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


Burmese for Foreign Friends
Version 01


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
Reconstruct from C60 tapes - 121106 

index.htm | Top

Contents of this page

The Lost Tapes

Welcome to Burmese for Foreign Friends
01. Chapter 1 : The Basics
01.01. Dialogue  
01.02. Dialogue
01.03. Dialogue
01.04. - moved to next page

UKT: Please remember that I am writing this for a mixed readership. And, I have to include explanations for linguists, phoneticians and grammarians of other languages as well. (And who knows, Panini {pa-Ni.ni.} पाणिनि , the ancient Sanskrit phonetician and grammarian, presumably a Brahmin, a contemporary of the Buddha, might be watching me in spirit over my shoulder.) And so, if you are a beginner with hardly any knowledge of linguistics, phonetics and grammar of other languages, some of my explanations would be beyond you. For such people, all I can suggest is to ignore my notes and explanations.

UKT 131221: This file has sound clips from original UKT-DTT tapes.

UKT notes
Panini {pa-Ni.ni.} पाणिनि
Note on Culture
Note on Grammar
Note on Culture-2

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The lost tapes

-- UKT 121106

My wife Daw Than Than and I (U Kyaw Tun) wrote Burmese For Foreign Friends, version #1, 1991 soon after we arrived in Canada. However we soon found out that we need to learn Linguistics, Phonetics, Teaching of a Second Language, and the written systems (Alphabet and Abugida) before we could continue. We arrived up to Chapter 6 and we had to stop.

Then in 2008, four years after the death of my wife, feeling lonely, and wishing to hear her voice again I looked up for the C60-tapes and type-written text of Burmese for Foreign Friends. I recovered the text -- now in loose sheets. I tried to put them again in order but was not successful. And so I had to start Version 02 with whatever sheets I could find from Version 01. The tapes had been stored by my wife somewhere in our home in Canada, and I could not find them.

Only in 1012, remembering that she might have stored the tapes together with the French In Action (a learning program from which I was learning French) could I locate the lost tapes. There were three C60 tapes, with a chapter on each side. Luckily they were still in good shape and our son, ZinTun converted the C60 analog format to mp3 & Windows media format. I am finding to my horror that the version #2 is quite different from that of version #1, except that the dialogs (in voices of my wife and mine) in the chapters are still the same. Now that I have found her voice and mine of over 20 years ago, I can live back in those years again when full of hope (but finding jobless) we started living in our new home. I have stopped working on version #2 temporarily, to reconstruct #1 to bring her back to life.

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Listen to Chapter 01 : linked
  to B4FF1-indx/SND-mp3 - mp3<))
  to B4FF1-indx/SND-wma - wma<))
Note: This is the digitized version of the original C60 audio tape. It would be cut at my research station in Yangon by Daw Khin Wutyi and her helpers, but for the time being please listen to the contents of the original C60-tape side A.

Welcome to Burmese for Foreign Friends

According to language experts, the Burmese language - the language of some thirty millions of natives of Burma, belongs to the group of Tibeto-Burman languages that is entirely different from the Indo-European languages formerly known as the Indo-Aryan languages, such as Latin, French and English. However, since Burma has always been under the sway of India where Indo-European languages such as Hindi, Sanskrit and Pali are spoken, we can find elements of Indo-European languages particularly that of Pali in the modern Burmese language.

More than 90% of the Burmese people are Buddhists and since Pali is the holy language of Buddhism, we can find a very large number of Pali or Pali-derived words in the Burmese language. In fact there are some 10 letters in the Burmese alphabet [row#3 retroflex, column#4 deep-h, and {La.}] which are almost exclusively used to write Pali or Pali-derived words. And therefore those speakers of English aspiring to learn the Burmese language should find solace in that the Burmese language is not entirely unrelated to English and French.

Contents of this page

Chapter 1
The Basics

<))  <)) 

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01.01 Dialogue


A man is trying to teach his foreign friend some Burmese. He seeks the help of a woman friend of his, and she agrees to help him. In this episode, the man has not brought his foreign friend - you - along, and so you are not expected to say anything in Burmese.

The dialogue is given in four columns: 1. Bur-Myan script, 2. Formal pronunciation in Romabama, 3. Casual pronunciation in Romabama, and, 4. one-to-one translation. If you are a beginner you are advised to imitate the formal pronunciation.

