Friday, October 15, 2021

After its almost extinction, the Mongolian font is back in focus

The Mongolian alphabet, which is one of the rare fonts that is read vertically, is witnessing a new interest in Mongolia after its origin is almost extinct, in response to a new educational policy pursued by the Chinese neighbor.

The story begins in a class in Ulan Bator, when a student was turning their notebooks 90 degrees at the time of the transition from the Mongolian language to Karelian, adopted during the Soviet era in the 1930s.

The teacher writes letters on the board from top to bottom and left to right, in front of a group of adults and children who want to learn an alphabet, at least dating back to the reign of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mughal Empire, in the twelfth century. And they came under the impulse, with a set of motives, of educational reform in the region of Inner Mongolia in neighboring China, which requires the teaching of some important subjects in Mandarin at the expense of Mongolian.

This reform sparked protests at the start of the school year in this region inhabited by about 4.5 million Mongolians (less than 20% of the total population of China, but more than Mongolia’s estimated population of 3 million).

“I am very sorry for what happened in Inner Mongolia,” says 46-year-old Toghtokhjargal Batugtuk, revealing that she also feels that she is “targeted” by this reform. “It is precisely for this reason that I want to encourage others to learn our alphabet,” she adds.

This decision sparked a demonstration in the capital Ulan Bator last September, during a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and the slogan “Let us defend our language” rose in the main square in the Mongolian capital, where about a hundred demonstrators gathered.

A matter of identity

Following these protests, the teacher, Patbelig Lakhvapatar, decided to offer these classes free of charge, and said, “We live in an era of rapid change and globalization and there is no time for people to think about identity issues.”

He added, “But I have come to notice that students pay more attention to patriotic values, and they want to defend letters that our people have used for more than a thousand years.”

Although the government supported the adoption of the traditional writing line known as “Hodom”, which was forgotten during the era of the pro-Soviet regime that collapsed in the early 1990s, this writing style remained the preserve of linguists and a small minority of those who had advanced in age, and Cyrillic still covered up to Quite the signs spread in the capital’s streets.

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