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Introduction to COLLOQUIAL Burmese


Welcome to BAMA Learn COLLOQUIAL Burmese for Beginners: BAMA Class. BAMA is my diary. I learn Burmese from scratch, hopefully, it can help total beginners to grasp the basic COLLOQUIAL Burmese: the alphabet (script), pronunciation & common phrase.

Wikipedia : “The Burmese language ( မြန်မာဘာသာ, MLCTS: myanma bhasa, [mjəmà bàðà]) is the official language of Myanmar. Burmese is a tonal, pitch-register, and syllable-timed language, largely monosyllabic and analytic, with a subject–object–verb word order. It is a member of the Lolo-Burmese grouping of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The Burmese alphabet is ultimately descended from a Brahmic script, either Kadamba or Pallava.”

1. Burmese Scripts
2. Burmese Romanization
3. Burmese Tones

1. Burmese Scripts

Burmese script is not as simple as Roman Alphabets A to Z. To form words and sentences, you will need combination of scripts: Syllable.

Okell Burmese by Ear (BBE) 2009: 136-142
Burmese Syllable = head + rhyme.

Head can be:
1) an “initial consonant” or
2) an initial consonant with “medial consonant(s).

Rhyme can be:
1) “attached vowel symbol(s)” (with/without tone) or
2) a consonant with ် (= “final consonant”) or
3) “attached vowel symbol(s)” with a “final consonant”.

Find the list of basic Burmese scripts in BAMA Basic Scripts Cheatsheet.

2. Burmese Romanization

Unlike Chinese Pinyin, there is no official standardized romanization for Burmese script yet. Though it is best to mimic local pronunciation rather than memorize romanization; romanization might be a good tool to know how to pronounce new vocab. There are a lot of options for Burmese Romanization. Here we use the one from John Okell.

Burmese Syllable = Head + Rhyme.
Head can be:
1) Aspirated (') versus Unaspirated: ကျက် /ceq/ vs ချက် /c’eq/
2) Breathed versus non breathed: မာ /ma/ vs မှာ /hma/
hm- = breathed m: you should have air before “m”, similar sound when you try to say “humph..”

Rhyme can be:
1) Vowel
2) Nasal: example: end with -n
3) Glottal stop: end with -q, sounds like Br i“t”; it is not En i“t”.

The word စား /sà/ (to eat) is made up of:
1) the head = စ /s-/
2) the rhyme = ာ /-a/
3) the tone = း / `/ (plain high tone)

Find the basic Burmese pronunciation and romanization here.

3. Burmese Tones

It is strongly advised to mimic locals' pronunciation when learning new vocab.
That includes the tones!
How important is the tone? Well, similar 'sound' plus different tones might have totally different meaning.

စ /sá/ to start;
စာ /sa/ text, lesson, writing;
စား /sà/ to eat;

တစ်ထောင် /tă-t’aun/ 1,000;
တစ်သောင်း /tă-thaùn/ 10,000.

Do not worry, Burmese only has 3 tones (Cantonese has 9 tones).
In addition to that, John Okell also introduced 'glottal stop' and 'weak syllable'.
So, make sure to always pay attention to the tones!

Here are the 3 tones, glottal stop and weak syllable:
Audio by Ko Nay Htet Aung

creaky high tone
low tone
plain high tone
glottal stop*
weak syllable*