Note: Romabama uses the Old-English Thorn character <> instead of the Modern-English digraph <th>

  Formal Approx. Pronunciation
( , Alt0229 = schwa)
W. la-pa / la-pa la-ba / la-ba come/ come
M. ma-t-nau ma-d-nau healthy be?
W. hoat-k. hoak-k. yes
M. lu-tic-yauk-ko lu-t-yauk-go man one-person to
... to. do.
the 2nd allophone of <doe>
/dəʊ/ (US) /doʊ/>
... ba.ma sa.ka: b-ma z-ga: Burmese-speech
... thing-p: t. a.hka thing-p: d. -hka teach-give when
... ku-p: pa ku-p:Ba help-give
W. ku-paa. m ku-Ba. m help will (agree)

(The above table straddles p005 and p006.)

You are expected to guess the meaning of the dialogue from the meaning of each word given.
Loosely translated, the dialogue runs thus:

W: Please come.
M: How do you do?
W: I'm very well, thank you.
M: Please help me teach a man Burmese.
W: I'll help.

See Note on Culture
In conclusion, I must ask you to be patient and be satisfied with a somewhat truncated dialogue. [{p008end}]

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01.02. Dialogue


The woman inquires about the prospective student: who he is, where he came from, how long he has been in Yangon, and she comes to a conclusion. [The 'thorn' <> is given in place the digraph <th> in the program.]

W: ing-m.u-ka. ing-m. u.ga. teach-to-be he from
... B-u l: / B-ka. l: B-u l: / B-ga. l: who be / where be (question)
M: u-ka. u-ga. he from
... ka.n-da ka. pa k-n-da ga. Ba Canada from be
W: u u he
... ran-koan yan-goan Yankon
... rauk-n ta yauk-n da arrived
... B-toan: ka. l: B-doan: ga. l: when
M: a.ring la. ka. pa -ying la. ga. Ba previous month be
(or) * (or) ya.hking la. ka. pa (or) y-hking la. ga. Ba  
W: di-lo hso-ring di-lo hso-ying such said
... a.saim: ak-ak -saim: ak-ak (he is) green pure
... B: pau. B: pau. be (conclusion)
M: hoat-pa t hoat-pa d true be (agreement)

* The reader might have seen {ya.hking} in a shortened form, .
This is wrong, because, the grapheme in red is not pronounceable (or mute):

{ya.} + [ {a.t} aka virama] --> {y}

- notice the absence of inherent vowel.

{y} + {hka.} --> {y~hka.} (mute)

- written as a vertical conjunct with hidden {a.t}-sign. This type of conjunct is known as {paaT-hsing.}. It is not pronounceable (or mute) because there is no vowel between {y} and {hka.}.)

{y~hka.} + {nga.} + [ {a.t}] --> {y~hking} (mute)

(The above table straddles p009 and p010.)

Translated loosely, the dialogue runs:

W: Who is he? And from where?
M: He is from Canada.
  (The man does not tell her who the prospective student is.
  Obviously, but unknown to the woman, he has something up his sleeve. Beware!)
W: When did he arrive in Yangon?
M: Sometime last month.
W: If so, he must be very green.
  (She means that the foreigner knows nothing of Myanmar.
  Is she also a party to some devious scheme?
  No one can tell right now, but let us only hope that they are honest people.)
M: That's true. [{p010end}]

See Note on Grammar

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01.03. Dialogue


The woman had thought there would be one man coming to learn Burmese, but now she finds out there would be more than one.

M: uu.ko nak-hpn-hka u.go nak-hpn-ga he-to tomorrow
.... di-ko hkau-la m-nau // di-go hkau-la-m-nau // here bring-will
W: hkau-la-pa // hkau-la-Ba // bring
M: pa.hta.ma.tau. p-hta.ma.dau. first (only)
.... uu. tic-yauk ht:B: u.t-yauk ht:B: his one-person only
.... hkau-la-m // hkau-la-m // bring-will
W: B-lo ? B-lo ? how come ?
.... B-u pa-on:mha-l: ? B-u pa-on:ma.l: ? who else include
M: u.main:ma.pa u.main:ma.Ba his wife also
.... pa-la-m // pa-la-m // together come will
W: hau:tau. // hau:tau. // (exclamation exclusively used by females)
M: u.main:ma. pa-la-ring u.main:ma. pa-la-ring wife come if
.... lak-ma.hkn tau.Bu:la: ? lak-m-hkn dau.Bu:la: ? not-receive is-not
W: ma.hoat-pa-Bu: / ma.hoat-pa-Bu: / not-true no
.... hkau-a hkau-la-pa // hkau-a-hkau-la-Ba // bring (simply) bring-be
M: wm:a leik-ta // wm:a-leik-ta // (feel deep) inside pleasant-be

