Mongol Scripts

by Luigi Kapaj (in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai)


The number of languages covered in the study of Mongol history can leave a linguist feeling like a kid in a candy store. But what is more intriguing is the plethora of writing systems involved. The spread and evolution of scripts takes a very different path than that of languages and is most colorful in the history of the Mongol language. About a dozen different scripts have been used to write Mongolian alone including almost every major type of writing system in use today. Aside from Mongol, the variety of cultures they have had contact with, who have often written historical chronicles involving Mongols, is as vast as Asia with nearly every one having its own languages with corresponding scripts.

Scripts Used To Write Mongolian

Herein is listed some 11 different scripts that have been used to write the Mongol language during the past 800 years from the days of Chinggis Khaan until the present day. The section for each script contains an example of the word "Mongol" in that script along with a brief history of its usage. Many have scans from Mongolian books that chart how the symbols are used compared against another script such as Latin, Cyrillic or Tibetan and have links to more information where available. The examples are my own attempt at reconstructing the script from the information provided.1

Uighur Script / Classical Mongol Script / Old Script
Mongol Bichig

Mongol This phonemic alphabet was adapted in 1204 from the alphabet used by the Uighur tribe at the time. This alphabet has survived numerous attempts at replacement and is still used in Mongolia, as well as Mongol inhabited territories controlled by China and Russia, today. It remains a primary script among Inner Mongolians in China, while Mongolians from other regions primarily use Cyrillic letters but often learn this script as part of their cultural heritage.

For a thorough explanation of the usage of this script, please visit the full article "Writing Mongol in Uighur Script":

Folded Script

Mongol This script was used as early as the mid 13th century as a stylistic variation of Uighur Script. It is still used in modern Mongolia on occasional signs and books.
Folded Script   Folded Script
Figure 1. Folded Script 2   Figure 2. Folded Script Digits ?

Phags Pa Script / Square Script
Pagva Bichig / Dörvöljin Bichig

Mongol Invented in 1269 by Phags Pa Lama for Khubilai Khan, this script was adopted for official documents in the Yuan dynasty. The letters of this syllabic alphabet are based on his native Tibetan script but contain other influences such as being written vertically like the Uighur Script and grouped into syllables like Khitan Small Script. This script was intended to be a universal script for all languages spoken in the Mongol Empire including Mongol, Arabic, Tibetan, Chinese, Sanskrit and Turkic. It did not replace the traditional writing systems of the respective peoples and ceased being used in 1368 with the fall of the Yuan dynasty. Also transcribed "hPags-Pa".
Phags Pa Script 1 Phags Pa Script 2 Phags Pa Script 3
Figure 3. Phags Pa A Figure 4. Phags Pa B Figure 5. Phags Pa C 3
More information about Phags Pa:
Phags-Pa font:

Clear Script
Tod Bichig

Mongol This alphabet, developed in 1648 by Zaya Pandit Namhaijamts (1599-1662), was intended mainly for Oriat but also for Mongol, Samgard, Tibetan and Sanskrit. This is based on the Classical Mongol Script with ambiguous letters, such as 'O' and 'U', differentiated to be more clear cut. This was used by Oirats in the region between the Ijil River, Ezen River and Kökö Lake. It is still used today by Oirats in Shinjaan.
Clear Script
Figure 6. Clear Script

Soyombo Script
Soyombo Bichig

Mongol This syllabary was developed by (Buddhist) Saint Zanabazar in 1686. The name means "Self developed Holy Letters" in Samgard. It was intended to accommodate Mongol, Samgard, Tibetan and for transcribing foreign words. It is typically written from left to right but can be written from top to bottom. Soyombo never widely caught on because it was too difficult to use. Though it has seen some regular use in official capacities such as official seals. It also became a focus of national pride under Bogd Khaan. It's most lasting legacy is the initial symbol of the script being incorporated into the flag of Mongolia. Though this symbol has its origins before this script's invention, it is now called the "Soyombo" symbol. 90 of the 96 letters are shown below.
Soyombo Script 1 Soyombo Script 2
Figure 7. Soyombo A Figure 8. Soyombo B 5
More information about Soyombo:
Soyombo font:

