Writing Mongol in Uighur Script

by Luigi Kapaj (in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai)


Uighur Script, also known as Old Script, Mongol Script, Script Mongolian, or Classical Mongolian, is an alphabetic script written vertically from top to bottom with lines progressing from left to right. This article will show the letters, in their various forms, along with their Latin and Cyrillic equivalents. This article will also cover some of the caveats of writing with this alphabet to allow the reader to be able to write in this script and pays extra attention to features, such as vowel harmony and the variations of letters, that tend to lack good descriptions in other English sources.

History of the Alphabet

By order of Chinggis Khaan, this writing system for the Mongol tongue was instituted in 1204. The earliest preserved use of this alphabet for writing Mongol is on a stele erected in 1225. It has been in continuous use from then until the present day. Various attempts have been made to replace it with other alphabets throughout its history but none were successful until the mid 20th century when Cyrillic ultimately became the standard alphabet for Mongolic languages spoken in Russia and Mongolia. While in these areas, where the alphabet was maintained for scholarly and anachronistic interest, there has been a recent revival of its regular use and instruction in regular school curriculum, it has remained in constant use in Chinese controlled Inner Mongolia.

Uighur Script is so named for the Uighur tribe, conquered by the Mongols, from whom this writing system was adopted. The Uighur (sometimes spelled Uigur, Uygur or Uygar) were a Turkic people who adapted the alphabet from Sogdian in the 9th century, which was itself derived from Aramaic and quite probably shares a common source with other Indo-European and Semitic alphabets.

Similarities to English

There are some similarities between writing in English and writing in Old Script Mongol that are important to observe to help comprehend the way that Mongol letters work. English takes little notice over the difference between writing in print or script but they are very different writing systems. Printed letters are distinct characters that do not change with respect to the placement of that or any other letters around it. Script is written in a continuous pen stroke for the length of a word, with accents added after the word is complete, and requires that each letter accommodate the letters before and after it. This is successfully accomplished by having most letters begin and end on the same level so that if the letter 'I' is preceded by the letter 'T' or the letter 'L' it will start from the same point and thus be written the same way. This results in a continuous baseline throughout the word with the letters being lines and loops sticking out from this line, predominantly upwards, as the word progresses to the right. In Uighur Script, this continuous line is called a Back and runs vertically with the majority of lines and loops sticking out to the left as the word progresses downward.

In English script, there are exceptions to this baseline, mostly of minimal variation, where a given letter such as 'V' ends in a middle position rather than at the bottom (where it would be confused with a 'U') so the letter 'I' following it would need to start at the middle for a slight change in the way the letter is written. Deviations from the backline in Mongol script are more common but changes in the way a letter starts usually results from it combining with a previous letter that ends with a stroke coming horizontally from the right known as a Bow.

In English, both print and script, there are two forms of every letter based on its position in a sentence. If the letter is the first in a sentence, or some certain other situations like the first letter of a proper name, the "Capital" or "Upper Case" version is used. For all other positions, the "Lower Case" version is used. This notion of capitalization works a bit differently in Uighur Script. The scale is not on a per sentence basis, but rather a per word basis. There are generally three versions of a letter, referred to as "Initial", "Medial", and "Final" based on its respective position in the word.


Letters in Uighur Script are comprised of eight basic components and at times various accents. The basic components are as follows in Table 1.

ComponentEnglish nameMongol name
Table 1.

An easy way to remember these components is by their position in a picture of an animal made from these parts shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Pen Strokes

This is a script alphabet, which means the pen should write a continuous line, for the most part, from the beginning to the end of the word. As the word starts at the top and progresses down so should the direction of your pen when writing these letters. Unlike other vertical writing systems, lines start at the left of the page and progress to the right. Accents on letters such as 'Gh', 'L' or 'Sh' are added after the word is complete. Letters that involve a Shin can be scripted in such a way that the pen need not lift off the paper but rather retrace the along Shin to the Back, as does the Tooth, only if it is a straight Shin. If the Shin turns at the tip, as with the letter 'V', or the second stroke does not start touching the Shin as with the letter 'R', then the two strokes are required. The pen strokes for each component are demonstrated in Table 2 below.

