Update: 2008-10-31 10:34 AM +0800


Burmese Grammar 1899

Phonetic changes in Consonantal sounds


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

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Phonetic changes in Consonantal sounds

UKT: We should remember that Lonsdale wrote this book long before the human voice from the point of view of voice quality was studied. At the present time when intensive study of the larynx (voice box in the area of Adam's apple) for reconstructive surgery of the cancer patients and for creating the artificial human voice are being made, we know that phonetic changes are not only in the consonantal sounds but in the vowels as well. The reader is advised to go to my work on the Human Voice http://www.tuninst.net/Romabama/Human-Voice/HV-indx.htm 081023

Author's footnotes

UKT notes  -- note Lonsdale'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)
coda <t> and <s> dacoit Sonority hierarchy

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Chapter V
Phonetic changes in Consonantal sounds

47. There are frequent instances in the Burmese language, in which words are not pronounced as they are written. For example, in {aim-kri:} 'large house', there are two words or syllables [UKT: Lonsdale was not differentiating words from syllables.], placed side by side to form a compound word, the second of which is pronounced gy: and not kyi:. Here the initial consonant {ka.} in {kri:} undergoes a phonetic change, taking the sound of the third letter of its class, i.e., {ga.}. This change of sound is governed by the principle that a vowel or a nasal which has a flat sound, cannot be followed by a sharp consonantal sound.

[UKT: The paragraph immediately following was in a smaller type than the regular paragraphs.]
The same principle is seen at work in English words where a sonant (flat) and a sharp (surd) in juxtaposition cannot be sounded in the same syllable; thus 'drabs' in which b is flat and s sharp must necessarily be pronounced as if written drabz -- two sonants; 'pans' = panz , 'sees' = seez , 'seems' = seemz. So in the Burmese word {aim-kri:}, the consonant {ka.} is sharp, but being preceded by the flat sound in {aim}, becomes flat also. Take another word, say {r} (vowel {}, flat) and add {hk:} hke' gives way to that of the flat / {g:}/ ge' ; / {r-g:}/ ye-ge' 'ice'.

UKT: The role of sonority in the formation of disyllabic words.
{r} (monosyllabic word, ending in vowel) + {hk:} (monosyllabic word, onset voiceless)
  --> {r-hk:} (disyllabic word, pronounced as / {r-g:}/
{thn} (monosyllabic word, ending in nasal sound due to nasalizer {th:th:ting}) + {hk:}
  --> {thn-hk:} (disyllabic word, pronounced as / {thn-g:}/
{dain} (monosyllabic word, ending in nasal consonant + {hk:}
  --> {dain-hk:} (disyllabic word, pronounced as / {dain-g:}/
{hkyi} (monosyllabic word pronounced as {hkying}, ending in nasal consonant} + {hk:}
  --> {hkyi-hk:} (disyllabic word, pronounced as / {hkying-g:}/
  (remember: {ng}/<ng> = IPA [ŋ], the velar nasal ; {}/<ny> = IPA [ ɲ], the palatal nasal)
{kyauk} (monosyllabic word, ending in oral consonant) + {hk:}
  --> {kyauk-hk:} (disyllabic word, pronounced as / {kyauk-hk:}/
See Sonority hierarchy in my notes.

48. From the following remarks, the following rule may be deduced: -

When two words or syllables, the first of which ends in a vowel or nasal sound, are placed side by side so as to form a new word or to convey one single idea, the initial [{p030end}] of the second word or syllable, if it be a sharp consonant, takes the flat sound of the third letter of its own class, thus: - {ka.} IPA [k] and {hka.} IPA [kʰ] take the sound of {ga.} IPA [g].

UKT: Notice that Lonsdale was using the words 'word' and 'syllable' as synonymous. To us, they are not. A word can contain more than one syllable, e.g. a disyllabic word has two syllables. A syllable can have three parts: an onset consonant(s), a nucleus or a peak vowel, and a coda consonant(s).
   He was not also using the terms 'Voiceless' and 'Voiced' for consonants and vowels. Neither was he using the term 'allophone'. In modern terminology, {ka.} [k] and {hka.} [kʰ] are allophones of the English k represented by /k/. They are the voiceless velar consonants. The corresponding voiced velar consonant is g represented by /g/. Their equivalents in Devanagari are: = क (U0915), = ख (U0916), and = ग (U0917).
   Most of the phoneticians ascribed the difference in the allophones to be simply 'aspiration'. However, in the case of Burmese-Myanmar which is now accepted as a pitch-register language (unlike Thai which is described as a tonal language), I hold that the difference is not just a matter of aspiration but involves other glottal features as well. The way I pronounce them involves even a change in the POA.
   Note also that the proper Palatal nasal is {a.l:} as is shown in the Pali-Myanmar akshara table. {a.kri:} shown in the place of {a.l:} in Burmese-Myanmar akshara table is not a nasal, because when it occurs in the coda it behaves like an oral consonant. This is reflected in Romabama vowels in the words:
{hkyi} -- MLC /chin/ 'sour' - MEDict072
{hky} -- MLC /chi/ 'cotton' - MEDict072

