Update: 2016-09-10 09:43 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). 
From Burmese Grammar and Grammatical Analysis by A. W. Lonsdale, Education Department, Burma, British Burma Press, Rangoon, 1899. Start: 2008 Aug.
Copied 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 

index.htm | Top

Contents of this page

(s008-p004) to (s012-p006)

Chapter 1
The Akshara {ak~hka.ra}
  - confusion between Abugida & Alphabet {al~hpa-bak}
The vowels : Mon-Myan vowels are my addition
Mismatch of pitch-registers or tones between Bur-Myan (3 registers)
  and Pal-Myan (2 registers) are handled constantly by Bur-Myan speakers.
The consonants (contd.)

UKT: The most prominent part at the back of the mouth the uvula or the little grape. The pix  shows the uvula more prominently by cutting portion of the cheek. In this picture you can see most of the articulators involved in the production of the consonants. See my note on palatal arches .

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.

UKT notes 
Abugida aka Akshara aka {ak~hka.ra} : a segmental script
Laryngeal characteristics of modal voice
Lubyandaw {lu-prn-tau}
palatal arches

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Chapter I
THE AKSHARA {ak~hka.ra} अक्षर akṣara

UKT 121117, 121207, 160410 :
In Lonsdale's time the the Akshara {ak~hka.ra} अक्षर akṣara, and the Alphabet {al~hpa-bak} were considered the same. I am now emphasizing the difference as:

Abugida (system) - Akshara
------------------------ (basic unit - syllable, e.g. Bur-Myan {ta.})
Alphabet (system) - Letter
------------------------ (basic unit - mute-letter, e.g. Georgian თ consonant-Tan)

The difference between the Abugida-Akshara system, and Alphabet-Letter system, can be exemplied with reference to Bur-Myan script and the Georgian script. Georgian თ consonant-Tan is a mute-Letter. It is not pronounceable, whereas Bur-Myan {ta.} is a pronounceable-syllable. Bur-Myan, {ta.} under the virama aka {a.t} {t}, is the same as Georgian თ Tan. See:
Vowels and Consonants in BEPS languages
- MC-indx.htm > MCvowcon-indx.htm > MC-syllab.htm (link chk 160410)

008. Strictly speaking, the Bur-Myan {ak~hka.ra}-system consists of 42 {ak~hka.ra}: 10 of which are vowels, {a.ra.}, and 32 are consonants, {by:} byi. However, there are 35 consonants in Mon-Myan. These represent simple or elementary sounds.

UKT 160406: The not all the elementary sounds are "heard" by the phoneticians who made a mess of transliteration of these sounds into English-Latin. Even the IPA has missed some column aksharas.


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The Vowels

UKT 160410: For a fuller description of vowels, we need the diagram on the right. However, since my observation is based on the way I pronounce my vowels, you may not agree with my analysis. But remember, my main concern is how to come up with a reliable way of representing a vowel system for all the BEPS languages, and I have to make give-and-take decisions for every vowel concerned. You will notice that for such a work I have to go on line and listen very carefully the vowel sounds presented by various teaching programs -- oft and on over the years.

This training on my very own self had actually started when I was still in my teens: when I had watched and listened very carefully the way my father's American friends pronounced their vowels. I remember Mr. A. L. Scharzer, a health educator, from New York, N.Y., who pronounced <cot> which sounded like <cut> to our ears. That was in the early 1950s. It was an unconscious effort then, and it all started with my father's observation on his friend's pronunciation. Then my father told me of one his own students at the Vaccinators' class at the Harcourt Butler Institute in Rangoon. A particular Bur-Myan student could "not hear" {ta.i:poag~ga.la.} (now spelled: {tic-i:poag~ga.la.}) and always spelled {ta.di.pug-ga.la.}.

Note on my father: U Tun Pe was a careful observer of his surroundings -- the result of a Buddhist training that he got from his mentor U Kyaw Dun. That training called {a.ti.pT~HTaan} is a method of mental training open to all religious faiths. -- UKT 121208


009. The [Bur-Myan] Vowels are:

[UKT ]

MLC gives two tables: {a.hkr-hkn a.ra.} 'basic vowels', and {n-ro: a.ra.} 'syllabus vowels'. In these tables, the first line is made up of {a.wN}-vowels, and the second line {a.a.wN}-vowels.

UKT 160411: There is some apparent variation between the Bur-Myan vowels as given by Lonsdale and MLC Burmese Grammar. However, on counting all - excepting the common ones - you will get more than 12. These should be compared to Mon-Myan vowels given below.

Listen to Mon-Myan (Martaban dialect) - les02-61txt<))

If you are a Bur-Myan speaker you would "hear" the difference between Bur-Myan and Mon-Myan vowels. These are due to Bur-Myan belonging to Tib-Bur language group, and Mon-Myan to Aus-Asi (AustroAsiatic). Romabama transcription is based on Bur-Myan phonology, and is not suitable for Mon-Myan. Don't pronounce pure Mon-Myan words in Romabama transcription.

