Mongolic: meet a language family, including Para-Mongolic

Mongolic: meet a language family, including Para-Mongolic

First, a vast empire. Then, a linguistic family evolved from one
known language over such a short time depth. This is Mongolic. Today we take a broad journey through its
history, its basic family resemblances, and the diverse traits of its many members, including
one recent attempt to reach further back and recover even older relatives that extend the
Mongolic family. A year and a half ago I got animated about
what early Mongol sounded like. Here I read about and listened to languages
across a family, took a bunch of notes, but only said the smallest bit about them at the
end. Then I did it again for Altaic. And yet again for Khitan! No no, this can’t go on. Patrons decided it’s time we get to know Mongolic
better. Ok wait, I’ve already cut and drawn so many
horses, do we really need…? Yes we do. Here’s another. Mongolic had a common ancestor. One language, spread by one ruler. A great empire that created a unique language
bottleneck, forming a common dialect for all Mongol people. What happened before that gets murky, but
stay to the end for one increasingly prominent pre-Mongolic explanation. From empire to now, that’s eight centuries,
Mongolic branched out. A whole top-level language family in that
short span seems unusual. Writings remain from nearly the start. Preclassical Written Mongol records the official
imperial language. Later, a stricter classical form emerges for
writing Buddhist texts. But now isn’t the time to get all into why, say,
this makes sense for spelling the color “red”, but know there’s definitely a learning curve
and a lot of history baked in. Various other scripts record Middle Mongol,
notably, Chinese characters in the Secret History. And this is where we get to start slicing
things thin, because Written and Middle Mongol are different. And neither quite matches what we expect of
the common Mongolic ancestor. Instead, the family started from a proto-language
that was almost like Middle Mongol, and which already had the typical Mongolic traits. Let me sketch some of those traits. A robust set of consonants, curiously missing
one of the most common sounds in the world: /p/. They had a sound /x/ but it was in the process
of dropping out from the middle and from the start of words, so their word for “red”, probably something like /xulaxan/, already risked sounding like it does in modern Mongolian. Vowels formed three neat sets, back versus
front versus neutral /i/, which was originally two in pre-Proto-Mongolic. There was no difference in length, no long
aa, but length arises in an interesting way. Vowels once separated by /x/, like in /kaxan/,
find themselves side by side when Mongolic loses its medial /x/. And then, soon, instead of pronouncing two a-a, this
becomes one long /aː/. In its grammar, typical for the area, nouns have a lot of case suffixes. Pronouns have cased forms. There are no genders-slash-classes. And plurals – plural endings – they’re kind of optional. Ooh, and you aren’t restricted to just one
case ending! Try out double declensions, like in this ablative
dative: you’re coming from at home. Verbs have a range of finite suffixes for
past versus non-past tenses. Actually, that’s deceptive, they’re more tense-aspect
bundles. (Oh, you remember aspect, right? If not, watch this after.) Participles and converbs play useful roles
that could get us into a whole grammar lesson, but just know that if you wanted to turn your
Middle Mongol action, say you rode a horse, into a noun for “the horseriding” or adverb
“after horseriding”, Mongolic suffixes have you covered. Basic sentences have a subject, object, and
verb last, also typical for this part of the world. This rigidified over time; Middle Mongol looks
like it was sometimes flexibile enough to put verbs before its objects. Suffixes and postpositions are of course the
order of the day, so “under the table” is really “table under”. This old language changed. It branched out. I’ll show that using a family tree, but as
I do keep in mind that the tree’s branches share traits that bleed into each other at
the edges, and areally in certain regions branching is not neat and discrete like this. The central core took on its characteristics
early. It evolved in a part of the world where vowels
harmonize, and one way it participated in this is with a phenomenon called “breaking”, turning
/i/ into a diphthong that pulls in the sound of a nearby vowel, like say /ja/. Also, although central speakers lost /x/,
they recreated one by softening /k/ to /x/. The word köke shifted to xöx. They also started pronouncing ns as engs at
