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The differential diversification of Mongolic

  • Juha Janhunen EMAIL logo


This paper examines the Mongolic family of languages from the point of view of their different paths and rates of evolution, and with a view on the general problem concerning the speed of language change. All extant Mongolic languages descend from a relatively recent ancestral form of speech, Proto-Mongolic, spoken by the historical Mongols in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries and documented in a number of written sources conventionally known as Middle Mongol. A comparison of the modern Mongolic languages with Proto-Mongolic and Middle Mongol reveals considerable differences in their rates of evolution, with some languages being highly innovative, while others are conspicuously conservative. These differences are evident at all levels of linguistic structure and substance, including phonology, grammar, and lexicon. The reasons for the different rates of evolution can be sought in a variety of linguistic and extralinguistic factors, including not only the linguistic environment, but also the political and geographical context of the speakers, as well as their demographic structure, economic and cultural profile, and degree of mobility.

Corresponding author: Juha Janhunen, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, E-mail:


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Published Online: 2020-10-15

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