Update: 2014-12-23 09:04 PM -0500


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

01.06. Activation - the Pairs : for practice
01.07. Activation - the Singles : for practice
01.08. The Vowels
01.09. Activation - the Simple Triplets : Pitch-registers - not tones
01.10. Activation - the Simple Doublets or Simple Pseudo-triplets

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

UKT notes
dark L : the impossible laterals
lateral consonant : {la.} and its medials

Contents of this page


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.

01.06 Activation. The Pairs


Please repeat after me.

1. {nga.} & {a.} : Velar-Palatal pair

{nga.} / ŋ /  <)) <))*
Pal: {a.} sounds are the same or similar to the Bur {a.} sounds in the onsets
Bur: {a.} / ɲ / <)) <))
-- the back nasal pair, pronounced at the back of the mouth.
If you are an IE (most English or Hindi speaker), don't despair: you will not be able to pronounce them properly!).
   *One of my staff, an ethnic elderly Burmese man of over 60, who hails from Meikthila area (in Upper Myanmarpre right where the present capital Naypridaw is situated), in which ancient Miitthili speakers (Mithila : Skt-Dev मिथिला, mithilā of India) probably settled in ancient times, have a problem with /n/ and /ŋ/. I started noticing some interesting sound patterns in speakers of Meikthila with a younger staff who habitually pronounces {hkyak} as {shak} /ʃk/. In careful speech he could pronounce it as /kʰk/. I urge someone with enough research funds to do linguistic research on dialects of Burmese. -- UKT121115

2. {na.} & {ma.} : Dental-Labial pair

{na.} /n/  <)) <))*
{ma.} /m/  <)) <))
-- the front nasal pair, pronounced at the front of the mouth

3. {ya.} & {ra.} : Modal-forming approximants : palatal & dental-rhotic 

{ya.} / j / <)) <))
{ra.} / ɹ / <)) <))
-- the approximant pair which becomes almost silent at the end of the word.
Burmese {ra.} is less rhotic than English <r>, and it approaches / j / in many cases, However, Pali-Myanmar {ra.} is very much like the English <r>.

This pair gives the {ya.ping.} and {ra.ric} sounds.

The difficulty with the pronunciation of {nga.} is due to English not having a dedicated grapheme for this sound. English uses a digraph <ng>, giving the false impression that its sound is to be articulated starting with the {na.} (in the front part of the mouth) and moving to {ga.} (in the interior). In fact, {nga.} sound has absolutely nothing to do with the {na.} sound because the area in which {nga.} produced is "far" from the area where {na.} is formed. IPA has a dedicated grapheme for this sound: /ŋ/.

To native English-speaking North Americans (which includes Canadians):

Pronounce the English <singer> /sɪŋ.əʳ/ and <finger> /sɪŋ.gəʳ/. Do you notice that the <ng> in two words are different? In <singer>, the <ng> is / ŋ / and there is no <g> sound. However, in <finger>, there is <g> at the beginning of the second syllable.

I have asked this to quite a few Canadians who came to visit our house in Deep River, Ontario, Canada. They were mostly research scientists with PhDs in Physics and Chemistry, associates of my son Dr. Zin Tun, who himself is a solid-state physicist working for the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. Quite a few did not even realized that there was a difference, until I asked them to pronounce the two words. They were really surprised to find that they had never even noticed it. I myself did not notice it at one time, until I came across the question while doing research in Linguistics on the Internet. Though, I am a native-Burmese speaker bilingual in English and Burmese, I have to check the pronunciations in DJPD16.

Similarly, English does not have a symbol to represent the Spanish , and English has to resort to using a diagraph <ny> for this sound. Bur-Myan has a symbol for this sound, {a.}, which is marked with the Spanish in Romabama. {a.} is called <nya le> or the "small nya". There is a similar symbol {a.} called <nya gyi> or the "big nya". {a.} is a true nasal either at the beginning of the word or at the end. However,  {a.} is a nasal only at the beginning of the word. At the end it behaves an an oral.

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01.07 Activation. The Singles

Please repeat after me.

  {la.} / l / <)) <)) 
  {wa.} /w/ <)) <)) 
  {tha.}/{a.} /θ/ <)) <)) 
  {ha.} /h/  <)) <)) 
Retroflex-approximant: {La.} / ɭ /
  (which I consider to be a retroflex: small "L" with retroflex hook)
   probably belongs to this group}.

