Update: 2016-09-14 11:49 PM -0400


Burmese Grammar 1899

Orthoepy and Orthography


by U Kyaw Tun (UKT) (M.S., I.P.S.T., USA), Tun Institute of Learning (TIL). 
Based on Burmese Grammar and Grammatical Analysis by A. W. Lonsdale, Education Department, Burma, British Burma Press, Rangoon, 1899. Start: 2008 Aug. Copied from photocopy of the ink-on-paper book by UKT and staff of TIL . Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students and staff of TIL Research Station, Yangon, MYANMAR :  http://www.tuninst.net , www.romabama.blogspot.com

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UKT 160405: Lonsdale has given section numbers which are more useful than page numbers. Because of which I am giving both in red, e.g. s001-p001, s002-p001, s003-p001, etc. You can just go by section numbers, instead of page numbers. There are 525 sections, and 434 pages. The last section s525-p429 is actually a whole chapter, Ch10.

Lonsdale's footnotes, which was given at the bottom of the ink-on-paper page in the original book is now given at the end of the section, because I no longer refer by the page number.

He has also defined terms, such Sentence, Clause, and Phrase in Bur-Myan some of which are not found in current MLC grammar. However, you need not know both set of terms, Burmese and English. Only one set would do, and the choice is English. Even that is not very important for you to speak well and write reasonably well.


(s001-p001) to (s007-p003)

Akshara {ak~hka.ra} {a.kSa.ra.} अक्षर akṣara
   note the use of "pseudo {hka.}" in Skt-Dev - a conjunct of {ka.}+ {Sa.}
Sentence {wa-kya.} 
Clause {wa-kya.kN~a.}
Phrase {pa.da. sa.ya.}


Author's footnotes
A. W. Lonsdale has given more explanations on the terms in the form of foot-notes. He writes in stead of ā , e.g., Pali for Pāli .
Lonsdale's footnotes, which was given at the bottom of the ink-on-paper page in the original book is now given at the end of the section.

UKT notes 
Magadha language
Pali-Ceylon vs. Pali-Myan
polytonic orthography


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001. The Burmese Language as it is commonly called is Bur-Myan (Burmese speech written in Myanmar script) proper is radical or monosyllabic. Yet it contains many polysyllabic words of foreign origin received chiefly from Pali. It belongs to the great Polytonic family of Languages (fn001-01), forming one branch of the Tib-Bur (Tibeto-Burman) subdivision of that family. Its akshara and the method of writing it has been said to have been borrowed from the ancient Nagari through the medium of Magadhi or Pali, the language in which the Theravada Buddhist scriptures, introduced into Myanmarpr from Ceylon, were written. (see my note on Pali-Ceylon vs. Pali-Myan)

fn001-01 Poly, 'many'; tonic, relating to tones or sounds'; polytonic, 'having more than one tone' fn001-01b

002. The Bur-Myan grammarians, having no suitable grammatical terms of their own, were obliged to borrow them from the Pali-Myan Language. The term they employ for Grammar is {d~da-t~htn} (fn001-02), commonly called {d~da kym:}, or simply {thd~da}. [Lonsdale ]

fn001-02 Pali, {t~htn} , 'a treatise' fn001-02b

UKT 121118: The unpopularity of Bur-Myan grammar -- which I used to dislike with a passion -- is the requirement for the students to learn a separate set of Burmese (Pali) grammatical terms after having to learn them in English. Since Pali is also a foreign language in Myanmarpr, I feel that we need to learn only one set: the English terms. Refer to my Grammar Glossary -- GramGloss-indx.htm (link chk 160405).

This word {d~da} is the Pali {d~da.} slightly modified in its form, and implies primarily Sound. Pali Grammarians place all sounds under two heads, viz. {sait~ta.za. d~da.} (fn001-03), lit. 'mind produced sounds,' and {U.tu.za. d~da.}, (fn001-04), lit. 'season produced sounds' [accidentally or naturally produced sounds].[UKT ]

fn001-03 Pali, {sait~tn} , 'mind', and {za.} 'born', 'produced' ['originating'] fn001-03b

fn001-04 Pali, {U.tu.} , 'season' [natural process such as menses of women] fn001-04b

UKT 160404: An unfortunate connection of the commonly used Bur-Myan {sait~ta.za.} to the meaning 'insanity', has lead me to remember {sait~ta.za. d~da.} as the "Grammar of Insane". Here {za.} means 'based on', from which we can translate {sait~ta.za. d~da.} as 'human-mind based sound' or 'human-voice'. Since {za.} is the voiced counterpart of {sa.}, we might as well change the spelling to {sait~ta.sa. d~da.}.

