The archived Manchu language

Even before the Manchus conquered China, they had already started keeping written records in their language. Out of the 20 million files stored at the Qing archive in Beijing, 20 percent are written in Manchu. These documents cover a 300 year period. The director of the Manchu Language and Culture Research Center at Heilongjiang University in Harbin, Zhao Aping, stated that even if 100 people spent 100 years translating the documents, they will still not be able to finish the job. Currently, there are less than 40 translators who are working on the documents. This has posed a serious challenge to historians who are trying to know more about the Qing dynasty. The Chinese government has allocated funds to be used in the study of the Qing culture, but a lot of students are not interested in the study of a language and culture which has little use to them outside the archives.

The Manchu alphabet was commissioned in 1599 by the Manchu leader who founded the Manchu state. This alphabet was later modified in 1632. The alphabet used was primarily based on the classical Mongolian alphabet. Chinese characters can also be used to write Manchu. Writing is done from left to right in vertical columns. In some cases, letters have different shapes, based on which vowel precedes them or comes after them. The Manchu language absorbed loan words from other languages. Special symbols were used to denote vowels used in loan words.

Manchu is an endangered Tunguistic language that is spoken in the North eastern parts of China. It was the official language used in the Qing dynasty. Currently, there are less than 70 native speakers of the language, as most natives now speak Mandarin Chinese. Most speakers are aged between 50 to 70 years old. Even conversational ability among the elderly Manchu speakers is rapidly declining. Manchu is significant to the history of the Chinese culture. The Manchu language has been recently used in popular culture. This includes in the film War of the Arrows, where some characters often spoke in Manchu in the film. It was also used in the movie Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, where the language was referred to as Tartar.

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