The language of Genghis Khan

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"What Genghis Khan's Mongolian Sounded Like – and how we know" (10/30/18)

This is actually our second look at this presentation, but when I viewed it this time, I saw so many different things that it seemed worthy of going through again.  The first posting of this video was in "Let's learn some Mongolian language and history" (5/1/19).  That time when I posted it, I spent most of my energy comparing Mongolian with Manchu.  My approach today will be quite different.

This is a delightful and highly instructive introduction to the Mongolic language family.  My favorite moments include seeing a photograph of Palladius Kafarov (1817-1878), a Russian Orthodox monk and Sinologist who rediscovered The Secret History of the Mongols in China during the mid-1800s and reading the words from the translation of The Secret History of my teacher, Francis Woodman Cleaves (1911-1995), "When Chinggis Qahan made a decree, he made a decree saying…".  It was also a treat to contemplate Juha Janhunen's conception of a "linguistic bottleneck" between Para-Mongolic, Kitan, dialects (Naiman?), and Turkic influence (qaghan, baghataghur, Tngri, ulus..) before Genghis and Modern Mongolic languages after him.  But my favorite moment of all is learning the echoic expression "mori mari", since I have been preoccupied with the importance of the horse in human history for more than half a century, and have maintained that mori морь ("horse") is cognate with English "mare" and Chinese "mǎ 馬".


From Middle English mare, mere, from Old English mīere (“female horse, mare”), from Proto-Germanic *marhijō (“female horse”) (compare Scots mere, meir, mear (“mare”), North Frisian mar (“mare, horse”), West Frisian merje (“mare”), Dutch merrie (“mare”), Danish mær (“mare”), Swedish märr (“mare”), Icelandic meri (“mare”), German Mähre (“decrepit old horse”)), from *marhaz (“horse”) (compare Old English mearh).  (source)



    1. marshal from Old French mareschal, from Frankish *marha-skalkaz, horse-servant (*skalkaz, servant).
    2. mare1 from Old English mere, miere, mare, from Germanic feminine *marhjōn-.

[Pokorny marko- 700.]

American Heritage Dictionary of English, Appendix of Indo-European roots.

mǎ 馬

Old Sinitic

Baxter–Sagart: /*mˤraʔ/

Zhengzhang): /*mraːʔ/

For your further edification on Mongolian, see:

"Mongolic: meet a language family, including Para-Mongolic" (3/20/20)

Here are some additional NativLang presentations:

What Ancient Egyptian Sounded Like – and how we know          

What Etruscan Sounded Like – and how we know           

The Languages of Siberia           

The Ainu language – short history, plus a note about last speakers and pandemics          

Altaic: Rise and Fall of a Linguistic Hypothesis           

The Caucasus: Mountains Full of Languages           

Cuneiform Hand-Me-Downs – how Sumerian outlived its speakers           

Gvprtskvni – how is this even a word, Georgian!?          

Irish Words Can Mutate!          

Weird Phonemes – pronouncing the world's rarest sounds          

How Interpreters Helped Topple the Aztec Empire           

And there are many others from NativLang.


Selected readings


[Thanks to Hiroshi Kumamoto]


  1. John Swindle said,

    December 1, 2020 @ 7:01 pm

    Does modern Mongolian морь also means "sea"? Google Translate thinks so. Remember also Russian море, Latin mare, French mer, Spanish mar, German Meer, English mere (noun). What's with seas and horses?

  2. cyberiagirl said,

    December 3, 2020 @ 5:14 am

    My Mongolian teachers always went for dalai/далай or tengis/тэнгис for sea/ocean. (This was in Ulaanbaatar, khalkh Mongol.)

  3. John Swindle said,

    December 3, 2020 @ 7:17 am

    @cyberiagirl: Right, thanks.

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