Web Browsers: Currently only Internet Explorer 8 supports tb-lr (displaying vertically from left to right). Internet Explorer 6 & 7 support displaying vertically, but only tb-rl can be used. None of the other web browsers support displaying vertically.
Manchu is a Tungusic language spoken in Northeast China; it used to be the language of the Manchu, though now most Manchus speak Mandarin and there are fewer than 70 native speakers of Manchu out of a total of nearly 10 million ethnic Manchus. Although the Xibe language, with 40,000 speakers, is in almost every respect identical to classical Manchu, Xibe speakers, who live in Liaoning and far western Xinjiang, are ethnically distinct from Manchus and lay claim to the distinctiveness of their language.
It is an agglutinative language that demonstrates limited vowel harmony, and it has been demonstrated that it is derived in the main from the Jurchen language though there are many loan words from Mongolian and Chinese. Its script is vertically written and taken from the Mongolian alphabet (which in turn derives from Aramaic via Uyghur and Sogdian). Manchu, like Hindi, Russian, etc., employs grammatical gender, through the use of vowel inflections.
The Manchu language uses the Manchu script, which was derived from the traditional Mongol script, which in turn is based on the vertically written pre-Islamic Uyghur script. Manchu is usually romanized according to the system devised by Paul Georg von Möllendorff in his Manchu grammar. It might also use the Jurchen script, which is derived from Khitan script, which in turn was derived from Han characters. There's no relation bewteen Jurchen script and Manchu script.
History and significance
Manchu began as a primary language of the Qing dynasty Imperial court, but as Manchu officials became increasingly sinicized, many started losing the language. Trying to preserve the Manchu identity, the imperial government instituted Manchu language classes and examinations for the bannermen, offering various rewards to those who excelled in the language. As Yongzheng Emperor (reigned 1722-1735) explained, "If some special encouragement ... is not offered, the ancestral language will not be passed on and learned". Still, the use of the language among the bannermen was in decline throughout the 1700s. Historical records report that as early as 1776, Emperor Qianlong was shocked to see a high Manchu official, Guo'ermin, not to understand what the emperor was telling him in Manchu, despite coming from the Manchu stronghold of Shengjing (now Shenyang) himself. By the 19th century even the imperial court had lost fluency in the language. The Jiaqing Emperor (reigned 1796 to 1820) complained about his officials being good neither at understanding nor writing Manchu. By the end of the 19th century the language was so moribund that even at the office of the Shengjing (Shenyang) general, the only documents written in Manchu (rather than Chinese) would be the memorials wishing the emperor long life; at the same time period, the archives of the Hulan banner detachment in Heilongjiang show that only 1% of the bannermen could read Manchu, and no more than 0.2% could speak it. Nonetheless, as late as 1906-1907 Qing education and military officials insisted that schools teach Manchu language, and that the officials testing soldiers' marksmanship continue to conduct an oral examination in Manchu.
The use of the language for the official documents declined throughout the Qing history as well. Especially at the beginning of the dynasty, some documents on sensitive political and military issues were submitted in Manchu but not in Chinese. Later on, most Imperial documents were drafted in both Chinese and Manchu, and at least some records in Manchu continued to be produced until the last years of the dynasty, which was overthrown in 1912. A large number of Manchu documents remain in the archives, important for the study of Qing-era China. Today, written Manchu can still be seen on architecture inside the Forbidden City, whose historical signs are written in both Chinese and Manchu.
Another limited use of the language was for voice commands in the Qing army, attested as late as 1878.
Historically, the Manchu language is also important in that some Europeans were exposed to and familiar with Manchu before they encountered the Chinese language. A number of 18th-century European scholars, frustrated by the difficulties in reading Chinese, with its hanzi writing system and the classical writing style, considered Manchu translations, or parallel Manchu versions, of many Chinese documents and literary works as a great help to understanding them. Among them was De Moyria de Mailla (1669-1748), who benefited from the existence of the parallel Manchu text when translating the historical compendium, 通鑒綱目 (Tongjian Gangmu); Amiot (1718-1793) consulted Manchu translations of Chinese works as well, and wrote that the Manchu language "would open an easy entrance to penetrate ... into the labyrinth of Chinese literature of all ages". An 1844 European author remarked that the transcription of Chinese words in Manchu alphabet, available in the contemporary Chinese-Manchu dictionaries, was more useful for learning pronunciation of Chinese words than the inconsistent romanizations used at the time by the writers transcribing Chinese words in English or French books.
Nowadays, very few native Manchu speakers remain; in what used to be Manchuria virtually no one speaks the language with the entire area having been completely sinicized. As of 2007, the last native speakers of the language were thought to be 18 octogenarian residents of the village of Sanjiazi, located 50 km north of Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province.
In fact, the modern custodians of the language are actually the Sibe (Xibe) who live near the Ili valley in Xinjiang and were moved there by the Qianlong Emperor in 1764. Modern Sibe (Xibe) is very close to Manchu, although there are a few slight differences in writing and pronunciation; however, the Sibe (Xibe) consider themselves to be separate from the Manchus.
Various regional governments around China have taken to teaching Manchu in more recent times.