Update: 2013-12-21 08:39 PM +0630


Burmese for Foreign Friends


by U Kyaw Tun (UKT) and Daw Than Than, Jan 1991
Edited by UKT, and digitization by UKT and the staff of TIL.
http://www.tuninst.net , http://www.softguide.net.mm , www.romabama.blogspot.com
Start: 2008 Nov. Update: 110911, 120821, 121105 

index.htm | Top

Contents of this page
  Speech and Script
  Speech (spoken language) of Gautama Buddha
  Akshara - the axiomatic agreement between speech and script
  Pali: Indo-European or Tibeto-Burman
  The Runes or Magico-religious instruments
  The classifiables and the difficultly classified : {wag} & {a.wag}
Transliteration : now transcription (120821)

UKT: This file does not have any sound clips from original UKT-DTT tapes.

UKT notes

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-- by UKT


First of all let us settle at least for this program the terms which I hope are neutral enough to be politically correct. These are my suggested terms - NOT OFFICIAL:

Myanmar <)) <)) - the people, the inhabitants of the country of Myanmarpre
Myanmarpre <)) <)) - the political unit or country
Myanmarsa <)) <)) - the basic akshara-script used by the indigenous spoken languages
    of all ethnic groups Burmese, Karen, Mon, Shan (to name some of the major groups
    in alphabetical order)
Myanmarsaka <)) <)) - the Tibeto-Burman <)) <)) akshara-speeches <)) <)) of all ethnic groups.
   Note: There is a world of difference between Akshara (Abugida) and Alphabet.
   The basic units of Abugida are the syllables, whereas those of Alphabet are
   mute letters which must be supplied with a vowel to become vowels. In case of Abugida,
   the basic units - the syllables - need an {a.t} [Sanskrit - Virama] to turn them
   into mute letters. Yet, MLC in its MED2006-619 has failed to make the distinction between
   an abugida (ak-hka.ra) and alphabet (letter). However, even now the two terms
   -- abugida (akshara) and alphabet -- are not clearly understood in the world's community.
   My distinction is simple: abugida (akshara) system needs an {a.t}, whereas
   the alphabet system does not need one.

In the whole group of Tibeto-Burman spoken in Myanmarpre, we will say
   {ba.ma-sa.ka:} <)) <)) - includes dialects
   {ka.ring-sa.ka:} <)) <)) - includes dialects 
   {mwun-sa.ka:} <)) <)) 
   {shn:sa.ka:} <)) <))
There are some Tibeto-Burman akshara-speeches of some ethnic groups
 which are using the Latin-alphabet, but are nevertheless Myanmarsaka, e.g.
   {hkying:sa.ka:} <)) <))
   {ka.hkying-sa.ka:} <)) <))
(to name some of the major groups in alphabetical order)
[Note: the term "akshara" <)) <)) embraces the units of spoken speech which were originally memorized by the ancients and then later written down on palm leaves, stone, or paper.]
-- UKT 121112


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Speech and Script

Before we set out on our journey into the "Burmese" language, and the country of Myanmar, let us settle on the term "language". The word "language" means a spoken language - a system of sounds -- used by humans to communicate with each other. When these sounds are recorded on paper, papyrus, clay tablets, stones, metal sheets, etc., we get the written language or simply 'script'.

We have to be clear about using our terms even though they are in use daily in a community, because once we get into a different community, a different time-frame or period in history - even into a different social setting, these common terms can come to have different meanings. The inset pix shows a Bur-Myan beauty of my grandmothers' days - late 19th century. The sight of a white-face was a rarity then. Then came my mother's days - the turn of 19th century into the 20th, when in the capital, Rangoon,  there were probably more foreigners than indigenous folks. My mother went to St. Mary's Diocesan Girls' school and then to St. Mary's High school in Rangoon. One of the principals was Miss Laughlin - an English lady. And then there was Miss Darlington whom my mother and I used to visit in Wungabar Road, Bahan, Rangoon. Many Bur-Myan girls of that period spoke fluent English.  Then about the time of WWII, came our days. Not only girls' fashion was changing but the meanings [implications] of many Bur-Myan words were changing also. The change in the capital slowly trickled down to the country-side, and now most of the Bur-Myan population has a fair idea of the English language.