49. The student should note that these phonetic changes occur only when the words or syllables, placed in juxtaposition, form a new word or give one single idea. In {I aim  kri: th} 'this house is large' , the words [syllables] {aim} and {kri:} give two separate ideas, and do not form a compound word ; hence {ka.} in {kri:} preserves its natural sound, i.e. k ; {kri:} = kyi:.

UKT: Both {aim} and {kri:} are monosyllabic words, and have meanings of their own. This is true of most aksharas, and in fact Sanskrit grammarians claim that all aksharas are immutable and retain their meaning in the likeness of Atman - the indestructible. Most of the Burmese-Myanmar grammarians, in spite of being Buddhists who rejected the idea of Atman as being heretical, seem to have adopted this view of the Sanskrit grammarians. They are fully aware, and I have been reminded by at least one of them - my friend U Tun Tint of MLC - that Pali and its sister language Sanskrit are entirely different from Burmese.

atman n. Hinduism 1. The individual soul or essence. 2. Atman The essence that is eternal, unchanging, and indistinguishable from the essence of the universe. [Sanskrit ātman breath, spirit] -- AHTD

When {aim} 'house' and {kri:} 'big' are put together, i.e. pronounced without a pause in between, they form a disyllabic word: the word means 'big house'. Here, {kri:} is behaving as an adjective and is generally pronounced / {gyi:}/. Such a case is found in the following phrase (not a complete sentence):

... {I aim-kri: th ... } meaning 'this big-house is ...' . You still have to complete the sentence.

However, in the illustration given by Lonsdale,  {I aim  kri: th}, {aim} and {kri:} are separate, and they have their original meanings. In fact not only are {I} (remember I is not the English cap I , nor small L , but Myanmar vowel-letter {I}), and {aim} now pronounced together, but {kri:} and {th} are also pronounced together. We now have a complete sentence meaning 'this house is large'.

50. Besides the changes in the consonantal sounds explained above, there are numerous other phonetic changes which often take place in the pronunciation of Burmese words, and for which no definite rules can be laid down. In all these cases, the student will have to seek the aid of the dictionary where the right pronunciation is generally given.

A few of the most common words of this nature are given below for the purpose of illustration: -
(UKT: note my convention: /{...}/ for pronunciation, generally casual pronunciation by the people of the Irrawaddy Delta and central Myanmar. Remember, Romabama is pure transliteration and not transcription and so don't expect it to be the same as the transcription given by Lonsdale.)

   {pu.hs:} pu-hs --> /{pa.hs:}/ pa.hs [UKT: 'lower garment of a male']
{nic-na} nit --> /{ning.na}/ nin.n [UKT: 'a set-back']  [{p031end}]
{pra.ting:} pya-tin: --> /{pa.ding:}/ padin: 'a window' [UKT: spelling confirmed in MEDict284]
{m} m --> /{my}/ myi ( {m} mai coll.), a verbal affix
pit --> pyit 'to throw' [UKT: Lonsdale's transcription is not tenable in Romabama. See my note on Coda <t> and <s> below.]
{tn-hka:} tan-hk: --> /{ta.ga:}/ ta-g: 'a door'
{ming} min --> /{mhing}/ mhin 'ink'
{ta.p.} ta-p. --> /{ta.py.}/ ta-py. ( /{ta.p.}/ ta-pai. coll.) 'a pupil'
{hta:} ht: --> /{da:}/ da: 'a knife'
{hta:pra.} ht:pra --> /{da.mra.}/ da-mya 'a dacoit'
  [UKT: literally 'to show knife or sword' or 'to threaten with a knife'. See a dacoit in my note. [{p032end}]

UKT: End of Chapter V.

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Author's footnotes


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UKT notes

Coda <t> and <s>

In pit --> pyit 'to throw', Lonsdale's transcription is not tenable according to Romabama which is a one-to-one transliteration.

