Mongolian as a Lingua franca: Documents sent from Russia to Khalkha Mongolia during the Qing period in the Mongolian National Central Archives
(65th Meeting Astana, 2023)
The relationship between the Qing dynasty and Russian Empire is one of the important factors for understanding the situation in Central Eurasia. Extensive effort has been put into studying the relations. In cross-border communications, it is important what language is used as the lingua franca. Several earlier studies have indicated the languages of the communications between central governments. However, it remains largely unknown the languages of local-level communications. For example, the communication between Khalkha Mongolia and Siberia.
M151 fond in the Mongolian National Central Archives contains documents sent from Siberia (commandants of Selenginsk, governors of Irkutsk, officers at the border, etc.) to Khalkha Mongolia (Tusheet khan, grand ministers superintendent of Khuree, officers at the border, etc.), written in Russian, Mongolian, and Manchu languages in 18th and 19th centuries. The contents of the documents are the return of people and livestock moving across the border, the dispatch of Russian missionaries and students to Beijing, sending of diplomatic documents between central governments, cross-border trade, travel documents, and so on. These documents, which were hardly used in previous research, are necessary to reveal local-level communications.
Here, we confirm that the Mongolian language was mainly used in cross-border communications from the 18th to the early 20th century, using M151 documents and other sources accessorily. Most of the Russian documents in M151 were sent together with Mongolian translations. The messengers delivering the documents from Russia were Mongolian language interpreters or officers with interpreters. When Russian language interpreters were needed at Khalkha Mongolia, such as questioned illegal immigrants who could not speak Mongolian but could speak Russian, they were recruited from the public.