In Mongolian there’s a “mine” for something that is just mine (миний/minii) and another mine for something that belongs to us (маиай/manai). манай is similar to English “our” but used more often. Anything that is not only mine is ours by default.
In Mongolian, it’s not my apartment, it’s our apartment (other people live here with me). It’s not my language school, it’s our language school (other students attend as well). In English I might talk about “my mom” but in Mongolian I would talk about “our mom.” She is not just my mother; she is also the mother of my brother and sister.
The way we think shapes language and language shapes the way we think.
One thing манай/миний teaches me about the culture is that Mongolians are more communal. There is less personal property and more shared property. There is less independence and more interdependence.
One of our Mongolian teachers told us she is one of 8 brothers and sisters. There were three beds in her ger (home) growing up. She was the youngest so she slept in her mom’s bed, her dad had a bed, and there was a bed for guests. The other seven children slept on pads in the middle of the floor. Imagine living in a ger (a one-roomed home or yurt) with nine other people; it’s easy to imagine that there isn’t much room for personal property. If you had anything that was yours and yours alone, you might want to be extremely clear about how personal it was.
Using communal pronouns forces me to think in communal terms. Every time I talk about our language school, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in this language journey. Every time I talk about our mom I also think about my brother and sister. It’s not life-changing, but it’s a shift toward acknowledging interdependence and shared possessions/experiences.
It’s our journey, not my journey.
It’s our home, not my home.
It’s our church; not my church.
Disclaimer: I am a language student, not an expert. This is what I’m learning and what I understand based on my current level of education.