However when you listen to Pali recitations you can identify some Pali words, and if you know Pali you would understand. This calls for a quotation from Pali sources such as Practical Grammar of the Pali Language (in English), by Charles Duroiselle, 1906, 3rd ed 1915. Latest ed in 1997 by U Dhamminda, Buddha Dharma Edu. Asc. Inc. - online www.buddhanet.net ,
and, downloaded 182pdf-pp file in TIL SD-Library - Duroiselle-PaliGramm<> / bkp<>  (link chk 160412)
On pdf013/182, Chap 1., sec 5, it is stated that:

The "two diphthongs" referred to are {a.a.wN} vowels, and they together with six {a.wN} vowels gives a total of eight vowels of Pal-Myan.

Now, that I am trying to include Burmese, English, Pali, and Sanskrit in BEPS, you will appreciate my motto: Speech divides; Script unites. Myanmar script is the unifying script of the land of Myanmarpr! Geopolitical boundaries are bound to change over centuries, yet our descendants will remain united through Myanmar script.

(Sec.009. will continue after I have explained the tables above.)

UKT 160406: compare this table to the one given in Sec. 23 p.016 (lnk chk: 160406) in which is not given.

You will note that in pairs of vowels, such as {a.} a and {a} , there is an inconsistency between Bur-Myan and Pal-Myan.

Bur-Myan has 3 pitch-registers: #1 - creak (very short), #2 - modal (medium), and #3 - emphatic (and long), whereas in Pali-Myanmar there are only two: short {r~a. a.ra.} and long {di-Ga. a.ra.}.

To me at least, the only way to integrate the two is to add an extra-short vowel as is present in Mon-Myan, and to write in terms of vowel-duration in eye-blink units instead of using descriptive words like <creak>, <short>, <modal>, <long>, and <emphatic>:

{a:.} (1/2 blk), {a.} (1 blk), {a} (2 blk), {a:} (2 blk + emphasis)
Note: Bur-Myan {aa.} is equal to Mon-Myan {a:.}

If you do not pay attention to this problem, you will end up equating Pali short vowels sometimes to the Burmese creaks and sometimes to the Burmese modals, and Pali long vowels to the Burmese modals in some instances and to the Burmese emphatics in others.

I presume that Lonsdale is following the IAST (or its equivalent of his day), and has used:

for ā ,
  for  ī, and
for ū 

for Bur-Myan, vowels based on Pali.

I have observed that the three pitch registers of Bur-Myan can be roughly represented by the IPA suprasegmentals: [ă] , [a] (temporarily represented as am) and [aː].
Integrating these two presumptions together, I got:     a.  a  am     aː

Note that Lonsdale represents his transcriptions in "italics" (slanting) in the original book, but since the slant is interfering with the display, I have taken it out and have inserted the Lonsdale's characters within .... Differentiate them from Romabama which are shown within {...}.

Lonsdale has given alternates for two graphemes: and . At present, these are not used but only their alternates are used: {U.} and {AU:}

Similar to other Indic akshara-systems, such as Skt-Dev, Bur-Myan & Pal-Myan recognize two kinds of "vowels": the "vowel letters" and "vowel signs". e.g. with vowel sound /i/ (short) & (long)

vow-letters : 
   {I.} इ  &  {I} ई  
vow-signs + dummy  {a.} अ  : 
   {i.}  &    {i}
vow-signs + dummy {ka.} क :
   {ki.} कि  &  {ki} की

009 contd .
Pali grammarians reckon only eight vowels, three of which are short, called {r~a. a.ra.} ratha thara, viz.

Front-vowel: {a.} , {I.} , and back-vowel {U.} 

the rest are long, called {di-Ga. a.ra.} diga thara, viz.

Front-vowel: {a},  {I},  and back-vowel {U}, 
Front-vowel: {} , and back-vowel {AU:}.

The vowels {:} and {AU} are distinctly Burmese and not to be found in Pali, although there are letters in Sanskrit nearly corresponding to them in sound. They may be accounted long. [UKT - s009. will continue later]

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The Mismatch of pitch-registers or "tones"

UKT: 121202, 160412

The problem of mismatch between the Pali's vowels, short and long, and the Burmese three, creak (#1), modal (#2) and emphatic (#3), is only found when the two languages are presented together as in Buddhist texts with Burmese commentaries -- an observation I have made after listening to many religious discourses by different Burmese monks and Lubyandaw {lu-prn-tau} or ex-monks. Please do not forget that the speaker is constantly switching from one language to another. I have come to this position only after my study of Voice Quality in Human Voice
- indx-HV.htm > voice-qual.htm  (link chk 160910). 
Also see my notes (below) - Laryngeal Characteristics of the modal voice.
See also Romabama pitch-registers in ch06.htm (link chk 160910)

UKT cultural note: Bur-Myan Theravada monk-hood or Order is made up of individual members known as {ra.hn:} aka {Baik~hku}. A society of {ra.hn:} is {n~Ga}. See my note on Lubyandaw {lu-prn-tau}.

