Update: 2012-12-03 06:44 AM +0630


Burmese Grammar 1899

Tones and Abbreviations


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.

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  Romabama pitch-registers

UKT: Burmese was considered to be a tonal language at one time. It is now recognized to be a "pitch-register language." There are three such registers in Burmese, which have traditionally been considered three of the four 'tones'. (The fourth is not a tone at all, but a closed syllable, called "entering tone" in translations of Chinese phonetics). Jones (1986) views the differences as

resulting from the intersection of both pitch registers and voice registers [] Clearly Burmese is not tonal in the same sense as such other languages and therefore requires a different concept, namely that of pitch register.
Robert Jones, 1986. Pitch register languages, pp 135-136,
in John McCoy & Timothy Light eds., Contributions to Sino-Tibetan Studies

If you want to hear what a real tonal language is like, click anywhere on the inset to hear.

Author's footnotes

UKT notes  -- note Lonsdales'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)
anusvara approximant pitch-register

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Chapter VI
Tones and Abbreviations


51. Tones. - Burmese words are polytonic, that is, every word, by being pronounced with different tones, can be converted into other words each with a distinct meaning of its own.

There are three fixed Tones, viz., the Simple [UKT: Modal] , the Checked [UKT: Creak}, and the Heavy [UKT: Emphatic]. The Checked Tone is denoted by a small round dot called {auk-mric} Ouk-myit 'the under stop'; it is placed below a letter thus, {m.} me.. The Heavy Tone is denoted by two round dots called {wi.thiz~zan~ni} Withizzanni ; {wut-sa.nhic-lon:} Wt-sa-hnit-ln: or {rh.pauk} She.pouk ; they are placed after a letter thus, {m:} me:.

[UKT: The paragraph immediately following was in a smaller type than the regular paragraphs.]
This differentiation in the sound of a word has been called accent by some grammarians, but, as we shall presently see, it is not a correct term to employ. Accent in modern use [UKT: Lonsdale's "modern" is of a different time-frame: about a century ago!] , 'is a particular stress or effort of voice upon certain syllables of words, which distinguishes them from the others by a greater distinctness and loudness of pronunciation.' It is not the same thing as tone which is merely an inflexion in the pitch of the voice while a word is uttered. As in singing we sound notes in the different tones, so in pronouncing two words, written alike, but which have different tones, we utter different sounds without laying stress on any particular part of the words. This is exactly what is meant by Burmese tones. Take for example the word {t} t [UKT: IPA [t] : not [tʰ] ] and commence to pronounce it in a simple tone with a rising inflexion of the voice ; the sound thus produced will be the first or Simple Tone [UKT: Modal]. Having commenced the sound, suddenly check or arrest your voice in its outer passage ; this will produce the Checked Tone [UKT: Creak] as heard in a short vowel. Instead of the voice as directed it, prolong it with a falling inflexion ; this gives the Heavy Tone [UKT: Emphatic]. [{p033end}] Thus, by varying the tone, we have three distinct words from the same combination of letters, each with a different meaning, e.g. {t} 'to be short', {t.} 'to touch lightly' , and {t:} 'to increase'. The student will not fail to understand why Burmese words are called polytonic.

UKT: The so-called tones in Burmese are now called pitch-registers. Remember they are sounds , primarily. However, since these sounds are represented by script, what we are describing for sounds also apply to the script. I am finding it convenient to describe them with IPA suprasegmentals : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet 080317. See my notes in ch02.htm .
   The pronunciation of syllables with killed approximants have not been given attention so far (as of 081020), because except for {m} and similar syllables they are quite rare in Burmese.

UKT: There is a difference between Myanmar scholars and men-on-street transcription of the Burmese-Myanmar graphemes and into English-Latin. How to represent them in the English-Latin alphabet: with <o> or <au> or something else? In choosing the pronunciation of the English-Latin alphabet, which English pronunciation should be taken: RP (Received Pronunciation) or GA (General American)? This problem was plaguing me for a long time until I looked into the English vowels themselves. To make the matter more simple, I set aside the problem of tones or pitch registers: three Burmese (creak, modal, emphatic) vs. two English (short, long). I also have to set aside the problem of monophthong of Burmese and diphthong of English, and compare the two system of vowels using the vowel diagram of Daniel Jones shown on the left.
   It is well to remember that Myanmar scholars are under the influence of International Pali or the Sri Lanka pronunciation of Pali, and that they could not unburden themselves of the IAST (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAST 081025. The result is Myanmar scholars (represented by the MLC and my good friend U Tun Tint, the retired editor of MLC) have transcribed:
   as /ou/ (MEDict617), and as /o/.
This is in contradiction to what a man-on-the-street, someone like me, would do.
   as // and as /au/.
The bone of contention is the English-Latin letter < o >. My answer to U Tun Tint and MLC is simply this: Romabama is a transliteration scheme (not transcription) invented by a man-on-the-street like me for other men-on-the-street! Therefore, is {o} and is {au}.

