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More Mongolia vs Inner Mongolia vocab differences

22 March 2017

Although I have long been aware of vocabulary differences between Mongolia and Inner Mongolia (as covered here and here), it is still something of a shock to realise that everyday terms I know in one variety are hardly used or virtually unknown in the other. On a recent visit to China I was nonplussed when I encountered the following differences at a meal shared with friends in Beijing:

Сүүдэр vs зураг

When we had largely finished eating, one person suggested we take a photo together. The expression she used was Хамтдаа сүүдэр авъя khamtdaa süüder avya. She quickly added that people from Mongolia would normally say Хамтдаа зураг авъя khamtdaa zurag avya. In fact, both Mongolia and Inner Mongolia use the term ᠭᠡᠷᠡᠯ ᠵᠢᠷᠤᠭ гэрэл зураг gerel zurag, literally 'light picture', for a photograph, but it appears that ᠰᠡᠭᠦᠳᠡᠷ сүүдэр süüder, literally 'shadow', is by far the favoured term in Inner Mongolia. This can be easily confirmed by a Google image search, which gets many more relevant hits for ᠰᠡᠭᠦᠳᠡᠷ than for ᠭᠡᠷᠡᠯ ᠵᠢᠷᠣᠭ. On the other hand, сүүдэр is used in Mongolia only in the sense of 'shadow', which a search on "сүүдэр" will quickly confirm. There is plenty of room for confusion on this particular usage.

Богц vs цүнх

At one point the word ᠴᠦᠩᠬᠦ цүнх tsunkh meaning 'bag' (as in handbag, shoulder bag, etc.) came up. One person expressed puzzlement. What is a цүнх? Is it Russian? I quickly recalled the word ᠪᠣᠭᠴᠤ богц bogts that I had encountered here, which resolved the issue. What surprised me, though, was that an Inner Mongolian speaker was totally unfamiliar with the word цүнх, which is the normal term in Mongolia. Богц is not unknown in Mongolia, but is more likely to be used in the sense of a horse's saddlebag. Young Mongolian city dwellers might not know the term at all.

Тушаах vs төлөх

The next surprise came when we went to pay the bill. I used the verb ᠲᠥᠯᠦᠬᠦ төлөх tölökh meaning 'to pay', only to be informed that this sounded very strange since it had the meaning 'to pay compensation'. The correct term was ᠲᠤᠰᠢᠶᠠᠬᠤ тушаах tushaakh (as in зоос тушаах zoos tushaakh, 'to pay money'). This struck me as an odd usage. I was familiar with тушаах only in the meaning 'to instruct, to order'. I later found out that тушаах has a number of possible meanings, including 'to deliver, to put in charge of, to charge with, to order; to instruct; to entrust (to someone); to pay'. But in Mongolia the sense of 'to order, to instruct' is by far the predominant one. Tушаах in the sense of 'to pay' is an official usage found in official documents but seldom used in everyday life. The following shots are from a receipt for monies paid in Mongolia.

төлбөр
Төлбөр (from төлөх) meaning 'payment'

тушаагч
Тушаагч (from тушаах) meaning 'payer'

Upon returning to Mongolia, I was able to confirm that the Inner Mongolian usages were largely unknown in Mongolia.

The differences themselves did not totally surprise me. What surprised me was that speakers on both sides of the political boundary seemed to be largely unaware of usages on the other side. This is almost certainly the result of a lack of interchange over a very long period of time. Although it would be easy enough for speakers to become familiar with usages on the other side, through media, personal interaction, etc., this is simply not happening. The two varieties continue their divergent paths, unchecked by the familiarity that interaction might bring.


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