Large Mongolian-Korean dictionary released

Photo of the Mongolian-Korean dictionary

Dankook University’s Mongolian Research Institute has released what is being called the world’s largest Mongolian dictionary (actually a Mongolian–Korean dictionary), the 몽한대사전.

The two-volume work, which was more than ten years in the making, has some 85,000 headwords and more than 3,000 pages.

단국대, 15년만에 세계 최대 몽골어 사전 ‘몽한대사전’ 편찬, Donga Ilbo, April 5, 2023.

Huzhu Mongghul and Minhe Mangghuer

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is an enormous work (almost 300 pages) on the languages of the Huzhu Mongghul and Minhe Mangghuer, who are known in China by the Mandarin name of Tǔzú (土族).

Some of the material was written for a television program, part of which is available online, which means that people can listen to native speakers reading the texts!

The Huzhu Mongghul and Minhe Mangghuer language materials presented here are from Huzhu Mongghul Autonomous County and Minhe Hui and Mangghuer Autonomous County in eastern Qinghai Province, the People’s Republic of China. Other Monguor areas, that is Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County, Gansu Province and, in Qinghai, Datong Hui and Mongghul Autonomous County and Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, are not represented. We employ “Mangghuer” to refer to Minhe Monguor and “Mongghul” to refer to Monguor residents of Huzhu, for these are the terms the people themselves employ. When we are unsure how people refer to themselves, we use “Monguor,” which we also employ as a collective term to refer to all those classified as “Tu” by the Chinese government in the 1950s.

The material is in the form of the alphabet, numbers, and the calendar; 300 sentences rendered in English, Huzhu Mongghul and Minhe Mangghuer; 900 sentences in English and Minhe Mangghuer; Huzhu Mongghul readings, language points, the text of a television program that taught English in Huzhu Mongghul in Huzhu County and a word list.

The Mongghul/Mangghuer materials are given in a modified Chinese pinyin….

The dictionary at the back of the work is larger and more comprehensive than might be expected. Here are some sample entries:

  • frontier — jiixan
  • frost — xuutira, {SHOUDIERE}
  • froth — kusizi, {MOMOZI}
  • fruit — alimaa, {ALIMA, AMULA}
  • fry — tuusila qina, {TUOSILA CHINA}
  • fuck — mule, {MULI}
  • fuel — shdajin, shdaghua, {XIDAKUNI, GHAR JIALAKUNI}
  • fulfill — banki, gi, {GE}
  • full — diuri, {DURAN, YIGUA}
  • fumigate — funiidigha, {XUNKE}
  • fun — natigu, {NADUJI} (to make fun of)
  • funeral — rgai, {ERGU}
  • fur — ghuasi, {ARASI}
  • fury — ruari, {SHUGUO WERKURJIANG}
  • future — huina, {NINSA KHUONO}

Here’s the link to the SPP 69: Language Materials of China’s Monguor Minority: Huzhu Mongghul and Minhe Mangghuer (15 MB PDF).

The video, which is a massive 528 MB, begins with lesson 26, no. 98 (SPP p. 152, PDF p. 166), and stops abruptly about two-thirds of the way through no. 110 (SPP p. 159, PDF p. 173).

Here are a few internal points of reference in the video:

  • no. 100, p. 153, begins at 5:36
  • no. 103, lesson 27, p. 155, begins at 21:30
  • no 105, p. 156, begins at 29:50
  • no 109, lesson 28, p. 158, begins at 44:50

More of the video may be available later.

Folklore, society, and shamanism of China’s Dagur minority

Last week’s free rerelease of Sino-Platonic Papers detailed the language of the Dagur (Dawo’er, Dáwò’ěrzú, 達斡爾族, 达斡尔族). This week’s rerelease is a companion volume: China’s Dagur Minority: Society, Shamanism, and Folklore (11.4 MB PDF), by Kevin Stuart, Li Xuewei, and Shelear.

This is a book-length work, filled with folktales (in English only) and all sorts of information.

The table of contents is available as a quick-loading Web page for those who would like to check that before downloading the whole work.

This issue of Sino-Platonic Papers was first published in December 1994.

Dagur (Dawo’er) grammar and sample sentences

This week’s rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Introduction, Grammar, and Sample Sentences for Dagur (1.6 MB PDF), by Üjiyediin Chuluu (Chaolu Wu).

Dagur, which is related to Mongolian, is spoken by the Dagur (a.k.a. Dawo’er, Dáwò’ěrzú, 達斡爾族, 达斡尔族), who live mainly in China in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

The Dagur language belongs to the Mongolic branch of Altaic languages. Dagur is usually divided into Butkha, Tsitsikar, Hailar, and Xinjiang, four dialects….

