Saturday, October 1, 2011

Alphabet follows empire Part III Mongolia

Ghengis Khan.  
    We saw last week how the tides of alphabet change washed in and out of the former Soviet states such as Uzbekistan, where political upheaval brought Roman, Arabic, and Cyrillic writing systems in and out of official favor every few decades.  Central Asian languages and alphabets shifted along with politics all through the 20th century. 
    Two more writing systems added extra complexity to Central Asia a little further east of the “Stans.” In Mongolia we see the Arabic calligraphy of Islam, the Cyrillic alphabet of Russian, and the Roman letters of English interweaving with indigenous Mongolian vertical script and Chinese ideograms for centuries, in a constantly shifting landscape of religion, economics, politics, and art.
    Even though it combines elements of five different scripts, Mongolian remains unique as the only connected script written vertically.  
    Half a dozen scripts are visible on this Mongolian bill, including Soyombo, an extinct script that survives only in this national symbol, and a “folded” version of Mongolian. 
 Both Cyrillic and Chinese, as well as Mongolian, can be studied and practiced in Learn World Calligraphy from Watson-Guptill, Random House, 2011.
Delger, a Mongolian historian and master calligrapher, stands next to a scroll he wrote especially for Learn World Calligraphy.  It combines vigorous "Virtual Mongolian" brush letters, gray shading, Mongolian tents and their round skylights inside O, G, and A, a horsehair banner flying from a trident-topped L, vertical Mongolian script, and three red signature stamps [including the artist’s face]. 

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