The pronunciations of the above approximants are quite easy except for {la.} and {tha.}/{a.}.

The laterals : {la.} and its medials

{la.}  <)) <)) 
{lya.}  <)) <)) 
{lwa.}  <)) <)) 
{lha.}  <)) <)) 
{lhya.}  <)) <)) 
{lhwa.}  <)) <)) 

See my note on the laterals .

The laterals are very difficult for English-speakers. In fact English has only {la.}, and they cannot even pronounce the {lha.} sound of the Welsh. We find the same with the Hindi-speakers.

{tha.}/{a.} known as the thibilant with no hissing sound. The problem with {tha.}/{a.} is two-fold. Firstly, this sound is present in English as <th> in <thin>. IPA represents this as /θ/. However, this sound is absent in German and in Sanskrit, and the Western phoneticians as well as the Sanskrit represent it as s confusing it with {sa.} - the palatal. Moreover, when Burmese-Myanmar represents it with a digraph as T-H-A , it became confused with Sanskrit th which is actually {hta.}. The problem we are meeting with {tha.} is because modern English has stopped using the Old English "thorn" . In some Romabama old texts, {tha.}/{a.} was represented with <th> at the beginning of words, but with <> at the end.

Burmese has no labial-dental sounds, and it is said the pre-Panini Vedic also had no labial-dentals. It is only with Panini's classical Sanskrit that /v/ had come into use, and it has been handed down to Hindi. Hindi now has no {wa.} /w/ for which they use /v/, A Bengali speaker, Malay Pundit, told me that there is {wa.} /w/ in Bengali.

During my study of BEPS (Burmese-English-Pali-Latin speech in Myanmar-IPA-Devanagari script) I have come to realize that whether they are prominent in Bur-Myan or not, I must include the fricative-sibilant-approximants which are represented in Skt-Dev as: श Sha /ʃ/ and ष Ssa /s/. [note: transcriptions from Windows Character map]. Since there are no dedicated graphemes for these two sounds, I have to invent them derived from r2c1 {sa.} with the closest sound:

श Sha /ʃ/ - as in English <ship> : {sha.} /ʃ/  <)) <)) 
   -- derived from {sa.lon:ha.hto:} not allowed in regular Bur-Myan

ष Ssa /s/ - as coda sound in English <sis> of <sister> : {S} /s/

We already have च Ca /c/ - as onset sound in English <cell> : /c/ or /s/. We need to differentiate this sound only in the coda. We represent coda-/c/ as: {c} /c/ . The second sound of coda as {S} /s/.

For the time being, I have left out the consonants mainly used for writing Pali. I wiall introduce them only in later chapters.

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01.08 The Vowels

Vowel letters and Vowel signs.

The Burmese-Myanmar consonants do not need a vowel to produce sound, which is true of all languages derived from the Asoka script or Brahmi. However, to produce a sound using the Latin script, we have to use the vowel <a> which I have represented as {a.}. Thus the English <k> which is mute is given a sound in {ka.} .

The vowel signs used in Chapter 1 are listed below in section 01.09.

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01.09 Activation. Simple Triplets

Please read pitch-register in my notes [UKT: this remark is from old notes - for this digitized version I will give them later] and then repeat the examples after me. I am not giving IPA transcriptions, because of uncertainties. Also I am not giving the gloss or short meaning of a syllable, even if there is a meaning, because it can lead to misunderstanding. However, when I do give the gloss and there is a chance of it being misunderstood, I resort to a device employed in the language. I will give what is known as {sa.ka:hpo-sa.ka:ma.} or some other type of pairs of words to bring out the meaning.
See MLC MED2006-101:

{a.} {a} {a:} - {ka:} as in <car> without <r>  <)) <)) :
   {mau-tau-ka:} 'motor-car'

{a.} {a} {a:} - same as above used mainly for one-circle glyphs or AN-printer types of old printing presses as opposed to graphemes used for two-circle glyphs or AM-printer types.

{i.} {i} {i:} - {hsi:} as in <see> <)) <)) :
  {hsi:nhing:} 'snow'.

{u.} {u} {u:} - {mu:} as in <moo> <)) <))  :
  {mu:yic-hs:} 'intoxicant'

{.} {} {:} - {w:} as in <way> <)) <))  :
  {a.w:a.ni:} 'far and near'

{au.} {au} {aw:} - {hsau:} as in <saw> <)) <)) :
  {a.hsau:ta.lying} 'in a hurry'

{au.} {au} {au:} - {pau:} as in <paw> <)) <))  :
  {pau:mya:} 'plenty' - MOrtho-145. Not entd in MED2006.