All though out the years of my memory, there were difficulties in pronouncing the English diphthongs by the Burmese, and the Burmese nasals particularly the sound of /ŋ/ by the IE (Indo-European) speaking foreigners. They never get the nasals correct. They always pronounce {nga.} /ŋ/ as {na.} /n/. So our 'fish' {nga:} becomes their 'ear' {na:}. If you get into this difficulty, don't worry. Do not use single words -- use combination.

Therefore, let's be clear: language means the spoken part of communication and script means the written part.

I will be using terms like:

Bur-Myan (spoken Burmese in Myanmar script),
Eng-Lat (English-Latin), and
Hin-Dev (Hindi-Devanagari)

where there are different names for the spoken and the written parts.

However, we may come across terms such as:


where there are no well defined names (at least that I know) for the spoken and the written parts, and the cross-overs such as:

Bur-Lat (Burmese-Latin) aka Romabama
Pal-Myan (Pali-Myanmar) 
Pal-Dev (Pali-Devanagari), 
Skt-Dev (Sanskrit-Devanagari).

We must not forget that in the country of Myanmar (which I am hesitating calling: Myanmarpre or Mranpre)  -- which in full is {mrn-ma-pr} <)) <)) [pronounced in the Irrawaddy dialect], there are other spoken languages which are written in the Myanmar script: Karen-Myanmar, Mon-Myanmar, Shan-Myanmar, etc.

You might be wondering why I have spelled my suggestion as Myanmarpre and NOT Myanmarpyay. The word Myanmar  is by now quite confirmed by common use, and so I can only suggest how the addition should be spelled. This is the word for {pr}. None in the English speaking world would use a highly rhotic sound for <r>, especially when Myanmar has an <r> as the ending. The vowel sound in {pr} is between /i/ and /e/, but more close to /e/. So the English rendition pre would be close to {pr}. -- UKT 121115

Karen {ka.ring} /kə.ɹɪŋ/, Mon {mwun} /mʷ ʊn/, and Shan {hyum:} /ʃʌm/ are all Myanmar languages. They are different from Burmese {ba.ma}, and Burmese speakers do not understand them. Yet they are all Myanmar languages because they are spoken by the indigenous peoples of the Myanmarpre. They are all Tibeto-Burman languages, and as a group are different from Austro-Asiatic (Southern Asiatic) or Dravidian, and also different from Indo-European or Indo-Iranian. The vowel sounds are the same. Die-hard phoneticians especially of the West and their students in Myanmarpre should only look for similarities and not picayune differences. -- My aim of formulating Romabama is for unity and not differences which can be used to wedge our peoples apart!

MLC rendition Shan {rhum:} is phonetically untenable, because the word has no rhotic sound in it. To introduce Sanskrit, Romabama has to invent a new grapheme for the phoneme /ʃ/ . The grapheme is derived from {Sa.} /s/ with a {ha.hto:}-sound: {sha.}. It is a lucky break, because of its usefulness in inter-transcription of Burmese to English and back. Now I can spell Shan {shum:}.

Note: Unfortunately, Romabama has to use the same glyph for both the dental fricative-sibilant {Sa.} ष /s/ and palatal plosive-stop {sa.} च /c/. Bur-Myan, unlike Skt-Dev, does not have the dental fricative-sibilant. Romabama needs to differentiate them in the coda-position as {S} and {c}.

Note: As a linguist, I have no preference for one language over another, and when I  list them together, I arrange them in alphabetical order to be un-biased and politically correct.

On the other hand Arakanese {ra.hkeing}, Burmese {ba.ma}, Danu {Da.nu.}, Tavoyan {hta:w}, Yaw {yau:}, etc., are dialects of Bur-Myan because in careful speech the speakers can understand each other except for different usages and terms.

Therefore, the term "Myanmar language" is a misnomer unless you mean that it is a spoken language used in Myanmarpre {mrn-ma-pr} -- the country of Myanmar. The term Myanmar language is not only confined to Burmese even though it is spoken by the majority in the Irrawaddy valley.

Myanmar is the script used by many spoken indigenous languages. When my wife (Daw Thanthan Tun) and I (U Kyaw Tun) started out to write BURMESE FOR FOREIGN FRIENDS, we did not know the difference between the English words 'language' and 'script', and in the original version, the terms we have used may be confusing. We should have started out from our Bur-Myan usage of {sa.ka:} 'spoken language', and {sa} 'written script'. Myanmar Language Commission (MLC) must therefore concern itself with Karen-Myanmar, Mon-Myanmar, and Shan-Myanmar, etc. As for Chin {hkying:} and Kachin {ka.hkying}, because they are using a different script, they may or may not be included. It is for the Myanmarpre Government to decide.