009 contd .
The vowels are either similar, called {a.wN}, thawan, or dissimilar, called {a.a.wuN} athawn; thus, {a.} and {a} , and {I.} and {I}, {U.} and {U} are similar. Note that these are all at the corners of the  vowel quadrilateral. [UKT ]

The {a.a.wuN} vowels:
{:} and {AU:} in Pali-Myan,
{:} , {:} , {AU:} , & {AU} in Bur-Myan
{:} , {:} , {AU:} , & {ou} in Mon-Myan
are dissimilar, not only to one another but to all the others.

UKT: I would have to disagree with Lonsdale with respect to {AU:} and {AU}. First, I must state we have in Bur-Myan:

creak {au.} (1 eye-blk); modal {au} (2 blk); emphatic {au:} (2 blk + emphasis)
creak ------------------------- ; modal {AU} ------- : emphatic {AU:}

Please note that Romabama transcriptions are different from those of MLC:
  {au.} vs. MLC //o.// - MEDict2006-616
  {au} vs. MLC //o// - MEDict2006-616; --- {AU} vs. MLC //o// - MEDict2006-616
  {au:} vs. MLC //o:// - MEDict2006-615; -- {AU:} vs. MLC //o:// - MEDict2006-615

In the Thinbngyi   {in-poan:kri:} or Burmese spelling book two other letters are found added to the ten vowels shown above. They are {n} an and {a:} : .

{n} is a nasal or nose letter {na-i.ka. ak~hka.ra} ( fn004-01), and is not strictly a vowel (see infra.) ( p004end-p005begin) {a:} is not a separate letter, but the second vowel {a} with its natural tone modified by the two circular dots known as [{wuc~sa.pauk}] (see par.51.). (s009end)

fn004-01 Pali, {na-thi.ka.} 'the nose', = 'nose letter', i.e.: a letter sounded through the nose.
- fn004-01b

UKT: 121203
Pay attention to the third line of Skt-Dev vowels.

The {a.a.wuN} vowels are
vow-letters ------- ए  -- ऐ ----- औ  ---- special vowels -- अं अः
vow-signs + अ --- अे अै  अो   अौ  -- (rendering engine not working for this line)
vow-signs + क --- के   कै  --- को  -- कौ  ---- (I have substituted क in place of अ)

The diacritics on the vow-signs show that the pair के कै is the first pair of {a.a.wN}, and that को कौ is the second pair. The first pair are the front-mid vowels and the second pair is the back-mid vowels. In each pair the first member is close and the second member is open.

From this we can say that {} /e/ & {:} /ɛ/ are the front-mid pair. Eng-Lat has only {} /e/ and no {:} /ɛ/. However, Bur-Myan has all the pitch registers for both:

creak {.} , modal {} , emphatic {:} -- allophones of /e/
creak {.} , modal {} , emphatic {:}   -- allophones of /ɛ/

The problem of representing the back-mid vowels becomes insoluble with the second pair. The back-mid pair. On the vowel-quadrilateral of Daniel Jones, the back vowels /u/ , /o/, /ɔ/ & /ɒ/ (or /ɑ/) are shown well separated. However, on the vowel-space diagram (which is closer to reality - "ellipse'), these vowels are so close to be distinguishable.

That the back vowels are so close that they are a problem is also shown by the studies of formants.


We must take note of the following points.
Engl-Lat has <i> for /i/, <e> for /e/, no letter for /ɛ/, <a> for /a/
Bur-Myan has {i.} for /i/, {} for /e/, {:} for /ɛ/,  {a.} for /a/
Engl-Lat has <u> for /u/, <o> for /o/, no letter for /ɔ/, digraph <au> for /ɑ/
Bur-Myan has {u.} for /u/, {o} for /o/, no letter for /ɔ/, {au:} for /ɑ/

From similarity to the front pair, they should have the pronunciations /o/ & /ɔ/. This pair and the corner-pair /ɑ/ & /ɒ/ got mixed up in Bur-Myan, Pal-Myan, & Skt-Dev, because instead of having four sounds /o/, /ɔ/, /ɑ/ & /ɒ/, there are only three.

The problem reduces to the absence of a glyph for /ɔ/ known as "open O" -- NOT "letter C written backwards". As of today (121208), I propose to use {AU.} with a shortened hood for /ɔ/ .