All pen stroke diagrams have the pen start at the open circle, then continue along the line in the direction of the arrow. Letters that require a second pen stroke have the first one terminate where the arrow stops at a perpendicular line, and the second one starts at the closed circle. Only letters that are not easily constructed from these components alone will be elaborated upon with pen strokes demonstrated.

Component Name
Crown / Titem
Back / Nuruu
Tooth / Shud
Shin / Shilbe
Belly / Gedes
Tail / Suul
Leash / Orkhits
Bow / Num
Table 2.

Vowel Harmony

Before going on to the alphabet itself, there is an important aspect of Mongol grammar to keep in mind as one learns the letters. That is the concept of Vowel Harmony. There are two mutually exclusive groupings of vowels that belong together in a given word. These two groups are often referred to with names of gender but their use has no relation to the gender of the object referred to. This is NOT gender in the sense of Latin languages, merely a convenient way to name the groups of letters.

The "masculine" letters are 'A', 'O', and 'U'. The "feminine" letters are 'E', 'Ö', and 'Ü'. The vowel 'I' is neutral and can be used with either group of vowels. In addition to the vowels, the letters 'Kh' and 'G' also use different variations that must coincide with the group of vowels used for the word.

There are exceptions to this rule of Vowel Harmony. An exception naturally occurring in Mongol involving the letter 'I' will be discussed in the Combinations section. Others are mostly due to either a borrowed / foreign word or a compound word.


The way vowels are written are in Table 3 that follows. The letters 'O' and 'U' are written exactly the same as each other in Uighur Script. Likewise, the letters 'Ö' and 'Ü' are also written the same as each other. With the letters 'Ö' and 'Ü', there are two different variations of the medial form. The upper one shown is used when this letter is in the first syllable of a word, while the lower one shown is used for any subsequent occurrences of this vowel in a word. There are two variations shown for the final form of both 'A' and 'E' as well. Which version is used depends on several factors and will be covered later in the Combinations section.

Latin A E I O / U Ö / Ü
1st Syllable
2nd Syllable
Gender M F N M F
Table 3.


The first group of consonants to be covered are the letters 'Kh' and 'G', shown in Table 4, which are both written similar to one another and have distinct forms based on Vowel Harmony. There are no final forms of the letters 'Kh' and 'H' because neither is supposed to appear in the final position of a Mongol word. In cases where the letters 'Kh' and 'Gh' are followed by an 'A' at the end of a word, the Leash form of the 'A' is added after the bottom version of the medial forms shown with a brief space in between. An example will be provided later. There are three medial forms of the letter 'Gh' shown. Which one is used, aside from the form used with a final 'A' in Leash form, depends on if the letter is followed by a vowel or consonant as indicated. The lack of a standard for using Latin letters to write Mongol is most prevalent in these letters. All common alternates for displaying the letters are shown including the Greek Gamma often used in scholarly texts.

Latin Kh H Gh G
Alternate Latin forms Q, X, K, H K, Kh G,  
Gender M F M F
Table 4.

The remaining consonants are not subject to Vowel Harmony. This first group in Table 5 is of letters that need the pen strokes demonstrated as they are more complicated than just combining basic components. For the letters 'J' and 'Z' the same letter is used and is often transcribed in scholarly texts as a 'J' with an accent over it. There are different letters for both, provided later, for when used in words of foreign origin. The letters 'Ch' and 'Ts' use the same letter. There is an alternate form of 'Ts', shown below, which is used for words of foreign origin. There are no final forms of the letters 'J', 'Z', 'P', 'Ch' and 'Ts' as these do not appear at the end of a word in Mongol.

Latin J / Z T / D P R Ch / Ts
Alternate Latin forms      
Table 5.

The next group, in Table 6, is of consonants that are easily transcribed in Latin letters. Note that the Cyrillic letter used for the letter 'Y' is also used for the letter 'I' when it is the second letter of a double vowel. For the letter 'N', there are two forms of both the medial and final form. In the medial position, where the letter is followed by a vowel, the upper one shown is used; otherwise when it is followed by a consonant the lower one shown is to be used as indicated. In all cases of the final position the upper one shown is used, except where the 'N' is followed by an 'A' in Leash form in certain words such as Baina, (am/is) where the lower one is used.

Latin B V Y L M N
Table 6.

