Mongolian script is the script that was traditionally used to write Mongolian. It has remained in continuous use in Inner Mongolia (in China), although the language itself coexists with Mandarin Chinese there, but in the separate country of Mongolia the script used has been Cyrillic since the 1940s. By 2025, the government of Mongolia aspires to have the Mongolian script back in official use again.
Mongolian script is written vertically, with lines flowing from top to bottom, and the lines themselves to be read from left to right. In my opinion the script is very pretty, with words generally having a central column with flourishes out to the sides (the flourishes being the letter forms). It has 34 letters: seven vowels, 21 “core consonants”, and six consonants used in writing foreign names and words. Its letters change form depending on their position, and there are also a huge number of ligatures. Mongolian script descends from the Old Uyghur alphabet, which itself comes from Sogdian, which in turn derives from Aramaic. The alphabet used to write Manchu is an adaption of Mongolian script for that language (and shares the same character block in Unicode).
There are a number of issues currently with trying to type in Mongolian script on computers. The Unicode standard is pretty bad; my understanding is that the biggest issue is that, for some reason, they decided not to use the different letter forms as the defined characters, but the underlying phonetic representation of the letter forms. An analogy might be if Unicode didn’t just have a single character “a”, but had multiples of “a” depending on whether the letter was pronounced like /æ/ like in “cat”, /ɐː/ like in “bath”, /ɛɪ/ like in “name”, etc. The upshot is that word pairs like “ordu” and “urtu”, and “ada” and “ende”, are written identically, but require different sequences of Unicode characters to spell. A compounding issue stems from Mongolian letters taking different forms in different positions (like in the Arabic alphabet), and Unicode somehow disregarding this. (I think the issue is that Unicode applied Arabic-like positional rules (assigning isolate, initial, medial and final forms), but Mongolian script’s rules are more complicated than this.) Thus there are Unicode characters whose sole purpose is to change the form of the previous character. And the end result of that is that many Mongolian speakers don’t actually spell words “correctly”, but type any sequence of characters that gets them to a correct-looking final word.
Then there have also been issues with various Mongolian script fonts. Before Unicode came out with its own standard for Mongolian, there was the Menksoft IME, which used Unicode’s Private Use Areas and assigned Mongolian characters to that character space; users who had the correct software installed would be able to see those characters as Mongolian letters. With the release of Windows Vista in 2007, Mongolian fonts that (supposedly) adhered to the Unicode standard started coming out, except that they were full of errors. Microsoft’s original “Mongolian Baiti” font required people to type words incorrectly in order for them to display correctly, and other fonts released at this time followed Microsoft’s lead. Menksoft released some correctly-built fonts in 2013, but so many people were already used to typing with the quirks required to make things display right in the preexisting fonts, that now their texts displayed incorrectly in the correct font. Plus, some browsers/computer systems incorrectly display Mongolian rotated 90° clockwise, as a right-to-left script.
See Also / References
- Reddit post on /r/Mongolia: Issues with Mongol script encoding.
- Revision ID 1082990892 of Wikipedia article: Mongolian script (at time of writing, the current version of the page deleted everything about the technical issues composing/displaying Mongolian text on computers)
- Wikipedia article: Mongolian (Unicode block)
- (PDF) A Study of Traditional Mongolian Script Encodings and Rendering: Use of Unicode in OpenType fonts by Biligsaikhan Batjargal, Garmaabazar Khaltarkhuu, Fuminori Kimura, and Akira Maeda
- (PDF) Current problems in the Mongolian text encoding by Liang Hai (archived on Wayback Machine)