We should note that the syllable on the left-hand side, , is of the form C1V, whereas on the right, is of the form C1C2V. My transcription in IPA for is [pɪc] and for [prɪc]. Since there is no [r] in , not even [ɹ], I am forced to change to pyit 'to throw'.

This still leaves the problem of the coda which should be <c> and not <t>. Therefore Lonsdale should have given: pyic 'to throw'

Go back coda-t-s-note-b

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This Burmese word has been incorporated into English through Hindi.]

dacoit also dakoit n. 1. A member of any of the robber bands of India and Burma who formerly lived in the hills and attacked in armed gangs, usually on horseback. 2. A member of a robber gang in modern India and Burma. [Hindi ḍakait ] -- AHTD

Go back dacoit-note-b

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Sonority hierarchy (Human voice sound)

sonority n. pl. sonorities 1. The quality or state of being sonorous; resonance. 2. A sound. -- AHTD

UKT: Sonority is a quality of sound: not loudness.
The following is from:
From: Syllable, Stress and Accent, Phone 2, Peter Roach http://www.personal.rdg.ac.uk/~llsroach/phon2/mitko/syllable.htm 080106
The graphical representation on the right is from Peter Roach.

The term sonority is also applied to human voice sounds. The vowels are the most sonorous, and the consonants are the least. It should be remembered that sonority or the sonority scale (also known as the sonority hierarchy) of the sounds of a language is a perceptual auditory quality. For me the sounds of English (especially RP) and Burmese are comparable. (You may take it as an approximation.)

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonority_hierarchy download 071006
UKT: The original Wikipedia article did not explicitly give the allophone [tʰ]. It simply gave [t] which I presumed to be [tʰ]. You should always remember that when Western linguists give [k t p] they usually mean /k t p/. They usually do not differentiate between [k t p] and [kʰ tʰ pʰ].
J. Laver Principles of Phonetics, 1994, p504
Sean McLennan, 2002, http://www.shaav.com/professional/linguistics/sororities.html 071113
http://speech.bme.ogi.edu/tutordemos 071230

See also phonotactics in my notes in ch04-3.htm.
On the right is my adaptation of sonority hiearchy:  Note my proposal to place palatal <c> in between plosives and fricatives to solve the problem of POA of {sa.}/ {c}.

A sonority hierarchy or sonority scale is a ranking of speech sounds (or phones) by how much 'sound' they produce. For example, if you say the vowel [a] {a}, you will produce much more sound than if you say the plosive [tʰ] {hta}. Sonority hierarchies are especially important when analyzing syllable structure; rules about what segments may appear in onsets or codas together, such as SSP (Sonority Sequencing Principle), are formulated in terms of the difference of their sonority values.

UKT: You will note that I have revised my table on 'Sonority hierarchy and palatal [c]' which was drawn on 080328. The pitch-registers I had given were creaks - now I have changed them to modals. -- UKT 081028

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. The one below is fairly typical (1 indicates lowest sonority).

sonority hierarchy given in J. Laver Principles of Phonetics, 1994, p504
  -- low vowels
  -- mid vowels 
     [{Laver does not identify "mid vowels" but I presume one of the front mid vowels to be {} /e/.
     If he has mentioned central vowel I would have taken schwa /ə/}]
  -- high vowels
  -- fricatives
  -- affricates
  -- stops

"Approximants are therefore more open than fricatives. This class of sounds includes lateral approximants like [l], as in lip, and approximants like [ j ] and [w] in yes and well which correspond closely to vowels  and semivowels." -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Approximant_consonant 071230.
"The glides (/j/ and /w/) and the liquids (/9r/ and /l/) in American English can be grouped together in a larger category called the approximants." -- http://speech.bme.ogi.edu/tutordemos/SpectrogramReading/cse551html/cse551/node38.html 071230

UKT: I will have to add more consonants (obstruents) to my adaptation of the sonority hierarchy: Against the sonority scale: evidence from Frankish tones, by Ben Hermans & Marc van Oostendorp, Meertens Institute, Amsterdam www.vanoostendorp.nl/pdf/sonorityscale.pdf 080103. The pdf file set in HTML is in TIL library. A relation from Hermans & Oostendorp is given below:

Different phonemes inherently contribute different amounts of energy to the acoustic signal relative to each other. This measure, often referred to as sonority, although difficult to tie down to an absolute acoustic correlate, allows us to rank phonemes relative to each other on a sonority scale (Ladefoged, 1982). -- Sean McLennan, 2002, http://www.shaav.com/professional/linguistics/sororities.html

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