Now a word on the special vowels, अं & अः . Firstly, the अं is a nasal with the pronunciation of /ʌn/ in Bur-Myan & Pal-Myan. It is not /ɪŋ/ . The pronunciation of /ɪŋ/ is unknown to IE speakers speaking English or Sanskrit. This I think is the absence of /ŋ/ sound in their languages. They usually substitute this sound with /ɪŋ/ with /in/.
   Secondly,  अः had given me trouble until I came upon Gayatri Mantra -- the Vedic hymn. There I found नः which on akshara-to-akshara gives {na:.} used as a personal pronoun. From the meaning it is Bur-Myan {ngaa.} .

The nasals are similar to the vowels in having tone registers: e.g.

creak  {n.} (1/2 blk) , modal  {n} (2 blk).
  ( MLC trans /an./ ; MLC trans /an/ -- MED2006-617).
creak  {kn.}, modal  {kn}.
  ( MLC trans /kan./ ; MLC tran /kan/ -- MED2006-012)


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{a.nu.wa-ra.} or anusvara

010. Anuthwra {a.nu.wa-ra.} -- The nasal letter {n} is called the Anuthwra. In Pali it is classed with the consonants, and, according to the way it is pronounced in Skt-Dev, it has the power of m in aham. It is represented by in in the transliteration of Pali words formed with it. [UKT ]

In Bur-Myan it is placed amongst the vowels as already stated, and is pronounced exactly like the English <an> in <pan> pronounced as if written palin. (the word "palin" written in italics has become difficult to read and could very well be "palm"). [UKT ]

UKT: 121203, 160412

When Lonsdale wrote "pronounced exactly like the English <an> in <pan>", what he had in mind was his own accent - most likely RP (Received Pronunciation) - and not GA (General American) is becoming more familiar. And I differ from Lonsdale on the comparison of Bur-Myan {n} /ʌn/ to the pronunciations of Eng-Lat <an> /n/ (DJPD16-022) in <pan> /pn/ (DJPD16-394).

However it must be remembered that Lansdale was writing in 1899 when the science of phonetics was still in its infancy. The philologist and phonetician Henry Sweet (18451912) was then the butt of a joke in the play Pygmalion written in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw. To be fair to Shaw, I must quote:

"In the preface to his play Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw, after describing Sweet, stated that 'Higgins is not a portrait of Sweet, to whom the adventure of Eliza Doolittle would have been impossible; still, as will be seen, there are touches of Sweet in the play.' " -- Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, as hosted on encyclopedia.com  as quoted by Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Sweet 121203

It must also be noted that when Lonsdale was writing, Daniel Jones (1881-1967) from whose Pronouncing Dictionary I am taking the phonetic transcriptions was still in his teens.

When combined with a consonant it is indicated by a tiny circle [it could be a dot] placed above the letter. From being used in this manner, it is commonly called {th:th:tn} the:-the:-tin (from {::} 'minute', and {tn} 'to place on.') It is also called {naig~ga.hi.ta.} niggahita or, according to the Bur-Myan, {naig~ga.hait} neiggaheik. (s010end)

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The Consonants (contd.)

UKT 160412:

Note the presence of inherent vowel <a> in the aksharas. This is the hall-mark of all Asokan-related scripts which makes them pronounceable. They are all syllables. The sound of this inherent vowel is usually described as the sound of the English short <a> //. In Georgian it is ა vowel An . Incidentally, not necessarily by accident, it is the inverse of the Bur-Myan Vowel-killer {a.t}-sign. Being the inverse it might well be described as Vowel-giver .

UKT 160412: The Bur-Myan {ta.} /ta/, a pronounceable Akshara, is found as a mute Letter consonant თ Tan in Georgian. If it were to be coupled with ა vowel An , the combination has the same or almost the same pronunciation as {ta.}.

თ /t/ + ა /a/ --> თა /ta/ pronounced like {ta.}

Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of the Georgian language. I base my conjecture on the fact that King Asoka had sent Buddhist missionaries to Central Asian countries to as far away as Rome in Europe, and among them might have been natives of northern Myanmarpr.

The main problem in transcription of Bur-Myan to English is twofold. Firstly, most workers do not the difference between Abugida-Akshara system in which Bur-Myan is written, and Alphabet-Letter system - the only system which most of them including those in Myanmarpr knows. Secondly, the English short <a> is pronounced in any convenient way depending on the nearby English consonant. If you go through the Daniel Jones' Pronouncing Dictionary, you will notice that most English words, including the common ones such as <father> is pronounced as /'fɑː.əʳ/ which sounds like {hpau:a:}.

