The Relation of Written Oirat and Written Mongol: Inherited Elements, Innovations and Recording an Oral Tradition in Writing
(63rd Annual Meeting Ulaanbaatar, 2021)
The Clear script invented by Zaya Pandita Namkhaijamtso (1599–1662) in 1648 is obviously a reformed variant of the Mongol script, aiming the improvement of the alphabet by more precise indication of sounds and elimination of certain positional variants. The underlying language of the texts written in this Clear script (called here Written Oirat) is less obvious: some authors assume that it reflects an Oirat variety, others emphasize its common Mongolian character or the “artificial” elements. In fact, texts written in the Clear script according to the way of Zaya Pandita’s literary tradition have no special relation to Oirat, but much more to Written Mongol and its reading in those times: Zaya Pandita’s written language is basically the recording of the reading (or one of the readings) of Written Mongol texts as it was in use in the 17th century. The reading of Written Mongol texts (how these texts were read aloud) was different depending on various factors (context, genre, literary tradition, etc.), has been changed a lot during the times, and definitely it was not the same as the contemporary spoken language. Those contemporary sources of Mongolian language that had been recorded using writing systems other than the Mongol script (Soyombo, Tibetan, Manchu, Cyrillic, etc.) may shed some light on the actual features of this reading which played an essential role in the formation of Zaya Pandita’s written language. Of course, Written Oirat is also a primary source for the reconstruction of this reading or at least the variety that was used by Zaya Pandita’s school.
The presentation deals with the features of Written Oirat inherited from Written Mongol and its 17th-century reading, outlining parallels from contemporary and later sources, and also from the surviving elements of this tradition in the modern times. Describes certain characteristic features of Written Oirat that can be explained on the basis of Written Mongol, and those that have different origin.