MONGOLS ii. Mongolian Loanwords in Persian




It is difficult to analyze Mongolian elements in Persian separately from the Turkic ones. This is due to the fact that the speakers of both languages had been in contact with each other for a long time before the Mongolian presence can be traced in the Persian speaking area. Besides, early Turkic and Mongolian have many common features that were occasionally interpreted as indications to a genetic relationship between the two language families. Early Turkic elements are certainly present in Mongolian (Ligeti; Doerfer, 1963), but, on the other hand, a definite Mongolian influence on the Turkic languages can be documented from the 13th century onwards as well (cf. Poppe; Vladimirtsov). In spite of this, the Turkic and Mongolian elements in Persian can be clearly differentiated.

The “Altaic” (Mongolian and Turkic) loanwords and morphology in Persian can be divided into three larger layers: 1. an older “pure” Turkic layer which consists of southern and eastern Turkic elements (Doerfer, 1959, p. 11); 2. a middle Mongolian and Turkic layer which includes both Mongolian elements and southern and eastern Turkic elements (Doerfer, 1959, pp. 11-12); 3. a later “pure” Turkic layer which comprises southernTurkic elements only (Doerfer, 1959, pp. 12-13). The penetration of Mongolian elements into the Persian language can be clearly traced chronologically, from the time of the conquests of Čengiz Khan (d. 1227) and his successors (see IL-KHANIDS) in the early and middle 13th century up to the collapse of the Timurid dynasty in the late 15th and early 16th century.

Different arguments show that Mongolian was already dead in the late Il-khanid period (Spuler, pp. 457-58), but also that it remained in use in the Persian speaking area up until the Timurid times. The arguments in favor of the latter are as follows: 1. during the reign of Timur (1371-1405) some coins still bore the Mongolian expression üge manu (‘our word’; Doerfer, 1963, p. 17); 2. Mongolian songs were chanted at the court of Timur (Naṭanzi, see Doerfer, 1963, p. 17); 3. Mongolian decrees and Mongolian secretaries are attested for the 14th-century Persia (Doerfer and Herrmann, 1975a; Idem, 1975b; Hinz, 1954, p. 345); 4. Mongolian-Persian vocabularies were compiled until as late as the end of the 15th century (Doerfer, 1963, p. 16); 5. new Mongolian words, which are not found in earlier works, like those of ʿAlāʾ-al-Din ʿAtā Malek Jovayni or Fażl-Allāh Rašid-al-Din (see Doerfer, 1963, p. 16 and Idem, 1959, pp. 18-19), continued to appear in the 15th-century Timurid historical compositions, such as the chronicles of Neẓām-al-Din Šāmi (written in 1404), Moʿin-al-Din Naṭanzi (written in 1412), ʿAbd-Allāh Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru (several works written in 1410s and 1420s, see ḤĀFEẒ-E ABRU), and ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandi (written in 1471).

According to Gerhard Doerfer (1963, p. 35; Idem, 1959, pp. 16-19), Mongolian (and, in general, Altaic) elements in Persian can be divided into five categories: 1. names; 2. titles that often represent “dead” vocabularies; 3. words that are considered and described in Persian sources to be of Mongolian origin; 4. special terms which were not of common knowledge and were only used by a few authors (foreign words); 5. loanwords in a narrower sense, that is, those available in living vocabularies.

Further to that, according to Doerfer who follows Artturi Kannisto’s model of systematic grouping (Kannisto, 1925, pp. 237-40), Mongolian elements in Persian can be divided into twelve semantic groups (Doerfer, 1963, pp. 37-44).

1. Terms for body parts, sensory perception, movement, sickness, death, etc. (Pers. amān ‘mouth’ < Mong. aman; Pers. yāsūn ‘corpse’ < Mong. yasun ‘bones’).

2. Animals, stockbreeding, hunting, etc. (Pers. ahtā ‘gelding’ < Mong. aqta ~ aχta; Pers. buluḡān ‘sable, Mustela zibellina’ < Mong. bulaγan; Pers. čīna ‘wolf’ < Mong. čino).

3. Plants, agricultural terms, etc. (Pers. būrqāt ‘willow(-tree), Salix arenaria’ < Mong. burγasun, pl. burγat; Pers. sūqāi ‘tamarisk’ < Mong. suqai).

4. Terms for different terrains, minerals, weather conditions, etc. (Pers. arāl ‘isle’ < Mong. aral; Pers. bōrān ‘storm’ < Mong. bōrān ‘[snow-]storm’; Pers. elat ‘sand, desert’ < Mong. elesün, pl. elät; Pers. salqīn ‘wind’ < Mong. salqīn).

5. “Everyday life,” dwelling, clothing, food, festivities, games, business, trade, etc. (Pers. degala ‘jacket with short sleeves’ < Mong. degäläi; Pers. ogulg ‘gift, present’ < Mong. öglige; Pers. qabturḡā ‘square bag’ < Mong. qabtaγa(n) ‘purse’).

