Pronunciation of the basic sounds is important to get a grasp on at the beginning of our language study. It isn’t easy to distinguish and reproduce these new sounds, but we will have a much better communication experience in the future if we can master them now.
There doesn’t seem to be any standard way of romanizing the Mongolian sounds with English letters, so we will be using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to represent them. (The IPA symbols that are used here are the same as in the Mongolian in Seven Weeks textbook. Linguistically speaking, not all of the symbols used are strictly accurate, but as long as we are consistent with ourselves we can learn to pronounce the sounds accurately.) A few of the symbols may look strange at first but you should get used to them fairly quickly. Remember, don’t assume that you know what a letter should say. Learn the pronunciation by listening to and repeating our teachers.
The first seven vowels below are the seven basic vowels of Mongolian. (See the section on Mongolian writing.)
|ɑ||ɑːb (father), ʧɑg (time)|
|ə||təgəːd (then), dəːr (before)|
|i||ʃin (new), ʧiniː (your)|
|ɔ||tɔm (big), mɔŋgə̌l|
|ʊ||bʊruː (wrong), sʊː (sit)|
|o||oːr (other), ondə̌g (egg)|
|u||juː (what), səruːn (cool)|
|æ||sæn (good), ʧæː (tea)|
|e||ərə̌gteː (male), ugue (not)|
|œ||œːms (socks), mœr (horse)|
It should also be noted that /i/ is sometimes also pronounced /ɪ/ (the sound in the English word “sit”), but we will just use one symbol for both sounds.
Long Vowels vs. Short Vowels
The length of the vowel sound matters in Mongolian. It can change the meaning of a word. Listen to the difference between long and short vowel sounds.
|ʧɑːs (paper)||ʧɑs (snow)|
|dəːr (above)||dər (pillow)|
|biːr (pen)||ir (blade)|
|xɔːl (food)||xɔl (far)|
|ʊːl (mountain)||ʊl (sole)|
|oːr (other)||orə̌m (milk skin)|
|uːd (door)||ud (noon)|
|æːl (village)||æl (which)|
|xœːn (after)||xœn (sheep)|
The last syllable of a word often has a week vowel sound. Although commonly stressed, it is very short and indistinct. The sound differs slightly according to the vowel in the syllable before it, but for simplicity’s sake we are going to use just one symbol to represent this week vowel sound. I’ve noticed that on some computers this symbol does not display correctly. (It should look like an up-side-down e with a smile on top.) If so, you may need to install a Unicode font on your computer. You can get directions here.
||tɑːnə̌r, sœnə̌n, ɔrə̌s, dəbtə̌r, udə̌ʃ, omə̌n, irə̌x, bæːʃə̌ŋ|
These are sounds formed by a combination of two different vowels.
|ʊi||ʊilə̌n (cry), xɑrə̌ŋgʊi (dark)|
|ue||irə̌x-gue (not come), mədə̌x-gue (not know)|
|ui||huitə̌n (cold), uilʧlə̌gʧ (waiter, waitress)|
Listen carefully and don’t just assume that you know the sound. Some of these sounds are different than the English ones, especially in middle and at the end of words (note /b/, /l/, /r/ in particular).
|n||nar (sun), undəs (root), hun (person)|
|b||biːr , ɑbə̌g (take), ɑːb (father)|
|p||pʊː (gun), kɑpitɑl (capital)|
|x||xʊtə̌g (knife), uxə̌r (cow)|
|g||gɑr (hand), əgʧ (older sister), ʧɑg (time)|
|m||mœːr (horse), omə̌n (before), ɑm (mouth)|
|l||lʊː (dragon), ɑldə̌r (name), ʃol (soup)|
|s||suː (milk), ɑsə̌r (building), us (hair)|
|ʃ||ʃirəː (table), xʊʃʊː (banner), biʃ (no)|
|t||təməː (camel), xɑtʊː (hard)|
|d||dɑrɑː (next), ɑdʊː (horse), xʊrʊːd (cheese)|
|ʧ||ʧæː (tea), ʧiʧə̌rlə̌g (park), nʊːʧ (secret)|
|ʤ||ʤɑm (road), ɑʤə̌l (work), əːʤ (mother)|
|j||juː (what), bɑjə̌r (happiness), bəj (body)|
|r||ɑrɑːʤiʊ (radio), ɑrə̌b (10), oːr (other)|
|w||wisɑ (visa), wiːtɑːmin (vitamin), təlwis (TV)|
|f||fəŋʧin (function), fɑrɑːnʦ (France)|
|k||kilɔːgirɑːm (kilogram), piʣik (physics)|
|ʦ||ʦʊː (vinegar), frɑːnʦ (France)|
|ʣ||ʣɑndə̌n (girl’s name), piʣik (physics)|
|ŋ||æŋg (class), xobə̌ŋ (cotton)|