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About Burmese Language

The Burmese language is the official language of Myanmar(former Burma). In Burmese, the language is called (bha ma sa, which means "Burmese writing"). Burmese is a member of the Tibeto-Burman languages, which is a subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. It is spoken by 22 million as a first language, and is spoken as a second language by minorities in Burma, such as the Chinese, Indian, Karen, Mon, and Shan. The language utilises the Burmese script, and derives from the Mon script , which ultimately comes from Pali. The script has a rather round shape, called ka loun. The ISO 639 code for Burmese is 'my'. It is a tonal language, with four main tones, and makes it somewhat difficult for Westerners to learn. To the untrained ear, Burmese sounds much like Chinese.

Dialects and accents

The standard dialect of Burmese comes from Rangoon, but there are several distinctive dialects in Upper Burma and Lower Burma. Dialects include Merguese, Yaw, Danu, and Palaw. The most noticable feature of the Mandalay dialect is its use of the pronoun jia nuo for both males and females, whereas in Rangoon, jia ma refers to females. Although there are various dialects in Burma, there is mutual intelligibility.

Burmese is classified broadly into two categories. One is formal, used in literary works and official publications. The other is street, which is used with family and friends. There are various branches of Burmese speech, as well. One form is used when speaking to elders and teachers. Different pronouns referring to oneself (such as the usage of jia nuo or jia ma) is used. When speaking to a person of the same status or of younger age, nhga or wa (rural) is used. When speaking to monks, a person must refer to him as poun poun, and refer to onself as da ga.

Much of the vocabulary is derived from Pali, an ancient Indo-Aryan language used in Therevada Buddhist texts. Burmese monks may speak to fellow monks using Pali, and it is expected of faithful Burmese Buddhists to have a basic knowledge of Pali.

Script

The Burmese script derives from the Mon script, which was prevalent in Lower Burma. Notable features of the Burmese script are:

  • Its script is is syllabic, with letters having an inherent vowel (a).
  • The rounded script came from the usage of palm leaves as primary writing material during ancient times.
  • Its tones are indicated by various diacritics and special letters added to the word.

There is no standardized system of romanizing Burmese, although there have been various attempts, which began during British Imperialism.

Grammar

The word order of the Burmese language is subject-object-verb. The pronouns in Burmese vary according to the gender and status of the audience. Burmese is monosyllabic. That is to say every word is a root to which a particle but not another word my be prefixed (Ko, 1924, p viii). Sentence structure determines correct grammar, and verbs are not conjugated. For example, the verb 'to eat', is sa, and remains the same.

Adjectives

Adjectives precede the noun, in most cases. ex. chuo dhe lu - beautiful person. Superlatives are usually indicated with the prefix a + adjective + suffix zonh. Numeric adjectives follow the noun.

Verbs

Verbs are not conjugated in Burmese, and the root verb itself cannot determine the tense or mood. Various sounds are added to state the tense. The verb ya, or to be is usually omitted when speaking, but is grammatically correct when used. For example, ngha ya sa bi bi is just as grammatically correct as ngha sa bi bi.

Nouns

Nouns have no gender, and the root noun is not plural. A noun is made plural through the usage of measure words . Ku is used for items, kaung is for animals, and yao is used for persons. For example, three persons is lu donh yao (person-three-measure word).

Pronouns

Subject pronouns begin a sentence. In the imperative forms, the subject is omitted. There are certain pronouns used for different audiences. However, the object pronoun is usually corrected with a gou, because it is standard Burmese. As an example, saying ngha nei za ga piou qin dhe is awkward, while saying ngha nei gou za ga piou qin dhe is more correct. The basic pronouns are:

  • ngha - I/me (street)
  • ka ma - I/me (rural; female)
  • ka nuo - I/me (rural; male)
  • ka ma - I/me (rural; female)
  • jia nuo - I/me (formal; male)
  • ta mee - I/me (younger female or literally 'daughter')
  • tar - I/me (younger male or literally 'son')
  • phone phone - I/me (monk)
  • da ga - I/me (person speaking to monk)
  • jia ma - you (formal; male)
  • a shin - you (rural; female)
  • nei - you (street)
  • luu - you (rural)
  • ngha duo - we
  • nei duo - you all
  • thu - he/she
  • ha - it; that
  • thu duo - they

Tones

Burmese is a tonal language, with five tones. Three are main (high, low, creaky), and two are substandard.

Vocabulary

Much of Burmese vocabulary derives from Pali and Sanskrit. English has been a particularly influential language since the 1800s. Nearly all syllables in Burmese end with a vowel, and words that end with a consanant all end with ng or n.

 

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