Horizontal Square Script
Hevtee Dörvöljin Üseg

Mongol Another syllabary developed by (Buddhist) Saint Zanabazar around the same time as Soyombo. It contains some influence of the Korean Script (Hunmin chong'um). It is written from left to right and can be used for Mongol, Samgard and Tibetan. Since its rediscovery in 1801, it's actual usage remains unknown.
Horizontal Square Script
Figure 9. Horizontal Square Script

Vaghintara Script
Vagindragiin Üseg

Mongol This alphabetic script was developed in 1905 by a Buryat monk named Agwan-Dorji (1850-1938) as a variation of Uighur Script with less ambiguity. A notable change in this alphabet is that the letters no longer have three different forms. Rather a single form, based on the Medial of the Old Mongol Script, is used regardless of position in the word. The name of this script is based on the Sanskrit translation of the inventor's first name. It was intended to accommodate transcribing Russian words as well. Its use is limited to about ten books printed until 1910 when financial problems prevented him from continuing to promote the alphabet.
Vaghintara Script 1 Vaghintara Script 2
Figure 10. Vaghintara Script Figure 11. Vaghintara Script 7

Latin Alphabet

Mongol The earliest known use of Latin letters to write Mongol is with the transcription of Mongol words into the journals of the European travelers in the 13th century such as John Plano of Carpini, William of Rubrick, and later Marco Polo. An attempt was made to develop a system of using Latin letters for Buryat between 1921 and 1931, when it was implemented. But it was short lived as it was replaced by Cyrillic in 1937 under Russian influence. Mongolia also officially adopted the Latin alphabet on February 1st, 1941 but then annulled the law two months later, on March 25th, as it did not cover all the sounds in Mongol and proved too difficult to utilize. Around this time, Khazakhs living in Mongolia used Latin letters as well. Since Mongolia's dissolution of Communism in 1990 resulting in greater contact with the West, combined with the explosion of Internet usage, Latin letters have seen increased usage, though a standard system remains elusive for both western scholars and Mongols alike.

Cyrillic Alphabet

Mongol The Cyrillic alphabet used for Mongolian is directly based on the Russian alphabet with the addition of two vowels derived from Old Cyrillic. It is said that Stalin got upset with the plethora of alphabets used by the various Russian territories acquired in their Tsarist colonial days, including Buryatia, Georgia and Armenia, as well as the satellite nations added in the early days of the Soviet Union. So he mandated that people under his control use Cyrillic for their respective languages. Cyrillic, with special additions tailored to Buryat Mongol, was adopted in Buryatia in 1937, and officially in Mongolia on May 9th, 1941, but was not implemented there until the beginning of 1946. In 1942, Mongolian Khazakhs were also required to use Cyrillic. It is still the primary alphabet for writing Mongolic languages today, outside of Inner Mongolia.

Figure 12. Cyrillic

Chinese Characters
Khitad Bichig


Before the 13th century, Mongolian was not a written language. So when documents needed to be written in the early days of the Mongol Empire, they were done so by administrators, incorporated into the Mongol domain from neighboring cultures, who used their native writing systems. Chinese were among these administrators, and documents such as "The Secret History of the Mongols" were written phonetically in Chinese logograms. There are, perhaps, some 500 characters that actually comprised the syllabary used for this purpose.

Arabic & Persian Scripts
Arav Bichig

Mongol During the height of the Empire of the 13th to 14th centuries, many of the administrators, such as Juvayni, were from the Middle East and employed these abjads, or consonant alphabets, as their primary scripts for writing documents.

Scripts Used By Other Central Asian Nomadic Tribes8

This section covers the other major Ural-Altaic nomadic and semi nomadic tribes from Central Asia. Where known, the examples still spell "Mongol", or its closest equivelent, for a direct comparison with other scripts.

Protomongolian Script ?
Övög Mongolchuudin Üceg Bichig ?