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011. The Consonants : 

The transcriptions given on the right are Lonsdale's. They are different from Rombama where the characters are given within {...}. Romabama characters show how the word is spelled in Bur-Myan. Since Bur-Myan is a phonetic alphabet, you can pronounce according to the way in which it is written. Generally, it will give the pronunciation similar to that of the dialects of the Rakhine coast and  the Yaw region. The pronunciation would be slightly different from that of the mainland Myanmarpr. Notice that the consonantal aksharas are shown in a matrix of 7 rows x 5 columns, and are divided into two sections: the {wag} (Sanskrit: Varg) and the {a.wag} . They are the basic aksharas. You will come to know later about other consonantal characters, the medials, derived from the basic aksharas.


012. The above arrangement is in accordance with the Ngar system. It will be seen that the first twenty-five consonants are divided into five groups or classes each containing five letters. The groups collectively are called the Rows of Fives {pi~sa. wag~ga.} (fn005-01) pyinsawegga (p005end-p006begin), each of which is known by the first letter of the group, thus {ka.} to {nga.} is called the {ka. wag~ga.} ka wegga; {sa.} to {a.}, the {sa. wag~ga.} sa wegga; and so on.

fn005-01 Pali {pi~sa.} 'five'; {wag~ga.} 'class'. The Bur-Myan form of {wag~ga.} is {wag} fn005-01b


UKT: The following is the gist of topics under consideration and may not make much sense to you. I am giving it here, so that I will not misplace it. -- UKT 121207

Though r2c5 is given as {a.}, there is a hidden akshara in this place in Burmese-Myanmar akshara table. The hidden akshara is {a.}, described as "small nya." which is clearly shown in Pali-Myanmar akshara table. There is no {a.} akshara in Pali, unless it is present as a horizontal conjunct of two {a.} in Pali words such as {pi~a}. {a.} is described as "big nya.".

It is interesting to note that Lonsdale does not list {a.} amongst his consonants. To the consonants, he said, "may be added the anuthwra {n}. In the modern tables, this last position is occupied by {a.} which is an open-front-unrounded vowel.

#1. creak,       IPA [ă]   {a.}
#2. modal,      IPA [a]   {a}
#3. emphatic, IPA [aː]  {a:}

From the above I became very much intrigued by the following series due to representation in Romabama particularly after coming across {na:.} in Gayatri Mantra. I had remained complacent when Romabama had to handle only Bur-Myan and Eng-Lat. Now Romabama has to handle Skt-Dev I can not longer remain complacent:

{a.} ;    {a} ;   {a:}    - Bur-Myan / Pal-Myan
{aa.}; {aa} ; {aa:} - Bur-Myan / Pal-Myan
{a:.} ;  {a.} ;  {a} - Skt-Myan (?) and Mon-Myan (?) -- UKT121207

Lately, I have come to notice that the counter-part of {a.} at the back (open-back-rounded) can be considered to be {AU. }.

This has led me to compare the following two series, which are the same in every way except what is written in place of the dummy:

1 dummy-():   creak {au.} ;  {au} ; {au:}

2 dummy-():   creak {AU.} ; modal {AU} ; emphatic {AU:}

The pitch and length of the corresponding members from the two series seems to be different in the following words:

- MLC /o: za/ - n. sweet sop, Annona squamosa (MEDict615). -- is emphatic
- MLC /an o:/ - v. same as (MEDict617). -- is emphatic
- MLC /ou' o:/ - n. koel [UKT: nightingale] (MEDict610). -- is emphatic

Lonsdale has given as . See par.22, p.016 in ch04.htm (which if I am not mistaken was the way I had spelled it as a child).

- MLC /o/ - int. word expressing "surprise" (MEDict616). -- is modal

Bur-Myan characters given in red are not listed in MEDict and Myan-Ortho, from which I presume that they are non-existent. Taking all these facts into consideration, I have given the Romabama spellings as: {AU}, and {AU:} . However, if Lonsdale's spelling were to be proven correct, and that of MLC as the "modern" version (if not wrong), I will have to correct the Romabama spelling. I have been waiting input from my Myanmar peers sine 081010 .

Note: Because, MLC has chosen <o> for , it becomes confusing to use it for in Romabama. The problem has become acute in my cross-linguistic study of Bur-Myan and Pal-Myan. Accordingly, I have contemplated using <> (Latin letter small O with circumflex) for starting from 081010, which means I have to go over all my previous work to effect the change from <o> to <>. This idea of using <> has come into my head only after I started studying the Lonsdale's book on Burmese Grammar and Grammatical Analysis . I am still undecided as of today, and I am still writing {o}.

The first letter of each group is pronounced sharp and strong, and the third has the flat sound of the first; thus, (1st) {ka.} ka, (3rd) {ga.} ga . The second letter is the aspirate of the first; thus, in , {hka.} kha is the aspirate of {ka.} ka ; the fourth is the aspirate of the third; thus in , {Ga.} gha is the aspirate of {ga.} ga, but the Burmese do not pronounce it differently from {ga.} . The fifth letter is a nasal.

