism (including Tengriism), Buddhism,
Manichaeism, Islam and Christianity were practised not only in the Mongolian
but also in Mongolia itself.
Great pride in Mongol history favors
continuation of Mongol traditions and thus
affords Mongolian language and language-
based arts a relatively secure position, at
least in the independent country of Mongolia.
1208, Mongols began to write their own language with a vertical writing system
they had developed on the basis of the script of their Turkic-speaking, then
predominantly Buddhist Uyghur (Uighur) neighbors. This
script had been derived from the Syriac script whose ancestry goes back to the
Old Aramaic script.
Manchu, Oyrad-Kalmyk, Buryat and Evenki
have been turned 90 degrees counterclockwise from
horizontal right-to-left to vertical left-to-right. In Southern (“Inner”) Mongolia (now an autonomous region of China) this script remains in use to
this days. In Northern (“Outer”) Mongolia it came to be replaced by a Cyrillic-based system under Soviet
the Cyrillic-based system is easier to learn, its “phonetic” character makes it dialect-specific, and this led to the domination of
the Qalq-a (Khalkh, Halh) dialect in Mongolia. The traditional script orthography,
other hand, is based on the pronunciation of Old Mongolian of the Mongol’s golden age.
While it is cumbersome to learn and to use, its advantage is that it is dialectically
neutral and has the potential of uniting under the same
umbrella not only all Mongolian dialects but also other Mongolic languages
Bonan, Buryat, Darkhat, Kangjiang, Moghol,
Monguor, Ordos, Oyrad-Kalmyk, Santa and Eastern
Yughur). Since the collapse of Soviet power, there has been talk about
reintroducing the vertical script in Northern Mongolia. However, this would
be a dramatic and costly program. Nevertheless, the old script is now being
taught in all Mongolian schools, whereas not long ago familiarity with it was
limited to specialist education.
name “Mongol” in various scripts
surrounding two versions of the
national Soyombo emblem: Tibetan
(top), ḥP‘ags-pa (right), Soyombo
(bottom center), Uyghur (left), and
Cyrillic (very bottom).
Other scripts have been used
to write Mongolian. Inspired by the Indic-derived Tibetan script, the ̣hP‘ags-pa
or “Square” Script
was invented in 1269, but its use was short-lived, the latest document written
with it hailing from 1352. The Soyombo
script, another Tibetan-inspired script that is capable of representing Mongolian,
Tibetan and Sanskrit,
invented by the Mongolian Buddhist monk and scholar Zanabazar
in 1686. Its use, too, was short-lived, though one of
characters, the actual soyombo, has been retained as a national emblem and is featured in the Mongolian flag.
especially Buddhist works. Occasionally, the Chinese script was used to transcribe
Mongolian “phonetically,” especially while the Mongol Empire held sway over China during the Yuan dynasty
(1271–1368). The original Uyghur script version of the “Secret History of the Mongols” (Mongğol-un niγuča tobčiyan, Qalq-a Mongolyn nuuc tobčoo) was written soon after Genghis Khan’s death, but it is now lost. Written much
later, a copy in Chinese transcription alongside a Chinese translation allows
us to reconstruct the original.
few words occurring in the translation of the story
illustrate sound shifts from Classical Mongolian to
today’s standard language of Northern
Modern Mongolian proper
has two standard dialects. A Qalq-a-based dialect dominates in Northern
Mongolia. Another one is based on the closely related Caqar (Chakhar) dialect
in Chinese-administered Southern (“Inner”) Mongolia where the ethnic Mongol population currently constitutes only 17%
as a consequence of recent mass resettling of ethnic Han Chinese. Under Chinese
rule, speakers of Oyrad (most
own Mongolic language and their vertical script variant known as “Clear Script” (Todo Bicig). Instead they officially use Caqar,
as does Xinjiang’s Tuva minority that speaks its own Turkic language at home, Oyrad and Chinese
in the larger community and Caqar Mongolian in education and local administration.
and other Mongolic languages are
many considered a branch of the Altaic family of languages, the other branches
being Turkic and Tungusic. (Some people count Japanese and Korean as Altaic
languages as well.) All
languages have two striking characteristics in common: (1) they are agglutinative
harmony (though the latter does not apply in Japanese and Korean). Agglutination
is a process whereby suffixes are added to stems to derive new meanings, both
lexically and grammatically. Vowel harmony is based upon the principle
of two classes
of vowels: front and back (usually referred to as “feminine” and “masculine” in Mongolian contexts); the class
of the last vowel of the stem to which the suffix is attached. However, unlike
most Turkic and Tungusic languages, Modern Mongolian and other Mongolic languages
have a strong tendency toward reducing or even deleting unstressed vowels,
and this, in conjunction with phonetic shifts, makes Mongolic vowel harmony
has absorbed many foreign words. Turkic-derived words are the result of longstanding
contacts and collaboration with Turkic-speaking nations. Mongols have had neighborly
contacts with Tibetan speakers, especially with those of the northern Amdo region
(in today’s Gansu and Qinghai of China), for centuries, and they adopted Tibetan-style
Buddhism and with it Tibetan book learning, which resulted in the absorption
of numerous Tibetan words. Contacts with China are very old as well, and the
Mongol occupation of China (during the Yuan dynasty) intensified Chinese influences.
language influences and with it absorption of words from other European
languages in the form of Russian loanwords are mostly due to Soviet domination
are extremely proud of their historical golden age in which
see themselves in a uniting role (much like that of the no more gentle Franks
and his descendants in Europe some time earlier). Chinggis
and numerous variants of it remains a popular first name in most parts of the
Mongolic- and Turkic-speaking world to this day, much like Charles and its variants
remains popular centuries after Charlemagne in the West.
tradition of viewing
the Mongol conquest
with dread, while in most of Asia farangî and similar names derived from “Frank” (from the times of the Frankish emperor Charlemagne, or Charles “the Great,” 742~747–814, and his heirs) evokes dreadful images of marauding barbarians and
denote “Westerner,” usually as an unflattering term.
history according to their view of it makes most Mongols cherish their traditional
language and language arts a rather secure position in
Northern (“Outer”) Mongolia which in 1992 became a fully independent
and democratic country.