Hun / Hsing-nu:
Stamp Letters
A pictoral, possibly logographic script, used for this Uralic language was found in caves in the Govi-Altai Aimag by Prof. Rinchen as well as on about 60 to 70 Hun Tombstones.

A syllabic alphabet created for this Sino-Tibetan language in the 7th century by Thon-mi Sambhota based on Devanagari and still in use today.

Uighur is a Turkic language still spoken in Central Asia which has used several different alphabets over the centuries all derived from alphabets of people they traded with towards the Middle East.

Khitan: (Liao dynasty 916-1125, Khara Khitai - Marco Polo's Cathay)
Large Script and Small Script
Ihe Bichig and Bagha Bichig
An extinct Altaic language, probably from the Mongolic branch, that used two scripts simultaneously, referred to as "Large Script" and "Small Script", developed in 920 and 925 respectively. The former is a logographic script based on Chinese characters, and the latter, developed by a Khitan scholar named Diela, is a syllabic script influenced in part by Uighur with characters for each syllable combined into word groups. Used until 1191.

Developed by Teacher Iri in 1037 and used until the 16th century for an extinct Sino-Tibetan language known as Hsihsia. Uses logographic characters loosely based on the Chinese and Khitan scripts.

Jurchen: (Jin dynasty, 1115-1234)10
Monggu Jurchi Script / Southern Tungusic
Developed by Wanyan Xiyin in 1120 and somewhat based on Khitan. This also had a Large Script and Small Script with the latter developed in 1138. Used for this Tungusic language until at least 1413.

Manchu: (Tai Ch'ing or Qing dynasty, 1644-1911)
Manj Bichig
Mongol Created in 1599, this syllabic alphabet was derived from the Classical Mongol Script for this Altaic language of the Tungusic branch. This script was modified in 1632 with influence of the Korean Script (Hunmin Chong'um). It continued to be used after the fall of the Tai Ch'ing dynasty in 1911. There are now about twenty one thousand fluent speakers of Manchu remaining.

Other Scripts

There were many other scripts utilized in the Mongol Empire for languages spoken by people in their domain. These include Indo-European languages such as Russian, Bulgarian, and Armenian in addition to languages of other families such as Georgian and Hungarian/Magyar. A detailed review of these languages and their corresponding scripts is beyond the scope of this article. There is, however, one script that is worthy of mention in this context.

Hunmin Chong'um (Korean name)
The modern Korean Script named Hunmin Chong'um, which can be translated as "The Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People", is a phonetic alphabet with letters of each syllable grouped into a character referred to as a "Syllabic Unit". It was invented in the reign of King Sejong The Great (1397-1450), the fourth king of the Choson dynasty (1392-1910). The Korean language is loosely considered an Altaic language much the same as Japanese. The Korean Script contains elements of most East Asian scripts including Khitan Small Script, Mongol Script, Phags Pa Script, and Tibetan. It has also influenced scripts such as Manchu and Horizontal Square Script.


Language Groups (spoken)
Language Groups (spoken)

Writing Systems Evolution
Writing Systems Evolution

Writing Systems Spread
Writing Systems Spread


11 scripts spanning 800 years for just one language and somehow this article feels incomplete. Even so with information on scripts used by related tribes and their languages. This started as a way to put some information out for the lesser known Mongol scripts that have been in use and quickly turned into a catalogue of all the scripts with some basic historical information for each. I have never seen a complete listing such as this in English before. Rather it has always been tidbits tucked away in the corner of some book that focused on other issues. Or where one did spend a chapter on the different alphabets, the chapter was in Mongol. As I am not fluent enough in the language to conduct such studies independently, I must pause here to give my thanks to Mendsaikhan Baigalsaikhan for translating sections of books I could not get through on my own. It seems every time I dig through a new source, I find some related fact that the others didn't cover so I expect this page may get updated several times before it is truly finished. I may even get around to writing more elaborate articles on the use of these scripts such as the one I already have for the Classical Mongol Script. None the less, the information provided here is sufficient for a person with enough patience and determination, as well as some knack for puzzles, to make use of several of the different writing systems covered here as I have done for the examples.



