Classical Mongolian

Classical Mongolian. By Alice Sárközi. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. 61. ISBN 3895868590. $51.80.

Reviewed by Joshua Ross, SIL International

Written Mongolian has never been spoken in this form, but has been the literary language for all the Mongols. Classical Mongolian presents a short grammar of Written Mongolian.

The first of six sections gives a brief outline of the history and usage of Classical Written Mongolian, as well as an outline of the different types of text that may be regarded as source material for research. The section concludes with a list of previous studies. The second section details the phonology, looking at the vowels and consonants, where they may occur in words, and which combinations are not used. Vowel harmony is also discussed, including the two forms of k/q and g/γ used with front and back vowels, respectively.

The third section, the main body of the book, examines the morphology. After detailing the agglutinative nature of Written Mongolian, there is a subsection discussing nominal morphology. The foundations for this are laid with the morphology of nouns. Adjectives, being essentially the same as nouns, are dealt with very quickly, and then a detailed analysis of pronouns and numerals is presented. The subsection concludes with a description of adverbs, which, formed from nouns, pronouns, or numerals, follow the earlier material, and postpositions. Each in turn is enumerated using tables to succinctly give easily referenced detail. The rest of the section is dedicated to verbs and verbal adverbs. The suffixes dealing with tense, aspect, and mood are all considered.

The syntax of Classical Mongolian is dealt with in the fourth section. Since suffixes and particles are dealt with in the third section, this is a fairly brief introduction to the main sentence types found in Classical Mongolian. The survey starts with indicative and interrogative sentences, outlining the general word and phrase order, and then turns to detailing how complex sentences may be built up. The section then concludes with a look at the parts of a sentence.

Two sample texts, ‘The history of Geser Kahn’ and ‘Altan tobči “The golden button” ’, are given in the fifth section. They are helpfully interlinearized, with a free translation given afterwards. A copy of these texts in the Mongolian script is given in the appendices.

Classical Mongolian ends with an extremely short section (six lines) on the script and its development. There is also an appendix giving the script together with the transcriptions used in the body of the book; there is no discussion about the ambiguities in the script, however, nor about which cases are resolvable from vowel harmony and which require a knowledge of the lexemes.

This short volume makes a good reference for Classical Written Mongolian. It is clearly organized and finding the relevant material is made easy by the well laid out table of contents. Although it is not within the remit of the volume to make comparisons with modern dialects of Mongolian, it still provides a good basis for such an undertaking.