the end of words, so early /kaxan/ becomes /kaan/ which becomes /xaaŋ/. And there’s that soft k again. And a long vowel! The biggest representative of the central
branch is the Khalkh dialect, the basis of standard Mongolian. Khalkh picked up some of its own traits that
distinguish it from other central members, like its standout l sound, /ɮ/, and the pronunciation
of short /e/ as /i/. Put changes together and you can figure out
why the old word written /kele/ now sounds like standard Mongolian /xiɮ/. This isn’t the only variety of what one of
my sources calls “Mongol proper”, which includes much of Inner Mongolia, China as well. Despite small differences, together, these
retain the highest percentage of inherited Mongolic vocabulary in the whole family. Other languages are central members, too,
like Buryat preserves the old participles
and converbs, but it has its own innovations, like turning /s/ into aitch, /h/, so /saŋ/
becomes /haŋ/. They show an Eastern/Western split, for example,
in how restricted the change from k to x is too. The Oirat live out west. They developed their own less ambiguous take
on the Mongol script called the Clear Script. A form of Oirat migrated even further west
and became the language of Kalmykia, sometimes touted as the only natively Mongolic-speaking
and Buddhist region in Europe. Unlike other central languages, Oirat speakers
have not merged final n and ŋ, a retention shared by Ordos. The uniqueness of one central language has
only been recognized in recent times. The bilingual Khamnigan community was long
labeled by their other Tungusic language or just as Buryat. But their Mongolic tongue stands alone. It lacks almost all of the sound changes that
distance them from Middle Mongol. In this respect, they speak by far the least
changed Mongolic language! We’ve journeyed outside of Mongolic’s center
geographically but not yet linguistically. So head south to the Qinghai-Gansu complex. This area is home to the least-understood
part of the family. Languages here have interacted with Turkic,
Bodic, Sinitic and changed rapidly in the process. Pick up a grammar to learn more, but here
are two sample features from one language. Devoiced vowels, like in /ɕu̥’tɕun/. Too subtle for you? Ok, subjective versus objective verb marking,
which allows you to distance the agent from the action or explicitly assert more control. That southern complex sure is complex, but another
less-known branch is (or was) over here on its own: Moghol. Despite its backbone of Mongolic vocabulary
and grammar, it took on Indo-European words and features under the influence of Iranian. In a family all about postpositions, it developed
prepositions, even taking its dative case suffix and turning it around into a new preposition! The final branch we’ll meet is across the
family to the east. We saw how the old language was losing both
of its /x/s in the word for “red”. Mongolic got rid of middle /x/, paving way
for long vowels. But not everyone erased it from the start. One rare language that preserves it is Daur. It also stands out for another reason. A fifth of its vocabulary has unknown origins,
not Mongolic, not neighbor languages. This drives suspicion that these words derive
from one ancient source, so it gets brought in to help recover this unclear pre-Mongolic
language. Last time I got animated about how efforts
to decipher these two separate scripts are beginning to reveal Khitan. Though hundreds of years older, it has many
related words and features. But it seems parallel to and not part of Mongolic
itself. For one tiny example, the word for “dog” has
a palatal /ɲ/ that is nowhere in Mongolic, even in the earliest Written Mongol. In one northern dialect of Manchu, descendant
of the ancient Jurchen who heavily interacted with pre-Mongolic people, numbers in the teens
sound close to but not quite Mongolic enough to be Mongolic. Other possible, hopeful links are being made
using the brief ancient evidence available to propose the faintest outlines of a Xiānbēi
or Serbi family. Now about this whole branching tree. As the family drifted apart, each member in
its own way, many continuing to be named reflexes of the word “Mongol”, I mentioned that the
branches get messy and bleed into each other. Well then, should we even be describing Mongolic
with a tree at all? Would it be better to talk about waves of
spreading changes, with a wave model? Or maybe an onion model, with a core of Mongol
proper peeling into layers of languages to the west, east and south? However you peel the Mongolic onion, unless
you’re into Altaic, this is as far as we go, and where our journey ends. I haven’t animated one of these expansive
linguistic tours in a while. Let me know what you think, share, rewatch
and enjoy, and stick around and subscribe for language.

