I have read various theories about the origins of the Mongolian script, which I believe is known as the Hudum Mongol Bichig. Some claim it is ultimately descended from Sogdian runes(which means its oldest ancestor is Sumerian cuneiform), but others claim it was derived from the Khitan script(developed by the Khitan people who were genetically related to the Mongols), which was descended from Hanzhi(Chinese writing). What is the evidence though for either of these theories?

2 Answers 2


There is some confusion caused by the fact that Old Turkic Script is also known as Turkic Runes, which is a metaphoric application of the term applied to Germanic alphabets. Old Turkic Script is a descendant of Sogdian script, as is Old Uyghur Script, and Sogdian traces back to the Phoenician alphabe, which ultimately comes from Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is theorized that Mesopotamian picture-writing is the inspirational source of all western writing systems, but the actual letter shapes of Egyptian vs. Sumerian writing are not the same.

We needn't get highly technical to understand that Mongolian script has no resemblance to Khitan script, which an ordinary person would think was Chinese. The other Khitan script also looks like Chinese (unicode table here). We don't know how to read the script, but it seems to be a case of taking the overall design of Chinese characters and using then in a Uyghur-like fashion (as a phonetic script, not a logographic one). It is thus valid to consider Khitan to be a conceptual amalgam of Chinese and Sogdian writing systems.

The Sogdian alphabet is at least superficially much more similar to Old Uyghur, for example "lamedh" ([l]) is similar in both systems, at least based on the contemporary standardized shapes of letters (one should look at photographs of actually-ancient writing to firm up this conclusion). Old Turkic Script looks less like Mongolian, but also note the variation between the Orkhon and Yenisean Turkic scripts.

Unlike people, writing systems don't have definite parentage. Many writing systems have been developed which used the pick-and-choose method of creation, and they are highly influence by their physical environment (ink on paper? incisions of woody substances? chiseled in stone? pressed in clay?).

  • In your first paragraph you have confused Old Turkish “runic” script with the Sogdian-based Old Turkish cursive script. These are not related.
    – fdb
    Jun 4, 2023 at 15:46
  • Also: Phoenician script and Aramaic script have a common source in proto-Sinaitic script, but they are not identical. Sogdian script derives from the latter.
    – fdb
    Jun 4, 2023 at 15:51
  • @fdb I've never seen the cursive script you refer to called "Old Turkish", only "Old Uyghur". In the context of scripts, I've generally seen "Old Turkic" used for the script of the Orkhon inscriptions. Tbh I've not seen "Old Turkish" used at all regarding scripts
    – Tristan
    Jun 4, 2023 at 16:46
  • @Tristan. The terminology is fluid. For the language one usually finds "Old Turkish/-ic" or "Uyghur". For the "runic" script one finds "Old Turkish". The issue here is not the terminology but the existence of two different writing systems.
    – fdb
    Jun 4, 2023 at 17:11
  • @fdb and user6726 does not confuse the two scripts, they consistently refer to the "runic" one as "Old Turkic" and the cursive one as "Old Uyghur". This usage may differ from your preferred terminology, but is not confusing the two scripts as you seem to be suggesting, and is definitely more common than the terminology you prefer
    – Tristan
    Jun 4, 2023 at 17:28

The Mongolian script clearly derives from Old Turkish script, which derives from Sogdian script, which is a descendant of Achaemenid Aramaic script. Sogdian script cannot be described as “runes” and has nothing to do with Sumerian cuneiform script.

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