The remaining regular consonants are shown in Table 7 below. For the letter 'Ng', it is important to note that it is a single and distinct letter in the Mongol tongue. Both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets typically use the letter for 'N' to represent it, with the exception of some linguistic texts which use the second alternate Latin form shown. This letter can also be represented by 'N' and 'G' combined but is not subject to Vowel Harmony as the separate 'G' would be. When this letter is used in the middle of a word, it is often followed by either a 'Gh' or 'G' (depending on Vowel Harmony) but this combination is represented in both Latin and Cyrillic letters as 'N' - 'G' rather than the proper 'Ng' - 'G'. A good example of this is the word "Mongol" which is properly spelled 'M' - 'O' - 'Ng' - 'Gh' - 'O' - 'L'. The letter 'Lkh' is a borrowing from Tibetan and is used for words that are borrowed from Tibetan but as these words have been included in the regular Mongol vernacular, it is placed in this section rather than the later one for foreign letters. The letters 'Sh' and 'Lkh' do not have final forms and the letter 'Ng' does not have an initial form as these letters do not appear in Mongol words in these respective places.

Latin S Sh Ng Lkh
Alternate Latin forms   N, Lh
Table 7.

Letters Unique to Cyrillic

There are four Cyrillic letters that in Uighur Script are instances of the letter 'Y' combined with a vowel. They are as follows in Table 8.

Latin Ye Yo Yu Ya
Table 8.

The soft sign and the hard sign in Cyrillic as well as an alternate Cyrillic vowel for 'I' are all transcribed as the letter 'I' in Old Script. These are shown in Table 9. The remaining Cyrillic letter 'Shch' is not used in Mongol.

Latin Soft sign Hard sign I Shch
Table 9.

Letters in Foreign Words

The following group in Table 10 is for consonants that are used in foreign words only. These letters are most important for words and names that have sounds that do not exist in the Mongol language such as "Frank" which would need both the letters 'F' and 'K'. For the letter 'J', the Bow is added as an accent after the word is completed.

Latin F Z Ts J K H
Table 10.

This last group in Table 11 is of Mongol letters already covered that have distinct forms when used in words of foreign origin. Only the forms that differ from previously shown forms are presented in this section. The letter 'E' is distinguished from the letter 'A' in foreign words where Vowel Harmony is not used by representing it in a different form that is similar, but smaller than, the letter 'V'. The letters 'Ö' and 'Ü' are distinguished from 'O' and 'U' by having a Shin follow the Belly in all positions of a word, not just the first syllable. The letter 'T' is distinguished from the letter 'D' as well. The various sources disagree on which of these alternate letters are used when. However, if a word that is not in the Mongol vernacular is being written in Uighur Script, then these versions of letters should always be used to reduce ambiguity.

Latin E O / U Ö / Ü T D
Table 11.


As this is a script alphabet, all letters in a word are connected by a continuous pen stroke. The end of the first letter flows into the beginning of the second letter and so forth. In most cases, this is accomplished simply with one letter ending on the Back and the next letter beginning on the Back as can be seen in these examples in Table 12.

Note that in both the examples in Table 12, the letters used are from the masculine group even though the subjects they refer to are both masculine and feminine. This explicitly shows that Vowel Harmony is NOT related to gender.

Mongol (modern - Latin) Khaan Khatan
Mongol (modern - Cyrillic)
Uighur Script Spelling Khaghan Khatun
English translation King Queen
Uighur Script Mongol
Table 12.

When letters ending in a Bow are followed by another letter, they must be combined in a special way. For the letters 'H' and 'G', Table 13 shows combinations with each vowel in each position of a word. When the letter 'H' is combined with the letter 'Ö' or 'Ü' in this way, it can be described as a "Pregnant 'H'". The letters 'Ng' and 'K' are combined in a similar fashion.

A curious exception to Vowel Harmony occurs when the letter 'Kh' or 'Gh' is immediately followed by the letter 'I'. In such a letter combination, the preceding consonant uses the feminine form of 'H' or 'G', as shown in Table 13, despite the rest of the letters in the word using the masculine form.

Latin He & Ge Hi & Gi / & /
Table 13.

