Why did the Mongols switch to Cyrillic
The main property of any nation is its language and writing. They give originality, allow to affirm national identity, to stand out among others. During their centuries-old history, the Mongols managed to try about ten different alphabets, now this nation mainly uses the Cyrillic alphabet. How did the descendants of the conquerors who founded the Golden Horde go over to writing similar to Russian? And why not a Latin or Old Mongolian letter?
Many alphabets, one language
Many have tried to develop an alphabet suitable for the Mongolian language and all its dialects. The legendary commander Genghis Khan himself, creating a huge empire, was preoccupied with the need to have a document flow in order to write down orders and draw up agreements.
There is a legend that in 1204, after the victory over the Naiman tribe, the Mongols captured a scribe named Tatatunga. By order of Genghis Khan, he created a script for the conquerors, based on the Uyghur alphabet native to him. All documents of the Golden Horde were compiled using the designs of a captive scribe.
A characteristic feature of Old Mongolian writing is its vertical direction: words are written from top to bottom, and the lines are arranged from left to right. Some researchers attribute this fact to the fact that it was easier for a warrior who was riding on his battle horse to read the scrolls composed in this way.
In the 90s of the 20th century, in the homeland of Genghis Khan of Old Mongolian writing, official status was returned, but its scope is limited to company logos and names of organizations, since this alphabet is outdated, it does not correspond to modern pronunciation. In addition, the Old Mongolian writing is not convenient for working at a computer.
However, a modified version of this alphabet is used in Inner Mongolia - the region of China, where the main population are descendants of the legendary conquerors.
In the future, there were several options for Mongolian writing. For example, at the end of the 13th century, the Tibetan monk Pagba-lama (Dromton Chogyal Pagpa) developed a so-called square letter based on symbols of Chinese phonetics. And in 1648, another monk - Zaya-Pandita Oiratsky - created a Todo-bichig (clear letter), focusing on Tibetan writing and Sanskrit.At the end of the 17th century, the Mongolian scientist Bogdo Dzanabadzar developed the syrmbo, and the Buryat monk Agvan Dorzhiev (1850–1938) - the vagindra. The main goal of these scholars was to create an alphabet that is most suitable for translating sacred texts into Mongolian.
Writing is a political question
The use of certain symbols to record a language is not so much a matter of convenience and linguistic correspondence as the choice of the sphere of political influence. By applying one alphabet, nations inevitably come closer, they enter a common cultural space. In the twentieth century, Mongolia, like many other countries, actively sought to self-determination, therefore writing reform was inevitable.
Revolutionary changes in this Asian state began in 1921, and soon socialist power was established throughout the territory of Mongolia. The new leadership decided to abandon the Old Mongolian script, which was used to translate religious texts ideologically alien to the Communists, and to switch to the Latin alphabet.
However, the reformers came across decisive resistance from many representatives of the local intelligentsia, some of whom were supporters of modifying the Old Mongolian writing, while others argued that the Latin alphabet was not suitable for their language.After the accusations of nationalism and the wave of repression of the second half of the 30s of the twentieth century, the reformers from linguistics simply did not have opponents.
The Latin alphabet was officially approved in Mongolia on February 1, 1941, a modified version of this alphabet was used to print newspapers and books. But less than two months later, this decision of the country's leadership was canceled. And on March 25, 1941, people were announced about the imminent transition to Cyrillic. Since 1946, all the media began to use this alphabet, and since 1950 legal documents began to be written on it.
Of course, the choice in favor of the Cyrillic was made by the Mongolian authorities under pressure from the USSR. At that time, the languages of all the peoples of the RSFSR, Central Asia and neighboring states that were heavily influenced by Moscow were translated into the Cyrillic alphabet in the form of an order.
Only residents of Inner Mongolia, which is part of the PRC, remained the same vertical script. As a result, representatives of the same people, separated by borders, use two different alphabets and do not always understand each other.
In 1975, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, preparations began to translate the language of Inner Mongolia into Latin, but the death of the head of the Chinese Communist Party did not allow this plan to materialize.
Now, some Mongols, who are citizens of China, are using the Cyrillic alphabet to emphasize their national identity as opposed to the assimilating influence of the Chinese authorities.
Cyrillic or Latin?
Unlike the Russian alphabet in the Mongolian version of the Cyrillic alphabet, there are two additional letters: Ү and Ө. The developers managed to distinguish between the dialect sounds of the sounds и and Ж, и and,, и and,, O and U, Ө and Ү. And yet, such a variant of writing does not give a complete correlation between spelling and pronunciation.
Although the Latin alphabet also cannot be called a suitable alphabet for the Mongolian language, there are drawbacks to this version of writing. Not all sounds are the same when writing and pronunciation.
In the 1990s, in the wake of the rejection of the communist ideology and the search for further development, there was an attempt to return the Old Mongolian script, but it ended in failure. This alphabet no longer corresponds to the trends of the time, and translating all scientific terms, formulas, textbooks and clerical work in the country into a vertical variant of writing turned out to be inexpedient, costly and time-consuming process.Such a reform would have required a lot of time: we would have to wait for the teachers to start working for the next generation who received education in Old Mongolian.
As a result, having given the official alphabetical status to the original alphabet, the Mongols use it only for decorative purposes, continuing to write in Cyrillic, although there are occasional calls in the country to switch to Latin.
Wishing to demonstrate their national independence, at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, the states of Central Asia abandoned the Cyrillic alphabet imposed on them in the USSR era. Even in Tatarstan, which is part of Russia, there was talk of reform of writing. This process is actively lobbied by Turkey, which switched to Latin in 1928, as well as its NATO allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, interested in spreading their cultural influence in Asia.
However, the transition of Mongolia to the Latin alphabet is unlikely for several reasons at once.
Firstly, this country is not among the Turkic-speaking states, unlike its neighbors from Central Asia, and therefore the opinion of official Ankara is not of great importance in Ulan Bator.
Secondly, the Mongols do not have a strong desire to distance themselves from Russia. Despite the repression of the 30s of the twentieth century, this country also remembers the good things that were done with the help of the USSR: the construction of enterprises, hospitals, educational centers, and infrastructure facilities.
Third, the people of Mongolia are afraid of the growing influence of China, which is striving to assimilate all the neighboring peoples. The Cyrillic alphabet serves as a kind of cultural buffer that does not allow the Mongols to deprive the national identity.
In addition, as we mentioned above, Latin is also not quite suitable for the Mongolian language, like Cyrillic. Therefore, the inhabitants of this country do not see much sense in changing one alphabet to another.