{o.} {o} {o:} - {ho:} as in <hoe> <)) <))  :
  {ho:l:ta.kyau} 'talk of town - notoriety'

{on.} {on} {on:} - {ton:} as in <tone> without <n> <)) <)) :
  {ic-ton:} 'wood log'

Among the letters of the akshara-matrix are two glyphs with what might be called 'legs', viz. {na.} and {ra.}. When these are coupled with certain vowel [{p017end}] signs such as {u} , {o} and {on}, the 'leg' stands in the way creating confusion. To prevent this, the 'legs' are shortened. Thus,

from {na.} we get {nu.} and
from {ra.} we get {ru.}.


This transformation of the shapes was drummed into my head and literally 'rapped' into my knuckles when I first learned my alphabet over seventy years ago. However, with the introduction of the typewriter and because of the cost-cutting policies of the printers, many people do not bother to do this transformation anymore with hilarious results. For example, the {nu.} in the name of a famous actress, {hkin-than:nu.} is printed as which is almost identical to {nu} meaning 'leprous'.

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1.10 Activation. Simple Doublets
or Pseudo Simple Triplets

There are two sets of vowel signs which have two pitch-registers instead of three: the {nauk-pic} and the {th:th:ting}. However, in the case of {nauk-pic} the missing modal register is filled with a sign having the killed {ya.}. Please repeat after me:

{.} {} {:} -- {t:} 'hut' as in <tell> without the double-L. <)) <)) 

See dark-L in my note.

{n.} {n} --- -- {pn.} as in <pump> without <mp> <)) <)) 


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UKT notes

dark L (or coda L)

Excerpt from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velarization

In some accents of English, such as PR (Received Pronunciation), the phoneme /l/ has "dark" and "light" allophones: the "dark" allophone appears in syllable coda position (e.g. in full), while the "light" allophone ("light" meaning "non-velarized" rather than "palatalized" here) appears in syllable onset position (e.g. in lawn). Other accents of English, such as Scottish English and Australian English, have "dark L" in all positions, while Hiberno-English has "clear L" in all positions.

Go back dark-L-note-b

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Lateral consonants

UKT: 121110

Bur-Myan has the most laterals in the languages that I have studied, and Eng-Lat has the least -- just one. Since the sound of a syllable also depends on how a hearer hears it, how he or she describes the sound is restricted by his culture and mother-tongue. So read what the linguists are describing with a grain of salt. They cannot HEAR the Bur-Myan laterals!

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateral_consonant 121110

A lateral is an L-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth.

Most commonly the tip of the tongue makes contact with the upper teeth (see dental consonant) or the upper gum (the alveolar ridge) just behind the teeth (see alveolar consonant). The most common laterals are approximants and belong to the class of liquids, though lateral fricatives {pwut teit n} and affricates are common in some parts of the world.

UKT: 121111 : There are three fricatives {pwut teit n} common to BEPS languages. They are all dental-alveolar POA. See BEPS Pulmonic consonants in the Bur-Myan script in ch01-2.htm . I am giving only the voiceless modals below:

{a.} स /θ/  <))  <))
{Sa.} ष /s/   <))  <))
{sha.} श /ʃ/   <))  <))
Note: In pronouncing the above forget the IAST and usual IPA transliterations/transcription. Use the Bur-Myan sounds only.
MLC official glyphs for /ʃ/ are: {rha.} & {hya.} - both of which
are phonetically unsuitable, particularly the {rha.}, whereas
the Romabama {sha.} is not officially recognized.

The labiodental fricatives [f] and [v] often -- perhaps usually -- have lateral airflow, as the lip blocks the airflow in the center, but they are nonetheless not considered lateral consonants because no language makes a distinction between the two possibilities. Plosives [UKT: plosive-stops] are never lateral, and the distinction is meaningless for nasal stops [UKT: nasals are NOT stops] and for consonants articulated in the throat.

Consonants are not necessarily lateral or central. Some, such as Japanese r, are not defined by centrality; Japanese r varies between a central flap [ɾ] and a lateral flap [ɺ].

Go back lateral-note-b

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End of TIL file