Now that I have suggested the word Myanmarpre, I should mention something about Kularpre -- a word commonly used for India. The word Kular here is spelled differently for Kalar. The word Kular means relatives or brothers -- not the colour black. However, since the two words are pronounced -- mistakenly -- the same - I for one avoid using the word Kular even though it amounts to saying that the Indians are my brothers.

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Speech (spoken language) of Gautama Buddha

Unlike the electronic recording, the sound of a language which you can hear cannot be regenerated from the script with a touch of the button. And so we have to have a set of symbols aka glyphs agreed upon by the users to mean the system of sounds. When you see a written symbol, and read (or sing) it aloud, and the sound you hear is the sound generated by the reader-speaker and not the original sound. Therefore, to claim that "such and such is the correct Pali-sound (to take an example)" purported to mean that it was used by a historical person such as the Gautama Buddha is a just a tall claim and nothing else.

According to language experts the Burmese language, the language of some thirty millions of natives of Burma (the name given by the British Raj to the country), belongs to the group of Tibeto-Burman (Tib-Bur) languages. It is entirely different from the Indo-European (IE) (formerly known as the Indo-Aryan) languages such as Latin & Greek, French & English and German & Russian. However, since Myanmarpre -- the country of Myanmar -- has always been under the sway of India where IE languages such as Hindi (modern), and Sanskrit (ancient language) are spoken, we can find elements of IE languages particularly that of Sanskrit, in the modern Burmese language. What about Pali? Was it ever spoken in India as is now spoken by our Myanmar monks and nuns? Did Gautama Buddha speak Pali or the more common Magadhi? I refer to what the noted Pali scholar T. W. Rhys Davids, has written in the Introduction to Pali-English Dictionary published in 1921 by the Pali-Text Society :
California Digital Library, 1952 : http://archive.org/details/palitextsocietys00pali 121015

"He [the Buddha] was born in what is now Nepal, but was then a district under the suzerainty of Kosala and in one of the earliest Pali documents he is represented as calling himself a Kosalan.

"When, about a thousand years afterwards, some pandits in Ceylon began to write in Pali, they wrote in a style strikingly different from that of the old texts. Part of that difference is no doubt due simply to a greater power of fluent expression unhampered by the necessity of constantly considering that the words composed had to be learnt by heart. When the Sinhalese used Pali, they were so familiar with the method of writing on palmleaves that the question of memorizing simply did not arise. It came up again later. But none of the works belonging to this period were intended to be learnt. They were intended to be read."

But, I argue, with land routes between northern India and northern Myanmarpre being constantly in use since the days before the Buddha, (refer to the story of King Abiraza <)) <)) coming from northern India to northern Myanmarpre, mentioned in the Glass Palace Chronicles -- before the Buddha came on scene), there must have been constant interchange of languages. What languages? I dare say they were Tibeto-Burman languages in which the vowels would sound strikingly similar and in which rhoticity, fricatives, and hissing sibilants would be minimal. The so-called Pali spoken in Myanmarpre is more likely to be similar to what our Lord Buddha had spoken and quite dissimilar to what the pundits in Ceylon must have devised. Since International Pali is mainly derived from Ceylonese "Pali", its accents would be totally unlike that of the Buddha.

More than ninety per cent of the Burmese speakers are Buddhists, and since Pali is the holy language of Theravada Buddhism, the religion of the majority, we can find a very large number of Pali or Pali-derived words in the Burmese language. Moreover, since most of the people believe in astrology, we find derivatives of Sanskrit. This is why I am engaged in a review of A. A. Macdonell's A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. http://www.tuninst.net/SED-MC/MC-indx.htm 120822, and Pali words in PTS and U Pe Maung Tin's dictionaries.

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Akshara - the axiomatic agreement between speech and script

Now, let's come to the written part of the human communication - the script. There are two systems in use that is of interest to us. The alphabetic system and the abugida aka the alpha-syllabary. Or, if you are uncomfortable with the term abugida just call it the akshara {ak~hka.ra} system.

