Burmese (Myanmar) Language
- Used by the ethnic majority Burmans (Bamars) and members of other ethnic groups who have been assimilated into the mainstream culture and society, Burmese (Myanmar) is Burma's official language. About 40 million people speak it, 30 million speaking it as their first language. Burmese is a member of the Sino-Tibetan language group, subgroup TibetoBurman, and, like related languages, is monosyllabic and tonal. Modern-spoken Burmese uses three tones: creaky high tone, high tone, and low tone. Different tones convey different meanings to the same combination of consonants and vowels; for example, kyaung in different tones can mean "cat" or "monastery/school." In addition, syllables are sometimes "stopped" or "weak," and the proper pronunciation of Burmese cannot ignore these distinctions. Sentence structure is S-O-V (subject-object-verb), in contrast to English, which is S-V-O (subject-verb-object). Nouns are frequently modified by particles that function like prepositions in English; for example, Yangoun-go means "to Rangoon." Although linguists believe they are not related, Burmese and Japanese have striking resemblances in terms of grammatical structure (such as the use of particles), which has been a great benefit to post-1988 Burmese exiles struggling to make a living in Japan.Standard Burmese is based on the dialect spoken in Rangoon (Yangon) and Mandalay; Arakanese and Tavoyan (the language of the people of Tavoy [Dawei]) are closely related variations. Written (literary) and spoken (vernacular) Burmese are quite different, which (along with politics) is the source of the post-1989 controversy over whether "Burma" (Bama) or "Myanmar" (Myanma) is the proper name of the country: The former is colloquial, the latter literary, and both mean essentially the same thing.The writing system is derived from the old Devanagari script of India, which was introduced to the Burmans by the Mons. It has 33 consonants (some of which are used only to transliterate Pali words) and 12 vowels. The Rajakumar inscription, found at Pagan (Bagan) and dated from 1112 CE, is the earliest known example of written Burmese, and also includes inscriptions in Mon, Pyu, and Pali. The round-shaped letters of Burmese are very appealing to look at and very difficult for foreigners to tell apart.Many Pali words have entered the Burmese language, not only to signify religious and philosophical concepts connected with Buddhism, but also to provide formal vocabulary for increasingly complex and sophisticated precolonial societies, much as Latin and Greek enriched English and other Germanic languages. During and after the British colonial era, Burmese absorbed many English words; for example, pati means "(political) party," democrati means "democracy," and saika ("sidecar") refers to a bicycle-like trishaw still widely used in urban and rural areas.Colonial-era nationalists feared that Burmese was being relegated to the status of a "kitchen language" because elites preferred to use English. During the 1920s, they established National Schools to promote the instruction of the national language; the Dobama Asiayone also promoted the national language in the following decade. During the Ne Win era (1962-1988), the teaching of English (and indigenous minority languages) was deemphasized in favor of Burmese on all levels of the state-run system of education; to some extent, the policy in relation to English has been reversed since the State Law and Order Restoration Council took power in 1988. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Burmese language is increasingly influenced by the forces of "globalization."
Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Donald M. Seekins . 2014.
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