Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mongolian Language 

In modern China, a Mongolian wedding is actually a Chinese wedding with Mongolian costumes. It pretty much follows the pattern of Chinese weddings I have been to throughout China. If you only attended a wedding, you might be inclined to think that Mongolian culture had pretty much been absorbed by Chinese culture. This is, after all, the history of the Han people. They have always defeated their enemies by absorbing them.

But a closer look gives a more complete picture. In fact, Mongolians growing up in Inner Mongolia go to Mongolian schools where they are taught entirely in Mongolian, except for one hour a day, when they study the Mandarin language. Mongolians in Mongolia (which Chinese Mongolians call "Outer Mongolia") use the Russian script to for their own language, but Chinese Mongolians still use the ancient Mongolian script, sometimes called the "Uyghur Script," because they originally got it from a Uyghur scribe eight hundred years ago at the beginning of the 13th Century.

So there is an entire educational system--elementary school through college--built around the Mongolian language, both spoken and written. And, of course, this necessitates a publishing system also built entirely around the old Mongolian script. Echo's father is a professor, and he gave me a couple books he had written, both using the vertical Mongolian writing system that has been place for almost a millennium.

The result of the government policy is that the Mongolians are native speakers of Mongolian, but also, basically, native speakers of Mandarin. But with two languages to think about, very few of them speak English, unless they (like Echo) have been sent out to study. But another result of this policy is that most Mongolians do not express the same animosity toward the Chinese that you sometimes hear from other minorities. There are exceptions, of course. Last fall I traveled to Inner Mongolia, and met a guy who grew up in a town that did not have very many Mongolians, so he had to go to a Chinese school. He really felt that he had been robbed of his language, and was rather bitter toward the Chinese.

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