Under {sait~ta.sa. d~da.} are included all sounds uttered by humans for the purpose of communicating thoughts, as well as those made by irrational beings, which, according to Buddhistic teaching, are (p001-end-p002begin) considered to be endowed with a mental faculty. [UKT ]

Under {U.tu.za. d~da.} are included all kinds of sounds produced in nature, such as those occasioned by thunder, the falling of trees, the rustling of the wind, &c. Along with these are placed the sounds that are made in the body without any mental operation, such as those caused by sneezing, snoring, &c.

{d~da.} (fn002-01) used as a grammatical term, means only articulated sounds as applied to language whether spoken or written.

fn002-01 From its primary meaning of 'sound', this word has come to mean 'voice', 'word', -o ; but we shall use it only in the sense of 'sound' fn002-01b


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Akshara {ak~hka.ra} अक्षर akṣara

UKT 160405:  Note Skt-Dev uses Pseudo Kha, a conjunct of {ka.}+ {Sa.}, in places where Pal-Myan would use Regular Kha. Since the dental fricative-sibilant {Sa.} is unknown in Bur-Myan & Pal-Myan, this Skt-Dev conjunct is a source of confusion for Bur-Myan speakers.

003. The glyph representing a sound is called Akshara {ak~hka.ra} अक्षर akṣara. However, before the coming of writing when the sounds were memorized, {ak~hka.ra} also meant the sound itself. A combination of letters is call {poad} (fn002-02), word. A syllable is called {wN~Na.}. [Note: this subsection 003 has been greatly modified, and the idea is no longer that of Lonsdale.]

fn002-02 This is from Pali {pa.da.} which has various meanings, viz.: step, footprint, matter, -ng, a part, portion, a line of stanza, a word, a sentence. In this work, it is used only with the meaning of 'word'. fn002-02b

UKT 121203, 160405: MLC Burmese Grammar for Middle Schools, (pub. ca. 1986 ) vol 1 mod 2 defines {sa.ka:lon:}, {poad}, {poad-su.}. Use downloaded pdf files in TIL SD-Library
- MLC-BurGramm<> / bkp<> (link chk 160409)
to see the Bur-Myan text. Their equivalents according to MLC Myanmar to English Dictionary are:
   {sa.ka:lon:} - n. word -- MED2006-101
  - MLC-BurGram
   {poad} - n. 1. word. 2. [orth] punctuation mark -- MED2006-274
  - MLC-BurGram
   {poad-su.} -- not entered in MLC2006
  - MLC-BurGram
I am not competent enough at present (121203) to give reliable dictionary meanings for the above.

004. The Bur-Myan Grammar may be divided into three principal parts, viz.

{ak~hka.rp~pa.B-da.} -- Distinction of Letters [Science of Phonetics & Phonology]
-- includes Orthography (spelling) and Orthoepy (pronunciation)  (fn002-03)

fn002-03 That part of Grammar which deals with the correct pronunciation of words. fn002-03b

{pa.da.wi.w-sa.na.} -- Word Investigation
-- embraces the classification of words, their accidence (inflection) and derivation (etymology)

{ka-ra.ka.kp~pa.} -- Rules concerning the necessary relations of words in a sentence. [Syntax]
-- what we understand by syntax.

UKT: For unusual English words, I have given the gloss in (...) based on AHTD.

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005. {wa-kya.} : A group of words, containing a noun or a word or words equivalent to a noun, and a verb, that makes complete sense by itself by expressing a statement, a command, an entreaty, a wish, or a question is called a sentence; in Bur-Myan it is termed {wa-kya.} (fn002-04); as , (p002end-p003begin)

fn002-04 This in Pali is {wa-kyn}. The Burmese form {wa-kya.} is pronounced as wek-kya . fn002-04b
UKT: Don't be surprised by vowel change from <wa> to <we>. It is quite common when both vowels are either front or back. Here <a> and <e> and both front vowels.

'Moung Ba goes.' -- a statement.

UKT 160405: Notice the spelling "Moung": it is rounded back-vowel. Eng-Latin speakers are more used to back-vowels, whereas Bur-Myan speakers are more used to front-vowels. We use "Maung" in place of "Moung" at present. {maung-Ba.} is a common boy's name when we were young. There is no capitalization on the first akshara in a proper name or of the first word in a sentence. Romabama follows the Bur-Myan usage.

