Update: 2008-08-03 07:36 AM -0400



Burmese Written Language in Roman Script


U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.), Deep River, Ontario, Canada. Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR .

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"Killed" akshara-consonants -- consonants under virama
Romabama syllable
killed {nga.}
killed {a.} and {a.}
{pa.} and r2 consonants
killed {ya.} and {ra.}
UKT notes

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"Killed" akshara-consonants
-- consonants under virama

Myanmar script, like Devanagari, is an abugida in which most symbols stand for a consonant plus an inherent vowel, which is usually unmarked. However, it is said to be close to English "short" <a>: usually the sound /a/, but in reality, it is not so. See the vowel comparison diagram on the right. However, for easy reference, let us say that it is /a/. This inherent vowel /a/ may be "killed" to form a letter of an alphabet. The vowel omission sign is known as {athut} in Burmese-Myanmar, virama (viram -- for short) in Sanskrit, and hal or halant in Hindi. It is also known as a "kill" sign.

{ka.} + viram --> {k}
Though {ka.} is a syllable and is pronounceable, {k} is mute. It is the same as a letter of the alphabet <k> /k/. it is mute.

There have been attempts to change the Myanmar akshara to "alphabets" by using the virama. The table on the left is such an attempt which has not gained wide acceptance. The table shows the "killed" akshara, which was dubbed "consonant" or vyajana {by:} (pronounced as {byi:}).

In Myanmar script (used for writing both Burmese and Pali among other indigenous languages), the {atht} (virama) is shown as a "flag" or "streamer" {tn-hkwan} (pronounced /{tn-hkun}/) above the consonant. For example, when consonant r1c1 {ka.} has been killed, it is shown as . It is to be noted that {ka.} has a sound of its own thanks to its inherent vowel, but {k} has no sound because its inherent vowel has been killed.

There are several glyphs in Burmese-Myanmar that seem to have a "flag" or "streamer" {tn-hkwan} above a character, but which are not "killed" consonants. e.g.,  akshara {yw.} ; akshara {nheik} ; akshara {i.} . You will need to use them in writing Burmese-Myanmar. Do not get confused between akshara {i.} and vowel {I}.

It should be emphasized here that the "killed" consonant becomes part of the preceding vowel which itself undergoes a change. The combination (vowel + "killed" consonant) behaves as an entirely new vowel. This fact is taken into consideration in Romabama spelling.

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Romabama syllable

The syllable formation in Romabama follows the syllable formation of English-Latin, and it is appropriate to remind ourselves how an English syllable is formed. The following is what have written before on English consonants in con02:

The English syllable (in IPA) is generally made up of three parts: an onset, a peak, and a coda and is of the form CVC. The peak and the coda constitutes the rhyme (or rime) of the syllable. The word "coda" comes from a term in music meaning "a passage at the end of a movement or composition" that brings it to a formal close [Italian from Latin "cauda" tail -- AHTD]. English allows up to four consonants to occur in the coda. In the following English words, the coda has been underlined:

<sick> /s ɪk/
<six> /s ɪks/
<sixth> /s ɪks θ/
<sixths> /sɪks θs/

The central part of a syllable is almost always a vowel, and if the syllable contains nothing after the vowel it is said to have no coda (zero coda). e.g.:

<bough> /b a ʊ/
<buy> /ba ɪ/

Note that in the word <bough>, <ough> constitutes a vowel and is represented phonemically by /a ʊ/. If you look at the word <bough> by its spelling, you might think that <gh> separately forms a coda. It is not so, and the <g> is silent.

According to DJPD16, "Some languages (e.g. Japanese) have no codas in any syllables." . Though no mention has been made about Burmese-Myanmar, it might qualify to be included because it is an abugida like Devanagari. And, the effective unit of these writing systems is the orthographic syllable, consisting of a consonant and vowel (CV) core and, optionally, one or more preceding consonants, with a canonical structure of (((C)C)C)V.

It must be remembered that even though a Burmese-Myanmar consonantal character might come after the vowel, it is actually a part of the vowel because of {athut} (virama). It is precisely because of this I have referred to the Burmese-Myanmar structure as CV.

In Romabama syllables of the form CV, the onset of the syllable is either an akshara-character, or a medial, which has the inherent vowel. The peak is the inherent vowel or a vowel derived from it. The coda is a single "killed" consonant.

However, to transliterate from English-Latin to Burmese-Myanmar, the Romabama syllable has to accept more than one "killed" syllable in the coda. And also, in the onset, Romabama has to accept not only medials but other conjuncts with "killed" consonants. Then, its structure becomes something like CV.

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"Killed" {nga.}

It is very unfortunate that one of most frequently used Burmese-Myammar consonant has a sound deaf to most non-Myanmars. That consonant is r1c5 {nga.}. Under virama it becomes {ng} /ŋ/. English-Latin has this consonant but only as a syllabic coda in words ending in <-ing> as in the English word <sing>. It is doubly unfortunate that this IPA glyph cannot be inputted from the English keyboard by the use of the Alt key. Because of these unfortunate circumstances I have to give the Romabama spelling for r1c5 as a digraph {nga.} /ŋa/.

In many Burmese-Myanmar syllables, the killed consonant {ng} /ŋ/ appears as a {king:si:} (literary meaning: mounted by a centipede), e.g., {-ng-ka.} in {thng~kan:}; {-ng-ga.} in {mng~ga.la}.

