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
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?
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!)
Can you find some more?
#3 The Notorious 'Л'
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!