The rest of the letters. i.e. {ya.}, {ra.}, {la.}, {wa.}, {a.}, {ha.}, and {La.}, are called {a.wag~ga.} awegga, 'no class.' (s012-p006-end sec013-p007 is Ch.02)

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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

Abugida aka Akshara aka {ak~hka.ra} :
a segmental script

-- UKT 121205
with reference to Wikipedia articles:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_writing_systems 121206
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panini 121206
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakatayana 121206
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaska 121206
Language problem of primitive Buddhism by Chi Hisen-lin aka Ji Xianlin, Journal of the Burma Research Society, XLIII, i, June 1960 - ch01-1.htm (hyperlink check: 121206)

We have seen what the segments of speech are in ch01-2.htm . A writing system designed to represent these segments is a segmental script. The speech made up of phonemes is represented in script by graphemes.

The best kind of a segmental script is one that has a one-to-one mapping to segmental speech. The Indic scripts, including the Bur-Myan which were based on the system used on the inscriptions of Emperor Asoka of Ancient India came close to this ideal. The Asokan script, now dubbed the Brahmi script (or the script of Brahmana Poannas) was based on scientific observations of how the consonants and vowels were produced in the human mouth.

The Asokan script (Brahmi) was the result of work by ancient linguists notably Pāṇini {pa-Ni.ni.} (fl. 6th-7th BC) who flourished about the time of Gautama Buddha and others centuries before him as mentioned by Panini himself. A name that has came to us is Yāska यास्क = य ा स ् क  {yaa-ka.} . Details of his personal life are scanty or nil. Yaska himself came after Śākaṭāyana {sha-ka.ta-ya.na.} the expositor of the Vedas as mentioned by Yaska in his text.

We need to say something about Yaska because he was the author of the Nirukta - a word used by Gautama Buddha that is a source of contention between Chi Hisen-lin - the noted Chinese Sanskritist and his Western contemporaries.

Chi's work has a bearing on the existence of a speech & script in Myanmarpr hundreds if not thousands of years before Anawrahta's Pagan of the 11th AD. And I contend that the Pali spoken in Myanmarpr today was that ancient language -- the Magadhi which the Buddha himself had spoken -- over which a newer layer  Pali imported from Ceylon had been spread resulting in serious pronunciation discrepancies between Pal-Myan and the International Pali. -- UKT121206

Nirukta was a technical treatise on etymology, lexical category and the semantics of the Vedic words. Here I differentiate between Vedic and Sanskrit. Sanskrit came about only after Panini who codified Vedic into what is now known as Classical Sanskrit with his voluminous work the Ashtadhyayi अष्टाध्यायी aṣṭādhyāyī 'eight chapters'.

There is just scanty one-to-one mapping between the graphemes and phonemes in European languages, particularly English which uses the basic Latin script. A phoneme may be represented only by some combination or string of graphemes, the same phoneme may be represented by more than one distinct grapheme, the same grapheme may stand for more than one phoneme, or some combination of all of the above. This non-phonetic nature of the English and the phonetic nature of our Eastern scripts, particularly Bur-Myan is a source of problem for native Burmese speakers in speaking English, and for the native English speakers in speaking Burmese. Romabama is my attempt to solve this problem.

Segmental scripts may be divided according to the types of phonemes they typically record. At present my interest is on just three systems: Abjad, Alphabet, and Abugida.


It is a script in which only consonants are represented by glyphs. The vowels are optionally written with diacritics ("pointing") or only written word-initially. e.g. Arabic, Punjabi, Sindhi, Urdu.


The beloved script of the Westerners in which both consonants and vowels are represented by glyphs. e.g. Greek, Latin, IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

Alphabetic glyphs are not syllables and they cannot be pronounced. Thus, the consonant <k> /k/ cannot be pronounced.

I imagine a scenario of a teacher, and his audience, sitting on the ground. The teacher makes a scratch on the ground: a line, a cross of two lines, a triangle, or a circle. The glyph that he has made is given a name so that they can refer to it. The teacher calls the glyph the "letter k". He tells his audience that whenever he points to that glyph, they all must make a sound with their voices that sounded like "ka". He asks his audience to repeat it. The pointing of the glyph and the making of the sound vibration is now a system of sound recording.

Then another scratch is made the sand, and the teacher says aloud ga -- with more force. Now they have two letters: the letter k representing the sound-vibration ka , and the letter g representing the sound-vibration ga . Now they have a system of representing sounds with marks and they call that system the alphabet .

The only difference between the two sounds is the way the air from their lungs has flowed -- whether it is a laminar flow or the smooth flow for the sound of ka , and turbulent for the sound of ga . Then the teacher makes two more marks, and with the tip of his tongue in a new position -- touching a particular place on the upper part of mouth, two more sound-vibrations are made: the letter t for the sound or syllable ta with smooth air-flow, and the letter d with turbulent air-flow for the syllable da .

