Update: 2013-12-21 08:40 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

Traditional arrangement of the Akshara 
  Names of the Aksharas
  The traditional matrix
  The Vowel aksharas
01.15 Activation (oral) : Dialogue 
01.16 Activation (oral) : Dialogue 
01.17 Activation (oral) : Dialogue
A Burmese song

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

UKT notes
Gahapatti Citta {sait~ta. u-kw}

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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.

Traditional arrangement of the Akshara

I have given the unified Basic consonants of BEPS way back in ch01-2.htm. This section is about the traditional Akshara I had learned as a child going to a small town school in Kungyangon, Hanthawaddy District, British Burma, in the 1930s.

After our Zeroth grade in which we learned how to draw the perfect circle we were the Kagyi-Khakhw grade. We were taught the names of the aksharas, and made to memorize their shapes which are mainly single circles and double circles. We learned how to write in three levels: the main level, one above and one below. It was the days of the slate and the slate pencil. The slate was a thin slab with a wooden frame around it. To practice of writing, lines were etched into the slate with a sharp nail. We write with sharpened slate pencils -- when they get dull we went down to the school's cement foundation to sharpen them. Now please repeat after me the names of the akshara which we had to literally kow-tow if we had accidentally walked over them.

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The names of the Aksharas

The name of an Akshara, and its glyph are generally not the same, e.g. the glyph is called {ka.kri:]. How a native pronounce the name and how the English speaker hears it are also different. For instance {ka.kri:} is pronounced as "Ka-gyi". Below, I am giving the common English rendition and the spelling in Romabama for only one akshara. Since you need not know how the name is spelled in Bur-Myan, I will give only the first -- for the rest, I will give only the Romabama and its glyph.


Ka-gyi   {ka.kri:} <)) <))
Kha-gwe {hka.hkw:} <)) <))
Ga-ngei  {ga.ng} <)) <))
Ga-gyi  {Ga.kri:} <)) <))
Nga  {nga.} <)) <))

Note on phonetics: Like Panini's grammar, Burmese grammar is prescriptive. This is to prevent individual voices of a time-period, or those of a different time-period, changing the spelling based on sound. If this were to be allowed as in various phonologies of English dialects, Bur-Myan would be in a mess similar to the mess in which an Australian used to only Australian English  cannot easily understand the RP of Britain or the Gen-Am of the US, and vice-versa. In the above, you will hear both the male and the female speaker pronouncing {kri:} as {gyi:}. They are given this allowance provided they do not change their spellings. That is what is meant by the axiom that the Akshara is immutable which is true by our prescriptive grammars. Please do not bring in any god or deva dictating that it be so! -- UKT121114


Sa-loan {sa.lon:} <)) <))
Hsa-lain  {hsa.lain} <)) <))
Za-kwei  {za.kw:} <)) <))
Za-myin-zwei {Za.mying:hsw:} <)) <))
Nya {a.} <)) <))

Note on phonetics: Many Bur-Myan speakers could not differentiate {sa.} and {hsa.}. This effect is more noticeable with Karens speaking Bur-Myan. However, in all cases if they really make an effort they can differentiate these two sounds. I think the problem lies more with their hearing than with their articulation. The problem is not serious because we can make out what the speaker is saying from the context. My advice to my foreign friend: build up your vocabulary - don't put too much emphasis on pronunciation unless you are one of those in Christian Bible story of Shibboleth, Judges 12:6, or worse a Hitler-ite Nazi.

