Category Archives: mongolian script

research visit to Cambridge University Library

In the coming week I will be practically ‘living’  in the manuscript reading room of Cambridge University Library. For this leg of the research project, the archives of the British and Foreign Bible Society will be investigated in search of contextual information on Bible translations that were printed in the Mongolian script.

Not only will original copies of these publications and the utilized Mongolian printing types be studied, also the correspondence of the translators, typesetters and printers, the minutes and reports of the Bible societies and other involved participants will be examined.

The next couple of days will take me back to the early nineteenth century, into the then undiscovered regions of Siberia.


published in Khumuun Bichig newspaper

It was a pleasant surprise to see the celebratory greetings I had sent to the Khumuun Bichig newspaper were published in their edition of 18 May 2012.

The text, written by Bayarbat Khandmaa, reads:

Хүмүүн бичиг сонины 20 жилийн ойн баярт талархал дэвшүүлэхдээн би тун их баяртай байна. Танай хамт олны бүтээж буй үйлс үнэ цэнэтэй бөгөөд монголын хэвлэлийн салбарт онцгой байр суурь эзэлдэг хэмээн би үздэг.
Үндэснийхээ бичгээр дагнан 20 жилийн турш сонин гаргаж буй хөдөлмөр нь үнэхээр бахдам бөгөөд цаашид ч мөн олон жилийн сайхан ирээдүй та бүхнийг хүлээж буй гэдэгт би огт эргэлзэхгүй байна.
Хүмүүн бичиг сонин бол монголын өв соёл, өвөрмөц хэв шинжийг ялгаруулан таниулж, түгээн дэлгэрүүлэхэд чухал үүрэг гүйцэтгэж байгаа нь үнэн юм.
Та бүхэнтэй хамтран ажиллахдаа би үргэлж баяртай байдаг.
Хүмүүн бичиг сонины хамт олонд хамгийн сайн сайхан бүхнийг хүсэн ерөөе.
❡ Их британийн Ридинг их сургуулийн судлаач Жо Две Баярдвмаявквр

and translated freely into English, reads as follows:

I’m very pleased to congratulate the Khumuun Bichig newspaper with its twentieth anniversary. Your work is very valuable and unique in Mongolian media en printing.
I am proud of your 20 years in publishing a newspaper entirely in the Mongolian script, and wish you a bright future ahead.
The Khumuun Bichig newspaper plays a main role in introducing and sharing Mongolian culture and its unique tradition.
Best wishes to all colleagues of the Khumuun Bichig newspaper.
❡  Jo De Baerdemaeker, University of Reading

la Semaine de la Mongolie à Paris

On Tuesday 8 May, an update on the progress of this research project on Mongolian typefaces and new unreleased material will be presented at la Semaine de la Mongolie in Paris.

From 7 until 13 May, the thirteenth district of Paris is celebrating Mongolian culture in all its aspects. The symposium, which focuses on ‘Mongolian Space and Heritage’ is organized by OTASIE and includes several exhibitions, workshops, colloquiums,  lecture panels, discussion forums, film screenings and concerts. My talk will start on 8 May at 11:00 am in Les Voûtes, 19 rue des Frigos, Paris.

The entire program-brochure can be downloaded or consulted at  More information can be requested at or found at

All official Mongolian state documents in Mongolian script

As of today all official state documents in Mongolia will be written in the Mongolian script. Following the decree that the President of Mongolia Elbegdorj Tsakhiagiin had issued on 6 July 2010, and which takes effect on 1 July 2011,

official documents and letters of the president, prime minister, chairman of parliament, and MPs sent to the foreign high officials, will be written in Mongolian script with a translation attached in the current language or in one of the UN’s official languages.

ID passports, birth and marriage certificates, documentation and diplomas from educational and training organizations, centers will all be written both in Mongolian and Cyrillic script.

(E. Oyundari. UB POST, Tuesday June 21, 2011)

Uyghuro-Mongol script

Throughout the centuries a variation of different scripts was used to put the Mongolian language into writing. This research, however, will concentrate on the typefaces that were created for the Uyghuro-Mongol script, the writing system which the Mongols used for more than seven centuries.[1]

According to the Secret history of the Mongols, after defeating the last king of the Naiman tribe in 1204 and capturing his seal-bearer, the Uyghur scribe Tatatungga, Chinggis Khaan instructed the Mongol scholars in 1206 (the Mongolian year of the Tiger) to adapt the Uyghur script for their own use to codify the Mongol Law in ‘blue books’ written on ‘white paper’, and to write the History of the Mongol empire.[2] Tatatungga was ordered to educate the Mongol scholars and young nobels to read and write the Mongolian language with the Uyghur script.

Although researchers are still in debate about the origin and orthography of this ‘pre-Mongolian’ Uyghuro-Mongol written language, ‘it is clear that the Chinggis-era Mongols borrowed a foreign Uygur writing system’, which in turn derived from the writing system of the Iranian-speaking Sogdians, whose origin traces back to the Aramaic alphabet. [3]

The Uyguro-Mongol script is a phonemic writing system with vowels and consonants. Whereas Sodgian was written horizontally from right to left, the Uyghuro-Mongol script is written in vertical lines from left to right. The characters are connected to each other from top to bottom. Similar to the structure of the Arabic script, the shape of the Uyghuro-Mongol characters varies depending on their positioning in a word: either at the beginning (initial), in the middle (medial) or at the end (final). Apart from word spaces, the use of punctuation marks in Mongolian orthography is scarce. Different marks can be used at the beginning of a literary text to indicate the nature of its content (this was not used in monumental inscriptions). At various moments in history, different marks of punctuation were introduced to indicate the end of a line, the end of a verse, the end of a chapter, or the end of a text. Apart from the numerals, which originated from the Tibetan script, signs for abridgement were also included in Uyghuro-Mongol writing. Unlike the Latin alphabet, the Uyghuro-Mongol script is unicase, and thus makes no distinction between capital and lowercase letters.

The Uyghuro-Mongol script became the writing system of the Mongol Empire from the thirteenth century onwards. Specific Uyghuro-Mongol characters were introduced to transliterate foreign (like Tibetan, Russian or Chinese) words. It was used in everyday life in Mongolia until 1946, when a political decision introduced the Russian Cyrillic alphabet to write Mongolian and other minority languages in the USSR, and discouraged the use of the Uyghuro-Mongolian script. Two extra glyphs were created for the Cyrillic alphabet to represent the Mongolian sounds.

In the 1990s, the ‘traditional’ (or Uyghuro-Mongolian) script was revived in Mongolia and was re-introduced in classrooms and publishing. Variants of the Uyghuro-Mongol script are Oirat, Buryat, Galik, Kalmyk and Manchu.[4]

[1] Urgunge Onon uses the term Uighuro-Mongol or Uighurjin Mongol script, whereas György Kara refers to this script as Uygur-Mongolian.

[2] The secret history of the Mongols (2001): p 11.

[3] Books of the Mongolian nomads (2005): p 29-30. For more details on the origin and rise of the Uyghuro-Mongolian script, see Kara’s publication Books of the Mongolian nomads (2005).

[4] For a detailed description of the scripts that are based on the Uyghuro-Mongol writing system, see Kara’s chapter ‘Aramaic scripts for Altaic languages’ in The world’s writing systems (1996): pp 536–558.