Mongolian Language Grammar
Chapter 001 - Introduction
In order to spread a little bit more about Mongolia, I have decided to share my language learning notes with you. Those notes might bring you another point of view and I hope, help you understand the Mongolian language a little bit better!
I'm able to share this information thanks to the support, patience and help of my dear teachers:
- Батхүүгийн Амгалан (Amgalan Batkhuu) who is a professional Монгол бичиг (Mongol bichig) teacher at the Choi. Lubsangjab University of Language and Civilization,
- Халзангийн Одончимэг (Odonchimeg Khalzan) who works as a professional Mongolian teacher for foreigners at Prime Bridge Анхны Гүүр and also,
- Цэнд-Аюушийн Нацагдулам (Natsagdulam Tsend-Ayush), the director of the "Утга Зохиол, Нийгмийн Ажилтны Дээд Сургууль" school who supports me by hosting my cultural center where I can do my research peacefully and efficiently.
Please note that I'm not a Mongolian native speaker so my language isn't perfect. Hence if some of you find mistakes or misspelling please feel free to contact me and I'll correct accordingly. Also the explanations provided here use simple comparisons in order to make the understanding of the Mongolian language as easy as possible.
They can sometimes be outside of the academic explanation or description, so if you need a further academic or linguistic point of view, please refer to your teacher, to a specialized book, or by eventually contacting me.
Of course, feel free to share and spread the Mongolian culture! Happy learning! I hope all of this will be helpful!
NB: Version Française ici.
Topic of this sharing:
- The Alphabet
- The Pronunciation
- Rules of writing
Mongolian alphabet -Цагаан толгой-, for its Cyrillic version, is composed of 35 letters.
Those 35 letters are separated in 2 group which are the 'sign letters' and the 'vowels and consonants'.
The two sign letter -тэмдэг үсэг- are :
- hard sign ъ called хатуугийн тэмдэг.
- soft sign ь called зөөлний тэмдэг.
They don't have any sound.
You can see below the classification of the 33 vowels and consonants -авиа үсэг- :
13 vowels -эгшиг үсэг-
6 back or masculine vowels
а, о, у, я, ё, ы
The vowel "ы" is called эр үгийн ий.
4 front or feminine vowels
э, ө, ү, е
3 neutral vowels
и, й, ю
20 consonants -гийгүүлэгч-
7 vocalized consonants
б, в, г, л, м, н, р
Memory tips: монгол баавар
9 non-vocalized consonants
д, ж, ц, з, ч, т, ш, х, с
Memory tips: Цоожоо засаад тушаачих
4 particular consonants
к, п, щ, ф
As Mongolian language is pretty far from western language, I would definitely suggest you to listen to Mongolian audio books, songs or even radio to get a better idea of the language pronunciation and melody.
I will not go too deeply on the subject because I think that pronunciation should be experienced with conversation and human exchange. I will still share with you some information and principle that will give you a bit of understanding if you're starting from scratch.
For those of you who use Quizlet I also added all the alphabet on a list here.
А, а - as in act or father
Б, б - as in bat or book
В, в - as in have or wave
Г, г - as in gold or talk
Д, д - as in day or hat
Е, е - as in yes
Ё, ё - as in yolk
Ж, ж - as in John or just
З, з - as in adze
И, и - as in sit or hill
Й, й - used with diphthongs
К, к - as in kit or kick (only in foreign words)
Л, л - as in halls
М, м - as in map or man
Н, н - as in nice or sang
О, о - as in open or law
Ө, ө - as in term
П, п - as in pen
Р, р - rr as in Spanish perro
С, с - as in ice or sky
Т, т - as in top or tank
У, у - as in hole or all
Ү, ү - as in blue or tool
Ф, ф - as in fly or front (only in foreign words)
Х, х - as in German Bach
Ц, ц - as in hats or cat's eye
Ч, ч - as in chat or children
Ш, ш - as in shiny or shake
Щ, щ - combination of ш + ч (sh + ch) (only in Russian words)
ъ - hard sign: no sound, but used to change the previous vowel.
Ы, ы - as insleep
ь - soft sign: no sound, but used to change the previous vowel.
Э, э - as in end or bet
Ю, ю - as in you or use
Я, я - as in yard
Some pronunciation principles:
1. Single vowels
In most case, the first single vowel of a word is pronounced, then the other single vowels of that word have almost no sound.
For example сайхан is pronounced сайхн.
2. Long vowels and diphthongs
The long vowels and diphthongs in Mongolian language are pronounced with more 'longness' than single vowels.
Mongolian language has got 8 long vowels: АА, ОО, УУ, Ы for the back, and ЭЭ, ӨӨ, ҮҮ, ИЙ for the front.
It also has 5 diphthongs: АЙ, ОЙ, УЙ for the back, and ЭЙ, ҮЙ for the front.
This principle is very important as it can change drastically the meaning of a word.
For example ав means take when аав means father.
3. The letter Н
When the letter "н" is followed by a "б" letter then it is pronounced like a "м".
For example сайн байна уу? is pronounced сайм-бай-нуу.
When at the end of a word, it is followed by a vowel and form one of those morphemes на/но/нэ/нө, it is pronounced like an English "n". But if the word finish with a single "н" (without any vowel), then it is pronounced like a nasal "ng".
For example сан - сана, сэн - сэнэ, сон - соно, сөн - сөнө
4. The letter Э
When the letter "э" is single and at the beginning of a word then it is pronounced like a "и".
For example эмээ is pronounced имээ.
5. The signs "ь" and "ъ"
When the signs "ь" or "ъ" are coupled with one of these vowels "я", "е" or "ё" then the new couple "ъя", "ъё" or "ье" is pronounced like a "ий" (long vowel).
For example уулзъя is pronounced уулзий.
6. The sign "ь" or the letter "и"
When "и" or "ь" are in a back vowelled (masculine) word then they don't have any sound. They influence the sound of the vowel they're following to transform it into a front vowel.
For example ам - амь, ор - орь, ул - уль
Rules of writing
Here are some rules to know that will help you improve your Mongolian Cyrillic writing.
- Rules of the vowel harmony
The concept of vowel harmony is extremely straightforward, and simply means that a word can only contain either back vowels -а, о, у, я, ё, ы- or front vowels -э, ө, ү, е- but not both at the same time, with the exception only of a certain limited amount of words. The neutral vowel -и, й, ю- can occur in both front and back voweled words. Also if neutral vowels occur in all syllables the word is considered to be front voweled.
Mongolian language being agglutinative, its suffixes will usually follow the vowel harmony rules with only few exceptions.
Some examples: маргааш (tomorrow), өнөөдөр (today), зав (free time), завтай (with free time), Монгол (Mongolia-n), Монголоор (in Mongolian).
- Rule for consonants
As seen above, the consonants are divided in two category, plus the particular consonants used for foreign words.
We can call the vocalized consonants "7", and the non-vocalized consonants "9".
1. With all consonants "7" there MUST BE a vowel before or after this consonant.
For example ботго / т-9 г-7 /
2. If two consonant 9 are following each other, then the second consonant 9 will require a vowel either before or after.
For example Бат+д / т-9 д-9 / will become Батад
3. If a consonant 7 is followed by a consonant 9 then there is no need of a vowel.
For example аав+д / в-7 д-9 / will stay аавд
Those rules might feel a little bit abstract and complex but let me give you a similar rules in English.
When the article "a" is followed by a word that start with a vowel "a" got a "n" added.
For example we write an end and not a end.
You can always come back to remind you of those rules later when you will be more comfortable with the language. Anyway those rules are very helpful to add suffix correctly to words and in Mongolian you will do it all the time!