Judges 12:6. "Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand." -- http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/shibboleth/ 121114


Ta-ta-lin-chait  {Ta.n-lying:hkyait} <)) <))
Hta.wum-bei  {HTa.wum:b:} <)) <))
Da-ring-kauk {a.ring-kauk} <)) <))
Da-re-mhoat {a.r-mhoat} <)) <))
Na-gyi {Na.kri:} <)) <))

Note on the names above: A lot of Bur-Myan, including myself, really do not know the names of this row. To remedy this, I have looked into MED2006-518 for the spellings of all names.
   c1: {Ta.n-lying:hkyait}. The word comes from the likeness of glyph-shape to the iron-hook attached to {n-lying:} 'palanquin or bier (coffin-stand) for the royalty or monks'.
   c2: {HTa.wum:b:} - again the name refers to the likeness of glyph-shape to a duck.
   c3: {a.ring-kauk} - because I am running out of ASCII characters for "d" sounds, I have to use a character that is used by IPA for voiced {a.} // (compare: voiceless {a.} /θ/). The name suggests that the glyph-shape is similar to a person with a deformed (raised) chest.
   c4: {a.r-mhoat} - the name suggests the likeness to a drinking cup.
   c5: {Na.kri:} - the name tells that this akshara has a sound similar to /n/.


Ta-wum-bu {ta.wum:pu} <)) <))
Hta-hsing-tu {hta.hsing-tu} <)) <))
Da-dwe {da.htw:} <)) <))
Da-auk-cheik {Da.auk-hkyeing.} <)) <))
Na-ngei {na.ng} <)) <))*
[Attn TIL editor: M sound {na.ngw} needs correction - check and report.
- UKT 121114]


Pa-zauk {pa.sauk} <)) <))
Pha-uu-htoat {hpa.U:htoap} <)) <))
Ba-lei-cheik {ba.l-hkyaing.} <)) <))
Ba.goan {Ba.koan:} <)) <))
Ma {ma.} <)) <))

Approximant : semi-consonants, lateral, labial, thibilant

Ya-pa-lak  {ya.pak-lak} <)) <))
Ya-gauk {ra.kauk} <)) <))
La  {la.} <)) <))
Wa {wa.} <)) <))
Tha {a.} <)) <))

Approximant : deep-H, lateral-retroflex, inherent vowel

Ha {ha.} <)) <))
La-gyi {La.kri:} <)) <))
Aa {a.} <)) <))

Note: Is {a.} a consonant, or, a vowel? This is question put to me by my friend Poannar Sayagyi U Karlarsan. He gave me a line:

From Sayagyi U Karlarsan: {a.m a.m. a: ka. a. ko a. lwn: t//} .
Vocal F: <))
Vocal M: <))

My answer: Of the {a.}, one is schwa. It is the inherent vowel of the consonants and can be considered to be a consonant. Of course as one of the linguists true to form, he doesn't agree! And that's the fun of Linguistics -- as long as we don't come to blows. We remain, friends as ever!


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The Traditional Matrix

Click on the mark to hear the voices of the teacher standing in front of the big black board, and the child-students kneeling on the floor usually a bare wooden floor with small spaces between the floor-boards through which cool air from below would come up. The buildings were wooden with only a crawl space about 3 feet between the floor and the earth beneath.

The teacher usually had a small rattan cane in his or her hand which he used as a pointer and also as an instrument of punishment the way-ward child. We were sent to school by our parents with the request, "Punish the wayward child -- only don't break the bones! The punishment was light - only to hurt the child enough to correct his or her mistake - not to install fear and hatred in the young heart. The rattan cane is usually used to beat the desk-top to make a loud switching sound to frighten the children -- ever playing tricks on one another.

I still remember my teachers, Daw Lay Yin (Mrs. U Pho Ein) of Meinkhale-kyaung, and U Pho Hlaing of Gya-kyaung both in Kungyangon, and Saya Kywei in Kyaik-htaw village, a village in Northern Kungyangon Township. It was in the late 1930s and early 1940s when I went to those vernacular lay schools. At Kyak-htaw village school ran by Sayayi U Pho Kywei we recited the Peacock Sutta <)) once in the morning to the Rising Sun, and then again in the evening to the Setting Sun. In all three schools we worshipped the Buddha - the First Teacher, Dhamma - the Body of Learning, and Sangha - the teachers, and recited our five Theravada Buddhist precepts which are all on morality. There were but one or two Muslim child and no Christian children. Since the emphasis was on learning and not on religion, children of other faiths simply joined in. Our schools were secular schools and the teachers, even if they were of other faiths never tried to convert any child to Buddhism. But when I joined a Christian-ran school in East Rangoon after the WWII, it was a surprise to me to have to adopt a Christian name, Harry Kyaw Tun, and sang the Christian hymns.