[Ha! you would say: the "laminar flow" and the "turbulent flow" -- that's hydrodynamics . Yes!]

I look on the human sound system and the rules of that sound system which we call grammar, as a discipline in hydrodynamics. And probably that was the way the Ancient Rishis must have looked on grammar, thousands of years ago, as they sat by the side of a mountain stream flowing past vibrating reeds, over the rocks and obstructions -- weirs.

The flow of air from the lungs, through the mouth and the nose, to the outside can be studied as hydrodynamics. The flow is the {a.ra.} 'flow' - the vowel . The vibrating reeds in the stream -- the glottis , the vocal cords. The rocks and weirs -- {by:} 'constrictions' - the consonants. The rapid vibrations with the tip of tongue - the {ra.}-sounds - the rhotic accent.  Modifying the air-channel in the mouth with varying shapes of the tongue to give the various {la.}-sounds - the lateral consonants. By changing the shape of the lip-opening to give the {wa.}-sounds - rounded-vowels and spread-vowels. The changing velocity of the air-flow to give voiceless-consonants (laminar flow), voiced-consonants (turbulent flow).

Remember the letter of the alphabet is mute. You give it the energy of the flow, the vowel, to give it a sound.

<k> -- mute
<k> + <a> --> <ka> /ka/ : pronounceable

We can also have a system of writing where the consonants and vowels are combined into a syllable.

Personal note: In describing the above journey of a  puff of air as it comes out of the lungs going through the glottis, past various obstructions, making along various channels always brings to my mind the description symphony of the course of the river Moldau. The river is one of Bohemia's great rivers. The symphony was by the Czech composer Smetana sometime in 1870s. The timeline in Myanmarpr was when my grandmother was born and when my great grandfather U Yan Shin was trying to survive the palace intrigues which had filtered down to the area where he had lived - BaBei and Ngathayauk near Sal as a respected Burmese leader with his own followers. He had to sought refuge in a small village near Gyobingauk in the-then British territory. I was introduced in 1958 to the symphony by my American friend and roommate John Mattor, in recognition of my love for the land where I was born.


The ancient sound system which was based on the syllable is now given a name by the Western linguists as Abugida. Since the word <syllable> in Skt-Dev is Akshara अक्षर akṣara and in Bur-Myan is {ak~hka.ra} I always try to refer to it the Akshara and not Abugida - the recently coined name

Each akshara has an inherent vowel which must be killed to turn it into a letter of an alphabet. Thus,

{ka} -- pronounceable
{ka} + vowel killer --> {k} -- mute = <k>

Examples of abugida or akshara that is interest to BEPS are Myanmar and Devanagari.

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Laryngeal Characteristics of the modal voice

UKT: This section is based on The Phonetic Description of Voice quality, by John Laver, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980, p.109-118.

"... The production of modal voice is thus carried out with only moderate adductive tension (AT) and moderate medial compression (MC), with moderate longitudinal tension (LT) when the fundamental frequency is in the lower part of the range used in ordinary conversation. The vibration of the larynx in this condition is regularly periodic, efficient in ping vibrations, and without audible friction brought on by incomplete closure of the glottis. ..."

Many factors are involved in the production of "voice" (such as the modal voice) and there are bound to differences in production of the "modal voice" when we go from one group of speakers (say, Myanmar) to the next (say, Indian); or from one language (Burmese) to another (Pali). These factors are:

01. - the lips are not protruded
02. - the larynx is neither raised nor lowered
03. - the supralaryngeal vocal tract is most nearly in equal cross-section along its full length
04. - front oral articulations are performed by the blade of the tongue
05. - the root of the tongue is neither advanced nor retracted
06. - the faucal pillars do not constrict the vocal tract
07. - the pharyngeal constrictor muscles do not constrict the vocal tract
08. - the jaw is neither closed nor unduly open
09. - the use the velopharyngeal system causes audible nasality only where necessary for linguistic purposes
10. - the vibration of the true vocal folds is regularly periodic, efficient in air use, without audible friction, with the folds in full glottal vibration under moderate longitudinal tension, moderate adductive tension and moderate medial compression (van den Berg 1968)
11. - overall muscular tension throughout the vocal apparatus is neither high nor low.

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Lubyandaw {lu-prn-tau}

-- UKT 121207 [facts in this note must be checked]

Bur-Myan Theravada monk-hood or Order is made up of individual members known as {ra.hn:} aka {Baik~hku}. A society of {ra.hn:} is {n~Ga}.

{n~Ga} n. Same as {n-Ga} --  MED2006-510
UKT: The meaning may be the same, but the pronunciation is quite different. I am unable to find an entry for {n-Ga} on page 502. -- UKT121207

These societies are necessarily small headed by the senior {Baik~hku} who had been the member's mentor when they had started to take up the monk-robes.

