Place Names and Kazakh Song Making in the Western Mongolian Steppes

Reference work entry


This study focuses on Mongolian Kazakh place names in Kazakh language used by herders in rural Bayan Ölgii, Mongolia, to mark sites that have social, historical, and political significance for individuals and local communities of pastoralists. Their songs reference and describe lands where Kazakh people have lived and traveled. As they map their movement, they share information about social and ecological values and emotional attachment to the land. The herders reject some national Mongolian language names and have established their own Kazakh names for places they frequent. Using song genres and performance styles passed down in close-knit communities, their songs reflect not only their rootedness in place, but also the significance of mobility. They also mobilize their communities to act in support of the land in the face of change and claim space for their pastoralist activities. The frequent references to specific places by Kazakh name, using the two-string dombyra and older highly respected Kazakh song genres are part of an ongoing effort to maintain a local language and a way of life and to claim land that during the last 25 years has been entangled in social and political processes of change.


Kazakh language Ethnomusicology Place names Mongolia Mobile pastoralism 



Research support was provided by the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Arizona, US-Mongolia Field Research Fellowship Program, sponsored by the American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), and the US Department of Education; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Academic Outreach and Ada Howe Kent Fellowships at Middlebury College; and travel support from the Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, and the School of Music, University of Western Australia.

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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