6. Terms of relationship (Pers. abāqā ‘father’s brother’ < Mong. abaġa, Pers. beri ‘daughter-in-law’ < Mong. beri; Pers. berīgan ‘elder brother’s wife’ < Mong. berigän; Pers. ebuga ‘grandfather, ancestor’ < Mong. ebüge ‘ancestor’; Pers. elančīk ‘great-grandfather’ < Mong. elenčeg; Pers. ōtčigīn ~ ōtǧīkin ‘youngest son’ < Mong. otčikin).

7. State, government, judgment, law, administration, etc. (Pers. urān ‘throne’ < Mong. ōran ‘place, throne’; Pers. ōrdū ‘imperial court, camp of the khan’s troops’ < Mong. orda ‘court of the khan, camp’; Pers. qarātū ‘belonging to the household’ < Mong. qariyatu ‘subordinate’; Pers. qūnqū ~ qōnqū ‘wife of the Great-khan [in China]’ < Mong. quvaŋqu ‘empress’ < Chin.; Pers. tüšimäl ‘official [of lower rank]’ < Mong. tüsimel ‘official’).

8. Sphere of war (Pers. barānḡār ‘right wing of an army’ < Mong. bara’un ġar ~ baran ġar; Pers. čaḡdāvul ‘rearguard, commander of the rearguard’ < Mong. čaγdaγul ‘rearguard’; Pers. kebtevul ‘night watch’ < Mong. kebtegül; Pers. mess ‘swords, arming’ < Mong. mesäs, pl. of mesä ‘sword’).

9. Sphere of religion (Pers. arūn ‘kind, obliging’ < Mong. ariγun ‘pure’; Pers. lāma ‘lama, Buddhist monk’ < Mong. lama < Tibet.; Pers. erkevun ‘Nestorian priest’ < Mong. erke’ün ‘priest’; Pers. yada ‘rain magic, rain-stone’ < Mong. ǰada [< Early Turkic *ǰadă]; Pers. šārīl ‘religious relic’ < Mong. šaril).

10. Mathematics, space and time, chronology, religious holidays, etc. (Pers. dālān ‘seventy’ < Mong. dalan).

11. Terms for colors and other adjectives (Pers. baqa ‘small, little’ < Mong. baġa; Pers. bīdūn ‘simple, common’ < Mong. bidün < bidügün; Pers. kečev ‘coarse, rough, strict’ < Mong. kečegü; Pers. korn ‘dark brown (color of a horse)’ < Mong. kürän).

12. Abstracta (Pers. asarāmīšī ‘to care for somebody, to educate (a child)’ < Mong. asara- ).

The spelling of the Mongolian words (as well as of the Altaic elements in general) in Persian by the means of the Arabic alphabet was not standardized. It can show minor deviations, depending on the period of time and the author (for more details see Doerfer, 1963, pp. 17-22).



G. Doerfer, “Prolegomena zu einer Untersuchung der altaischen Lehnwörter im Neupersischen,” Central Asiatic Journal 5/1, 1959, pp. 1-26.

Idem, Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen. Unter Berücksichtigung älterer neupersischer Geschichtsquellen, vor allem der Mongolen- und Timuridenzeit; vol. I: Mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, Wiesbaden, 1963.

Idem, “Zu mongolisch ‘Keyenüwe’,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 28, 1974, pp. 99-110.

Idem, “Mongolica aus Ardabīl,” Zentralasiatische Studien 9, 1975, pp. 187-263.

G. Doefer and G. Herrmann, “Ein persisch-mongolischer Erlaß des Ğalāyeriden Šeyh Oveys,” Central Asiatic Journal 19/1-2, 1975a, pp. 1-84.

Idem, “Ein persisch-mongolischer Erlaß aus dem Jahr 725/1325,” ZDMG 125/2, 1975b, pp. 317-46.

W. Hinz, “Die persische Geheimkanzlei im Mittelalter,” Westöstliche Abhandlungen, ed. F. Meier, Wiesbaden, 1954, pp. 342-55.

A. Kannisto, “Die tatarischen Lehnwörter im Wogulischen,” Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen 17, 1925, pp. 1-264.

L. Ligeti, “Histoire du lexique des langues turques,” Rocznik Orientalistyczny 17, 1953, pp. 80-91.

N. Poppe, “The Turkic Loan-words in Middle-Mongolian,” Central Asiatic Journal 1, 1955, pp. 36-42.

B. Spuler, Die Mongolen in Iran, 2nd ed., Berlin, 1955.

B. Ya. Vladimirtsov, “Turetskie èlementy v mongol’skom yazyke” (Turkish elements in the Mongolian language), Zapiski Vostochnogo Otdeleniya Imperatorskogo Rossiĭskogo Arkheologicheskogo Obshchestva 20, 1910, St. Petersburg, 1912, pp. 153-84.

(Michael Knüppel)

Last Updated: April 15, 2010