The proximity between the Middle Mongol and Classical Manchu languages as typologically, ethnohistorically and areally motivated
(53rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC, St. Petersburg 2010)
Exploring Mongolian texts of the so-called Middle Mongolian period (XIII–XV centuries) and those belonging to the Classical Manchu, we discovered a striking resemblance between the two languages in many respects including the formation of their information structures.
These structures possess an impressive number of special topic markers historically originated from verbal infinite forms, i.e. temporal and conditional converbs as well as certain participles. All these verbal forms derived from the existential verbs and those having the meaning of verbum dicendi.
The proximity between the two languages can be typologically, ethnohistorically and areally motivated. Sharing certain typological features with the languages of the Altaic family, Middle Mongol and Classical Manchu reveal the high level of topicality. On the other hand, both languages show their closeness to Japanese and Korean, which are considered subject and topic-prominent languages.
The early stages of historical relationships between Mongol and Manchu peoples as well as languages spoken by them, can be traced from ancient times. Within our framework, ethnohistorical analysis of two powerful ethnic systems, i.e. the Jurchens and the Mongols, who had appeared on the turn of the X–XI century, should be viewed as most important.
The Jurchens can be seen as a result of a long process of ethnological genesis of proto-Tungusic tribes until the most profound of them had created the Jin Empire in Northeast China (aka Manchuria) (1115-1234). Being multiethnic conglomeration, the Jin khanate welded the Jurchens as a core, and various Tungusic tribes as well as ethnically and linguistically different population, viz. the Mongols, Koreans, Chinese and ancient Khitans. The Mongols have been under the Jurchens’ suzerainty for 100 years until the Jin state fell under attacks by the former. Subsequently, that heterogeneous ethnic population had underlain the foundation of the Qing Empire of the Manchus on the territory of China (1644–1911). From the very beginning, some Manchu federations were heavily influenced by the Mongols, and marriage relations were crucial for tribes’ leaders. Inheriting their language from the Jurchens, the Manchus borrowed syllabic Mongolian script, but later transformed it into phonetic. In the Qing state there were five official languages in use; viz. Chinese, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan, and Chagatai (Turkic).
The Yuan dynasty of the Mongols, which ruled China from 1279 till 1368, also should be seen as a result of a complicated process of ethnological genesis of numerous nomadic tribes which occupied the Great Steppe in the X–XI century until they had been united under the leadership of Genghis Khan (1206). He began to standardize a big variety of the Mongolic dialects within a single language (known now as Middle Mongol). The Mongolian script, borrowed from the Turkic Uigurs, later had been greatly elaborated by the Mongols.
Northeast Asia, the place where the Mongol state had emerged, partially coincided with the Western Manchuria, the area of political and territorial influence of the Jin Empire of the Juschens. More widely, Middle Mongol, Jurchens, and later Classical Manchu, were spoken in Far-eastern region where some languages possessed similar linguistic features, including grammatically marked topic.