Translated loosely, the dialogue runs:

M: I'll bring him here tomorrow.
W: Please, do.
M: First, I'll bring him only.
W: What did you say? Who else is coming?
M: His wife will come also.
W: (exclamation)
M: Won't you have us, if the wife comes along?
W: No.
   (She contradicts the suggestive question of the man,
   and to explain herself, adds:)
   Just bring them.
  (Here, the woman does not like the man

See Note on Culture-2

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UKT notes

Panini (पाणिनि Pāṇini)

From: Panini and Sanskrit Grammar by Jud Evens, Oct 2010
http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/panini.htm 121107

The most fascinating non-Western grammatical tradition, and the most germinal and independent - is that of India, which dates back at least two and one-half millennia and which culminates with the grammar of Panini whose date is usually given as being circa the 5th century BC. The Sanskrit grammar of Panini already comprises a fully formulated system, its author standing at the end of a long line of precursors of which sixty-four are named but whose works have entirely perished

UKT: In the older essay on Panini -- by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/panini.htm 081103
which I read on 081103 (four years ago) it is stated:

"The tradition of Paninian Grammar as it has reached us clearly believes that Panini was inspired by Mahesvara/Siva to write his grammar, and that he received his major influence from him."

UKT: 121106
It is noteworthy that in both the above articles the figure accompany is that of {u-ra~a.ti}. -- [for definition of the word see MLC MED2006-499.] Yet in the older article, though the Hindu god Siva was mention, no image of his, instead of which the authors chose to include the image of the Goddess of Learning, {u-ra~a.ti}. Why?

Notice the Sanskrit word Mahesvara to which the Hindu religionists has attached the name of their Deva-god Siva. [Caveat: Never translate the word <god> as {Bu.ra:}. It is the source of misunderstandings of religions by the common people of Myanmarland.].

The word Mahesvara is a combination of two words maha 'great', and svara 'the supreme entity'. The supreme entity has been interpreted by various religionists as He, She, or It. Or it may also be the Universal energy that gives us Knowledge and Life-force. It is personified in the form of a human female. The idea of a supreme entity is probably pre-Buddhist and pre-Hindu, and can be found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

The authors of this article by including the image of {u-ra~a.ti} probably have in mind the oldest hymn in the RigVeda, known as Gayatri Mantra -- the equivalent of our Peacock Sutta <)). In that very short hymn, on the very first line we see the Skt-Dev word स्वः svaḥ. The complete line is: ॐ भूर्भुवः॒ स्वः Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ. It is a beautiful hymn and perhaps we should sing it. <)) : to ask the entity, स्वः svaḥ, to bring forth a beautiful day by opening up our minds:

ॐ भूर्भुवः॒ स्वः ।
Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ

तत्स॑वितुर्वरे॑ण्यं ।
tt savitr vreṇ(i)yaṃ

भ॒र्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि। ।
bhrgo devsya dhīmahi

धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त्॥ ।
dhyo y naḥ pracodyāt

UKT: Pay attention to how the singer pronounces नः in the last line. Akshara-to-akshara transform gives us: {na.:}. This glyph is absent in Bur-Myan, however the equivalent is {naa.} from the series:
   {naa.} <)) / {naar} <)) / {naar:} <)) .
The reader may notice that I have to use -- occasionally -- the double {aa} for long vowels in Skt-Myan. Translation of the last line shows that {naa.} is the equivalent of {ngaa.} from the series: {ngaa.} / {ngaa} / {ngaa:}. I wait for comments from Mon and Sanskrit speakers for comments. -- UKT121115

In both Peacock Sutta and Gayatri Mantra the person reciting the hymn addresses to the rising Sun. In the inset, I have shown the image [from my imagination] of a {na.ga:} -- representing the old Naga-worshippers of northern-Burma of the pre-Anawrahta days -- invoking the Rising Sun.

