Mongolian by Janhunen, Juha A.

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By Janhunen, Juha A.

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In this function, Mongolian has for some ethnic groups replaced Manchu, the former regional language in many parts of Manchuria and northern Inner Mongolia. However, as a language of school education Mongolian has today to compete increasingly often with Chinese, and the latter seems to be gaining in prestige, which means that a growing number of parents representing the local non-Mongol ethnic groups are enrolling their children in Chinese schools. This, in turn, is undermining the position of Mongolian as a second, third, or regional language for the populations concerned.

Since bilingualism is today particularly common among the Mongols in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China, it may occasionally also be manifested in the introduction of even other non-native (Chinese) phonological patterns into Mongolian speech, but such cases are best understood as examples of code switching, rather than structural interference. Historically, the labial strong stop (p) and the labial glide (w), though today nativized in all dialects, are also secondary phonemes introduced mainly via loanwords (especially from Chinese and Tibetan), a circumstance that is still visible in their relatively limited distribution.

The crucial issue concerns the rules of syllabification, or, more exactly, the status of the qualitatively neutral vowel (e) in non-initial syllables. If the neutral vowel is analysed as equal to zero (Ø), Mongolian will turn out to have a large variety of complex consonant clusters with an, in principle, unlimited number of members and including geminates (sequences of two identical consonants). If, however, the actual syllabification present at least at the phonetic level, is taken as the basis, most of the clusters will be resolved into sequences of a consonant and a vowel.

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