Mongolian languages

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mongolian languages

Mongolian languages, group of languages forming a subdivision of the Altaic subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languages). 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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