'(you) go.' -- a command.

UKT:  {mn: wa: sm:}

'please let me go.' -- an entreaty.

  {nga wa: pa. ra. s}

'may you be prosperous!' -- a wish.

UKT: {mn: to. kaung: sa: pa s}

UKT 160405: The killed-{wa.} was the regular form of spelling of my father's generation. 

'Does Moung Ba go?' -- a question.

  {maung-Ba. wa:a.la:}

UKT 160405: Notice the change in usage {wa:a.lau:} is now {wa:a.la:}


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006. {wa-kya.kN~a.}: A group of words containing a noun or a word or words equivalent to a noun, and a verb, that make sense but not complete sense by itself is called a Clause; in Bur-Myan it is termed {wa-kya.kN~a.} (fn003-01) [UKT ]

fn003-01 Pali, {kaN~a.} means, 'a part', 'a portion'; {wa-kya.kN~a.} = 'a part of a sentence' fn003-01b

A clause always forms part of a sentence; as,

UKT: In the sentence above, there are two clauses:

{mn:toan: Bu.rn lwun-tau mu lhyn}
'when King Mindon passed away'

{i-Bau nn: hsak hkn Ei.}
'Thi-Bau inherited the throne'.

{mn:toan:mn: nt-rwa-sn-pri:nauk i-pau:mn: tak-t}

For those who hate grammar, whether it be Burmese or English, remember, grammar can be fun when we do not have to memorize definitions. See Barron's Grammar in Plain English, or its TIL version
-- EGPE-indx.htm (link chk 160401)

In plain English a sentence is a statement that conveys a complete thought. The statement #1 becomes incomplete because of the word {lhying} 'when'. Statement #1 is a clause. It becomes a complete sentence only when #2 is added. However, #2 conveys a complete thought, and so it need not be considered to be a clause.

In general, a sentence which begins with words such as when, after, because, as soon as, before, or since needs to have a completing thought.

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UKT 160406 See: ENGLISH for Myanmar for definition of "Phrase"
- E4M-indx.htm > GramGloss.htm > P01.htm (link chk 160406)
the best answer is from UseE (UsingEnglish.com Glossary of English Grammar Terms)
- http://www.usingenglish.com/glossary/p.html 080525, 160406
"A phrase is a group of words that go together, but do not make a complete sentence."

007. {pa.da. sa.ya.} : A group of words which does not make any sense by itself is called a Phrase; in Bur-Myan it is termed {pa.da. sa.ya.} (fn003-02)

'one day'
UKT:  {ta.hka-ka.}

'on the road'
UKT:  {lm:pau-mha}

'every day'

fn003-02 Pali, {pa.da.} 'word'; {sa.ya.} "a group", "a cluster" fn003-02b


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Author's footnotes

Lonsdale's footnotes, which was given at the bottom of the ink-on-paper page in the original book is now given at the end of the section.

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UKT notes

Magadha language

UKT: 121204 , 160401

The statement of Chi Hisen-lin (JBRS, XLIII, i, June 1960): "the Magadha language was an eastern dialect, in which <r> {ra.} had become as <l> {la.}, " is acceptable, except for the term "dialect". The term "dialect" is incomplete, because a "dialect" is a subset of a "language" , and the author has not explicitly stated what language he meant. However, if Magadi had been a distinct language -- a Tib-Bur language, and being in the east, far from the place in western India through which the Sanskrit speakers had filtered in, we could expect it to be relatively free from the rhotic nature of IE languages. And we should expect to see /l/ in the place of /r/. I am basing my conclusions from my knowledge of Bur-Myan, a typical Tib-Bur language.

The blood relatives of Gautama Buddha, the Nwaris, still speak what is left of the Old Magadha language now being slowly Sanskritized. The spoken language of these people reflects the original language, and it is my intention to look into the Nwari language aka  language of Nepal Bhasa . Another source of information is from the work of Prof. F. Edgerton on Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (BHS):
#1. A Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of Nepali Language by R L Turner
- http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/turner/ (link chk 160119)
  Downloaded pages in a folder is in the TIL SD-Library
On downloaded Turner-Nepali-Lang-Dictionary, p159, there are a few words beginning with {nga.}
#2. English to Nepal Bhasa Dictionary by Sabin Bhuju सबिन भुजु , 2005
- SBhuju-NewarDict<> / bkp<> (link chk 160221)
Being both Tib-Bur languages Bur-Myan and Newa-Dev have words beginning with {nga.} ङ,
e.g. for <fish> न्या ; ङा
#3. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary, F. Edgerton,
- BHS-indx.htm - update 160229

Go back Magadha-lang-note-b

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Pali-Ceylon vs. Pal-Myan

UKT: 121204, 160404
What Lonsdale has said about Pali being introduced from Ceylon in the Pagan period is true for the reintroduction of Pali into Myanmarpre in 11th century. However, I wonder what had happened to the Old Magadhi - the language of King Asoka - that was introduced when King Abiraza of Tagaung, came into the land over land across the mountains, centuries before the birth of Lord Buddha.