Since there is a close historical and linguistic relationship between the Dagur and the Mongols, there has been a dispute about whether Dagur is a dialect of Mongolian or an independent language within the Mongolian languages. In the recent studies, Dagur has been mostly regarded as one of the Mongolian languages. Dagur has many similarities in phonetics, grammatical structure, and vocabulary with the other languages of the Mongolian languages, especially, with Mongolian itself.

Most of the vowels in Dagur have similar corresponding vowels in either classical or modern Mongolian. For example….

The sample sentences (268 in total) are given with IPA and English translation.

This issue of Sino-Platonic Papers was first published in November 1994.

Chinglish International Airport?

In what many view as a long-overdue move, Taiwan’s government has removed the name of Chiang Kai-shek, the island’s one-time dictator, from the title of the country’s main international airport. What has been reported as the new English name, however, is a bit strained in that the country’s name precedes the county/city name.

  English Pinyin Hanzi
old Chiang Kai-shek International Airport Zhōngzhèng Guójì
new Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Táiwān Táoyuán Guójì

In Mandarin, there’s nothing tremendously odd about using “Taiwan Taoyuan.” In English, however, it’s a completely different story.

exact phrase romanization no. of results in Google
Taoyuan Taiwan   241,000
Taiwan Taoyuan   42,400
臺灣桃園 Taiwan Taoyuan 43,200
台灣桃園 Taiwan Taoyuan 220,000
total for 臺灣桃園
and 台灣桃園
桃園臺灣 Taoyuan Taiwan 5,720
桃園台灣 Taoyuan Taiwan 461
for 桃園臺灣 and 桃園台灣

Almost all of the examples in English of “Taiwan Taoyuan” have punctuation (stronger than a comma, that is) or new lines separating the words, so running the two names together in that order is less common than the Google result implies, as most English speakers know intuitively.

“Taiwan Taoyuan,” when used in English, reminds me of nothing so much as the annoying term “Chinese Taipei” (Zhonghua Taibei / 中華台北). This name represents the international kissing of Beijing’s ass diplomatic solution worked out so Taiwan’s teams can participate in international sporting events without China throwing too much of a hissyfit. (We we still get some of those anyway, of course.)

Since using anything along the lines of “Chinese Taipei” would be anathema to the present administration in Taiwan, what’s going on with the new name for the airport? The logical name would probably be simply “Taoyuan International Airport,” the airport being in Taoyuan County rather than Taipei County. But outside of Taiwan, who has ever heard of Taoyuan? (That’s probably just as well for Taiwan, because much of Taoyuan is downright ugly.) And, anyway, I think that those deciding on the new name regarded adding “Taiwan” and taking out “Chiang Kai-shek” as the top priorities.

Of course, it could be worse. Some in the KMT have called for the name to be changed to “Taiwan Taoyuan Chiang Kai-shek International Airport.” Ugh.

However, the code letters for the airport, TPE and RCTP, will not be changed. These are both rooted in the Wade-Giles romanization system, under which we have Taipei (properly T’ai-pei) rather than Taibei.

Fortunately for all concerned, both “Taoyuan” and “Taiwan” are examples of names spelled the same in most romanization systems. So, at least in this case, the current administration’s attachment to the Tongyong Pinyin romanization system won’t lead to further international embarrassment.

I spoke earlier today with someone at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, who informed me that although the Mandarin name of the airport was now officially Táiwān Táoyuán Guójì Jīchǎng, the English name has yet to be set by the Ministry of Education. So it’s possible the English name could change.

Anyone want to play Name That Airport? I’m more than half serious. The authorities here no doubt need some help with this. (Even though Taoyuan is one of the ugliest places in Taiwan, let’s keep this nice.)

Oh, in case anyone’s puzzled that “Chiang Kai-shek” and “Zhōngzhèng” don’t look much like each other or even have the same number of syllables, the reason is that Zhōngzhèng is a sort of assumed name, not the name by which he was known to his family, which in Mandarin is Ji?ng Jièshí (???). For more on this see the names section of the Wikipedia article on Chiang Kai-shek. (Me linking to a Wikipedia article? There’s a first time for everything, I guess.)


the Santa/Dongxiang

Several stories have come out in the past couple of weeks on the Santa (or Sarta), reportedly the least literate of China’s 56 official “national minorities.” They’re more often referred to as the “Dongxiang,” a Mandarin name that has been applied to them by the Han.

The stories are interesting in themselves. But I was struck most by an odd detail:

In grammar school, the curriculum is in Chinese and many kids drop out. Government statistics show that the average person in Dongxiang has only 1.1 years of schooling. Because of the cost, many families never even send children to school, particularly daughters….

