Mongolian or Mongol
is the language of the mediaeval Mongol Empire and of modern Mongolia
. It or a closely related language is also spoken in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia
) in China, in the Russian republics of Buryatia
bordering Mongolia and Kalmykia
in Europe, and by the Hazara
people of Afghanistan. Although this represents a wide variety of dialects through place and time, they might almost be considered varieties of the same language. The standard dialect of modern Mongolia is called Khalkha
Mongolian is not known with certainty to be related to any other language; however, many linguists accept an Altaic family, linking it with the Turkic languages to the west and with the Manchu-Tungus group of north-eastern Asia. They share many grammatical and phonetic features, but differences in vocabulary make it difficult to reconstruct an ancestral Proto-Altaic language with confidence, and it may be that the apparent similarities are due to borrowing and diffusion (being part of a so-called Sprachbund) rather than genetic relation.
Texts exist from the thirteenth century. The language has a unique script of its own, a 24-letter alphabet written cursively from top to bottom, derived from an Uyghur script. Today Mongolian is written in the Cyrillic script, with the addition of two letters for the ö and ü sounds. There is some call for the Classical Mongolian script to be restored.
Both the traditional spelling and the twentieth-century Cyrillic spelling are out of date. Neither accurately reflects the pronunciation of modern Khalkha Mongolian. This is why you get variations such as Ulan Bator and Ulaanbaatar for the capital: the latter is how it's pronounced.
Vowel length is significant. There are seven short vowels, including ö and ü, and eight long ones, with öö and üü and one I might write yy, occurring only long. The exact shades of vowel are not quite what you'd think from the transcription: ü is more like the sound in food while u is as in foot, according to the book I'm working from. I don't know enough detail about it to comment.
One of the features Mongolian shares with other Altaic languages is vowel harmony. Suffixes take different forms depending on whether the stem contains back vowels (a, o, u, yy) or front vowels (e, ö, ü), with i being neutral; and whether the vowels are rounded (o, ö, u, ü) or unrounded. The language is agglutinative, meaning words are built up with numerous suffixes. For example, khot-oos 'from a town', uls-aas 'from a country', ger-ees 'from a ger (yurt)'.
The word order is SOV, i.e. the verb comes last. The direct object is marked with a suffix of long vowel + g. Possession is indicated by long vowel + n.
Mongol surnames were abolished when the Communists took power in the 1920s, so after that Mongols used a patronymic, putting their father's name in the genitive before their own: so someone called Dorjiin Bold is actually Bold the son of Dorj. Surnames have been restored in recent years, though many families' original names have been forgotten.
Numerals 1 to 10: neg khoyor gurav döröv tav zurgaa doloo naim yös arav. There are fused forms for the tens: 20 = khori, 30 = guch, 40 = döch, 50 = taiv, 60 = jar, 70 = dal, 80 = nai, 90 = yör, 100 = zuu. The changes in pronunciation in the modern language may be seen by comparing these to forms recorded by John Bell, a Scotsman who travelled on a Russian embassy to Beijing in 1719-1722, who records 1-10 as neggea choir gurba dirbu tabu zurga dolo nauma jussu arba, and for 100 he has dzo. The Classical Mongolian forms (the most ancient recorded) are nigen qoyar ghurban dörben tabun irghughan dolughan naiman yisün arban, with 100 = aghun.