It is important to remember that both Gautama Buddha and King Asoka who came about 250 years after the Buddha, had belonged to the area known as Magadha Mahajanapada {ma-ga.Da. ma.ha-za.na.pa.da.} महाजनपद ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahajanapada 160404) in which the culturally (and linguistically) interrelated Magadha language-speakers had settled. You are advised to ignore the present-day geo-political countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmarpr, Nepal, and Pakistan.

This account given in the Glass Palace Chronicles was totally ignored by the British colonialist-historians probably because of political reasons.

There was not only the Abiraza group, but another influx from Magadha in the life-time of Buddha. During this time not only the Tib-Bur (Tibeto-Burman) speakers had come in but also IE (Indo-European) speakers -- the Brahmana Poannas -- serving as family priests.

The land routes across the difficult-to-cross mountain passes between India and Myanmarpr must have been used by small groups of people and animals over millenniums stretching back into Geological ages, long before the appearance of Hominids. Read about Afrasia djijidae which is a fossil primate that had lived in Myanmarpr approximately 37 million years ago, during the late middle Eocene, in Geography, Geology, Fossils -- geo-indx.htm > fossil.htm (link chk 160410)

Since humans do not have to learn their language, which they developed themselves, there is no reason why a language such as Magadhi - claimed to be so simple that even animals could understand it - could not have developed in the northern parts of Myanmarpr along the foot-hills of Himalayas extending west to the northern-west highlands of India.

I wonder what had happened to the Old Magadhi that had been introduced over the land routes centuries before the "new" Pali from Ceylon. Surely remnants would remain in Myanmarpr. The present-day Pali spoken in Myanmarpr (Pal-Myan) is basically Old Magadhi heavily influenced by Lankan-Pali. That the Myanmar Akshara is probably as old as Asokan - the script on Asoka pillars - is attested by the fact that Myanmar akshara {ta.} is still found in the country of Georgia as a Letter of Alphabet თ 'Tan'.

The reader should note that Magadhi and Pali may be entirely different as shown by Chi Hisen-lin, Journal of the Burma Research Society, XLIII, i, June 1960. See lang-probl.htm (link chk 160404).  Chi Hisen-lin states:

" ... there is a comparatively concordant point, that is, most of the scholars advocated that the Pali language was a Western dialect, and such was truly the fact. The declensions of the Pali words are similar to those of the language used in the Girnar Inscriptions of the Asokan Pillars [see Asoka-Great.htm from Wikipedia; and Ven. S. Dhammika's The Edicts of King Asoka], such as the locative case ending in -amhi and -e, the accusative case in -ne, etc. But on the other hand, the Magadha language was an eastern dialect, in which <r>  {ra.} had become as <l> {la.}, and <s> as <ś>, while the nominative case of words ending in -a , ended in -e , etc. There is a vast difference between the two languages and they should by no means be confused with each other."

See: Translation of Asoka's Edicts by Ven. S. Dhammika
in Indic languages - indic.indx.htm > Asoka-edicts.htm

I could not understand the statement "<r>  {ra.} had become as <l> {la.}, and <s> as <ś>" for a long time until I came to study Skt-Dev.

The statement can be readily understood if we take "Pali the Western dialect" was under the influence of Sanskrit which was a rhotic sibilant (hissing) IE language. My suggestion is since Skt-Dev was an invented language, we must see the transition as <l> {la.} --> {ra.}. In that transition we should also expect to see {La.} the allophone of {la.}.

"Magadhi the Eastern dialect" would be a Tib-Bur language which would be non-rhotic thibilant (non-hissing) language the same as the Pal-Myan. Thus, <s> --> <ś> must be interpreted as {a.} स --> {sha.}/ {hya.} श. What Chi Hisen-lin has given as <s> is not palatal plosive-stop {sa.} च but dental fricative-thibilant {a.} स.