98 thoughts on “Mongolic: meet a language family, including Para-Mongolic

  1. Why not a Mongolic tumbleweed? The branches are separate from each other, but they're also entangled and intertwined.

  2. As a – yes – Mongolist who has been living with and working on all this for quite some time, I want to say that there is nothing in this contribution I would feel the urge to complain about. Very well done, please keep up the good work.

  3. Do you know if there is any influence from Mongolic on the nomadic tribes of the North Pole that would have transferred influence on to Northern European languages like Russ and Norse?

  4. I think you focus too much on mongolic languages. You should make video about serbo-croatian or african languages they seem interesting.

  5. Someone mentioned grammatical gender earlier. That made me curious: has anyone ever looked into why a language becomes gendered versus non-gendered? Ive looked into jungian psychology and studied the occult to no small extent, and I can almost grasp what might be causal influences from those perspectives, but I wonder if linguists have dived into that question.

  6. How come Mongolian and finno-ugric languages share the same word for language "kiele, Kel, кель, хэл, хэлэн"…

  7. 5:03 Hoh-hot~ Blue City (of the eternal heaven), the Capital city of Inner Mongolia, PRC…
    Ulaan Bataar~ Red Hero, the Capital City of Mongolia…

  8. I find linguistics fascinating but die to a lack of resources I can’t really explore my interest in it, you video help give me an avenue to explore my interest.

  9. I remember that you did a video about the Caucasus and how it's full of languages there, and I think Taiwan is pretty much as linguistically diverse when it comes to Austronesian languages, it'd be fantastic if you do a video about it

  10. A video idea (that I'm sure you've thought of / had suggested but here we go) – if you you were to assemble a language from the most elegant, expressive, and interesting parts of the many languages you've researched for your videos, what would that language sound like and what would its grammar and writing system look like?

  11. Thank you. You are some kind of super hero when it comes to languages! I love all your videos. I would love if you did a video on Afrikaans, my mother tongue. It should be extremely easy for you, since it's not a complicated language derived from dutch and extremely similar to Belgian (Flaams). PS. Thanks for all the hard work you put in for these videos.

  12. I wonder how many Mongolic sound changes were driven by the needs of calling to each other across a distance on the steppe, or prestige performative forms like throat singing?

  13. This is one of my favourite videos that you've done. A lot of them, while interesting and entertaining, leave me generally unsatisfied and wanting more. The way you dug in and got into the nitty-gritty of the whole family and its history was excellent. I hope you do more videos like this.

  14. Challenge: in a post apocalyptic (corona?) world there is only 100.000 people left in the world from all parts of the world. To help each other they go to the same place but find out communicating across language is hard. To let no one have an advantage it’s decided to let everybody learn a new language. YOU have been appointed to design the new language, it’s nature, it’s attitude to grammar while core of words describing things may be derived from existing languages.

    How would you approach this task? How would you balance the need for people to learn and for this to be a useful language for a blooming society the next thousands of years?

    Would love to see a video where you explore how you would do if you could create one common language for all of humanity.

  15. You made me imagine how to explain this to elementary school kids…I for one would have hated my language classes less. (Love etymology and literature, hate grammar because of strict rules and memorization)

  16. Geweldige video! Zo mag je er zeker nog maken. 😉 (Guess the language, my mothertongue. Probably not too hard.)

  17. Glad to see Khitan get some recognition. A book recommendation if anyone wants to read about it.
    Daniel Kane's The Kitan Language and Script. It can be expensive but in my opinion worth the price.

  18. So what was Genghis Khan's actual name? What did people actually call him when he was alive and held a title that translates to "Universal Khan"?

  19. Another fascinating and educational video. Well done!
    On another matter, would you consider doing a video on the different Tai languages (Thai dialects, Lao etc.) or alternatively the languages of Thailand, Laos and neighbouring countries?

  20. Mongolia announces plans to restore using their traditional alphabet by 2025 and you drop this the day after. Couldn’t be a better time to talk about Mongolian languages!