For the letter 'B', Table 14 shows combinations with each vowel in each position of a word. The letters 'P' and 'F' are combined in a similar fashion.

Latin Ba / Be Bi Bo / Bu /
Table 14.

The following two examples in Table 15 show how Vowel Harmony can distinguish two words of similar letters. Note the different versions of the letter 'G' used and how they are combined with the vowel.

Mongol (modern - Latin) Gar Ger
Mongol (modern - Cyrillic)
Uighur Script Spelling Ghar Ger
English translation arm house (yurt)
Uighur Script Mongol
Gender M F
Table 15

These examples in Table 16 show the letter 'I' following a 'G' and 'H' changing the Vowel Harmony of that syllable to feminine. Both these words use masculine letters otherwise.

Mongol (modern - Latin) Songino Uridakh
Mongol (modern - Cyrillic)
Uighur Script Spelling Songgin-a Uriduhi
English translation onion previous
Uighur Script Mongol
Table 16.

The next two examples in Table 17 show how the letter 'Ng' combines with both versions of the letter 'G'.

Mongol (modern - Latin) Mongol Chinggis
Mongol (modern - Cyrillic)
Uighur Script Spelling Mongghol Chinggis
English translation Mongol Genghis
Uighur Script Mongol
Gender M F
Table 17.

The following two examples in Table 18 show the Leash form of the letter 'A' at the end of a word when not following a Bow. Note the different versions of the letters 'N' and 'Kh' used when followed by this version of the letter 'A'.

Mongol (modern - Latin) Baina Akh
Mongol (modern - Cyrillic)
Uighur Script Spelling Baiin-a Akh-a
English translation am / is brother
Uighur Script Mongol
Table 18.

The two examples in Table 19 show both forms of the letter 'A' at the end of a word. Note how these words are otherwise spelled the same.

Mongol (modern - Latin) Khana Khana
Mongol (modern - Cyrillic)
Uighur Script Spelling Khan-a Khana
English translation wall bleed a vein
Uighur Script Mongol
Table 19.

There is no general rule for knowing which version of the letter 'A' or 'E' to use in a final position but there are some guidelines to help. When the medial form of the preceding letter ends in a Bow, then the Leash form is attached to the Bow as depicted with the combinations "He" and "Ba" shown in Tables 13 and 14 earlier. The letters 'Kh' and 'Gh' always use the Leash with an intervening space as demonstrated with the word Akh-a (brother) in Table 18 earlier. There are some letters that always use the Tail form such as 'Ch', 'T', 'D', 'V', 'S' and 'Sh'.

For the remaining letters, some patterns can be followed but they have many exceptions. Nouns usually use the Leash form at the end. Verbs will usually use the Tail form. These can be used as a guide to be correct more often than not, but are not set rules and only a good dictionary or memorization of proper spelling will yield accurate results.


Uighur Script has its own version of Hindu-Arabic Numerals as outlined in Table 20 below.

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Table 20.

The digits are assembled vertically to form numbers which function otherwise the same as other Hindu-Arabic numbers. See the examples in Table 21.

10 100 1984
Table 21.

Modern European digits can also be used. It is common practice to rotate the number 90 degrees clockwise and put it inline with the words as exemplified in Fig. 2. Note that this practice of rotating the digits is sometimes followed with Uighur Script numbers in printed texts.

Fig. 2. "2,579,000 people speak Khalkha in Mongolia."


It is not broken down here what punctuation was developed with the script and what was added later. Instead, the punctuation marks are divided by their resemblance to their modern Latin and Cyrillic counterparts.

The basic punctuation marks are shown in Table 22.

Punctuation Comma Period
Usage Pause End of Sentence End of Paragraph
Latin & Cyrillic Equivalents , . .
Uighur Script Mongol
Table 22.

Cyrillic punctuation marks reoriented for vertical use are shown in Table 23.

Punctuation Colon Quotes Parenthesis Dash
Latin Equivalents : " " ( ) -
Cyrillic Equivalents : « » ( ) -
Uighur Script Mongol
Table 23.

Cyrillic punctuation marks with unchanged orientation are shown in Table 24.

Punctuation Question Mark Exclamation Point Semi- Colon
Latin & Cyrillic Equivalents ? ! ;
Uighur Script Mongol ? ! ;
Table 24.

