Update: 2008-11-02 07:59 AM +0800


Burmese Grammar 1899

Formation of words (syllables):
Syllables with Coda consonants


by U Kyaw Tun (UKT), Tun Institute of Learning, http://www.tuninst.net
From Burmese Grammar and Grammatical Analysis by A. W. Lonsdale, Education Department, Burma, British Burma Press, Rangoon, 1899. Copied by UKT and staff of TIL . Start: 2008 Aug.

  indx-RBM4M |Top

Contents of this page
Formation of words (syllables)
Changing the peak vowel -- ch04-1.htm
Medials -- ch04-2.htm
Coda consonants -- ch04-3.htm
Syllables with coda consonants -- ch04-4.htm
  Basic consonants in onset
  Romabama vowels in rimes
  Medials in onset
Pali derived syllables with coda consonants -- ch04-5.htm
Conjuncts including Kinsi {kn~si:} -- ch04-6.htm

UKT: In the 1930s when I was going to a vernacular school in Kungyangon, Hanthawaddy Distritct, we sat on the floor, bent down over our slate writing tablets, and with sharpened slate pencils wrote or draw the perfect circle. The day began with our Burmese Buddhist prayers mostly in Pali which we recited at the top of our voices. We did not need any book: all our lessons were written by our teachers on the big black board in front of us with white chalk which we meticulously copied. We were taught verses from the Pali scriptures which we learnt stanza by stanza, all by heart, which we had to recite to our teacher. We were taught numbers and simple arithmetic. After we had learnt our akshara table, we were taught the syllables from what Lonsdale described as the {thin-poan:kri:} or Thinbngy -- our Burmese Primer.

Author's footnotes

UKT notes  -- note the author's Pali transcriptions: is used in place of ā , e.g., Pli for Pāli .
I am showing Lonsdale's transcriptions within Alt0171-Al0187: ..., e.g. (without slanting the character within)

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Contd from p023

Chapter IV contd.
Formation of words (syllables):
Syllables with coda consonants

36. The final consonants shown [before in ch04-3.htm ] are combined with any initial consonant, simple or compound, without any change in their pronunciation. {t} and {p}, {n} and {m}, however, form an exception, for when they are combined with {wa.} or its [{p022end}] or its symbol, they are usually pronounced not at and an but t and respectively ; thus [the pairs] : wt; kwt ; wn ; swn. The  {a.nu.thwa-ra.} anuthwra [UKT: aka {th:th:ting}] is also pronounced in the same way ; as {wn} wn , {nwn} nwn. UKT

UKT: I have a few comments to make on the above para 36 and what follows in this file:
   1. Because of the uncertainties of the English vowel sounds, choosing Romabama vowels in syllables with consonants in the coda, is not as straight forward as in the case of consonants. Please be reminded that these vowels are not free vowels but checked vowels, and it is essential to consider the pronunciation of the rime, i.e. V (peak vowel + killed consonant) as a whole, instead of considering the vowel and coda-consonant separately.
   2. Burmese-Myanmar {th:th:ting} imparts a nasal sound to the akshara underneath. Literally, it means "a small (something - a 'dot') placed above". In Pali-Myanmar it is {naig-ga.hait}. See MEDict233. The vowel sound is essentially that of a free vowel, but in Romabama, the rime will be presented as if ending in killed {na.} with { } as the vowel. i.e., the rime is represented as {n}. (The double-dot is supposed to represent {th:th:ting}. It has been suggested to me that the rime be presented as {n} using ASCII with key-stroke Alt0229.).
   3. The pronunciation of syllables involving the {wa.}-akshara (including the {wa.hsw:}) as the onset, and the killed nasals in the coda, especially the killed and , vary from place to place across the Burmese dialects. For example, the syllable {wan}/{wn} in the word for "minister" {wan-kri:} varies greatly from dialect to dialect: IPA  [wʊn] to [wʌn]. You can easily tell the mother-dialect of the radio news reporter from the way he or she pronounces this word. People from the Irrawaddy Delta region (such as outlying areas of Yangon), and people from the west coast (such as the Rakhine State) pronounce this very common news worthy word very differently. Because of this, broad generalizations such as those made by Lonsdale in para 35 and 36 should be taken with caution.
   4. Though, Lonsdale has presented his syllables linearly, I have presented them in tabular form for ease of comparison. The reader should note that the entries are meant to show the possible combinations, and should not expect to find all of them in the current vocabulary of the Burmese speakers in Myanmar. I have included all those given by Lonsdale. For those I have added, I have to take the Burmese phonotactics into consideration, however, there may be those on the border between allowed and not allowed, and if a reader doubts the validity of an entry, I would appreciate if he or she would let me know.