The challenge of trying to teach Chinese to Dongxiang children has attracted international aid groups to Dongxiang. The British government is funding a large training program for teachers.

Another pilot program, funded by the U.S.-based Ford Foundation, has created a bilingual curriculum using a Dongxiang-Chinese dictionary developed by Chen and other scholars. That program has already produced a jump in test scores but is currently in search of more funding.

British and American groups go to China to help teach Mandarin to people there? That can’t be right, can it?

I looked on the Ford Foundation’s Web site. The foundation’s unit on education, sexuality, and religion (?!) gave a US$30,000 grant in 2004 “for a pilot project using bilingual education in Dongxiang language and standard Chinese to reduce school drop-out rates.” So I think what’s happening is that the Western groups are helping expand education in Santa rather than in Mandarin, at least for a few years, since the latter language is what teachers had been teaching in.

For years, many Chinese scholars assumed the Dongxiang descended from the Mongol soldiers in Genghis Khan’s army who eventually settled in Gansu during the 13th century, when the Mongols ruled China under the Yuan dynasty. But their exact origins were never fully known, an uncertainty that fed an inferiority complex.

“A man once asked me, ‘Where do the Dongxiang come from?'” said Ma Zhiyong, a historian who grew up in the county but moved to the provincial capital, Lanzhou, as a teenager. “I was 18 or 19 and couldn’t answer the question. I was ashamed.”

Ma decided to look for an answer. Over several years, he scoured research libraries in Gansu, talked to other scholars and studied old maps. He found that some Dongxiang villages shared names with places in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan. He also found shared customs: He said peasants in Uzbekistan and Dongxiang both learn to cut a slaughtered chicken into 13 pieces. And he observed that Dongxiang people described themselves as “sarta” — a term that once referred to Muslim traders in Central Asia.

He concluded that the story about Khan’s army was only half right. Some of the Dongxiang ancestors were Mongol soldiers. But many others were a diverse group of Middle Eastern and Central Asian craftsmen conscripted into the Mongol army during Khan’s famed western campaign. They brought several languages and many brought a strong belief in Islam. Ma concluded that generations of intermarriage, including with local Han Chinese and Tibetans, resulted in a new ethnic group and language.

The language, if a source of pride, is also blamed for Dongxiang’s educational shortcomings. The language is oral, so children never learn to read or write in their native tongue.

Hundreds of millions of people in China never learn to read or write in their native tongue. Instead, the Han Chinese are told they’re speaking merely a “dialect” and so must learn to read and write Mandarin. And everybody else is supposed to learn to read and write Mandarin, too.

Here’s part of the section on Santa from Robert Ramsey’s ever-useful The Languages of China:

The Santa language resembles its relative Dagur in many respects. It has preserved the initial h‘s of Middle Mongolian: hulan ‘red.’ (But long vowels have become short, as the originally long a in the second syllable of this word has done.) And, like Dagur, Santa has progressed noticeably toward an “open syllable” kind of structure — but by a slightly different process. Many consonants that once closed syllables, including r, have been lost in Santa. For example, Middle Mongolian bulag ‘spring’ has become bula; marghasi ‘tomorrow’ has become magashi. The consonants -l and -m have changed to -n. The result of these changes is that n is now the only consonant that closes syllables. In Santa the front vowels ö and ü have changed in pronunciation and are now not distinguished from o and u. Vowel harmony has been lost in the language. In Santa syntax, the genitive and the accusative are marked with the same particle.

More than likely, many of the changes that have taken place in Santa can be attributed to the centuries of contact that the speakers of this language have had with northern Chinese groups. The tendency toward an open syllable is typical of the Mandarin dialects, as is the change of final -m to -n. One particularly striking adaption to Chinese is the hybrid construction made in Santa using the Chinese copula shi ‘is.’ This copula is put into the sentence in Chinese syntactic order, between the nouns being equated; but the old Mongolian copula is also kept, appearing in its usual position at the end of the sentence. The result is a strange double-copula construction that is neither Chinese nor quite Mongolian. Here are two examples (the Chinese copula is given in small capitals):

Ene ki̵wan shi kienni we.
this youth is whose is
‘Whose boy is this?’
Bi kieliesen kun shi ene we.
I spoke person is this is
‘The person I was talking about is this one.’

Around 30 percent of the Santa vocabulary is reported to be borrowed from Chinese.

