A lot of people often criticize Mongolia for losing its heritage and culture for not using the traditional script anymore and argue that Mongolians have adopted the Russian language.
However, though modern-day Mongolians use the Cyrillic alphabet, we still speak our own language and learn Mongolian. It would be wrong to assume that Mongolians have lost their language and speak other foreign languages because the language is alive and well with more and more people speaking it with each passing day.
How is traditional script different from Cyrillic
The traditional script is written vertically top to bottom and progresses to the right, whereas Cyrillic is written from left to right and progresses downwards.
The Mongolian Script
In written form, Mongolian script is more complex because depending on where a letter is placed, there can be different variations. Most commonly a specific letter has 3 variations, when it’s at the beginning of the word, in the middle of the word, and at the end of the word. Sometimes the same letter can be used for different sounds.
Check out the Wikipedia guide for a much more comprehensive understanding.
Cyrillic is definitely much more straightforward because the letters each represent only 1 sound and don’t have different variations based on the placement of the letter in a word.
Why do Inner Mongolia and Mongolia have different writing systems?
For political reasons when Mongolian and Inner Mongolia split during their independence movement, Mongolia (Outer Mongolia as some people wrongly refer to) adopted the Cyrillic alphabet for political and economic reasons to further distance themselves from Chinese colonial ties.
Whereas, Inner Mongolia, being unable to gain their independence, stuck with Traditional Script, but more and more people in Inner Mongolia are learning Mandarin Chinese for better opportunities in the future.
Mongolians and Inner Mongolians can somewhat communicate with one another, but the writing systems used just happens to be different.
Why do Mongolians not use traditional script anymore
When people visit Mongolia for the first time, some are confused and wrongly think that Mongolians adopted the Russian language due to the use of the Cyrillic alphabet. Like the Latin Alphabet, many different languages use the Cyrillic alphabet for day-to-day use even though they may have no commonality and roots when it comes to grammar and structure.
For Mongolia’s case, since gaining its independence in 1911, we tried using the Latin alphabet but settled with using the Cyrillic for practical reasons such as economics and politics. With the USSR as a major ally and trading partner, it made sense at the time to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet for improved relations, better communication, and most importantly to further solidify their sovereignty as a nation.
Although Mongolian and Russian relations are still good to this day; Russia is no longer the major trading partner as it used to be and Mongolians have started to trade more with Japan, Korea, and China.
Which raises the question, why don’t Mongolians revert back to using the traditional script for their language, but we will get into that topic soon enough.
Do Mongolians learn the traditional script?
During middle school, students are required to learn the traditional script. But because modern-day Mongolians don’t use it day to day, it gets forgotten, but most people who have studied it would be able to make out the general idea of a sentence written in traditional script.
Though the traditional script is not used for day-to-day occasions, you will find billboards, advertisements, and traditionally oriented things to be written in the traditional script for aesthetic and nationalistic reasons.
Will Mongolia revert back to the traditional script?
There have been talks and questions raised by traditional Mongolians, but there are no plans to change and revert back to the Mongolian script because it would require a major change in the Mongolian infrastructure.
The whole of Mongolia as a country is built on Cyrillic and changing Cyrillic to Mongolian script would require time, money, and education reforms that Mongolians don’t want to deal with at this moment.
Most likely Mongolians will keep using the Cyrillic alphabet for centuries to come.