Your trip is about to begin, papers are fully made and your lugage already wait at the door. Ready to go ? Almost.
You think it may be a good opportunity to learn few bases of Mongolian language. What a great idea!
By learning some words and expressions, you will set foot in Mongolia with a brand new approach. Doors will be more open as ever. Because Mongolians are curious people, don’t hesitate to show your interest in their culture!
This first post of « Learn to speak Mongolian » section is dedicated to learn common rules of Mongolian language, pronunciation and vowel harmony.
1- The alphabet (tsaagan tolgoi – цааган толгой)
The Ouïghour alphabet is (again) the official writing since the 90’s. Learnt at school, it is not very used except for officials who publishes on both writings, ouïghour and cyrillic. Mongolians now use much more cyrillic alphabet.
Mongolian cyrillic alphabet
Mongolian alphabet holds 35 letters. Some of them are unique to Mongolian, they don’t really belong to Russian alphabet.
|Mongolian also includes long vowel…||… And diphthongs|
You can get the right pronunciation on this interactive table.
Each letter in Mongolian have to be said, even if as foreigners we don’t hear them all. Some letters’ pronunciation differs wether it sits at the beginning or at the end of a word.
To be exact, cyrillic alphabet don’t always match with Mongolian’s pronunciation. Indeed, Mongolian language is originally written with the ouïghour alphabet. This writing reproduces the changes of the letters’ sounds according to their place in the word, changes that do not appear with cyrillic alphabet.
Here’s some examples where letters’ pronunciation is modified :
The « a », at the beginning is pronunced as in bat. However, when located in the second or more syllable of the word, it is pronunced as a schwa [ə], as in about [əˈbaʊt].
Example : Ажиллах /’ædʒɪləh/ Ajilah (to work)
Long vowel and diphthongs are stressed and pronunced as the main sound. For instance, « aa » will sound like a longer « a » (as in bat).
Example : Таалагдах /’tɑːləgdəh/ Taalagdah (to like, to fancy)
The first syllable is often the stressed one.
The sound of the letter г /g/ changes : at the beginning of the word it is a clear /g/; at the middle of a word it becomes more guttural, less audible, as could be a scraping noise; at the end it sounds like /k/.
The letter н /n/, if beginning letter or followed by a vowel, is pronunced /n/ as in name. In ending letter it tends to sound as /ng/, as hang.
Two letters, the hard sign Ъ and soft sign Ь, modify letters’ pronunciation. Associated with the « l », it will soften its sound. They can never be found at the beginning of a word.
Example : дал /dal/ (70) et даль /dɛl/ (Dahlia)
3- Vowel harmony
However, when you hear « у », « ү », « ө » and « о », how do you know which one to write ? Look at the rest of the word, it may contain some clue. For in Mongolian, there are three types of vowel : female, male and neutral types. As a beginner, think of the vowel harmony as a friend: this rule will help you write Mongolian correctly
- Male vowels won’t go with female ones, for they can only match with the same type they belong to, and neutral type.
- Female vowels go with female and neutral types.
- Neutral vowel go with both female and male ones.
Male vowels: a, o, y, ё, ы, ю, я
Female vowels: э, ө, ү, e
Neutral vowels: и, й
According to the vowel harmony’s rule, you’ll never find a word compound with both a and э, y and ү. Then, if you hear « archuur » you’ll write it арчуур (cleaning cloth). For the beginning « a » is well audible and is a male vowel, it can only match with the male vowel « y ».