Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mongolians' Many Scripts

Mongolian's Many Scripts.

Currently the Roman ABC is probably the script used for most  world languages closely followed by forms of Arabic however one language has the strange distinction of having had the most number of scripts used to write it.



I hope you will forgive me inflicting my handwriting on you but I suspect few of us have computers and browsers set to read Mongolian scripts of any kind.

Most modern alphabetic scripts ultimately derive from the Sinai script. From the Sinai script came the Aramaic Nestorian variant of Syraic forms of which reached Central Asia and were used to write the Indo-Iranian SOGDIAN language. This was adapted by the Uighurs though the Uighur language is now mainly written using Cyrillic or Arabic letters nowadays.

A scribe called Tatar Tenga in 1208 is said to have made the first adaption of the Uighur ABC to the Mongol language called Mongol Bichig by the Mongols. It's written vertically up and down with variant letter forms if the letter is initial medial or final in a word.  With some changes it is still used to this day. Its also the origin for the script used to write Manchu.

However in 1269 Kubla Khan decreed ... no not a stately pleasure dome (see Coleridge's poems if you don't know what that means) ... that a script be developed that could be used to wirte the various languages of his empire, Chinese, Mongolian, Uighur, Tibetan and more. This was the 'Phagspa script which the MOngols call SQUARE script dorbeljin usug. This was used throughout the YUAN dynasty but mainly for isncriptions, seals, official tablets, and some printed texts. It is still used in Mongolia and Tibet  but very rarely for signs, inscriptions, seals, and printing some Buddhist texts. The model for this script was Tibetan dhu can.

The Mongolian vertical script contiuned in use in Mongolia and areas where Mongolian was and Mongolian texts were also written using Arabic and Chinese.


Then came the twentieth century and the revolutions. Outer Mongolai became a Republic and had the use of Cyrillic imposed on its people. Inner Mongolia retained the Vertical script .

So Uighur Vertical sPhagpa Arabic Chinese Cyrillic that's six scripts in eight centuries.

What next for Mongolian? A new script combining features of the others? Our Western ABC adapted to Mongolian or something new?