Spicks & Specks
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'Donald Trump' in Mongolian

13 April 2017 (latest revision November 2017)

Donald Trump has been in the news in Mongolian, just has he has in languages all over the world. While Trump's name raises no problems for languages using the Latin alphabet (other than how to pronounce it), languages like Mongolian are more interesting. Modern Mongolian is written with two scripts: Cyrillic, adopted from the Russians and used in modern Mongolia, and the traditional script (Mongol Bichig, Uighurjin), used since the time of Genghis Khan and still in everyday use among Mongols in China and in Mongolia as a heritage script.


A. Cyrillic

Mongolian loanwords written in Cyrillic (including names of countries and people) generally follow Russian spelling. This involves the use of the letter 'е', which is found almost exclusively in foreign loanwords, substituting 'г' ('g') for 'h' in foreign words, writing double consonants, and using the soft sign 'ь' to achieve the target pronunciations. For example, 'Einstein' is rendered as Эйнштейн eynshteyn, 'Wilhelm' as Вильгельм vil'gel'm, and 'Debussy' as Дебюсси debyussi.

Russian loanwords written with the letter у are pronounced as though they were written ү in Cyrillic. That is, клуб klub is pronounced 'klüb' rather than 'klub'. (More recently exceptions have been appearing in the transliteration of Japanese names like 'Murakami', which is Мураками murakami in Russian but Мүраками mürakami in Mongolian, despite the fact that Japanese う u is actually very different from the Mongolian sound represented by ү.)

The naming of Donald Trump partly follows this scenario.

● 'Trump' is rendered as Трамп tramp in virtually all Cyrillic-based languages, Russian or otherwise, based on the English-language pronunciation of 'Trump'. The letter 'u' is rendered by the letter 'а' in Cyrillic due to substantially identical pronunciation (phonetically /a/). (Interestingly, the name of Trump's German grandfather's name can be found rendered as Фридрих Трумп fridrih trump, approximating the German pronunciation of 'Trump', phonetically /u/.)

The phonotactics of words like Трамп tramp, including the cluster 'tr' and the final 'p', are alien to Mongolian, although they have become familiar through borrowing from Russian.

● 'Donald' is found in two different forms.

a) Дональд Трамп

The most common is Дональд donal'd, which appears to account for roughly 60% of Mongolian Cyrillic occurrences based on Google. Дональд is the usual form in Russian. It features the soft sign 'ь' after the letter 'л' (i.e., 'l'), causing the pronunciation of 'а' in the previous syllable to be modified to /æ/, that is, the sound of 'a' in 'nap'. This appears to be based on the idea that 'Donald' should be pronounced as two stressed syllables, that is, as 'DON-ALD', with the second featuring a distinct /æ/ vowel. In fact, in ordinary English pronunciation the second syllable is normally destressed to a schwa, yielding something like 'DON-eld'. To use the International Phonetic Alphabet, 'Donald' is usually pronounced as /'donǝld/, not as /'don'æld/. This spelling is thus a result of 'over-accuracy'.

The struck out analysis is clearly incorrect -- see comment from Fedor Manin below. The spelling Дональд is a historical Russian spelling in which the soft sign ь serves to indicate that French (not English!) would use a light 'l' here. Since Mongolian does not have a light-dark distinction in its laterals, the Mongolian use of Дональд is thus nothing more than direct imitation of the Russian spelling. (It is possible that this would be read as /donæld/ by Mongolians in accordance with Mongolian norms.)

b) Доналд Трамп

The other form is Доналд donald, accounting for maybe 40% of usage. This follows the English spelling and does not try for any phonetic niceties. Interestingly, this form appears to be common in many Cyrillic-using languages, such as Turkic and East European languages, although seemingly less so in Russian.


B. Traditional Mongolian Script

Trump's name in the traditional script is a more complicated story as the script is used in two countries with two different approaches, resulting in a total of four different versions.

c) donald tramp

In Mongolia, the form used in Khumuun Bichig, a newspaper in the traditional script published by Montsame, is ᠳ᠋ᠣᠨᠠᠯᠳ᠋ ᠲᠷᠠᠮᠫ donald tramp.

This is a direct transliteration from the Cyrillic form Доналд Трамп, i.e, without the soft sign in Дональд.

This transliteration shows an important feature of the transliteration of foreign words: a systematic distinction between 't' and 'd'. This is not the case with native words, where the script mostly fails to distinguish the two, except in certain restricted positions or environments. To simplify somewhat, the situation can be summed up as follows:

Native words:

Initialᠲ᠊ᠲ᠊No distinction
Medial᠊ᠲ᠊᠊ᠲ᠊In certain environments 'd' is ᠊ᠳ᠊.
Final-᠊ᠳ't' is not found at end of words.
Sometimes 'd' is found as ᠊ᠳ᠋.
Dative suffix ᠲᠣ ᠳ᠋ᠦ

In foreign loanwords, the two are systematically distinguished:

Foreign words:


With regard to Donald Trump's name:

* The two 'd's' in 'Donald' are clearly rendered as ᠊ᠳ᠋᠊ (d), and the initial 't' in 'Trump' is marked as ᠲ᠊ (t), in line with the convention of making clear distinctions in foreign words.