As of today (080823, ... , 160404) I am inclined to agree with Chi Hisen-lin. My conjecture and observation is this: Pal-Myan and Bur-Myan are both Tib-Bur languages and that they are thibilant (referring to r6c5 akshara), where the IPA /θ/ is prominent.

On the other hand, Pali that is spoken in Sri Lanka aka Ceylon from which Pal-Lat was under the influence of native Lanka speech which is Aus-Asi different from IE and Tib-Bur. We should also remember that Buddhism was brought into Sri Lanka by missionaries sent by King Asoka who like Gautama Buddha was undoubtedly Tib-Bur speakers.

The Lankan Buddhist then came under the influence of Sanskrit of IE group which is sibilant where the /θ/ is replaced by /s/. See remarks by T. W. Rhys Davids in the foreword of his Pali Dictionary - foreword.htm (link chk: 160405).

Thus, the International Pali (Pal-Lat) is very much tainted by Sanskrit, an IE language. I can also pinpoint two areas where Pal-Lat, Pal-Myan, Bur-Myan are different.

There are no Pal-Myan words with onset {nga.}. However, Bur-Myan and Nwari have onsets with {nga.} - both being typical Tib-Bur languages: Nwari is the language spoken by the still extent relatives of Gautama Buddha. See:
#1. A Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of Nepali Language by R L Turner
  - http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/turner/ (link chk 160119)
  Downloaded pages in TIL SD-Library Turner-Nwari<> / bkp<> (link chk 160405)
#2. English to Nepal Bhasa Dictionary by Sabin Bhuju सबिन भुजु , 2005
  - SBhuju-NewarDict<> / bkp<> (link chk 160221)
Being both Tib-Bur languages Bur-Myan and Nwa-Dev have words beginning with {nga.} ङ,
  e.g. for <fish> न्या ; ङा

It is in the pronunciation of palatal (r2c1) akshara. In Pal-Myan {sa.} is /s/ in the onset of the syllable and /c/ in the coda. However in Pal-Lat it is /ʧ/. [Note: /ʧ/ the affricate is present as <ch> in English words such as <church>. It is absent in Bur-Myan.]

Chi Hisen-lin's remark "the Magadha language was an eastern dialect, in which r had become as l, and ..." is intriguing from the point of view of the Bur-Myan which has more than one lateral consonant -- two basic and the other medials.

The basic consonants are {la.} & {La.} which can be represented as IPA /l/.

There are more, see MLC (Myanmar Language Commission) MED-2006 (Myanmar-English Dictionary of 2006).

Basic {la.} ल
- entered in cell r6c3 cell of the Bur-Myan akshara matrix: alveolar lateral approximant. MED2006-423

Basic {La.} ळ
- entered in cell r7c3 cell of the Bur-Myan akshara matrix: lateral approximant. MED2006-534

Medial {lya.} - {la.} ल modified by {ya.} य. MED2006-460
Medial {lwa.} - {la.} ल modified by {wa.} व. MED2006-461
Medial {lha.} - {la.} ल modified by {ha.} ह. MED2006-463

Medial {lhya.} - {la.} ल modified by {ya.} य & {ha.} ह
   in {lhya} 'tongue' -- MED2006-468
Medial {lhwa.} - {la.} ल modified by {wa.} व & {ha.} ह.
  in {lhwa.} 'carpenter saw' -- MED2006-470

In a lighter vein, I should remark (especially to my grandsons, Maung Kan Tun and Maung Thit Tun, both born outside Myanmarpr): The favorite snack of the Bur-Myan is {lak-Bak} 'processed tea-leaves' from the tender leaves of tea plant Camellia sinensis . {lak-Bak} loosely translated is "something that is a companion of your hand" : the word for <hand> is {lak}. So unless you love {lak-Bak} and can articulate the "laterals", you shouldn't call yourself Burmese!

Go back Pal-Ceyl-vs-Pal-Myan-note-b

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polytonic orthography

- UKT 160404

In Lonsdale's time, linguists did not know that there are many systems of writing. And few still fail to recognize the importance of citing the script together with the speech as I am doing: Bur-Myan, English-Latin, Pali-Myan, and Skt-Dev.
Except for Eng-Lat, the other BEPS languages use Abugida-Akshara system, where Consonants and Vowels are written separately. What the westerners had taken as diacritics are actually vowels and cannot be disregarded as is done in the Alphabet-Letter system.

