Transformations of Language and Thought Reflected in Mongolia‘s Constitutions Since 1924

Oliver Corff

Transformations of Language and Thought Reflected in Mongolia‘s Constitutions Since 1924

(63rd Annual Meeting Ulaanbaatar, 2021)

After a prolonged period under Manchu rule, Mongolia became independent in 1911. In 1921, the Mongolian Revolution broke out, but it took three years until the Mongolian People‘s Republic (MPR) was proclaimed in 1924. The first constitution of the young state was promulgated on November 26, 1924. During the lifetime of the MPR, the constitution underwent major revisions, at times tantamount to a complete rewrite, in the years 1940, 1949, 1957, 1960 and 1973. After the end of Soviet bloc, Mongolia reconstituted herself as a republic, with a new constitution promulgated in 1992.

Over approx. 70 years, structure, form and ideas of the constitution were subject to fundamental change, but similarly profound changes can be observed in the lexicon and grammar of the constitutional texts. Changes in lexicon reflect the influence of foreign ideas and concepts as well as Mongolian efforts to translate these terms into Mongolian; an example is the translation of the term socialism which, in the constitution of 1924, is translated as neyigem jirum, literally social rule, while communism is rendered as eb qamtu-yin yosu jirum, literally the rule of common means [of production], and the non-capitalist way is körüngge busu jam, again a literal translation. Only in later years, the Russian forms of these words are accepted into the Mongolian lexicon as foreign words.

Major changes can be observed in grammar. While the text of the 1924 constitution uses verb forms which are typical for Classical written Mongolian, e.g. the finite verb ending –umui, the whole verb paradigm shifts gradually towards contemporary usage. The use of particles (anu, inu etc.) is reduced, which also holds true for the negation word ülü.

The continuum of 70 years of constitutional texts provides an excellent opportunity to study the change of Mongolian legal resp. Constitutional language use because the register and style of the texts remains essentially unchanged, with the elimination of these factors allowing for a higher accuracy of analysis.