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Top 5 Quirks of Mongolian Language


       Mongolian Language is one of the least studied, most fascinating, unique, and intriguing languages out there.  All learners will have their ups and downs: moments of satisfaction at finally understanding the DIFFERENT CASES, plateaus of frustration where you feel as if you are not progressing, and sheer disbelief at some of the bizarre aspects of this special language.  One thing is certain however: Mongolian Language has its quirks.  For a light hearted break from studying Mongolian, we have compiled some of these oddities for you.  Apart from being intrigued, you may improve your Mongolian as well!  Enjoy!     

#5 Za Ma, Piv Miv

Cartoon Za Ma Nomiin Ger

This has got to be one of the most beloved of all the tricks Mongolian Language has to offer.  To sum up quickly, this is a fun rhyming device that is used by Mongolians on a daily basis to express the concept of ‘et cetra’ or ‘and that kind of stuff’.  To perform this, all you need to do, is say a word, and then follow it up with the same word but with the first letter switched to ‘M’.  For example, ‘What do we need to get at the store for the party tonight Khishge?’, ‘Oh you know, just piv miv, chips mips….’.  Or ‘Hey Amaa, who is gonna be at the party tonight?’, ‘Oh you know, Zaya, Maya’, meaning Zaya and that crowd of people.  So if a Mongolian asks you what you did last weekend, you can now respond, ‘Oh you know, whiskey, miskey…‘.


One question you may ask is, ‘What if the word already starts with an ‘M’?’.  For example, you want to express that you got meat and similar items at the market.  You would then say that you got, ‘mah (meat), zah‘.  So within this rhyming scheme, if the word starts with ‘M’, the first letter will then switch to ‘Z’ instead.  This trick is quite easy, and Mongolians will be impressed with your Mongolian skills, mills. 

#4 What do Mongolian Animals Say?

Cartoon Mongolian Dog Sounds Nomiin Ger
cartoon chicken noise sound go go nomiin ger

Maybe you knew, or maybe you didn’t, but in different countries animals don’t always say the same things.  Or do they?  Here is a look at what some of the animals in Mongolia say:


DOG: Хав хав (how how!)

CHICKEN: Го го го (gaw gaw!)

COW: Үмбүү үмбүү (umbuu umbuu!)

HORSE: Ийхоо ийхоо (eehoo eehoo!)  That sounds like a donkey?!

FROG: Вааг вааг (waag waag!)

FOX: ?


Can you find some more?

#3 The Notorious 'Л'

Screen Shot 2021 02 19 at 7.43.30 PM How to pronounce the Mongolian ‘L’ sound?  If your first time hearing the Mongolian alphabet was through a recording, like some learners, you may have been listening, repeating, and following along quite smoothly, until a sudden ‘blip’ in the recording following the letter ‘L’ interrupted your flow.  Perhaps thinking this was a mistake in the recording (we have known many students who have), you may have played the track back a couple times and wondered why there was this strange utterance tacked on to the end of a ‘normal’ sounding ‘L’ /l/.  As it turns out, this is a sound that (mostly) only exists in a few major languages, the two main ones being Mongolian and Welsh (the Welsh ‘Ll’).

This can be very frustrating for the beginning learner, as the first word they may want to learn is how to say ‘thank you’ in Mongolian, which contains two of these ‘Л‘.  Just click on the link in the previous sentence if you want help with that by the way.  However, in sum, this is known as a lateral fricative, expressed as /ɮ/ in IPA.


If you don’t have time to watch the above video: a simple tip on how to pronounce the Mongolian L (Л): hold your tongue as you would to pronounce /l/ and blow air out of both sides of your tongue as you say the /l/ sound.  If you are blowing the air out of both sides (laterals) of the tongue with the middle passage for air being blocked by the tongue itself, congratulations, you have executed a lateral fricative!

It may be difficult, but with some practice, we are confident that you will get the hang of it.  If you are still feeling sad, just remember, at least Mongolian isn’t a tonal language!  

Lastly, one point of interest; don’t be surprised if you find Inner Mongolians who do not pronounce their Л like this, as many of them pronounce it similarly to the English ‘L’.  This and other interesting differences in the dialects of ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Mongolia, stem from a history of separation from one another.  Let us know if you find any other interesting tidbits! GoodЛuck!                  


#2 Do Mongolians speak like Yoda?

The sentence structure of Mongolian is quite different from that of English, and from many Romance Languages as well, that is SVO (Subject Verb Object), for the most part. For example: ‘She drinks coffee’.  However, in Mongolian, the Object and the Verb are switched, making the structure become SOV (Subject Object Verb), for example: ‘I movie theater go.’  To many English speakers, this sounds backwards, and many students will indeed comment that Mongolian is spoken as Yoda from Star Wars speaks.  Let’s take a look and see if this checks out:
The first thing to note is that the Verb is always at the end of the sentence.  That’s right! No matter how long a sentence is in Mongolian, the verb will always
be at the end. Sometimes you may be waiting and waiting to see what the subject in the sentence is doing, so it could be quite frustrating. For example:
Би англи хэл, испани хэл, франц хэл, япон хэл мэдэхгүй. I, English, Spanish, French, and Japanese… can’t speak. In this example someone was listing many languages and you might assume they would end by saying that they know all of these. But as it turns out, the last word was the Verb medexgui (don’t know), so actually the speaker knows none of these languages, but we didn’t know until the very last word!
There are a few languages that share this structure, including Korean and Japanese.  But back to the important question, ‘Do Mongolians Speak like Yoda’?  In fact, although Yoda often ends his sentences with Verbs, as the Mongolian sentence structure does, the answer is: NO.  This assertion isn’t entirely accurate.  To share some of Yoda’s wisdom we must remember some quotes of his, including: ‘The greatest teacher, failure is.‘ (OSV) and ‘Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.‘  Indeed many of these quotes have the Verb at the end, but as we notice, Yoda’s structure changes and is not always consistent; he often speaks with the object before the subject, unlike Mongolian.  If he took lessons at Nomiin Ger, he could perhaps acheive greater consistency in sentence structure.  If not, inconsistent, his language structure shall remain.

#1 Darth Vader Breathing

Screen Shot 2021 02 19 at 7.27.04 PM
This is one of the most interesting and useful quirks of Mongolian Language.  Simple and beautiful (perhaps to some), the many ways in which to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, offering affirmation and opposition can be just delightful.  So again, we go back to Star Wars, for some reason.
There are many ways to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in Mongolian.  For example ‘Tiim/Ugui‘ are the ‘official’ ways, but there are shortened versions as well.  ‘Tii tii/Guu Guu’ would be the next step.  But the most impressive by far are two utterances (one meaning YES and one meaning NO), which, when paired together, sound, according to some expats and students, like Darth Vader.    ‘Txxxx [Tchhh]’, and ‘Gkxx [Khhh]’. Thus by alternatively saying ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in this way, you may sound like Darth Vader breathing in and out.  It only takes a little bit of practice, and it is quite worth it to master these.  We have a video to help you with this on our Youtube ChannelOr you can click on the video directly below!

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