Mongolians have used a number of scripts in their history. Each era produced its own script The Huns and Kidans each developed distinctive forms of writing. Then there was the classical Mongolian script, the square script, the clear script, the vagindra script, and the soyombo script. Nowadays the Cyrillic alphabet is used across Mongolia, though the classical Mongolian scriptwhich is still used in Inner Mongolia is being revived in Mongolia.
The classical script is written from the top of the page downwards. The oldest example of this script has been preserved is the so called Chingis Stone on display in St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum. The script was engraved as early as 1225 and was an eulogy to the fearless archer Esughe, who shot a single arrow 600 meters. The classical Mongolian script (also known as the old Mongolian alphabet) was a landmark in the development of written language in Central Asia.
In 1260, the Tibetan Pagba Lama designed a new script on the request of Ghingis Khaan’s grandson, Khubilai Khaan. This new script was described as square and borrowed its characters from the Tibetan alphabet Despite Khubilai Khaan’s declaration that all Mongolians should learn the alphabet his subjects continued to use the classical Mongol script” which they simply found more convenient.
In 1648, the Oirad scholar Zaya Pandita Namkhaijamts designed the clear script Based on the western Mongolian Oirad dialect it was never widely used.
In the 1700s, Mongolians first theocratic ruler the Living Buddha Zanabazar created the Soyombo script Ittoofailed to gain widespread acceptance by the masses. But the first letter of this alphabet remains the national symbol of Mongolia and decorates the hational flag to this day. Very few Mongolian books in this script have been preserved and these are highly valuable as historical and literature monuments. The word Soyombo derives from the Sanskrit “svayambkhu”. “ Svayam” is translated as “self”, and “bkhu”- “to give birth light”. The combined word means “light that is born of itself”, and metaphorically “freedom for all times”.
Mongolian people regarded this script as a symbol of their national independence and sovereignty. Soyombo was a syllabic script with about ninety elegant letters. They could be written both vertically and horizontally. The soyombo script could be to write or transcribe words and terms of many foreign languages, especially Sanskrit and Tibetian. The alphabet proposed by Zanabazar was not adopted by the people at large but only by the lamas. It was short lived, but many of its printed and written monuments have been preserved.
In 1941, a new 35-letter alphabet based on the Russian Cyrillic alphabet was introduced to Mongolia by the ruling communist party. It proved a modem alphabet that matched fairly closely Mongolian pronunciation.