The Burmese language is of the Sino-Tibetan language family, with the word Sino being in reference to China, though this language family is used to encompass more than 250 languages of East Asia, Southeast Asia and certain areas of South Asia. In regards to the amount of native speakers, Sino-Tibetan languages have the second largest amount of global speakers, coming only after Indo-European.
While it is common within English to refer to the Burmese language as Burmese, it is also officially recognized as the Myanmar language, and is regulated by the Myanmar Language Commission. The Burmese language uses its own script – Burmese script – which is derived from the Mon language, which is in turn derived from the Indian Brahmi script. The Mon as an ethnic minority are a Theravada Buddhist ethnic group that live mostly in Mon State, the Bago Division and the Irrawaddy Delta.
Burmese is the official language of Burma, though it is also spoken throughout Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The Burmese language is focused in this area of Asia, and compared to certain other languages such as Thai, has not spread very far globally. However, there are still 32 million primary speakers of the Burmese language throughout the world, with some 10 million speakers also adopting it as their second language.
The Burmese language is a tonal language, classified into two categories. These are interestingly solely to do with formality, and nothing at all to do with region or dialect. The Burmese language that is used in literature, official work, and publications is called mranma ca, or written Burmese. This is considered to be of a higher class that mranma ca ka, or spoken Burmese. Spoken Burmese is colloquial, and is used for day to day conversations.
There are, however, still two main dialects of Burmese: Upper Burmese and Lower Burmese. Today, there is little noticeable difference between the two dialects, with changes occurring in the use of vocabulary and not in accent or pronunciation.
As with many languages, the Burmese language follows a typical Subject Object Verb pattern. Numbers always follow the nouns, although there are several pronunciation rules that are to do with changes in tone and vocal shifts. Exploring Burmese numerals independently is necessary when getting to grips with the Burmese language itself.
Pronouns vary according to whoever is being spoken to, with specific emphasis being made on the gender and status of the audience. Adjectives, conversely, barely exist within the Burmese language. Instead, verbs are used that carry much more meaning by way of the grammatical particle, or by forming a compound with the noun in question. This fascinating aspect to the language is not quite unique to the Burmese language, but is certainly not very common.
Verbs in the Burmese language are packed with information, and use a variety of suffixes to convey tense, intention, politeness, mood, etc. There are a fantastic 449 particles in the Burmese language. There is only one grammatical situation in which you will not need to attach a particle to a verb, and this is when you are using imperative commands. The root of the verb, however, will always remain unchanged.
Why Learn The Burmese Language?
Burmese is spoken in several countries that share a cultural and historical background. By learning Burmese, you will be able to travel relatively freely between these countries. Some languages are effectively sold throughout the world, and promoted as cropping up in very diverse places, but the Burmese language has remained relatively close to its country of origin.
Burma has had a very tumultuous economy, being released from British administration a matter of decades ago. In more recent times, both China and India have been working on strengthening business and economic ties with Burma. Learning the Burmese language could put you at the forefront of an economy that is just about to take off. There is a distinct lack of an educated workforce in Burma, with an influx of this kind of worker being very much in need. In terms of tourism, much of Burma is still considered off-limits and out of bounds to many tourists, so if you are considering learning the Burmese language, then it would be good to keep this in mind.