Update: 2012-12-01 06:50 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

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01.11 The ubiquitous Virama or {a.tht}
01.12 Activation - {a.} with killed nasals
01.13 Activation: {a.} with killed plosives
01.14 Nouns and Verbs: Activation

UKT: In any language the nouns are easy to learn. But the verbs! Quite a few cartoonists have been at the verbs: here is one. The text accompanying the cartoon reads (in French):
"Au commencement tait le Verbe. La phrase tait trop courte, cest pourquoi Dieu a cr le Sujet : lHomme, son sujet ! ..."
Here, "Verbe" means the Law which God had set for Adam the Man, which Adam chose to break!
-- les.roches.free.fr/roches-gazette-3.html

In the cartoon I have in mind, God was teaching His angels and on His blackboard He has written: "Verbe" (which also means the Grammatical verb. Here is a taste of French with the verb "be"):

je vais tre
tu vais tre
il va tre
nous allons
vous allez tre ...

To my English readers, I must say: never pronounce anything written in French using your English way of pronunciation. Most of us learning French find it easy to transcribe French in Bur-Myan, French "nous" sounds like {nu} <)) <)) in Burmese.

UKT notes
inherent vowel Sonority hierarchy Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP)

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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.

01.11 The ubiquitous Virama or {a.tht}

Virama (Skt: विराम , virāma) is a generic term for the diacritic in many Asoka [dubbed Brahmic] scripts, including Devanagari and Eastern Nagari script, that is used to kill the inherent vowel that otherwise occurs with every consonant akshara. The name is Sanskrit for "cessation, termination, end". As a Sanskrit word, it is used in place of several language-specific terms, such as halant (Hindi: हलन्त् , halant   and hshonto in Bengali. ) -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandrakkala 081111, 121112)

Unicode Devanagari virama is ् U094D, whereas in Bur-Myan, the sign is known as {tn-hkwun} <)) <)) meaning 'flag' and is shown over the consonant whose inherent vowel has been killed.

Every Bur-Myan school-child knows what an {a.tht} <)) <)) is. But what is not known is, what is it that it kills. I was one of those until I came across the Unicode Standard, Version 4.0, chapter 09, http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode4.0.0/ch09.pdf (latest access 081112), and the passage: "Each consonant letter represents a single consonantal sound but also has the peculiarity of having an inherent vowel, generally the short vowel a in Devanagari and the other Indic scripts. Thus U0915 क DEVANAGARI LETTER KA represents not just /k/ but also /ka/. In the presence of a dependent vowel, however, the inherent vowel associated with a consonant letter is overridden by the dependent vowel".

In Bur-Myan, {a.tht} kills the inherent vowel {a.} of the basic akshara, but not that of the medials. This is because, killing the inherent vowel destroys the medial itself. In Romabama which is actually Burmese-Latin, the syllables can be of the form CV, and the killed consonant always appear in the coda. It is not generally pronounced in the dialect of the majority of the population, but can be found (more data need to be collected) in the dialects of some areas of Myanmarpre. In the dialect of the majority, such as those of Yangon and Mandalay, the killed consonant is represented by MLC with a glottal stop [ ' ] instead of the IPA /ʔ/ ("question mark without dot").

{a.tht} is the instrument needed to form more syllables in Bur-Myan (and Romabama). (Note, in the following example, I have "temporarily" used the modal pitch-register, instead of the usual creak to represent the akshara.)

{ka.} + {ka.} --> {ka.ka.} <)) <)) -- 'the cawing of a crow'
+ -->

{ka.} + + {ka.} --> {kka} -- not pronounceable
+ + --> -- alternate form on the right is a vertical conjunct known as {paaHt-hsing.}

{ka.} + {ka.} + --> {kak} <)) <)) -- 'domino'
+ + -->


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01.12 Activation: {a.} with killed nasals

Always think in terms of V or the rime, instead of V (vowel) and (coda consonant) separately, and always keep the Myanmar akshara matrix in mind.

