Languages of Burma

   According to one estimate, Burma has 107 "living languages." Most of Burma's indigenous languages belong to the Tibeto-Burman subgroup of Sino-Tibetan languages. They include not only the Burmese (Myanmar) language, which is the most widely spoken, but also the languages of the Akhas, Chins, Kachins, Karens (Kayins), Lahus, and Nagas. The prevalence of this language subgroup indicates that the origin of most of the present inhabitants of Burma was Tibet or southwestern China. The major non-Tibeto-Burman languages include the Shan language, which belongs to the Tai-Kadai group, bearing close affinities to the language of Thailand, and the languages of the Mons, Palaung, and Wa, which are Mon-Khmer (Austroasiatic), sharing a common origin with Cambodian (Khmer). The Moken speak an Austronesian language, related to Malay. Among nonindigenous languages, English and Chinese are widely used, the latter being important in the China-Burma border areas. Although Pali is not a vernacular, its role as the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism gives it an incomparable importance in Burmese life.
   See also Mon Language.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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