A few of the combinations are given [below] by the way of illustration [UKT: presumably from Burmese-Myanmar {thin-poan:kri:} Thinbngy or spelling book]: -

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(a) Simple consonants [UKT: basic consonants in onset - killed consonant in coda]

[UKT: Lonsdale has given only one word each. For the nasal coda, he has given the only the word with the modal register. I have added the emphatic.]

(i) {ka.}-akshara in onset with killed orals or nasals in coda: 9 cells 70%

ket kin kit k --- kat kan kat kan kai
{kak} {king}/{king:} {kic} {k}/{k:} {si}/{si:} {kt} {kan}/{kan:} {kp} {kam}/{kam:| {k}/{k:}
/ / / / / /
UKT: I have included syllables with {sa.}-onset to illustrate how Romabama vowels are chosen.

UKT: Notice how Romabama vowels are chosen differently for the rime with oral-coda, and for the rime with nasal-coda, to reflect the pronunciation. For:
  the oral-coda, the vowels are in the order: <a, i, > (open vowel to close vowel: {ak}, {ic}, {T}, {t}, {p})
  the nasal-coda, the vowels are in the order: <i, i/, a> (close vowel to open vowel: {ing}, {i}/{}, {aN}, {an}, {am})
Note: Compare the sets of syllables involving r2c5 killed aksharas, {a.}-killed and {a.}-killed. You will notice that to have nasal-rimes, the onsets must be fricatives such as {sa.} {si} / {si:}, and {kya.} {kyi} / {kyi:}.
This is only a tentative scheme for choosing the vowels (as of today 081029). It is likely to change as the study progresses. I am waiting input from my peers.

(ii) {ki.}, {ku.}, {kau}, {ko}-akshara :  13 cells 90%
[UKT: One more syllable which is pronounced similar to <bit> pronounced IPA [bɪt] and Burmese-Myanmar {hkt} meaning 'the Age' (e.g. "Stone Age")   should be added. Syllables of this type are found in words: {mt~ta} 'compassion', {tht~ta} 'box'.
However, Lonsdale considers this type of syllable to be of Pali origin. See Pali derived syllables with coda consonants below.]

keik kein keik kein kk kn kk kn --- kouk koung kaik kaing
{kait} {kain}/{kain:} {kaip} {kaim}/{kaim:} {koat} {koan}/{koan:} {koap} {koam}/{koam:} {kt} {kauk} {kaung}/{kaung:} {keik} {keing}/{keing:}
/ / / / / /


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(b) Compound consonants [UKT: medials in onset - killed consonant in coda]

UKT: Lonsdale does not consider that there is difference in the pronunciations of {kya.}- and {kra.}-medials which is only true in the colloquial pronunciation of the Irrawaddy Delta area, particularly Rangoon (now Yangon). However, Romabama being a transliteration, is obliged to show them separately. Since the pronunciation of medial formers, [ j ] of {ya.} and [ɹ] of {ra.} are phonetically different because of the difference in POAs, you should expect to find them to be different in some dialects such as in Arakan and Yaw.

(i.) {kya.}- medial : 10 cells 70%

kyet kyin kyit ky --- kyat kyan kyat kyan kyai
{kyak} {kying}/{kying:} {kyic} {ky}/{ky:} {kyi}/{kyi:} {kyt} {kyan}/{kyan:} {kyp} {kyam}/{kyam:} {ky}/{ky:}
/ / / / / /

{kra.}- medial : 10 cells 70%
[UKT: Remember to pronounce <r> as <y>. Romabama gives the spelling: not pronunciation.]

kyet kyin kyit ky --- kyat kyan kyat kyan kyai
{krak} {kring}/{kring:} {kric} {kr}/{kr:} {kri}/{kri:} {krt} {kran}/kran:} {krp} {kram}/{kram:} {kr}/{kr:}
/ / / / / /


(ii.){kyai.}- {kyoa.}- {kyau}- {ky}-akshara : 12 cells 90%

[UKT: What Lonsdale has given for this slot does not appear to follow order usually found in texts of my school days (some 30 years after Lonsdale's work was published) which follows the arrangement found in the akshara table. Therefore, I have reconstructed the following table changing the order and filling in the gaps. However, I have retained Lonsdale's transcriptions.]

