Burmese language

From Academic Kids

Burmese (ဗမသ

[bama sa])

Spoken in: Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the United States, United Kingdom, Laos and Singapore
Total speakers: 22 million
Ranking: 42
Genetic classification: Sino-Tibetan languages

 Tibeto-Burman languages

Official status
Official language of: Myanmar
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1my
ISO 639-2bur (B) / mya (T)
See also: LanguageList of languages

The Burmese language (ဗမာစာ, or bama sa) is the official language of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Although the government recognizes the language as Myanmar, most continue to refer to it as Burmese. Burmese is a member of the Tibeto-Burman languages, which is a subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. It is spoken by 22 million as a first language, and is spoken as a second language by minorities in Burma, such as the Chinese, Indian, Karen, Mon, and Shan. The language utilizes the Burmese script, and derives from the Mon script, which ultimately comes from the Pali script. The script has a rather round shape, called ka loun (round letters). It is a tonal language, with four main tones. To the untrained ear, Burmese sounds much like Chinese. The ISO 639 code for Burmese is 'my'.


Dialects and accents

The standard dialect of Burmese comes from Yangon, but there are several distinctive dialects in Upper Myanmar and Lower Myanmar. Dialects include Merguese, Yaw, Danu, and Palaw. The most noticeable feature of the Mandalay dialect is its use of the pronoun chianuo for both males and females, whereas in Yangon, chiama refers to females. Although there are various dialects in Myanmar, there is mutual intelligibility between dialects.

Burmese is classified broadly into two categories. One is formal, used in literary works and official publications. The other is street, which is used with family and friends. There are various branches of Burmese speech, as well. One form is used when speaking to elders and teachers. Different pronouns referring to oneself (such as the usage of jia nuo or jia ma) is used. When speaking to a person of the same status or of younger age, nhga or wa (rural) is used. When speaking to monks, a person must refer to him as poun poun, and refer to oneself as da ga.

Much of the vocabulary is derived from Pali, an ancient Indo-Aryan language used in Therevada Buddhist texts. Burmese monks may speak to fellow monks using Pali, and it is expected of faithful Burmese Buddhists to have a basic knowledge of Pali.


There is no official romanization for Burmese. There have been attempts to do so, but none have been successful. Replicating Burmese sounds in the Roman script is difficult.


The Burmese script derives from the Mon script, which was prevalent in Lower Burma. Notable features of the Burmese script are:

  1. Its script is syllabic, with letters having an inherent vowel (a).
  2. The rounded script came from the usage of palm leaves as primary writing material during ancient times.
  3. Its tones are indicated by various diacritics and special letters added to the word.


The word order of the Burmese language is subject-object-verb. The pronouns in Burmese vary according to the gender and status of the audience. Burmese is monosyllabic. That is to say every word is a root to which a particle but not another word may be prefixed (Ko, 1924, p viii). Sentence structure determines correct grammar, and verbs are not conjugated. For example, the verb 'to eat', is sa, and remains the same.


Adjectives precede the noun, in most cases. ex. chuo dhe lu - beautiful person. Superlatives are usually indicated with the prefix a + adjective + suffix zonh. Numeric adjectives follow the noun.


Verbs are not conjugated in Burmese, and the root verb itself cannot determine the tense or mood. Various sounds are added to state the tense. The verb ya, or to be is usually omitted when speaking, but is grammatically correct when used. For example, ngha ya sa bi bi is just as grammatically correct as ngha sa bi bi.


Nouns have no gender, and the root noun is not plural. A noun is made plural through the usage of measure words. Ku is used for items, kaung is for animals, and yao is used for persons. For example, three persons is lu donh yao (person-three-measure word).


Subject pronouns begin a sentence. In the imperative forms, the subject is omitted. There are certain pronouns used for different audiences. However, the object pronoun is usually corrected with a gou, because it is standard Burmese. As an example, saying ngha nei za ga piou qin dhe is awkward, while saying ngha nei gou za ga piou qin dhe is more correct. The basic pronouns are:

  • ngha - I/me (street)
  • kamya - I/me (rural; female)
  • kanuo - I/me (rural; male)
  • chianuo - I/me (formal; male)
  • dtami - I/me (younger female or literally 'daughter')
  • ta - I/me (younger male or literally 'son')
  • pounpoun - I/me (monk)
  • daga - I/me (person speaking to monk)
  • chiaiama - you (formal; male)
  • ashin - you (rural; female)
  • nei - you (street)
  • luu - you (rural)
  • nghaduo - we
  • neiduo - you all
  • thu - he/she
  • (ai)ha - it; that
  • thuduo - they



Burmese is a tonal language, with five tones. Three are main (high, low, creaky), and two are substandard.


က ka
ခ kha



Much of Burmese vocabulary derives from Pali and Sanskrit. English has been a particularly influential language since the 1800s. Nearly all syllables in Burmese end with a vowel, and words that end with a consanant all end with ng or n.


  • Mingalaba - formal hello
  • Kyay zu tinbar dhe - thank you
  • Nei kaun la? - are you well?
  • Twar duo mhe - I am leaving now.
  • Kaunda buo - That's good.
  • Ingleizaga pyaw la? - [you] speak English?
  • Hoke kei - Yes; okay
  • Minko nga chittal - I love you.


Ko, Taw Sein; 1924. Elementary Handbook of the Burmese Language. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press

External links


et:Birma keel fr:Birman ja:ビルマ語 th:ภาษาพม่า zh:缅甸语


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