1. {-n.} {-n} --- e.g.: indefinite row nasal {tn} <)) <))
(Though this group #1 does not belong here, it is included to illustrate the gradual change in sonority. See Sonority Hierarchy in my notes.)

2. {-m.} {-m} {-m:} -- e.g. rime of row5 nasal: {lm:} <)) <)) 'road'

3. {-n.} {-n} {-n:} -- e.g. rime of row4 nasal: {ln:} <)) <)) 'fresh'

4. {-N.} {-N} {-N:} -- e.g. rime of row3 nasal: {BN} <)) <)) 'bank'
(Syllables of the above 4 groups are pronounced almost the same for the same pitch-register)

5. {-i.} {-i} {-i:} -- e.g. rime of row2 nasal: {si.} <)) <)) 'glaze'
(There are two aksharas sharing the cell r2c5 (row2-column5) of the Bur-Myan akshara matrix, the {a.l:} and {a.kri:})

6. {-.} {-].} {-:} -- e.g. rime of row2 plosive-cum-nasal:
{s:} <)) <)) 'rule'
(Of the two {a.l:} and {a.kri:}, the former is a "true nasal", the latter has less nasal characteristics as can be seen from the change in the peak-vowel.)

7. {-ing.} {-ing} {-ing:} -- e.g. rime of row1 nasal: {hsing} <)) <)) 'elephant'
(English-Latin uses the digraph <ng> for this phoneme, and the <g> is silent as in the word <sing> [sʰɪŋ] . Bur-Myan {hsing} 'elephant' is pronounced as [sʰɪŋ] .


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01.13 Activation: {a.} with killed plosives

Always think in terms of V or the rime, instead of V (vowel) and (coda consonant) separately, and always keep the Myanmar akshara matrix, in mind. Here, the ending sound is always a glottal stop or something approaching it.

In Romabama, the coda consonant is shown for the sake of orthography with a note that it should not be pronounced as is <s> in French <Paris>. In Bur-Myan you will see that only the c1 consonants are almost exclusively involved. However, in Pali-Myanmar, aksharas under other columns will take part (actually the killed-over-normal combination in vertical conjuncts such as {k~ka.}, and killed-before-normal in horizontal conjuncts such as {~a.}/{~tha.}).

1. e.g. rime of row5 plosive-stop: {kp} <)) <))

2. e.g. rime of row4 plosive-stop: {kt} <)) <))

3. e.g. rime of row3 plosive-stop: {kT} <)) <))
( {kp}, {kt}, and {kT} are pronounced the same or almost the same)

4. e.g. rime of row2 plosive-stop: {kic} <)) <))
(r1c1 as onset is displayed in Romabama as {sa.}, and in the coda as {c}. Burmese syllables do not have sibilant endings.)

5. e.g. rime of row1 plosive: {kak} <)) <))

Note the vowel becoming more front as you move up the akshara rows from r5 to r1.


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Nouns and Verbs

Unlike the French nouns, Burmese nouns have no gender. And, therefore those of you (remember, my wife and I were writing these lessons in Canada which is officially bilingual in English and French) can forget your le's and la's.

Activation: Nouns

Repeat after me.

lu tic-yauk lu t-yauk one man
main:ma. tic-yauk main:ma. t-yauk one woman
ba.ma b-ma Burmese (people)
ba.ma tic-yauk b-ma t-yauk one Burmese person
ba.ma-ma. tic-yauk b-ma-ma. t-yauk one Burmese female
sa sa letter
sa tic-saung sa t-saung one textual letter
sa tic-lon: sa t-lon: one written word
sa.ka: s-ga: speech; language
la. la. month; Moon
n n Sun
n. n. day

Some of the above words may be used as adjectives. It is important to note that when a noun is used as an adjective, it does not undergo a change in spelling.

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UKT notes

inherent vowel

by UKT

What is the inherent vowel? That has been my question ever since I came to study the akshara system of writing. To say that it is approximately the English "short-a", does not mean much, for the English <a> itself has a changing nature and can mean anything to even to a "native-English" speaker. And when you say a "native-speaker", it becomes more confusing because the US-American, Australian, British, Canadian, and New Zealander speak in their own sweet ways. And unless you are familiar with the English-Latin vowels, to say that the inherent vowel is close to <a> is meaningless.