kyeik --- kyeik kyein kyk kyn kyk kyn kyouk kyoung kyaik kyaing
{kyait} {kyain}/{kyain:} {kyaip} {kyaim}/{kyaim:} {kyoat} {kyoan}/{kyoan:} {kyoap} {kyoam}/{kyoam:} {kyauk} {kyaung}/{kyaung:} {kyeik} {kyeing}/{kyeing}
/ / / / / /

{krai.}- {kroa.}- {krau}- {kr}-akshara : 12 cells 90%
[UKT: Remember to pronounce <r> as <y>. Romabama gives the spelling: not pronunciation.]

kyeik --- kyeik kyein kyk kyn kyk kyn kyouk kyoung kyaik kyaing
{krait} {krain}/{krain:} {kraip} {kraim}/{kraim:} {kroat} {kroan}/{kroan:} {kroap} {kroam}/{kroam:} {krauk} {kraung}/{kraung:} {kreik} {kreing}/{kreing}
/ / / / / /


(iii.) {nha.}-akshara : 12 cells 90%

UKT: The two nasals r4c5 {na.} and r5c5 {ma.} are very much alike in many respects. However, {na.} and its derivatives are pronounced with more frication than {ma.} and its derivatives. Though, Lonsdale has presented only the derivatives of {ma.}, I am presenting here the derivatives of {na.} for comparison.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
{nhak} {nhing}/{nhing:} {nhic} {nh}/{nh:} {nhi}/{nhi:} {nht} {nhan}/{nhan:} {nhp} {nham/{nham:} {nh}/{nh:}
//font> /(?) /(?) (?) / / /

{mha.}-akshara : 12 cells 90%

hmet hmin hmit hm --- hmat hman hmat --- hmai
{mhak} {mhing}/{mhing:} {mhic} {mh}/{mh:} {mhi}/{mhi:} {mht} {mhan}/{mhan:} {mhp} {mham}/{mham:} {mh}/{mh:}
/ / /(?) / / /


(iv) {kwa.}-akshara : 7 cells 60%

kwet kwin kwt kwn kwt kwn kwai
{kwak} {kwing}/{kwing:} {kwt} {kwan}/{kwan:} {kwp} {kwam}/{kwam:} {kw}/{kw:}
/ / / /

The student will find the other combinations in the Burmese {thin-poan:kri:} Thinbngy or spelling book.

37. The final consonants as exhibited above, are not pronounced so distinctly as in English; in fact they are almost silent. [UKT: MLC goes as far as representing almost all as glottal stops. However, from a preliminary survey of the Danu dialect, I am of the opinion that there are Burmese-Myanmar dialects in which the codas are not glottal stops. This calls for further research.] The similarity of sound, not only between {ya.} and {ra.} as already noticed, but also between {ta.tht} and {pa.tht} and between {na.tht} and {ma.tht} and the anuthwra, makes Burmese [{p023end}] orthography extremely difficult especially for beginners ; and since no set of rules can be absolutely laid down for guidance, the student will have to depend entirely on his dictionary, note book, and memory.

UKT: Lonsdale's observation that the Burmese orthography is "extremely difficult" can be traced to the Westerner's obsession with pronunciation and therefore the transcription. If one takes the position that Myanmar is a phonetic script, the orthography is not as difficult as the Westerners imagine. And that is why Romabama relies more on transliteration than on transcription. The trouble with English transcription is largely due to the English language itself which is non-phonetic because of which I have to rely on the IPA transcription before I can come up with a Romabama spelling. I hope to arrive at a reliable set of rules for transcription eventually. However, in the mean time, the student is advised to memorise the Burmese-Myanmar spellings with mnemonic rhymes {thn-pauk} which we have to learn in our school days.

38. The final {a.} has two sounds viz., and in, as in {s} s, 'a drum', and {si} 'to place in consecutive order'. UKT

UKT: Lonsdale "mistakenly" gives the spelling as for 'to place in consecutive order'. Or, it could very well be the method of spelling of his times (time-line 1899). The present accepted spelling is {si} /sin/ v. line up; arrange in order (MEDict120). That Lonsdale was giving the spelling of his times can be inferred from what follows. Very few in Myanmar realised that {a.} in some cases behaves as a horizontal conjunct of two {a.}, i.e. {~a.} similar to the {tha.kri:} which is a horizontal conjunct of two {tha.}/{a.}, i.e. {~a.}.

To distinguish the second sound from the first, a circular dot is usually placed above ; thus = in. In colloquial speech this that letter used with the sound is sometimes pronounced like ai; as mai.

UKT: Chapter IV has to be subdivided into smaller files to make the display faster. Para 39 is on the next file: ch04-5.htm .


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Author's footnotes


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UKT notes


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End of TIL file