|Mongolia; Inner Mongolia and regions close to its border, Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai (China); Buryatia, Kalmykia (Russian Federation) and Herat (Afghanistan)|
|Linguistic classification:||Altaic (controversial)
Geographic distribution of the Mongolic languages
The Mongolic languages are a group of languages spoken in East-Central Asia, mostly in Mongolia and surrounding areas plus in Kalmykia. The best-known member of this language family, Mongolian, is the primary language of most of the residents of Mongolia and the Mongolian residents of Inner Mongolia, China with an estimated 5.2 million speakers.1 Some linguists have grouped Mongolic with Turkic, Tungusic and possibly Korean and Japonic as part of a larger Altaic family.2
- Middle Mongol (depending on classification spoken from the 13th until the early 15th3 or late 16th century4 - given the almost entire lack of written sources for the period in-between, an exact cut-off point cannot be established)
- Classical Mongolian
- Dagur (=Daur) (ca. 100,000 speakers)
- Central Mongolic
- Khamnigan (ca. 2000 speakers)
- Buryat (dialects: Bargu, Khori, Aga, Ekhirit, Unga, Nizhne-Udinsk, Barguzin, Tunka, Oka, Alar, Bohaan, Bulagat) (ca. 300,000 speakers)
- Mongolian proper (including Khalkha basically in Mongolia and Chakhar, Khorchin, Kharchin, Baarin, Shilin gol in Inner Mongolia) (ca. 5–6 mio. speakers)
- Ordos (ca. 100,000 speakers)
- Oirat (varieties: Torgut, Dörbet, Olot (Ööld, Elyut, Eleuth), Zakhchin, Mingat, Bayad, Kalmyk, Khoshut (Khoshuud), Alasha) (ca. 300,000 speakers)
- Southern Mongolic (part of a Gansu–Qinghai Sprachbund)
- Moghol (=Mogholi) (unclear whether there are speakers left)
The classification and speaker numbers above follow Janhunen (2006)5 except for Southern Mongolic which follows Nugteren (2011).6 In another classificational approach,7 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 Mongolian 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).8 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 due to the close contacts between e.g. 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).
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 Donghu, Wuhuan and Xianbei might be related to Proto-Mongolic,9 as might be Tabghach (the language of the founders of the Northern Wei dynasty) and Khitan. In the case of Tabghach, the surviving evidence is very sparse, thus one can state that a generic relationship is possible. In the case of Khitan, there is rich evidence, but most of it is written in the two Khitan scripts that have as yet not been fully deciphered. However, from the available evidence it has to be concluded that a generic relationship to Mongolic is likely.10
- Svantesson et al. (2005:141)
- e.g. Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak (2003); contra e.g. Vovin (2005)
- Rybatzki (2003:57)
- Poppe (1964:1)
- Janhunen (2006:232–233)
- Nugteren (2011)
- e.g. Sečenbaγatur et al. (2005:193–194)
- Luvsanvandan (1959) quoted from Sečenbaγatur et al. (2005:167–168)
- 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."
- Janhunen (2003b:391–394); Janhunen (2003a:1–3)
- Andrews, Peter A. (1999). Felt tents and pavilions: the nomadic tradition and its interaction with princely tentage, Volume 1. Melisende. ISBN 1-901764-03-6.
- Janhunen, Juha, ed. (2003). The Mongolic languages. Routledge Language Family Series. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1133-3.
- Janhunen, Juha (2003a). "Proto-Mongolic". In Janhunen, J. pp. 1–29.
- Janhunen, Juha (2003b). "Para-Mongolic". In Janhunen, J. pp. 391–402.
- Rybatzki, Volker (2003). "Middle Mongol". In Janhunen, J. pp. 47–82.
- Janhunen, Juha (2006). "Mongolic languages". In Brown, K. 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.). Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke - LOT.
- Poppe, Nicholas (1964) . 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.
- Svantesson, Jan-Olof; Tsendina, Anna; Karlsson, Anastasia; Franzén, Vivan (2005). The Phonology of Mongolian. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Vovin, Alexander (2005). "The end of the Altaic controversy (review of Starostin et al. 2003)". Central Asiatic Journal 49 (1): 71–132.
- The LINGUIST List MultiTree Project: Mongolic Family Tree
- Ethnic groups of Mongolia
- Ethnic map of Mongolia
- Mongolic languages at the Open Directory Project