|Mongolia; Inner Mongolia, Buryatia, Kalmykia (Russia) and Herat (Afghanistan)|
|Linguistic classification||Khitan–Mongolic? (see below)|
Otherwise one of the world's primary language families
Geographic distribution of the Mongolic languages
The Mongolic languages are a group of languages spoken in East-Central Asia, mostly in Mongolia and surrounding areas plus in Kalmykia and Buryatia. The best-known member of this language family, Mongolian, is the primary language of most of the residents of Mongolia and the Mongolian residents of Inner Mongolia, with an estimated 5.7+ million speakers.
The closest relatives of the Mongolic languages appear to be the extinct Khitan and Tuyuhun languages. Some linguists have grouped Mongolic with Turkic, Tungusic, and possibly Koreanic and Japonic as part of the controversial Altaic family.
The stages of Historical Mongolic are:
Contemporary Mongolic languages are classified as follows.
Alexander Vovin (2007) identifies the extinct Tabγač or Tuoba language as a Mongolic language. However, Chen (2005) argues that Tuoba (Tabγač) was a Turkic language. Vovin (2018) suggests that the Ruanruan language of the Rouran Khaganate was a Mongolic language, close but not identical to Middle Mongolian.
The classification and numbers of speakers above follow Janhunen (2006) except for Southern Mongolic, which follows Nugteren (2011). In another classificational approach, there is a tendency to call Central Mongolian a language consisting of Mongolian proper, Oirat and Buryat, while Ordos (and implicitly also Khamnigan) is seen as a variety of Mongolian proper. Within Mongolian proper, they then draw a distinction between Khalkha on the one hand and Southern Mongolian (containing everything else) on the other hand. A less common subdivision of Central Mongolic is to divide it into a Central dialect (Khalkha, Chakhar, Ordos), an Eastern dialect (Kharchin, Khorchin), a Western dialect (Oirat, Kalmyk), and a Northern dialect (consisting of two Buryat varieties). The broader delimitation of Mongolian may be based on mutual intelligibility, but an analysis based on a tree diagram such as the one above faces other problems because of the close contacts between, for example, Buryat and Khalkha Mongols during history, thus creating or preserving a dialect continuum. Another problem lies in the sheer comparability of terminology, as Western linguists use language and dialect, while Mongolian linguists use the Grimmian trichotomy language (kele), dialect (nutuγ-un ayalγu) and Mundart (aman ayalγu).
Rybatzki (2003: 388-389) recognizes the following 6 areal subgroups of Mongolic.
Pre-Proto-Mongolic is the name for the stage of Mongolic that precedes Proto-Mongolic.
Proto-Mongolic can be clearly identified chronologically with the language spoken by the Mongols during Genghis Khan's early expansion in the 1200-1210s.
Pre-Proto-Mongolic, by contrast, is a continuum that stretches back indefinitely in time. It is divided into Early Pre-Proto-Mongolic and Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic. Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic refers to the Mongolic spoken a few centuries before Proto-Mongolic by the Mongols and neighboring tribes like the Merkits and Keraits. Certain archaic words and features in Written Mongol go back past Proto-Mongolic to Late Pre-Proto-Mongolic (Janhunen 2006).
Pre-Proto-Mongolic has borrowed various words from Turkic languages.
In the case of Early Pre-Proto-Mongolic, certain loanwords in the Mongolic languages point to early contact with Oghur (Pre-Proto-Bulgaric) Turkic, also known as r-Turkic. These loanwords precede Common Turkic (z-Turkic) loanwords and include:
The above words are thought to have been borrowed from Oghur Turkic during the time of the Xiongnu.
Later Turkic peoples in Mongolia all spoke forms of Common Turkic (z-Turkic) as opposed to Oghur (Bulgharic) Turkic, which withdrew to the west in the 4th century. The Chuvash language, spoken by 1 million people in European Russia, is the only living representative of Oghur Turkic which split from Common Turkic around the 1st century CE.
Words in Mongolic like dayir (brown, Common Turkic yagiz) and nidurga (fist, Common Turkic yudruk) with initial *d and *n versus Common Turkic *y are sufficiently archaic to indicate loans from an earlier stage of Oghur (Pre-Proto-Bulgaric). This is because Chuvash and Common Turkic do not differ in these features despite differing fundamentally in rhotacism-lambdacism (Janhunen 2006). Oghur tribes lived in the Mongolian borderlands before the 5th century, and provided Oghur loanwords to Early Pre-Proto-Mongolic before Common Turkic loanwords.
Proto-Mongolic, the ancestor language of the modern Mongolic languages, is very close to Middle Mongol, the language spoken at the time of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Most features of modern Mongolic languages can thus be reconstructed from Middle Mongol. An exception would be the voice suffix like -caga- 'do together', which can be reconstructed from the modern languages but is not attested in Middle Mongol.
The languages of the historical Donghu, Wuhuan, and Xianbei peoples might have been related to Proto-Mongolic. For Tabghach, the language of the founders of the Northern Wei dynasty for which the surviving evidence is very sparse, and Khitan, for which evidence exists that is written in the two Khitan scripts which have as yet not been fully deciphered, a direct affiliation to Mongolic can now be taken to be most likely or even demonstrated.
Juha Janhunen (2006) classified the Khitan language into the "Para-Mongolic" family, meaning that it is related to the Mongolic languages as a sister group, rather than as a direct descendant of Proto-Mongolic. Alexander Vovin (2017) has also identified several possible loanwords from Koreanic languages into the Khitan language.