Notice how {u-ra~a.ti} is spelled in Bur-Myan. On expansion of the horizontal conjunct {~a.}, known as {a.kri:} 'the big tha', it is actually: . We have only a very small number of conjuncts compared to Skt-Dev. There are two other types of conjuncts, the vertical conjuncts and the medials.

For a fuller article on Panini, read Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C4%81%E1%B9%87ini 121107

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Note on Culture

-- UKT

The Burmese people do not greet each other saying 'good morning' or 'good day'. To the Burmese, the Western habit of greeting each other seems superfluous; how would you greet a man on his sickbed? A simple smile that conveys congeniality or sympathy is all that is required.

In Myanmar, you would probably enquire about the health of the person you are meeting even when that person seems to be in the best of health. Superfluous? Yes, I believe so. But still you have to say something, so you say, "How do you do?" A lot of Burmese do not know how to greet a person who is obviously in ill-health or on his sickbed. I was one of them until someone, whom I had considered to be less knowledgeable than I, pointed out that I should say: {n-a hteing-a rhi. r. la:} <)) <)). (Shame on me for being so arrogant in thinking that the other person is less knowledgeable!)

Also, it is not the habit of the Burmese people to say 'thank you', and if you realize that a lot of the present day thank-you's that do not involve a single iota of genuineness either in the tone or facial expression, you would agree with the Burmese people. A simple smile is all that is required to express thanks. However, the modern city dwellers would tend to use a coined word, the equivalent of a 'thank you' {ky:zu. ting-pa-t} <)) <)) to show off their cultural awareness.

Similarly, a natural equivalent of 'please' is also missing, and here too, there is a deliberate attempt to use a coined word: {ky:zu. pru. pri:} <)) <)) or the like.

Caveat: In all these dialogs you will rarely come across phrases like: Thank you Please .

Because you are a foreigner, a occasional "Thank you" and "Please" on your part is OK, but avoid doing it too much. Otherwise, you will be taken to be showing off your cultural awareness to remind the locals of their "lack of culture", and will bring on an negative attitude toward you!

It must be admitted that the above dialogue would appear to be somewhat artificial to the native speakers. However, because of the general inability of the North American speakers to pronounce what are known as the medials (intermediate sounds), the conversation has been deliberately altered to avoid them. My study of BEPS languages has convinced me that among the four (or five if you include Tavoyan), Bur-Myan is unique in having the most medials:

The media formers, given below by name, have the sounds:
   {ya.} य , {ra.} र , {la.} ल , {wa.} व , {ha.} ह
{ya.ping.} sound of medial former {ya.} य <)) <))
{ra.ric.} sound of medial former {ra.} र <)) <))
{la.hsw:} sound of medial former {la.} ल <)) <))
{wa.hsw:} sound of medial former {wa.} व <)) <))
{ha.ht:} sound of medial former {ha.} ह <)) <))

Such sounds are very common and are present in words such as:

'Kyat' -- the unit in Myanmar currency : my rendition into Skt-Dev: क ् य त ् = क्यत्
'Myanmar' -- the inhabitants of the country of Myanmar
'Myanmarpre' -- the "Land of Myanmar'

It is a common mistake by the foreigner to insert a schwa /ə/ in between the consonant and {ya.}. If you are a beginner, try to make the schwa as insignificant as possible. The rhotic schwa /ɚ/ the favorite of the North Americans is a definite no-no.

My study of Skt-Dev and Pal-Myan has led me to believe that of the four languages of BEPS (Burmese-English-Pali-Sanskrit), Burmese alone is unique in forming medials). Even in Pal-Myan, medial formation is rare.

The most difficult is the {ya.ping}. It is indicated as a consonant modified by {ya.}. We will be dealing with them individually in later lessons.