For more examples, see the final link below:


pushing Mandarin in Xinjiang preschools

Mandarin (a.k.a. Putonghua) will be pushed even in nursery schools in rural Xinjiang, according to an article originally in the South China Morning Post. Money is being offered to those who participate in the program. It’s interesting, too, that this comes at a time when lots of education officials in China have been complaining that nursery schools in the Han parts of China have been offering too much language instruction, especially in terms of literacy.

Also, in primary and secondary schools Mandarin will be used for the teaching of math and science, while the local languages will be used for humanities courses. This is somewhat similar to the situation in Malaysia, where English is used for math and science but not necessarily for other subjects. The attitudes toward the native languages of these respective areas, however, are very different.

Note, too, that few teachers in the area are capable of teaching in Mandarin. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Starting this year, children from seven agricultural prefectures in Xinjiang will start learning Putonghua in nursery schools to strengthen the hold of the national language in the autonomous region.

The move is part of an ongoing effort to implement what the government calls a “bilingual” education system in primary and secondary schools. Putonghua is to be the medium of instruction for mathematics and science, while minority languages such as Uygur will continue to be used in humanities classes.

Xinhua quoted Deputy Secretary Nuer Baikeli as saying the only way to solve the problem and improve the quality of education was to start from the “golden period” -toddlers.

To entice pre-schoolers and teachers to join the programme, students will receive a subsidy of 1.5 yuan a day and teachers 400 yuan a month.

According to the PRC’s statistics, the per capita income of farmers and herdsmen in Xinjiang is about 2,300 yuan per year. Elementary school teachers in Xinjiang make about 1,200 yuan per month. So, relatively speaking, we’re talking about a lot of money as an incentive.

The subsidies will not be offered for bilingual education in primary and secondary schools.

The policy has raised questions about the survival of the native culture of Xinjiang, where the largest ethnic group are the Uygurs (45 per cent), followed by Han (41 per cent) and Kazakhs (7 per cent).

“This is a well-planned strategy by the Chinese government to permanently assimilate the Uygur people into the Chinese culture or dilute the Uygur culture,” said Nury Turkel, president of the Uyghur American Association, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC.

“The Uygur language is one of the most important compositions of the Uygur culture. Taking away that right would create another type of Uygur culture.”

About 70 per cent of schools in the region are ethnic minority schools, which -until recently -started teaching Putonghua as a second language in the third grade. The other 30 per cent teach all classes in Putonghua and introduce English as a second language in the third grade.

Ma Wenhua, deputy director of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Education Department, said the goal was to implement bilingual teaching in all minority schools so students would speak fluent Putonghua when they finished secondary school.

“We plan to have all minority schools use bilingual teaching from the first grade in 10 to 20 years,” he told the South China Morning Post. “We think that if these children are not fluent in Putonghua, it could affect their job opportunities. It would also be difficult for them to continue their education.”

The only thing that was stopping the government from moving faster was a lack of qualified teachers, Mr Ma said. Most ethnic minority teachers do not know enough Putonghua to teach in that medium.

Mr Ma estimated that only 5 per cent of ethnic minority primary schools had started teaching in Putonghua. The level of participation varied depending on the number of qualified teachers.

One teacher from an ethnic minority school in Urumqi said her school planned to start teaching mathematics in Putonghua next year.

Most teachers did not know Putonghua and had started training in the language.

The teacher would not say whether she thought bilingual education was better.

“We’ll have to see how it goes,” she said.

China: Mandarin Introduced in Uygur Nursery Schools, South China Morning Post (via the BBC via another site), February 2, 2006

traditional Mongolian script & the digital era

The traditional Mongolian script, which was officially abandoned in the 1940s in favor of the Cyrillic alphabet, has been making something of a comeback, though the Roman alphabet still seems to be winning the debate in Mongolia over which script should be used there in the future.

The National University of Mongolia and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology have been working with Unesco support to develop “e-tools” for the text processing of traditional Mongolian script. “The universities chose to forego the earliest version of the script in favor of the most ‘recent’ one,” according to a Unesco story. (I hope someone can write a comment elaborating on this.)

One result of this project is a database comprising 55,000 words in traditional Mongolian script and Mongolian Cyrillic.

Four volumes of the “Primary World Orthography Dictionary” are ready for publication. Together with spell check software for the script, the team is now finalizing several digitized types of traditional script and genuine Unicode-compatible open-type fonts.

source: Revival of traditional Mongolian script through e-tools

en Français: Les outils électroniques font renaître l’écriture mongole traditionnelle

This site to convert Mongolian Cyrillic to Mongolian Uighurjin (variant name for the traditional Mongolian script) should prove of interest. (Note: It’s not fully functional yet. But I’m adding the link in the hope that the site will be up and running before long.)