At present there are larger groups, officially recognized as nine groups of such small societies known as {n~Ga geiN:} who follow the interpretation of the Monastic Code, the Viniya {wi.na.ya.}, by its founder. For example the Shwgyin {n~Ga geiN:} follows the interpretation of the Vinaya by the First Shwgyin Sayadaw, and is official known as such as Shwgyin Nikaya.

There are others such as Dwa'ra, Gnak'twin, Weluwun, etc. My family had belonged to Shwgyin, and I had become a novice at the Seventh-Mile Shwgyin Monastery in my teens. I spent just a few days, took off the monk-robes and had returned to civilian life as a school boy to continue secular studies.

A Bur-Myan layman respects all Baikhkus of all {n~Ga geiN:}. When I say my family had belonged to Shwgyin, it must not be taken that my family had always had connections with Shwgyin. In Kungyangon where I was born my family had connections to Gnaktwin. My wife's family had connections to Weluwun. It all depends on our friendship with the presiding monk of a particular monastery and as time changes I keeping of changing my contacts primarily due to change of residence.

In my adult life with a wife and two children, I had entered the Order again, but at a different monastery under a different mentor. After sometime because I still had a wife and very young children to look after I doff the monk-habit and had continued with my secular life as a chemistry teacher at the various universities. Technically, I am an ex-monk. If only I had spent not just a few days as a monk, but at least one full year, or a number of years learning the religious literature which of course would include Pal-Myan as a language, and had returned to civilian life I would be known as a {lu-prn-tau} learned in religious affairs. I would then be invited to deliver religious lectures as a respected person.

The nine government-recognized {n~Ga geiN:} convened together to elect a very senior monk to head all the {ra.hn:}aka {Baik~hku} in religious matters. This senior monk unlike the Christian Catholic Pope is just an elected official elected from time to time. The tradition of small societies under one senior monk was formulated by the Buddha himself. And when one of his senior monks asked the Buddha to name him as the leader of all monks, the Buddha had refused, and that had created a schism in Buddha's life time. However, on the death of the dissenter sometime after, the splinter movement went out of existence. Go online and see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_Burma 121208.
See also Dissent and Protest in the Ancient Indian Buddhism, by Ven. Tran Dong Nhat, Ph.D thesis to Univ. of Delhi, 2005 in TIL SD-Library -  Dissent-Protest-Thich-Ngheim-Quang<>  bkp<> (link chk 160411)

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Palatal arches

-- UKT (written by a non-medical person) 121117

In the production of velar consonants {ka.}, {hka.} & {ga.}, and palatal consonants {sa.}, {hsa.} & {za.} the body of the tongue is raised to the velar and the palatal regions, respectively, allowing a very small stream of air to pass through. There are two points we must not forget:
#1. the tongue is like a jelly bag without a rigid structure, and
#2 most of us cheat on the production of palatals by producing hissing dental fricatives resulting in two sets of sounds which are represented separately with different glyphs in Skt-Dev, and in IPA, but not in Bur-Myan.

Palatals: {sa.} च /c/ , {hsa.} छ ,  {za.} ज
Hissing dental fricatives: {Sa.} ष /s/

Even after many years of study of Skt-Dev words and their meanings by going into the dictionary entries in A. A. Macdonell A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, and Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, reading together with U Hoke Sein, Pali-Myanmar Dictionary in Bur-Myan script, U Pe Maung Tin A Student's Pali Dictionary, and Pali-Text Society Pali Dictionary, I am still uncomfortable having to differentiate Palatal {sa.} च /c/ from the Hissing dental fricative {Sa.} ष /s/. The English transliterations given by IPA and IAST are also disturbing my thinking. Also, the usual saying that "English has no palatal <c>" which I dispute citing examples of pronunciation of words like <success> /sək'ses/  (DJPD16-515) which can easily be /səc'ses/, I dare give only the differentiation for the two first members which are the tenuis which are absent in English. -- UKT121118

However, the body of the tongue is not as versatile as the tip of the tongue that is involved in the dental and alveolar consonants. Thus the velar and palatal consonants are widely misunderstood even among the four languages of BEPS. No amount of explanations on the part of phoneticians can convey the actual picture to the students and the only remedy is to let the ear of the student register the sounds articulated by a native speaker and train the tongue muscles to imitate the sound as best as they could.

Now let's narrow down to the regions referred to above.

From: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/palatopharyngeal+arch 121117

palatal arch
-- the arch formed by the roof of the mouth from the teeth on one side of the maxilla to the teeth on the other or, if the teeth are missing, from the residual dental arch on one side to that on the other.

palatoglossal arch
-- the anterior of the two folds of mucous membrane on either side of the oropharynx, enclosing the palatoglossal muscle.

palatopharyngeal arch
-- the posterior of the two folds of mucous membrane on either side of the oropharynx, enclosing the palatopharyngeal muscle.

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