The inherent vowel sometimes appears as a 'schwa' in disyllabic words such as {a.ni} <)) <)) meaning <red>. Now, remember, what we are discussing is the language primarily, and is the sound where the "sound units" are the "phonemes". Of course this would lead us to the script where we write down the graphemes in ink on paper to represent the phonemes. Schwa is a phoneme (i.e. sound) and is represented in ink-on-paper by grapheme [ə] in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). The sound [ə] is not represented in Burmese-Myanmar by a dedicated grapheme, but by {a.}. In {a.ni}, the stressed syllable is {ni} <)) <)), and {a.} is not stressed. Schwa is the vowel in the unstressed part.

Even among the English speakers of one dialect such as the RP (Received Pronunciation -- the pronunciation of the English teachers who taught English to the natives of the British colonies) the English <a> can change, and therefore the inherent vowel can range (at least) as shown.

Go back inher-vow-note-b

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sonority hiearchy

From: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonority_hierarchy 081112

A sonority hierarchy or sonority scale is a ranking of speech sounds (or phones) by amplitude. For example, if you say the vowel [a], you will produce much louder sound than if you say the plosive [t]. Sonority hierarchies are especially important when analyzing syllable structure; rules about what segments may appear in onsets or codas together, such as SSP, are formulated in terms of the difference of their sonority values. Some languages also have assimilation rules based on sonority hierarchy, for example, the Finnish potential mood (e.g. -tne- → -nne-).

Sonority hierarchies vary somewhat in which sounds are grouped together. [UKT: Wikipedia gives its own table instead of which I am giving the TIL table. Click on the TIL table to see the Wikipedia table.]

Sonority scale
In English, the sonority scale, from lowest to highest, is the following:

[[p t k] [b d g] [f θ] [v z] [s] [m n] [l] [r] [i u] [e o] [a]] (fn01)

Wikipedia reference fn01
fn01: Selkirk E (1984). "On the major class features and syllable theory". In Aronoff & Oehrle.

It should be noted that more finely nuanced hierarchies often exist within classes whose members cannot be said to be distinguished by relative sonority. In North American English, for example, of the set /p t k/, /t/ is by far the most subject to weakening when before a vowel not stressed (v. the usual American pronunciation of /t/ as a flap in later, but normally no weakening of /p/ in caper or of /k/ in faker). Similarly, Romance languages often show geminate /mm/ to be weaker than /nn/. In such cases, many phonologists refer not to sonority, but to a more abstract notion of relative strength, which, while once posited as universal in its arrangement, is now known to be language specific.

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Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP)

From: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonority_Sequencing_Principle 081112

The Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP) is a phonotactic principle that aims to outline the structure of a syllable in terms of sonority.

In any syllable, the center of the syllable, namely the syllable nucleus, or the vowel, constitutes a sonority peak that is preceded and/or followed by a sequence of segments -- consonants -- with progressively decreasing sonority values (i.e., the sonority has to fall toward both edges of the syllable). The sonority values of segments are determined by a sonority hierarchy.

A good example for the SSP in English is the one-syllable word <trust>. The first consonant in the syllable onset is <t>, which is a stop, the lowest on the sonority scale; next is <r>, a liquid which is more sonorous, then we have the vowel <u> (IPA: [ʌ]) - the sonority peak; next, in the syllable coda, is <s>, a fricative, and last is another stop, <t>.

Some languages possess syllables that violate the SSP (Russian and English, for example) while other languages strictly adhere to it, even requiring larger intervals on the sonority scale: In Italian for example, a syllable-initial stop must be followed by either a liquid, a glide or a vowel, but not by a fricative. Some languages allow a sonority "plateau"; that is, two adjacent tautosyllabic consonants with the same sonority level. Modern Hebrew is an example of such language.

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End of TIL file