  21. The change from kaxan to kaan is interesting, because referencing from the Chinese poem, Ballet of Mulan, the word khan is 克汗, pronounced in Mandarin as "kehan" [kɤxan], Cantonese as "hakhon" [hɐk̚hɔn]. This linked up for me personally much more between the Chinese and English pronunciation.

  22. Everytime I see that you've uploaded a new video, I get so hyped up! I never knew that learning about language could go farther than just learning how to communicate with others, and I'm totally here for it! Please continue making these videos, even if it takes awhile. I'll wait as long as it takes!

  23. Hey NativLang, can you make a video about Austronesian languages? Or about Indonesia local languages? Please.

  24. What do you think about the recent news about Mongolia?
    That they want to abandon the Cyrillic writing and go back to "old Mongolic" writing.

  25. Please can u do a video about Albanian?!It is a weird language, a separate branch form all indo-european languages but also has a lot of elements in common with them.

  26. The written Mongol is still written as the ancient period, and yes it is very tricky to read if you are a north Mongolian…

  27. yaaaaaaaaaaas! pls do more! would be nice if you set up a discord as well. I'm a sci-fi writer and I've been dabbling in conlangs, and for various plot reasons I need to make a mongol descendant con lang so I'd love some help on that since I'm an illustrator primarily. I make sci fi comics to be exact. And I wouldn't mind trading in my art skills for some con lang help.

  28. Сайн байна! Би буряад хэлэн һурганаб
    Hello to my mongolian brothers! I am learning Buryat language, I hope we will use it more often in Buryatia.

  29. Remove Turkic loans from your so called "Mongolic" and you left with nothing….
    Kök – Köke – Blue ==== GökTürks……………….

  30. Nice video. Thanks for that.

    I have a several points to disagree although I can't provide you the linguistic backing.

    Mongolian language has "P" sound and we have many words with this sound. However, "F" sound might be introduced recently. I remember at my junior school the teacher tought us F sound/letter as P sound with different way to write. But F sound has already become native.

    Therefore, I would argue how you explained the way Mongolian script is written and read. If you are fluent user of the script like me and thousands more, you would know the role of H/G letters in the middle of the word. There is very logical grammar and explanations.

    Thus, the first letter in the word "Khagan" is pronounced H. Depending on the dialects such as Oirat/Kalmyk, they call it K sometimes.
    We also have separate K, P, and F letters in the classical Mongol writing system.

  31. Greetings from Mongolia! I love how you are studying Mongolian and revealing info that I, even as a Mongol, had not known before (I speak khalkha obviously). Keep up the good work!

  32. RED is ULAN = Улаан, this stays as it is for a long time. We believe it circulates in the Russian language too:
    Galina OF Ulan (Red) becomes Galina Ulan OF-a / OV-a (a – woman).
    Also, Russians may say "Uliyan" = Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov = LENIN ULAN OF = LENIN of RED.

  33. Fascinating ! I love these videos of yours, please go on making them ! Now I'm practicing that suuuper weird L (I though icelandic had the weirdest one, but nope, there are more !)

  34. Old Mongol is Orkhon Turkish which is a Turkic language. I don't understand why Mongol isn't in the Turkic language family

  35. Can you do a video on numerical systems I different languages? I know there are often differences, but I wanna know why

  36. Quite a lot of people believe that the Monguor in Qinghai are direct descendant of Tuyuhun. It may be right at least they named themselves "Tuhun". But the kanguage they are speaking does not show similarity with Huis T inscription but only the f- initial instead of h-. It has chance to be from proto mongolic p- initial. But it still not quite sure.

  37. KOKE =KOK in Turkic. KELE means TELE the language of ( e means. Of) u cant decribe Mongolian with this perspective You should understand that Nayman is 8 ( 8 oguz Turkic people he sat in Kagans Throne most of his army was Turks .buddy great job but without understanding cross study with KOKTURK and MODO ( Mete Kagan ) impossibrl to understand the religion or secrects!!

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