Turkish names used by the medieval Mongols as shown by the ‘Secret History of the Mongols’

Rodica Pop

Turkish names used by the medieval Mongols as shown by the ‘Secret History of the Mongols’

(63rd Annual Meeting Ulaanbaatar, 2021)

The famous Cinggiskhanide saga reflects the profound changes that took place on Mongolian soil at the beginning of 13th century, those of scattered tribes transformed into a glorious nation, a nomadic empire.

The texture of the chronicle is unique, at a crossroad of several genres. The language of the chronicle is distinguished by a great freedom of construction, which brings it closer to the current spoken language and especially to the Mongol dialects born from the medieval ones. Thus, A. Mostaert in his 1953 study (Sur quelques passages de l Histoire secrete des Mongols) proposes the critical translation of certain controversial passages using the Mongol dialects Ordos, Kalmuck and Buryat. Among the more than 3500 terms and about a thousand proper names (names of people, tribes, groups, names of places), a certain number are not attested anywhere else and continue to raise the questions of specialists.

Reference will be made to the French translation of the Secret History of the Mongols1, the first edition in which the proper names are translated because most often have a meaning. The task was difficult, and still many etymologies are not sure. The difficulty of the translation is due either to the ambiguity of the Mongolian writing of the original manuscript or the copyist errors, the ignorance of the Chinese transcribers and the method of the syllabic transcription (each Mongolian syllable was replaced with a Chinese character). Another difficulty has to do with the origin of proper names. If most of the terms are Mongolian, a significant number come from Old Turkish, and to a lesser extent from Chinese and Tungusic languages. The large number of terms of Turkish origin is due to the geographical, linguistic, and cultural proximity of the Turkish and Mongolian peoples so that it is not always possible to distinguish them from each other, hence the epithet “Turkish-Mongol”. The article will refer to the names of persons and places of Turkish origin, mentioned in the 12 chapters of the Mongolian text.

1 Histoire secrete des Mongols. Traduit présenté et annoté par. M-D. Even et R. Pop. Gallimard, Paris (1993) 2007.