1 The Chinese Logograms are from The Secret History of the Mongols. All other scriptings of "Mongol" are deciphered from the corresponding documentation with the exception of Uighur Script, which is addressed in more detail in a previous article on this site, and Cyrillic, which is widely known as it is the current standard.

2 From Mongolin Khuuchin Bichgiin Tsagaan Tolgoi Zov Bichih Dürem.

3 From Mongolin Khuuchin Bichgiin Tsagaan Tolgoi Zov Bichih Dürem.

4 From Mongolchuudin Üseg Bichig, Üg Hellegiin Tüüh Garlaas.

5 From Mongolin Khuuchin Bichgiin Tsagaan Tolgoi Zov Bichih Dürem.

6 From Mongolin Khuuchin Bichgiin Tsagaan Tolgoi Zov Bichih Dürem.

7 From Mongolchuudin Üseg Bichig, Üg Hellegiin Tüüh Garlaas.

8 Information in this section based largely on the corresponding links, primarily Omniglot. Except for the section on the Hun which is from Mongolchuudiin Utgha Soyoliin Tovchoon.

9 The example here spells "Uighur" instead of "Mongol". As this is the same alphabet as the initial example in this article, here is compared a diffferent word. Note the spelling U - i - i - gh - u - r to distinguish U - i from Ü.

10 Jurchen script for Monggu (Mongolians) from Vocabulary-Personal section of


Ager, Simon. Omniglot - A Guide To Writing Systems. 1998-2002. (1 October 2002)

Batbayar, Jalair. Mongol Uran Bichlegiin Tuuh. Ulaanbaatar: Interpress Hevleliin Kompanid Hevlev, 2001 (ISBN 99929-70-46-4)

Calvo, Wenceslao. Alfabetos De Ayer Y De Hoy. 1999. (1 October 2002)

Choijilsüren, D. Mongolin Khuuchin Bichgiin Tsagaan Tolgoi Zov Bichih Dürem. edited by Kh. Luvsanbadlan, G. Nasanbuyan & J. Amgalan. Ulaghanbaghatur Khota, Mongolian People's Republic: Academy of Science Publisher, 1978 (no ISBN)

Cleaves, Francis W. The Secret History of the Mongols. Cambridge; London: Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1982 (ISBN 0-674-79670-5)

Golden, Peter B. The King's Dictionary. The Rasulid Hexaglot: Fourteenth Century Vocabularies in Arabic, Persian, Turkic, Greek, Armenian and Mongol. Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill, 2000 (ISBN 90-04-11769-5)

Jurchenlang. 2002. (1 October 2002)

Kapaj, Luigi. Writing Mongol in Uighur Script. 2002. (1 October 2002)

Katsiavriades, Kryss. KryssTal: Languages and Linguistics. 2002. (1 October 2002)

Lo, Lawrence K. 2002. (1 October 2002)

Luvsanbaldan, Kh. & Ts. Shagdarsüren. Mongolchuudin Üseg Bichig, Üg Hellegiin Tüüh Garlaas. edited by Ts. Ölziihtag. Ulaanbaatar: Center for Language Publishing, 1986 (no ISBN)

Poppe, Nicholas. Mongolian Language Handbook. Washington, D. C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1970 (ISBN 87281-003-8)

Shagdarsürüng, Tseveliin. A Study of the Relationship Between the Korean and the Mongolian Scripts. Mongolian Studies, Journal of the Mongolia society, Vol XXV. pp.59-84. Bloomington, Indiana: The Mongolia Society, 2002 (ISBN 910980-95-0)

Shagdarsuren, Tseveliin. The Mongolian Language and Scripts. 1999. (1 October 2002)

Shagdarsüren, Ts. Mongolchuudiin Utgha Soyoliin Tovchoon. Ulaanbaatar: Erdem Company, 1991 (no ISBN)

© 2002-2003, by Luigi Kapaj, in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai (Puppy)
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