There are 33 consonantal glyphs in the Burmese-Myanmar akshara-matrix of 7 rows X 5 columns. The Burmese people are extremely fond of matrices probably because they are used to writing {ing}. We will tell you what these {ing:} are later in this programme. At this time, just make a note that Bur-Myan has no 'singulars' and 'plurals', no past and present tenses, no inflexions -- the grammar is very simple..

Among the 33 consonantal glyphs there are some ten used mainly to write Pali and Sanskrit and their derivatives. They are found in row #3 whose POA (Place of Articulation) is retroflex, and under column #4 whose phonation is voiced and which comes straight from the voice box (behind Adam's Apple). Though dubbed "aspiration" and marked with <h>, they have nothing to do with the aspiration found in Cockney (remember "Pygmalion" and  its adaptation "My Fair Lady" where Henry Higgins is 'enry 'iggins'?). As a substitute term I have dubbed them "deep-h".

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Pali: Indo-European or Tibeto-Burman ?

Though I am not exactly sure of classification of Pali as a language, there is no doubt that Sanskrit is an IE language. Moreover from the time of Abiraza (preceding Gautama Buddha) who presumably was accompanied by Poanna-Brahmins as family priests speaking Sanskrit, and commoners (womenfolk, soldiers and servants) speaking Magadhi (from which Pali was derived), Burmese spoken at Taguang would have surely come under the influence of both Sanskrit and Pali.

Speakers of English will find many words related to Latin & Greek, and thence to English & French in Bur-Myan words. Therefore, I must say, that though Bur-Myan is Tib-Bur, it has many commonalities with IE. You will find rhotic accents from Sanskrit and Pali mostly in dialects spoken on the Western coast -- the Rakhine State and in many indigenous groups.

The Bur-Myan script is very simple to write. It is based on rounded circles. And, if you know how to draw a perfectly rounded circle, starting from the bottom and going clockwise, you can write the Bur-Myan script. It is entirely different from the Chinese. It is more simple to write than  Eng-Lat.

To some writers, such as V.C. Scott O'Connor (in 'Mandalay and Other Cities of the Past in Burma', Hutchinson & Co., London, 1907. Reprint by White Lotus Co. Ltd., Bangkok, 1987. ISBN 974-8495-17-5. p423), the Bur-Myan akshara was formerly thought to be based on the Gupta script of northern India. However,  later epigraphists traced it the Pallavas of the South. But, I hold a different view.

The Pallava script, from: http://skyknowledge.com/pallava.htm 120821
The reader is asked to compare the shapes of the glyphs in the two scripts, Pallava and Myanmar. Which is simpler? Which is more natural: a change from simple to complex or the other way around?

I contend that the Myanmar script is directly descended from the Asoka script (now dubbed Brahmi - the language of Poanna-Brahmins), or even to a more ancient script which may be Vedic (if there was one), because there are many similarities between Asoka and Myanmar in script. The influence of Asokan script would be enhanced during the lifetime of the Buddha, when another group of Thakka-thakis kings and princes (relatives of the Buddha) had to sought refuge in Tagaung founding the second city.

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The Runes or Magico-religious instruments


The Bur-Myan script based on perfectly rounded circles had been, and is still used to  cast runes or {ing:} <)) <)), a pre-Buddhistic instrument of a magico-religion which the Theravada Buddhist-clergy is trying to suppress. Try as they might they would not succeed, because some of them are deeply involved in such practices. I am referring to the case of the notorious U LarBa - a Buddhist monk who after indulging in {Bau:Di.a-ra. ing:} <)) <))   became a ritualistic cannibal. He was caught just as he was going after his last victim. He was sentenced to death, but died before his execution -- probably because no one dared to put a noose around his neck.

See my note on Sutasoma
-- a Jataka story for the story of {Bau:Di.a-ra.} [sp?]

I personally talked to one of his monastery-boys, David by name. David was a laboratory attendant in the Chemistry Department in the early 1970's. David did not know what his sayadaw U LarBa was doing. David was questioned by the police. It was Professor U Aung Khin, Professor of Chemistry, Arts&Science University, Rangoon, who told me about David's connection to U LarBa. I wasn't in the know because, when the case came to light I was still in Mandalay. I questioned David about the case, and what he told me was simply bone-chilling.