* The combination ᠲᠷ᠊ tr- is found only in foreign loanwords and does not occur in Mongolian native words.

* The ending ᠊ᠫ -p is found only in foreign words.

The spelling is thus an attempt to closely approximate the English pronunciation.

In China, three different renditions can be found on the Internet.

d) donald trümp

The China National Radio site shows Trump's name as ᠳ᠋ᠣᠨᠠᠯᠳ᠋ ᠵᠣᠨ ᠲᠷᠦ᠋ᠮᠫ donald jon trümp. In Cyrillic, this would be Доналд Жон Трүмп donald jon trümp. This is mostly the same as the form used in Mongolia, with one curious twist: 'Trump' is rendered as though it had a German vowel. (Note that in standard Mongolian dialects the sound represented by 'ü' in the conventional transliteration is not the German umlauted vowel 'ü' (IPA /y/) but rather something similar to the German vowel 'u'.) The reason for this strange substitution can only be guessed at. Possibly it is the result of some polyglot at China Radio International knowing the correct German pronunciation of 'Trump'...

e) tonnade terampü

Most mainstream sites, including people.com.cn website (affiliated with the Communist party) and others, adopt the most interesting transliteration of all: ᠲᠣᠨᠨᠠᠳᠧ ᠲᠧᠷᠠᠮᠫᠦ᠋ tonnade terampü. In Cyrillic, this would be Тоннаде Терампү. This is largely (although not totally) based on the main name used for Donald Trump in Chinese, which is 唐纳德-特朗普 tángnàdé tèlǎngpǔ. 唐纳德 tángnàdé is a conventional rendition of the English name 'Donald' in Chinese and simply follows past practice. The rendition of 'Trump' as 特朗普 tèlǎngpǔ, on the other hand, is a conscious decision. (The other Chinese name frequently used for Trump is 唐纳·川普 tángnà chuānpǔ, which is more common outside the Mainland sources.)

The Chinese names depart from the original English because the syllabic structure of Chinese makes it difficult to accommodate English consonant clusters. 唐纳德-特朗普 tángnàdé tèlǎngpǔ, has the following features:

● It divides the consonant clusters between separate syllables. The 'trum' of 'Trump' is broken into 特朗 tè-lǎng).

● Apart from the nasals /n/ and /ŋ/, Chinese syllables do not end in consonants. In order to represent the final consonants in 'Donald' and 'Trump', open syllables (德 and 普 ) are used.

● In the conventional rendition of 'Donald', no attempt is made to reproduce the 'l' as an additional, separate syllable in 唐纳德 tángnàdé.

The other Chinese version, 唐纳·川普 tángnà chuānpǔ, is more impressionistic in representing Trump's name. (For more on this phenomenon, see the treatment of foreign names).

Interesting features of the Mongolian transliteration are:

* It follows the conventions for transliterating foreign words, notably the use of the vowel sign ᠊ᠧ᠊ for the letter 'e' in pinyin.

* The use of ᠳ᠋᠊ 'd' and ᠲ᠊ 't' follow the Chinese pronunciation.

* The 'l' in 'Donald' is omitted, as in Chinese.

* The 特 in 特朗普 tèlǎngpǔ is transliterated as ᠲᠧ᠊ te, including the intrusive ᠊ᠧ᠊ e.

* The final ᠳ᠋ᠧ de is based on the 德 of Chinese.

* The final 普 is represented as ᠊ᠫᠥ᠋ .

However, the Mongolian is not completely modelled on the Chinese as there are certain concessions to the original English:

* 朗 lǎng is represented as ᠊ᠷᠠᠮ᠊ ram, using 'r' and 'm' rather than 'l' and 'ng'.

* The representation of 唐 táng as ᠲᠣᠨ᠊ ton does not accurately transliterate the Chinese pinyin and appears to have been influenced by English.

This curious hybrid transliteration is only possible in an environment where readers are expected to be familiar with the Chinese pronunciation of foreign names rather than the foreign names themselves. That is, it is taken for granted that foreign names should be passed through a Chinese filter in being presented to speakers of minority ethnic languages. The assumptions that lie behind this are interesting to consider. Possibly it is felt that speakers of such languages are bilingual or partially bilingual, and should be presented with the name they already know in Chinese. Or possibly it is felt that ethnic speakers need to know the Chinese pronunciation in order to communicate with Chinese speakers around them. Or possibly it stems from an attitude that putonghua is standard in China and that all other languages in China should base themselves on it.

However it is considered, the upshot is that the pronunciation accords with Chinese-language norms, as mediated through Chinese characters, rather than the original pronunciation.

f) tonnade teramp

Xinhua at two places has the following variation on the consensus form: ᠲᠧᠷᠠᠮᠫ teramp, in Cyrillic Терамп. This gets rid of the final vowel (deriving from Chinese 普 ) and ends the word in the consonant 'p'. However, the letter representing the vowel in 特 is retained. (Thanks to Jichang Lulu for bringing this one to my attention.)

To sum up, it appears fair to say that the tendency to slavishly follow foreign practice (Mongolians following Russian and the Mongols in China using pronunciations and spellings of foreign names mediated by Chinese characters) is a common and enduring feature of language use in Mongolian-speaking areas.

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