Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Mongolian government seeks to spread official use of traditional alphabet by 2025

The Mongolian government is seeking to spread the official use of the traditional Mongolian alphabet by 2025. The Mongolian script is expected to coexist with Cyrillic, which has been used to write the Mongolian language since 1941. An effective introduction of the Mongolian writing system into digital environments will be an immediate challenge.

The Mongolian Parliament approved in 2015 that the authorities of the Asian country would introduce the use of the traditional alphabet, or bichig, within 10 years, alongside Cyrillic —which remains the dominant form of writing. In the last phase, starting in 2025, this is planned to include official communications, identity cards, and the public display of the alphabet.

The government has now announced that it is entering the third phase of the implementation of the plan. One of its main axes will be the setting of digital tools for the use of bichig. It is a considerable challenge given the fact that, until now, the introduction of the Mongolian alphabet into information technology standard Unicode has been problematic. Authorities now say they want to solve it.

In China’s Southern —or Inner— Mongolia region, bichig has been in continued use, authorities there keeping some websites and public signs in it. In Mongolia proper, some websites —such as the president’s— also include a version in the Mongolian alphabet.

The Mongolian government aims at bichig being used in e-mail writing, as well as in on line media, alongside Cyrillic.

The Mongolian alphabet is derived from the Old Uyghur alphabet, and is written vertically. It was introduced by Tata-tonga in the early 13th century.

The Mongolian government officially introduced the use of the Latin alphabet in 1930, which was replaced in 1941 by Cyrillic, under the influence of the Soviet Union.

Mongolian government seeks to spread official use of traditional alphabet by 2025 | Uncategorized | CENTRAL ASIA TODAY
A school in Mongolia. The Cyrillic alphabet has been used since 1941 to write Mongolian. / Photo: World Bank Photo Collection.

Other languages that used to be written in Cyrillic have abandoned it since the fall of the USSR. Azerbaijan introduced the use of the Latin alphabet for Azeri in 1991, while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan took the same decision for Uzbek and Turkmen in 1992 and 1993 respectively. In 2018, Kazakhstan announced that Kazakh would abandon Cyrillic for Latin by 2025.

In 1989, already before the end of the USSR, Moldova had applied the same transition to the Romanian language. Transnistria, however, continued to write Romanian in Cyrillic, which had in fact been the alphabet in which the language had been written in Romania itself until the 19th century.

Alphabets as an feature of language identity

It is no secret that having a different alphabet is a fundamental feature of identity for many languages. Well-known cases among state languages include Greek, Georgian, Armenian, Amharic, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese —which combines its own set of characters with others taken from Chinese.

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