A curious parallel is found in the West - the Wicca religion 'the religion of Earth Mother'. Go online and see : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca 120822

Please note: The above is pure supposition arrived at from my foray into the folk elements of Buddhism in Myanmarpre. It is almost impossible to penetrate the magico-religious circles, unless I personally joined up. And as I have seen cases of people trying to connect to those circles undergoing a profound mental change sometime resulting in insanity, I think it is not advisable to go much deeper.) [{p001end}]

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The classifiables {wag} and the difficultly classified

The 33 consonants of Bur-Myan akshara matrix is made up of two parts: the {wag} aka 'classifiables' and the {a.wag} 'difficult-to-classify'. The {wag} is a matrix of 5X5 and is the proper matrix showing where (the Place of Articulation - POA) is, and, how (the manner) the individual sounds are produced.

It is stated that there are some 12 simple vowels. However since the Bur-Myanmar language, a pitch-register language, has what the Westerners thought to be allophones, I am inclined to increase it to beyond 30. I might as well introduce at this point to the reader the Two-three tone problem that exists between Burmese and English which was a major hurdle in my transcription work.

The Bur-Myan script is written in three levels; a main level, and a level above the main level and a level below. Most of the consonants are written on the main level, while the vowel signs are written on all three levels. Some letters are written on the bottom-most level in conjuncts (or conjoined aksharas).

The Bur-Myan script is always written from left to right: it is impossible to write from right to left. The punctuation marks are also quite different from that of English and French. The diacritics   might be confusing at first, but if we recall that the French write their e's in three different ways: , e and , and the Spanish have two marks of interrogation: (Alt0191) and ?, Burmese cannot be particularly more difficult than languages that use the Latin script. However, it is always comforting to remember that what we are attempting is, to introduce the Burmese language to a speaker of English.

This is not a scholarly work; at best, it is the work of an amateur who is a native son of Burma, and who thinks he knows English, some French, just a wee bit of technical German, some words of Swedish, and who aspires to learn Spanish. Since, he has lived for some time in Australia, where he used to wash his face in the 'bison' - not basin - and where all his friends were 'mites' - not mates, and in the United States and Canada where no one was supposed to speak the King's English, it is hoped that BURMESE FOR FOREIGN FRIENDS should be interesting if not entertaining. [{p002end}]

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Romabama : Transliteration or Romanization

And now (120821) Transcription

Before I was comfortable with the vowels of Burmese and IPA-English, I had left Romabama in the transliteration stage. To come to a transcription stage I have to study Sanskrit in Devanagari. And now I realize that the Romabama vowels in the syllable must be changed to reflect the pronunciation. In the transliteration stage, the vowels had remained as they were in the free akshara stage. To be specific, lets say, I want to transcribe an ordinary English word like C-A-T.

Letter-to-Akshara transliteration gives {kat} -- a wrong pronunciation:

{ka,} + {ta.} + {a.t} or virama --> {kt}

The pronunciation of is {kt} and not {kat}. This means I have to change the vowel from /a/ to /ʌ/. It took me many years to come to this realization: only after I have studied phonetics and phonology. See my work on the Human Voice
http://www.tuninst.net/HumanVoice/HV-indx.htm#Cont-this-pg 121105
And still many more to confirm that I have to change the vowel: for which I have delved into Skt-Dev and Pal-Myan. Now that I have become comfortable with the vowel change, Romabama has become a transcription and is no longer a transliteration. -- UKT120821

To the best of my knowledge, there had been no attempt to write the Bur-Myan language in the Latin script of the Roman alphabet. And, as late as 1984, Caroline Courtard wrote in the "In Search of Burma" (Frederick Muller Limited, London SW19 7JZ): "Transliteration from the Burmese does not conform to a single system; one comes across the same word spelt a multitude of different ways."

