Monday, July 11, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Mongolia

Last Wednesday we looked at the languages of Lithuania, a small country bordering the Baltic Sea. This week, we're focusing on Mongolia, a much larger country sandwiched between Russia and China.

The Official Language

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park in Mongolia.
You might have guessed that the sole official language of Mongolia is Mongolian, which is spoken by about 95% of the country's population. However, you might not be aware that Mongolian doesn't belong to widely known language families like the Sino-Tibetan, Turkic, or Slavic languages. Instead, it is the most widely used language in the Mongolic language family.

Mongolia's second and fourth most spoken languages also belong to the Mongolic family. Many linguists consider them to be distinct languages, but others disagree and state that they are dialects of Mongolian. In any case, over 150,000 Mongolians speak Oirat, primarily in the western areas of the country. Buryat, on the other hand, is spoken by about 45,000 people in northern Mongolia.

Other Languages

As you may have noticed, we skipped over Mongolia's third most spoken native language, which is Kazakh. While Mongolia doesn't border Kazakhstan, they're only separated by about 22 miles of land, so it makes sense that the Turkic language is spoken by over 100,000 Mongolians.

Mongolia is also home to about 35,000 native speakers of Mandarin Chinese, the world's most spoken native language. There are also about 27,000 native speakers of Tuvan, a fascinating Turkic language with influences from Mongolian, Tibetan and Russian, which happens to be the native language of about 4,000 Mongolians.

Last but not least, Mongolia is home to about 1,000 native speakers of Uyghur and Evenki. Uyghur is a Turkic language that is primarily spoken in northwest China, while Evenki is an endangered member of the little-known Tungusic language family.