Saturday, January 26, 2013

Two alphabets for one language

Mongolians had a unique writing called "Old Mongolian script" or "Mongolian version of Uighur script", named after the origin. This alphabet created by Dadai Atunga , adjusted for Mongolian language. Old Mongolian writing is the only script  writes in vertical columns running from top to bottom. The columns go from left to right. (see the example below)

It is the fastest writing among the scripts. One can write in Old Mongolian at a gallop while riding a horse, we say. Today it is used only in so called Inner Mongolia, now part of China, as official writing. In proper Mongolia the Cyrillic alphabet was adopted in 1947 to replace the Old Mongolian (Uighur Mongolian) script and that is how we ended up in a situation where  not many people are actually able to write and read this old writing today.  The Mongolians living in Inner Mongolia have kept the old writing because they were separated from the proper Mongolia, thus could not participate in "script-switch", since it became part of  another country (China).

Numbers 0-10 in Old Mongolian (top row) and the  writing (pronunciation) is shown in bottom row
There was some efforts to reintroduce the traditional old writing in Mongolia and taught in schools  but was not much of popularity since the Cyrillic was still the official alphabet. It is mainly used for decorative purposes  by designers, artists and calligraphers.

Professional sumo champ Asashoryu (his Mongolian name is Dagvadorj) was among the Mongolian guests to present a special gift to the Mayor of  Tokyo and asked to sign his name in old Mongolian but he could not write. A calligrapher named Batbayar D, an advocate for Old Mongolian writing, signed his name in that script thus making Asashoryu very ashamed in front of the Japanese.

Old Mongolian alphabet:

1. Vowels


2. Consonants



Each column shows one vowel/consonant in three different (some may look alike) forms depending on in what part of the word it is used, meaning whether it is in the beginning (the top form) , in the middle of the word (the version in the middle), or at the end of the particular word (the bottom form).

For example, the letter N is shown in three forms to write it in the beginning (A version), in the middle (B version), and at the end of a word (C version):

"A" version is used if a word begins with an N. "B" version has two options of writing the letter N in the middle of the word: either the first one with a dot in front or second one below without a dot. The "C" version is used when  writing  N at the end of the word and has also two options (without or with a dot in front of the letter).

Changing alphabet was a right decision to make, to keep pace with the progressing world, some say, but others would argue that it (old writing script) would not have  had bothered. Considering the  fact that today even Chinese characters have no problem with using computer and all that, Old Mongolian couldn't have been an obstacle in that matter. Now that we have a high literacy in Cyrillic, and from an economic standpoint it is wise to say that a "switch back" to the Old Mongolian script might be not desirable. Instead, we could encourage learning to write and read in that script and that way we have two different writings for one language. That sounds awesome, doesn't it?