Thus, the first hurdle I had to overcome in presenting Burmese for Foreign Friends is to devise a consistent system of writing the language with Latin script of Roman alphabet which would be readily understood by a speaker of English or French from North America. Please note that I am not confining myself to using the letters used for writing the English language, but would be using the extended Latin alphabet. I wish I could use the IPA alphabet. However, IPA uses non-ASCII characters which are not suitable for writing email. Romabama is meant for email and the Internet, and I have to confine myself to using the ASCII characters only. See Romabama rules, in particular the rule for vowels: http://romabama.blogspot.ca/2012/08/romabama-rule-03v.html 120821
Or, Introduction to Romabama, http://www.tuninst.net/SED-TIL/intro-rbm/intro-RBM.htm 120821

Being a native-born speaker of Burmese who had traveled extensively in Myanmarpre and who had worked as a university teacher, in various places in Myanmarpre for over thirty years, I have come across many dialects spoken by my friends and students. At one time, I had to teach my students in English, and I know how difficult it is for an adult to learn a second language or even a different dialect.
See my work on Language Acquisition and Learning
http://www.tuninst.net/LAT/LAT4M.htm#Cont-this-pg 121105
My study was based on:
  Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, 4th. ed. (& 3rd ed.), by H. Douglas Brown
Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. Copyright 2000. ISBN 0-13-017816-0
http://www.tuninst.net/LAT/n-Brown3/n-Brown3-indx.htm#Cont-this-pg 121105
A History of English Language Teaching, by A. P. R. Howatt 
Oxford Univ. Press, 1984, 2001.
http://www.tuninst.net/LAT/n-Howatt/n-Howatt-indx.htm#Cont-this-pg 121105
Didactics, by Timothy Mason (stopped in preparation stage)

Moreover, since I have lived and studied in the U.S., Australia and Canada, I have come to appreciate the difficulty facing a foreigner in trying to pronounce even my own Burmese name. Eventually, this led me to change my name to the nearest to it in pronunciation. When children were born to me, I have to name them not only in conformity with the Burmese-Buddhist custom, but also with a mind to making the names pronounceable by non-Burmese speakers. On top of it all, I had to adopt a family name. Since my father's name was U Tun Pe, which literally means 'Father Tun', Tun has become our family name.

I had attempted to devise a system of transliteration-transcription many times previously based on the English system of writing. In fact, it all started when as a pre-teen (I'm now 79) I tried to type out the Burmese language on my father's English typewriter after noticing that the English <c> and <o> are of the same shapes as Bur-Myan {nga.} /ŋ/ and {wa.} /w/.

Now after nearly two decades of studying linguistics and phonetics, and at present (year 2012) studying four languages in three scripts, BEPS (Burmese-English-Pali-Sanskrit in Myanmar-IPA-Devanagari), I am able to give the IPA transcriptions. I am following a bracket convention which I urge the reader to remember:
   {...} - Romabama - Burmese-Latin
   /.../ - IPA phonemic transcription [please note that I am giving my own 'pronunciation' and NOT the usual phonetic transcription given by foreign phoneticians and their students in Myanmarpre.]
   <...> - regular English words
   ..., IAST (International Alphabet for Sanskrit Transliteration). - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Alphabet_of_Sanskrit_Transliteration 110911
   Other brackets such as (...) and [...] with usual conventional meanings are also used.

Unfortunately, there is no natural or logical correspondence in English between a letter and a sound it  represents. This has led George Bernard Shaw to propose [{p003end}] that the word 'fish' should be spelled 'ghoti': <gh> to represent the sound /f/ as in enough, <o> to represent the sound /i/ as in women, and <ti> to represent the sound /ʃ/ as in <nation>. And, therefore, my previous attempts were never successful.

Then, when I came to learn French, it dawned on me that a word such as <comment> is pronounced differently in French. In European languages, speech and script are different: English-Latin, French-Latin, Spanish-Latin ) the same word is pronounced differently.

I had to forget the English system completely to read French. This idea is the basis on which I have devised my system of writing the Burmese language with the Latin script. I have named my system 'Romabama' or {rau:ma.ba.ma} 'Burmese sounds in Roman alphabet'. Romabama could very well be {ro:ma.ba.ma} the 'backbone of Burmese sounds'.

Since, Bur-Myan is a scientific language [See A. W. Lonsdale, BG1899-indx.htm] based on phonemic principles, you can pronounce Burmese according to Romabama script. Of course, you will not sound like a native of the Irrawaddy valley (that of Yangon and Mandalay), but you will be understood. You will be told that you sounded like a Rakhine aka Arakanese of the western coast of Myanmar.

Just as in French, do not pronounce the end consonant (or coda). This is the most important rule in my system. Remember that in Bur-Myan as in the Indic languages, the syllable is supreme -- not the invidual letters of the Alphabet. The syllable structure is the same: Consonant-Vowel-Consonant. In our languages the coda consonant is always under virama which kills the inherent vowel.

