The classical Mongolian script (in Mongolian script: (ᠮᠣᠨᠭᠭᠣᠯ ᠬᠡᠯᠡ) Mongγol bičig; in Mongolian Cyrillic: Монгол бичиг, Mongol bichig), also known as Uyghurjin Mongol bichig, was the first writing system created specifically for the Mongolian language, and was the most successful until the introduction of Cyrillic in 1946. Derived from Uighur, Mongolian is a true alphabet, with separate letters for consonants and vowels. The Mongolian script has been adapted to write languages such as Oirat and Manchu. Alphabets based on this classical vertical script are used in Inner Mongolia and other parts of China to this day to write Mongolian, Sibe and, experimentally, Evenki.
The middle period of the development of the Mongolian language extended from the seventh and eighth to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Mongolian language of this period is divided into southern, eastern and western dialects. The principal monuments of the middle period are: in the eastern dialect, the famous Secret History of the Mongols, monuments in the square script, materials of the Chinese-Mongolian glossary of the fourteenth century, and materials of the Mongolian language of the middle period in Chinese transcription, etc.; in the western dialect, materials of the Arab-Mongolian and Persian-Mongolian dictionaries, Mongolian texts in Arabic transcription, etc. The main features of the period are that the vowels ï and i had lost their phonemic significance, creating the i phoneme (in Chahar dialect, the Standard Mongolian in Inner Mongolia, they're still distinct); intervocal consonants γ/g, b/w had disappeared and the preliminary process of the formation of Mongolian long vowels had begun; the initial h was preserved in many words; grammatical categories were partially absent, etc. The development over this period explains why Mongolian script looks like a vertical Arabic script (in particular the presence of the dots system).
Eventually, minor concessions were made to the differences between the Uyghur and Mongol languages: In the 17th and 18th centuries, smoother and more angular versions of tsadi became associated with [dʒ] and [tʃ] respectively, and in the 19th century, the Manchu hooked yodh was adopted for initial [j]. Zain was dropped as it was redundant for [s]. Various schools of orthography, some using diacritics, were developed to avoid ambiguity.
Mongolian is written vertically. The Uyghur script and its descendants—Mongolian, Oirat Clear, Manchu, and Buryat—are the only vertical scripts written from left to right. This developed because the Uyghurs rotated their Sogdian-derived script, originally written right to left, 90 degrees counterclockwise to emulate Chinese writing, but without changing the relative orientation of the letters.
The Traditional Mongolian script is known by a wide variety of names. Due to its origins from the Uighur script, it became known as the Uighurjin Mongol script (Mongolian: Уйгуржин монгол бичиг). During the communist era, when Cyrillic became the official script for the Mongolian language, the traditional script became known as the Old Mongol script (Mongolian: Хуучин монгол бичиг), in contrast to the New script (Mongolian: Шинэ үсэг), referring to Cyrillic. The name Old Mongol script stuck, and it is still known as such among the older generation, who didn't receive education in the script.
Letters have different forms depending on their position in a word: initial, medial, or final. In some cases, additional graphic variants are selected for visual harmony with the subsequent character.
The inventory of Mongol letters has been used to as alphabet for at least four languages. First and foremost, after overcoming the Uyghur script ductus, it was used for Mongolian, and later further developed. It was also used in the ancient Manchurian documents before diacritics were added and the Manchu script was derived. Most recently, an experimental alphabet for Evenki was created in the 1980s. List as below:
- Uighurjin Mongol alphabet for the Middle Mongol language
- Traditional Mongolian alphabet for the Mongolian language, the Khoshut version of the Oirat language, and the China Buryat language.
- Old Manchu alphabet for Manchu language
- Evenk alphabet for the Evenk language
- Main article: Clear script
In 1648, the Oirat Buddhist monk Zaya-pandita Namkhaijamco created this variation with the goals of bringing the written language closer to the actual pronunciation of Oirat and making it easier to transcribe Tibetan and Sanskrit. The script was used by the Kalmyks of Russia until 1924, when it was replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet. In Xinjiang, China, the Oirat people still use it.
- Main article: Manchu alphabet
- Main article: Vagindra script
Another alphabet, sometimes called Vagindra or Vaghintara, was created in 1905 by the Buryat monk Agvan Dorjiev (1854–1938). It was also meant to reduce ambiguity, and to support the Russian language in addition to Mongolian. The most significant change, however, was the elimination of the positional shape variations. All letters were based on the medial variant of the original Mongol alphabet. Fewer than a dozen books were printed using it.
- Main article: Galik alphabet
In 1587, the translator and scholar Ayuush Güüsh (Аюуш гүүш) created the Galik alphabet (Али-гали), inspired by the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso. It primarily added extra characters for transcribing Tibetan and Sanskrit terms when translating religious texts, and later also from Chinese. Some of those characters are still in use today for writing foreign names (compare table above).
- Main article: Mongolian (Unicode block)
The Unicode block for Mongolian is U+1800–U+18AF. It includes letters, digits and various punctuation marks for Hudum Mongolian, Todo Mongolian, Xibe (Manchu), Manchu proper, and Ali Gali, as well as extensions for transcribing Sanskrit and Tibetan.
Unicode.org chart (PDF)
Although the Mongolian script has been defined in Unicode since 1999, there was no support for Unicode Mongolian from the major vendors until the release of the Windows Vista operating system in 2007, and so Unicode Mongolian is not yet widely used. In China, legacy encodings such as the Private Use Area (PUA) Unicode mappings and GB18030 mappings of the Menksoft IMEs (espc. Menksoft Mongolian IME) are more commonly used than Unicode for writing web pages and electronic documents in Mongolian.
The inclusion of a Unicode Mongolian font and keyboard layout in Windows Vista has meant that Unicode Mongolian is now gradually becoming more popular, but the complexity of the Unicode Mongolian encoding model and the lack of a clear definition for the use variation selectors are still barriers to its widespread adoption, as is the lack of support for inline vertical display. Currently there are no fonts that successfully display all of Mongolian when written in Unicode. A report published in 2011 revealed many shortcomings with automatic rendering in all three Unicode Mongolian fonts the authors surveyed, including Microsoft's Mongolian Baiti.
Furthermore, Mongolian language support has suffered from buggy implementations: the initial version of Microsoft's Mongolian Baiti font was, in the supplier's own words, "almost unusable", and as of 2011 there remain some serious bugs with the rendering of suffixes in Mozilla Firefox.
Other fonts, such as MonoType's Mongol Usug and Myatav Erdenechimeg's MongolianScript, suffer even more serious bugs.
In Jan. 2013, Menksoft released several OpenType Mongolian fonts, delivered with its Menksoft Mongolian IME 2012. These fonts strictly follows Unicode standard, i.e. bichig is not longer realized as "B+I+CH+I+G+FVS2" (incorrect) but "B+I+CH+I+G" (correct), which is not done by Microsoft & Founder's Mongolian Baiti, MonoType's Mongol Usug, or Myatav Erdenechimeg's MongolianScript.