Mutual Influence of the Manchus and the Mongols in Their Language and Culture

Tana Wu

Mutual Influence of the Manchus and the Mongols in Their Language and Culture

(63rd Annual Meeting Ulaanbaatar, 2021)

The Manchus and the Mongols shared common living environment and mode of production in history. This leads to ideological uniformity, reflected in commonalities of their language and culture: similar means of toponyms serve as a typical example to this; women played a significant role in the political lives of both Manchu and Mongolian reigns. Given strong political and cultural ties between the Manchu and Mongol people in Qing Dynasty, there occurred numerous reciprocal loanwords in Manchu and Mongolian, covering all aspects of social life and culture (mostly material and institutional). Many words relating to animal husbandry or livestock items in Manchu are loanwords from Mongolian in the process of cultural exchanges.

Whereas it is sometimes hard to distinguish cognate words from loanwords, the two languages unarguably borrow loanwords from each other to different extents in particular social contexts, progressing dynamically from Mongolian-predominant period to the interplay period of Manchu-Mongolian. In the former period, the Manchus created their script on the basis of Traditional Mongolian script and borrowed a lot of loanwords into their language system, pertaining to administrative management and military affairs, especially the religious terms, considering the Mongols’ early access to Buddhism–the relevant religious terms borrowed from Sanskrit have become part of the Mongolian lexicon since then; however, in the later period, along with the intermarriage between the Manchus and the Mongols, the Manchu language began to affect Mongolian more than before, so that some kinship terminologies gradually entered the Khorchin dialect, whose usage have remained up till now. Also, there are some commonalities in terms of word formation and morphology in modern Khalkha Mongolian and Manchu. This reveals that language changes must be analyzed in the social context, and the language contact is a product of social development and cultural exchange.

Undeniably, the Manchu language had a strong historical influence upon Mongolian culture. Its spread in the Qing Dynasty has, in a sense, promoted the development of Mongolian, seen from the compilation of Yuzhi Manzhou Menggu Hebi Wenjian (“Imperial Manchu-Mongolian Combination Document”), the earliest Mongolian dictionary in Qing Dynasty. The Mongols living in the early Qing Dynasty had an access to the Confucian classics via the Manchu script. Likewise, some Mongolian literary works are disseminated into Chinese via Manchu.