Never forget that Burmese-Myanmar is based on syllables of the canonical form CV, where the coda-akshara is a "killed" akshara.

The vowel is monophthongal in pronunciation in spite what the Western phoneticians say -- Burmese-speakers, including myself at one time, are unable to pronounce English words like <oil>, <boy> and <cow>. The vowel sound of a digraph must be pronounced as a monophthong in Burmese. In English the diagraph is pronounced as a diphthong. This is the reason why native-born Burmese speakers have difficulty in pronouncing the English diphthongs.

Thus, the word  {peing} which is very close in pronunciation to English <pine> is spelled {peing}. Do not pronounce the ng , and never spell Romabama words with the so-called "magic e".

Remember, Myanmar is a phonetic script similar to IPA: preceding it by hundreds of years, if not by thousands. Romabama spelling can be easily arrived at by:

1. choose the onset,
2. choose the coda, and then,
3. choose (or guess) the peak vowel.

Since, I have introduced my system gradually, I hope that there would be no difficulty for you in studying the Burmese language by yourself. [{p004end}]. In the mean time, my son U (Dr.) ZinTun (Ph.D. in Physics) has recovered his mother's and my voices from the original C60 tapes. The sound files are mostly in mp3 format and I hope you will be able to play them by clicking on <)) signs.

In my presentation, I have given the dialogs mostly between a male actor (myself in the original tapes), and a female actor (my wife before she passed away). Of course there are other voices -- mostly those of my research staff in Yangon. The story is fictitious even though I have used the names of my family members. I had hopes of continuing the story to the eventual marriage and raising a family. But my wife and I were already old even at the time of the first recordings and age was showing in the voices. I hope to get new actors eventually (if I am able to pay them), and then I will be able to continue my stories.

In these lessons, I will introduce aspects of the Burmese culture, and aspects of Theravada Buddhism as practiced by ordinary people of the Irrawaddy basin -- the majority of the population. Remember it is not exactly what the Buddhist clergy have in mind. The ordinary folks do believe in {nt} and worship them much to the annoyance of the clergy.

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UKT notes


-- UKT: 081104 , 121115
The following are taken from Wikipedia. If only I had written them in a combined form, it would be slightly different. Eventually, I will muster enough courage to write a note on Abugida.

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abugida 121115

An abugida /ˌɑːbuːˈɡiːdə/ (from Geez አቡጊዳ bugida), also called an alphasyllabary, is a segmental writing system in which consonantvowel sequences are written as a unit: each unit is based on a consonant letter, and vowel notation is secondary. This contrasts with a full alphabet, in which vowels have status equal to consonants, and with an abjad, in which vowel marking is absent or optional. (In less formal contexts, all three systems may commonly be termed as alphabets, or scripts.) Abugidas include the extensive Brahmic family of scripts of South and Southeast Asia.

UKT: More in the Wikipedia article. Notice how Wikipedia has rewritten it from what it had written in 2008.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abugida 081104

An abugida (pronounced /ˌɑːbuːˈɡiːdə/, from Geez አቡጊዳ bugida or Amharic አቡጊዳ abugida) is a segmental writing system which is based on consonants but in which vowel notation is obligatory. About half the writing systems in the world are abugidas, including the extensive Brahmic family of scripts used in South and Southeast Asia. [UKT: Myanmar belongs to the Brahmic family of scripts - found on the pillars erected by the Buddhist emperor. The script on the pillars were written a few centuries after the death of Gautama Buddha.]

In general, a full letter of an abugida transcribes a consonant. Full letters are written in a linear sequence in a consistent direction. Vowels are dependent on the consonant. They are written through modification of the consonant letter, either by means of diacritics which are placed in a vowel-dependent position relative to the consonant (rather than always progressing in the same direction as the sequence of full letters) or through changes in the form of the consonant itself.