Using the Alphabet

The spelling of words and suffixes in Uighur Script differs from spellings in Cyrillic. This is due to Uighur Script preserving a more traditional language while Cyrillic was adopted recently and reflects pronunciation differences in modern dialects. Spellings used in Uighur Script largely reflect the "Middle Mongolian" language spoken in the days of Chinggis Khaan but also contains elements of the "Ancient Mongolian" language spoken before that era. These differences are enough that linguists consider Script Mongolian to have a different grammar and thus be a distinct dialect from any form of spoken Mongolian. While this is accurate, the differences are not much more than spellings of words. A good dictionary of Uighur Script Mongol, with a section on transcribing suffixes, is enough to overcome these differences.

An attempt to read a sentence written in this alphabet will quickly reveal a major flaw with these letters being ambiguous in several places. This problem is most notable with vowels but also exists with some consonants and letter combinations. For example, the word Bolon (and) shown in Fig. 3, when written in Uighur Script, can be read as at least a dozen different letter combinations. With a knowledge of the language, it is quickly discernable which is the only correct interpretation. The existence of this ambiguity is the source of so many attempts at replacing it with new alphabets. The longevity of this alphabet despite so many attempts at change, is a combination of the Mongol sense of tradition as well as that so few other alphabets can compete with Uighur Script on its ease of use.

Fig. 3. "Bolon" (and)

Figure 4 is a comparison of the title of this article written in three different styles. First from the left uses the letters as demonstrated throughout this article representing writing with a pen. Second uses the CMS Huree font representing writing with a brush. Last is with the font CMS Urga representing a typical font printed in books derived from woodcut blocks for early printing presses.

Fig. 4. "Writing Mongol in Uighur Script"

Figure 5 demonstrates how an outline format will work in Uighur Script.

Fig. 5. Outline

(Mongolian has been written in these widely used scripts:

Finally, Figure 6 shows a full paragraph written in Uighur Script.

Fig. 6. Paragraph

(Mongols used many alphabets. The Mongol Script was adopted from Uighur in 1204. Phags-Pa created an alphabet in 1260 for Kubilai Khaan. There were other failed attempts to replace Mongol Script with different alphabets including Soyombo, Ali Gali, and Clear Script. Cyrillic letters replaced Uighur letters under the influence of Communist Russia. Yet the traditional Mongol Script survives.)


Dashtseden, T. Minii Mongol Bichig. edited by Ts. Shagdarsuren & Sh. Choimaa. Published by donated funds from Korea, 1992 (no ISBN)
[This is a textbook on writing in Uighur Script.]

Kapaj, Luigi. The scroll for the Award of Arms to Tuya of The Silver Horde. 2001. http://www.ViaHistoria.com/SilverHorde/research/TuyaAoA.html (23 May 2002)
[My second attempt at writing a scroll in Uighur Script, but first one where I had an understanding of the alphabet. This was the main inspiration for creating this lesson.]

Lobsangvangdan and Chebegched. Mongol Helen ü Dürim. edited by Banzaragcha. Mongolia: Published by Mongolian Central Publishing, 22 August [19?]27 (no ISBN)
[This is an elementary school textbook for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.]

Luvsangjab, Prof. Choii. and J. Luvsangdorj. Mongol Bichig 8. edited by Dr. C. Möömöö. Ulaanbaatar: Published by MPPR - United Publishing of Textbooks and Magazines of Board of Education, 1986 (no ISBN)
[This is a textbook for 8th grade.]

Poppe, Nicholas. Mongolian Language Handbook. Washington, D. C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1970 (ISBN 87281-003-8)

The following dictionaries were referenced:


I would like to thank B. Mendsaikhan (in the SCA: Bambar Ghoa) for her assistance in all areas of this project.

I would also like to thank professor Morris Rossabi of Columbia University for clearing up a few questions about the origin of the alphabet.

Lastly, I want to thank James D. Lee (in the SCA: Lord Conor O Ceallaigh / Subedei Qorchi) for knowing how to say great job while giving critical advice.

Online Resources

All links confirmed as of creation of this document (23 May 2002)



Mongol Language Information


Other Uighur Script Alphabet Pages

© 2002, by Luigi Kapaj, in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai (Puppy)
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