Because of the emphasis on religion in schools ran by teachers of other faiths many of us do not know what we have become. Is it a Cock or a Crow? -- the message of a sermon in Theravada Buddhism: the poor little birdie does not know how to sing "Cock-a-Doodle-do", neither could he sing "Caw-caw". He ended up saying "Cock-a-caw", "cock-a-caw!" With this little note I humbly remember all those who have ever taught me. May they ever live long in our memories.

See in my note the story of Gahapati Citta {sait~ta. u-krw}
(Both Anathapindika and Citta are termed as gahapati, the English rendering being 'Householders'. In Myanmar renderings, Anathapindika is usually termed as 'thuthay' whereas Citta is usually rendered as 'thukywe'. Both these Myanmar terms are synonymous)

After the teacher was certain that at least one child had remembered the name of the akshara, recited five at time - row by row, the smartest child would take the turn of the teacher, and holding the rattan cane, would come out and standing as the teacher in front of the big board would say the name of the akshara aloud pointing out the glyph and all other children in the class would have to repeat it in a loud enough voice for the teacher to hear it.

It was an honour for the child-turned-teacher for a brief moment. I, being the youngest and probably the stupidest, had never had the honour to be the Saya (teacher) holding the Rattan-cane. I was sent to school at a very age, four, as soon as I was able to take care of my toiletries. I was an exception. My mother who was known locally as Sayama Ma Haw - she was a school teacher herself in Kungyangon before she married my father and for a few years afterwards, had to make a special request to Daw-daw Ma Lay Yin. My mother was some years younger than Daw Lay Yin and she addressed the elder as Daw-daw or Aunt.

 Basic Burmese-Myanmar Akshara
 Excluding medials. Excluding Pali-Myanmar & Sanskrit Myanmar akshara
   c1 tenuis  c2 voiceless  c3 voiced  c4 deep-h  c5 nasal Remarks
  <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))  
  <)) <))    <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   
  <)) <))    <)) <))     <)) <))    <)) <))    <)) <))   
  <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))  
  <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))  
  <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))  
    <)) <))   <)) <))   <)) <))    


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The Vowel Akshara

We did not pay much attention to the glyphs, but only to the sounds. We use the vowel signs & dummy {a.} to recite them. If you are a Sanskrit (or Hindi) speaker, change the dummy to क ka and see how close Bur-Myan is to Skt-Dev (or Hin-Dev).

Similar pairs: to be recited as pair
F: {a.} {a} <)) <)) / {i.} {i} <)) <)) {u.} {u} <)) <)) //
M: {a.} {a} <)) <)) / {i.} {i} <)) <)) {u.} {u} <)) <)) //

Dissimilar pairs: to be recited as single
F: {} <))  / {:}  <)) / {au.} {au} <)) <)) / {n} <)) / {a:} <)) //
M: {} <))  / {:}  <)) / {au.} {au} <)) <)) / {n} <)) / {a:} <)) //

The vowels are to be pronounced or "sung" in the order given.

First line: Pairs of creak (standing for "short", and, modal (standing for "long") vowels are given.

Second line: Modals are given one at a time. Only the last is emphatic. There is also a back pair -- {au.} {au}, where there is a problem reflected in the IAST in which the transliteration and vowel signs do not agree: o ो & au ौ . From the diacritics, we can see that they must be similar. I opine that, this pair is just like the similar pairs of the first line, and have according corrected it in Romabama: ो as {au:} & ौ as {au}.