From: The Free Dictionary http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Polytonic+orthography 080821

The polytonic orthography of Greek uses a variety of diacritics (πολύ = many + τόνος = accent) to represent aspects of Ancient Greek pronunciation. It was the standard orthography for all varieties of Greek from Hellenistic times until 1982, although the distinctions it represented had disappeared from the spoken language early in the Christian era. In 1982, the Greek Parliament adopted the monotonic orthography. Polytonic is still sometimes used by people who consider monotonic an unfortunate break with tradition.

Polytonic Greek utilizes a set of diacritics on certain letters, illustrated below using the letter α:

the accents (tnoi, τόνοι), on the vowel of the accented syllable of a word and indicating different tone patterns in Ancient Greek:
ά Oxea (ὀξεῖα), the acute accent
ά Tnos (τόνος, used interchangeably in prose with the oxia, used to strengthen the tone of a vowel in poetry
Barea (βαρεῖα), the grave accent
Perispōmnē (περισπωμένη), the circumflex, sometimes printed in the form of a tilde, macron, or inverted breve.

the breathings, written on the first syllable of a word starting with a vowel:
Dasea (δασεῖα), or rough breathing ( spiritus asper), indicating an [h] in Ancient Greek. Also used on words starting with rho (ρ) transliterated as rh.
Psil (ψιλή), or smooth breathing (spiritus lenis), indicating the absence of an [h].

the ypogegrammeni (iota subscript) (ὑπογεγραμμένη), written under alpha, eta, and omega to indicate the long diphthongs āi, ēi, and ōi, respectively; sometimes written adjacent to capitals (in which case it is called an iota adscript, prosgegrammeni, προσγεγραμμένη).

UKT: The "diphthong" mentioned above must be taken with caution. It can very well be "digraph" which does not involve the "sliding" of the English <boy>. What has been described commonly as "diphthong" in Bur-Myan are actually monophthong, but written in Eng-Lat (English speech in Latin script). Unfortunately UKT has no knowledge of Greek! -- UKT121117

The letters iota and upsilon can also take a diaeresis (διαλυτικά) to show that a pair of vowels is pronounced separately, rather than together: compare Modern Greek παϊδάκια [paiakja] (lamb chops) and παιδάκια [peakja] (little children). The diaeresis can be combined with acute, grave and circumflex but never with breathings (since the letter with diaeresis cannot be the first vowel of the word).

All of these diacritics are important in Classical Greek (and the breathings in particular are relevant to the etymology of words in other languages), but except for the diaeresis none have any significance in the modern language: there is no difference in pronunciation between words which formerly had smooth and rough breathings, and the pitch accent has been replaced with a stress accent. (Note that the transliteration of the names of the diacritics into the Roman alphabet varies, chiefly depending on whether they are considered words from Classical or Modern Greek.)

The rough and smooth breathings were introduced in classical times in order to represent the presence or absence of [h] in Attic Greek, which had adopted a form of the alphabet in which the H sign was no longer available for this purpose as it had been used (as Eta) for the long e. Aristophanes of Byzantium introduced the various accent markings during the Hellenistic period for educational purposes. The majuscule system written entirely in capital letters was used until the 8th century, when the minuscule polytonic was widely adopted.

The acute and circumflex accents were invented in Alexandria; the grave accent then meant an unaccented syllable, when it was important to mark one. The modern convention, by which an acute accent on the last syllable of a word becomes a grave accent, was devised in Byzantine times, after the accent became stress; the convention began with certain proclitic words, which lose their accent before another word, and was generalized.

In the later development of the language, the ancient tones were replaced by a stress accent making the differences among accents superfluous, and the [h] sound became silent. Some textbooks of Ancient Greek for foreigners have retained the breathings, but dropped all the accents, simplifying the task for the learner, but breaking the link with the modern language.

Following the final adoption of the Demotic (Dhimotiki) form of the language, in 1982, monotonic orthography was imposed by law. The latter uses only the acute accent (or sometimes a vertical bar intentionally distinct from any of the traditional accents) and diaeresis and omits the breathings. Some individuals, institutions, and publishers continue to prefer the polytonic system, though an official reintroduction of the polytonic system does not seem probable.

In an intermediate stage (between the beginning of the 20th century and 1982, official since the 1960s), the grave was replaced by the acute under certain circumstances, in particular in handwriting. (Even in Ancient Greek, they almost always meant the same thing; in modern Greek, there is no difference in the pronunciation of the three accents.) Greek typewriters from that era did not have keys for the grave accent. The grave was also not taught in primary schools where instruction was in Demotic. This system is still used in some publications such as the periodical Estia.

Go back poly-ortho-note-b

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