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"Killed" {a.} and {a.} and

Burmese-Myanmar consonant r2c5 is really of two forms: {a.} and  {a.}. The former is known as the "big nya" and the latter "small nya". Generally, {a.} is the regular Burmese-Myanmar consonant, and  {a.} is Pali-Myanmar consonant. However, since quite a lot of Pali words has been incorporated into everyday Burmese-Myanmar, you are bound to run into  {a.}. For these words, {a.} is equivalent to the horizontal ligature of two  {a.}:

{pi~na} --> {pa.a} (meaning: education)
MLC transcript for {pa.a} is /pjin nja/. Why not /pin nja/?. See {pa.} and killed r2 consonants.

The glyph  {a.} is sometimes sloppily and erroneously written as . Since this glyph is assigned to the vowel {U.}, you would have to make sure when you see the glyph . E.g., the word {N} /|njan|/ is commonly, and erroneously written as .

To explore this further, we look into two Burmese-Myanmar syllables:
{kyi} in {kyi krau:} (meaning: sensitive nerve) -- pronounced as /{kying}/
  {ky} in {ky pw.} (meaning pestle) -- pronounced as /{kyi}/.
Thus we have to conclude that {} and {} are not the same, and that they change the preceding Romabama vowel differently to reflect the pronunciation.

UKT note:
Representing {ky} with the peak-vowel [] has never been easy for me. In Burmese-Myanmar the pronunciation guide given by MLC for {ky} is /[ kji ]/ (MEDict034) exactly the same as {kyi} /[ kji ]/ (MEDict028). Since the killed {a} can be considered neutral in pronunciation, I have to concentrate on [] . According to DJPD16 p.009, "Pronouncing the letters AE", "The vowel digraph ae is a fairly low-frequency spelling. ... When not followed by r, the pronunciation is usually one of /iː/, /ɪ/ or /e/, the latter being most common in American-English pronunciation..." This makes me conclude that its pronunciation would be close to Burmese-Myanmar {i} of the MLC pronunciation-guide for {ky} is /[ kji ]/. -- UKT 070724

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{pa.} and r2 consonants

MLC transcript for {pa.a} is /|pjin nja|/. Why not /|pin nja|/?

UKT regret: I did not notice this problem before 061217, and I have been writing {pa.a} and similar words as {pi~a} with the remark that {a.kri:} is a horizontal conjunct of {a.l:} for Pali-derived words.

{pa.} seems to have the pronunciation {pya.} when followed by r2 consonants. However, Romabama cannot incorporate the <y> /j/ into its transliteration.

With {sa.}
{pis} -- /|pji'|/ - MEDict 271

With {a.}
{pi~sa.} -- /pjin sa.|/ - MEDict 272

With {a.}
{pa.a}  -- /|pjin nja|/ - MEDict 249
{pa.aung} -- /|pjin njaung|/ - MEDict 250

Though {pa.} has the /{pya.}/ sound, Romabama cannot incorporate the {ya.ping.} into its transliteration.

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Killed {ya.} and killed {ra.}

Consonants {ya.} and its next door neighbour in {ra.} sometimes behave similarly, particularly because most of the Burmese-Myanmar speakers, except those on the west coast pronounce them the same. Yet because of many differences it is best to treat them as separate or "singles". Both can be killed but only the killed {y} is used in Burmese-Myanmar. In fact, it forms the coda of many syllables, because of which I have assigned a letter to it: {} . However, the killed {r} is found in Pali-derived words such as {mr-nat} who is the anti-thesis of Gottama Buddha. He is not the equivalent of the Christian Devil, but a very powerful god who dwells in the top-most world of the six deva-worlds of popular Buddhism.

We must not forget that {ya.} and {ra.} are medial formers. We must note that in such medials, e.g. {kya.} and {kra.}, it is not the {ya.} and {ra.} that are killed, but it is the consonant preceding them:

{ka.} + viram --> {k}
{k} + {ya.} --> {kya.}
{k} + {ra.} --> {kra.}

Continue reading on killed {ya.}, killed {ra.} and killed {wa.} in English vowels, vow02.htm. Read also English-Latin <ai> and <ay>.

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UKT notes

   An abugida, also called an alphasyllabary, is a writing system wherein the basic symbols represent a consonant plus an unmarked vowel. When a different vowel is wanted, a diacritic or some other modification is made to the sign. The sign used to indicate the vowel is dropped is called a virama, or a " vowel killer".
   The word "abugida" comes from the first few signs of the Ethiopic Amharic script, which is an example of an abugida. Devanagari is another abugida, used in India.
   From: http://www.everything2.org/index.pl?node=abugida -- For hyper-links in this note to work go on-line.
Go back abugi-b | abugi-b2

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Consonant Conjuncts

UKT: The following is based on The Unicode Standard, Version 4.0, Chapter 09, Unicode Consortium, http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode4.0.0/ch09.pdf

The Indic scripts are noted for a large number of consonant conjunct forms that serve as orthographic abbreviations (ligatures) of two or more adjacent letterforms. This abbreviation takes place only in the context of a consonant cluster. An orthographic consonant cluster is defined as a sequence of characters that represents one or more dead consonants (denoted Cd ) followed by a normal, live consonant letter (denoted Cl ).

UKT: Caution: If you are comparing Devanagari to Myanmar script, you can be easily led astray by this section. In Myanmar there are two types of conjuncts: one type being used as onset and the other present in the coda. And it is sufficient at this point to say that a "killed" consonant is never found in the onset.

Under normal circumstances, a consonant cluster is depicted with a conjunct glyph if such a glyph is available in the current font(s). In the absence of a conjunct glyph, the one or more dead consonants that form part of the cluster are depicted using half-form glyphs. In the absence of half-form glyphs, the dead consonants are depicted using the nominal consonant forms combined with visible virama signs (see Figure 9-3).

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