Vowels not preceded by a consonant may be represented with:
a zero consonant letter with dependent vowel signs attached [UKT: In Bur-Myan, it is {a.} from which we get {i.}, {u.}, {}, etc.]
separate full letters for each initial vowel, that are distinct from the dependent vowel signs

Consonants not followed by a vowel may be represented with:
a dependent vowel sign which explicitly indicates lack of a vowel (virama)

UKT: virama (Sanskrit) means the vowel killer or {a.t}. I have shortened <virama> to 'viram' .

lack of a dependent vowel sign (often with ambiguity between no vowel and a default inherent vowel)

UKT: the "inherent vowel" is represented in Romabama with {a.}, but not shown in Myanmar.

a dependent vowel sign for a short or neutral vowel such as schwa (with ambiguity between no vowel and that short or neutral vowel)

UKT: Schwa is IPA [ə] with the shape of Myanmar {hka.}. This sound is present in disyllabic words like {a.ni} where the stress is not on {a.} and is pronounced very lightly. Since, there is no dedicated grapheme to represent Schwa in Bur-Myan, it has not been represented i n Romabama. However, it has been pointed out that it would help foreigners learning Burmese if there was representation of Schwa in Romabama. For doing so, the best candidate that has been suggested is {} (Alt0229). Thus, {-ni}.

conjunct consonant letters where two or more consonant letters are graphically joined in a ligature

UKT: there are three types of conjuncts in Myanmar: the pronounceable medials (e.g. {kya.}), mute vertical conjuncts (e.g. {k~ka.}), and mute horizontal conjuncts (e.g. {th~tha.}/{~tha.}.

dependent consonant signs, which may be smaller and/or differently placed versions of the full consonant letters, or distinct signs

UKT: {king-si:} -- representing {nga.}-killed -- is found as in disyllabic words. It is not shown in Pali-Text Soc. dictionary. It is the coda of the first syllable, and the consonant below it, is the onset of the second syllable. The signs {th:th:ting}, {auk-mric} (MEDict620) and {wic~sa.} (MEDict480} would fit into this category.

The term abugida was adopted into English [UKT: in 1996] as a linguistic term by Peter T. Daniels. It is the Ethiopian name of the Geez script, derived from the first four letters aləf, bet, gməl, dənt (in the traditional A B G D order of Hebrew and Greek), graded by the first four vowel forms, much as the term abecedary is derived from the Latin a be ce de. As Daniels used the word, an abugida contrasts with a syllabary, where letters with shared consonants or vowels show no particular resemblance to each another, and with an alphabet proper, where independent letters are used to denote both consonants and vowels. Sometimes, abugidas have been considered to be syllabaries or intermediate between syllabaries and alphabets ("semi-syllabaries", "alpha-syllabaries", etc.). Less formally, however, abugidas are simply called "alphabets".

UKT: calling an abugida an alphabet is the source of many problems in the study or BEPS. The basic units of the abugida are syllables and they are pronounceable, whereas the basic unit of the alphabet are letters without sounds.

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Excerpt from: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j5/j5030.htm 121115

One of them, the king of Benares, never ate his rice meal without meat, and to observe a holy day they would take his meat and put it on one side. Now one day when the meat was thus reserved, by the carelessness of the cook the well-bred dogs in the king's palace ate it. The cook not finding it took a handful of coins and going a round failed to procure any meat and said, "If I should serve a meal without meat, I am a dead man. What am I to do?" But thinking, "There is still a way," late in the evening he went to a cemetery where dead bodies are exposed and taking some flesh from the thigh of a man who had just died, he roasted it [p. 248] thoroughly and served it up as a meal. No sooner was a bit of the meat placed on the tip of the king's tongue than it sent a thrill through the seven thousand nerves of taste and continued to create a disturbance throughout his whole body. Why was this? From his having previously resorted to this food. For it is said that as a Yakkha, in the birth immediately preceding this, he had eaten quantities of human flesh, and so it was agreeable to his taste 1 . [459] The king thought, "If I shall eat this in silence, he will not tell me what this meat is," so in spitting he let a piece fall to the ground. When the cook said, "You may eat it, sire; there is nothing wrong with it," he ordered all his attendants to retire and said, "I know it is all right, but what meat is it?" "What your Majesty has enjoyed on previous days." "Surely the meat had not this flavour at any other time?" "It was well cooked to-day, sire." "Surely you cooked it exactly like this before?" Then seeing him reduced to silence he said, "Either tell me the truth or you are a dead man." So he prayed for an assurance of indemnity and told the exact truth. The king said, "Do not say a word about it. You are to eat the usual roast meat and cook human flesh only for me."

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