UKT: In the second line, you will see the split vowels. It shows the similarity of Bur-Myan to Bangla-Bengali. This has led me to believe that Bengali was originally a Tib-Bur language which had been changed into an IE due to the heavy pressure of the Sanskritists. -- UKT121114

I think the above scheme was devised by Bur-Myan phoneticians deliberately to solve the Two-three tone problem between Pali (or Sanskrit) & Burmese. My question remains: Who were they? Was it {rhing kri: pyau} ( {hking kri: hpyau})? - MLC should come up with an answer and publish a report on them. -- UKT 121114 

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01.15 Activation (oral) : Dialogue 

Dialog between the woman and the man.

Please turn to Dialog 01.01 -- ch01-1.htm , you will hear the conversation again. Listen carefully and practice the man's lines.

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01.16 Activation (oral) : Dialogue 

Dialog between the woman and the man.

Please turn to Dialog 01.02 -- ch01-1.htm , you will hear the conversation again. Listen carefully and practice the man's lines.

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01.17 Activation (oral) : Dialogue

Dialog between the man and the woman.

Please turn to Dialog 01.03 -- ch01-1.htm , you will hear the conversation again. Listen carefully and practice the man's lines.

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A Burmese song

Now let's listen to a typical Burmese song. The singer U Ant Gyi sings about a renovated village in Upper Burma, which was the home of the founder of the last dynasty in Upper Burma, King Alaungpra who came to the throne in the middle of the 18th century. At one time the village was full of cow-dung and puddles. No city girl would like to visit the place. It is no longer so. It is surrounded by green fields, and at night the whole village is brightly lit with electric lights. There is now a hospital with free medical facilities. There are also many schools for the young of the village, The singer invites the city girls to visit the new village.

The song:

I hope you've catched some Burmese words:

{nauk-hkyi:} 'cow-dung'

{aing bwak} 'mud puddle'

{Daat mi:} 'electric light'

{sa ing: kyaung} 'school'

The leading musical instruments are xylophone, and oboe-like wind-instrument and drums. Near the end of the song you can hear the Royal martial drum of U Aung Zeya. U Aung Zeya was the common name of King Alaungpra before he became king.

U Kyaw Tun aka Joe Tun -- the narrator
Deep River, Jan 1991

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UKT notes

Gahapatti Citta {sait~ta. u-krw}

Excerpt from: http://www.thisismyanmar.com/nibbana/gotama/gcoblmd1.htm 121113

One day the two Chief Disciples accompanied by a thousand bhikkhu disciples paid a visit to the Ambataka monastery. (At that time the Venerable Sudhamma was the Abbot of the monastery.) Citta the Householder, donor of the monastery, made magnificent preparations to honour the visiting Samgha (without consulting the Venerable Sudhamma). The Venerable Sudhamma took exception to it and remarked, "There is one thing missing in this lavish array of offerings and that is sesamum cake." This was an innuendo to belittle Citta the Householder whose family in the earlier generation consisted of a seller of sesamum cakes.

Citta made a suitably rude response in vulgar language to the sarcastic remark of the Abbot who was touched to the quick and took the matter to the Bhagava. After listening to the Bhagava's admonition, the Abbot Venerable Suddhamma made amends to Citta the Householder. [UKT: A public apology by a monk to a layman - one of the favorite stories told by my co-brother SarpeBeikMhan U Aye Maung.] Then, staying at the Ambataka monastery, and practising the Dhamma, the Venerable Sudhamma gained Insight and attained Arahatship (This is as mentioned in the Commentary on the Anguttara Nikaya For details see the Commentary on the Dhammapada, Book One, and Vinaya Culavagga, 4- Patisaraniya kamma.)

UKT: The rude response referred to was the story of a crow mating with a hen. The resulting poor little birdie did not know how to sing "Cock-a-Doodle-do", neither could he sing "Caw-caw". He ended up saying "Cock-a-caw", "cock-a-caw!" This remark was made to Ven. Sudhamma who had belittled Citta about his mother being the seller of sesamum cakes -- now that the son had become rich there was no longer anyone to make sesamum cakes.

Go back Gahapatti-Citta-note-b

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End of TIL file