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Note on Grammar

You might have noticed by now that the punctuation mark I have given is a very short vertical line between the words {B-thu l:/} and {B-ka. l:} in the first sentence spoken by the woman. This punctuation mark stands for a comma and is known as {poad-hprat}. It is the same as danda-mark । (U0964) in Skt-Dev. So far, I have not given the mark equivalent for the full-stop or period. It is represented by two short closely-placed vertical lines known as {poad-ma.}: literally meaning the female or the mother poad'. These were the only two punctuation marks used in Bur-Myan script. No semicolons, colons, and question marks. There are no capital letters either. However, there are attempts to introduce the comma and the question mark.

The most outstanding difference between modern English (as different from Old English) and Burmese can be seen from the following sentence in modern English:

'Pig chases man'
  cannot be changed into
'Man chases pig'
  without a change in meaning.

However it is possible to do so in Burmese.

{wak-ka. lu-k leik-t}
  has the same meaning as
{lu-k wak-ka. leik-t}.

The indicating words {ka.} and {k} indicate who is doing what. Either one of the two words may be dropped and still the sentence means 'Pig chases man'. More than eighty per cent of the population in Myanmar are Buddhists, and they like eating pork and beef. If you are a good Buddhist, you must refrain from killing: let the other fella do the dirty job for you!

Cultural awareness: The use of the word "pig" {wak}, might be offensive to some readers, but I am using it because another animal such as "dog" {hkw:} or "cow" {nwa:} would be comparatively difficult to pronounce. Can you think of another example of this kind?

Proper language forms: It is said that there are 'two languages' in use in Bur-Myan: the classical and the colloquial.

Here in this program, I am giving the colloquial. In both forms, personal pronouns are usually traps for the unfortunate foreigner. The colloquial form of the first/second person pair is: {nga}/ {nin} - they are rarely used in Irrawaddy dialect even among close friends. However, they are routine even among the parents and their children in Inl dialect.

A safe first/second person pair is {do.} 'we' / {hkin-bya:} 'you'. The pronunciation of {do.} is not as in English <do> /duː/. It is a very short form of <doe> /dəʊ/ (US) /doʊ/. If you are really in a fix, just use the English form <I> and <you>. NEVER use the forms given here when speaking to a monk, nun, or an elder - a person (Elder) to be respected.

Burmese and English vowels: English has short and long vowels, whereas Burmese has three, the creak, the modal and the emphatic. I have given the Devanagari glyphs wherever appropriate, BUT, don't use IAST (International Alphabet for Sanskrit Transliteration).

{a.}/{aa.} अ <))  <))
{a}/{aa} आ <))  <))
{a:}/{aa:} <))  <))

{na.}/{naa.} न <))  <))
{na}/{naa} ना <))  <))
{na:}/{naa:} <))  <))
[Attn TIL editor: M sounds {nga.} {nga} {nga:} - check and report.
- UKT 121114]

Skt-Dev uses the visarga 'double dot' in a different way:

{na.:} नः
[Attn TIL editor: नः sounds very similar to {na:}/{naa:}. Listen to Gayatri mantra for  नः sound - check and report. - UKT 121114 ]

The English short vowel usually falls between the creak and the modal, and the long vowel between modal and emphatic. The Bur-Myan creak-modal-emphatic are at one time thought to be tones. They are not. They are presently recognized as pitch-registers. Pitch-register languages are said to be very rare among world's languages. Another pitch-register language is the Shanghai Chinese dialect. An example of the three registers is:

{do.} <))  <))
{do} <))  <))
{do:} <))  <))

They are the allophones of English <doe> /dəʊ/ (US) /doʊ/ (DJPD16-159)

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Note on Culture-2

Caution: Myanmar culture, especially those of the people of Buddhist faith has norms of its own, which even the minority groups fail to understand fully. For instance, the use of exclamations is not considered very polite and is used only between close friends and when speaking to person of junior status. Thus, when the woman uses the phrase {hau:tau.} on the man, you can see that they are close friends. If the man has been older in age or higher station in life, the woman would have just used {hoat-k.} to show that she understands (but not necessarily agrees).

However, if you go deeper, you will notice that even among Burmese-Buddhists, there are differences when you go from region to region and from social group to social group. So, my advice is, don't be pretentious, and let the other person know that you are an outsider, in which case your audience would not only appreciate but go out of its way to please you.

The word {thuu.} appears in this conversation several times. It can be either 'his' or 'hers'. Another word with the same checked sound is {thu.} which is spelled differently and meant differently. It is Pali prefix meaning 'good'.

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