UKT: It is well to remember that Pali (and Sanskrit) which is also written in Myanmar script has only two "pitch-registers" described as "short" and "long". When Pali (and Sanskrit) and Burmese are presented together as in Buddhist texts or in texts on Astrology and similar disciplines, the speakers  generally have trouble with the pitch registers. These inconsistencies, obviously, have been smoothed over among the Burmese population in Myanmar. It came as a shock to me to become aware of this situation when I started to discuss (in English) Buddhism (and Janism), and Astrology with some of my Indian friends in Canada. It dawned on me that the problem is because of the English transcriptions: the problem becomes less when we use the akshara-to-akshara transliteration. This has given me the impetus to go into cross-linguistic study using two sister scripts, Devanagari {d-wa.na-ga.ri} and Myanmar {mran-ma} both of which have descended from the same Asoka script now generally described as Brahmi.

52. The Ouk-myit sign [UKT: refer to this sign as 'dot-below' or {auk-mric}] is used with the vowels {}, {:}, {AU:}, the anuthwra {n}, the "triphthong" {}, the "diphthong" {on} [UKT: the Lonsdale's terms 'diphthong' and 'triphthong' are untenable.], and the final [UKT: killed nasal] consonants {ng , , n , m}, and {y}. The tone which it denotes is inherent in {a.}, {I.}, {U.}, and in all the consonants which are not final.

UKT: What Lonsdale is saying can be understood from the illustration with {ma.} that I have given above, that is, the checked (creak) pitch-register can be arrived at from the modal by inserting a dot-below.
   Remember that there are two types of single dots in Burmese-Myanmar: the "dot-above", and the "dot-below". The dot-above is {th:th:ting} and is used to nasalize the consonant below, e.g.
{ma.} (creak pitch-register) --> {mn} (nasalized akshara with modal pitch-register because of dot-above)
{mn} --> {mn.} (nasalized akshara with creak pitch-register because of the second dot, the dot-below)
   The dot-above {th:th:ting} is the diacritic used for nasalization and is known as Anusvara (Dev: अनुस्वार anusvāra). See: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anusvara#Sanskrit 081025

53. The Heavy Tone is inherent in the vowels {:} and {AU:}, and its sign, the She.-pauk [UKT: refer to this sign as 'double-dot' or {wic~sa.} or visarga in Sanskrit.], is used with the vowels {a}, {I}, {U}, {}, the triphthong {}, the "diphthong" {on} [UKT: the Lonsdale's terms 'diphthong' and 'triphthong' are untenable.] and the final [UKT: killed nasal] consonants {ng , , n , m} .

UKT: What Lonsdale is saying can be understood from the illustration with {ma.} that I have given above, that is, the emphatic pitch-register can be arrived at from the modal by inserting a double-dot.


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54. Abbreviations -- The following abbreviations are commonly used in writing either for elegance or expedition :--

{i.} for {.}
{rw.} for {rw.}
{nhIk} for {nheik}

U Tun Tint, MLC (personal communication)
   There are 4 fossilized characters dating back to the 13 century:
{nhIk} derived from {nheik}
{rw.} derived from {ru} pronounced as / /  /{rw.}/
{i.} derived from {.} --> {i.}
{l:kaung:} derived from {l-kaung:}
   The derivation of {rw.} is illustrating. In the Pagan period (11th century to the 13th) and a few centuries after, the vowel
{tic-hkaung:nging-ya.thut} had existed, but it has given way to {tha.w-hto: wa.hsw:}. The changes have been
{ku} --> {kw}
{hsu} --> {hsw}
{ru} --> {rw}

UKT: The above {i.}, {rw.}, and {nhIk} are accepted in the literary style of writing, whereas the following abbreviations are not.

for {th} [UKT: particle]
for {m} , pronounced as if written {my} my [UKT: particle]
for {l} [UKT: meaning 'neck']
   {l:kaung:} , when a pronominal adjective is represented by {l:kaung:} or [its abbreviation] ;
   when it is a conjunction, it is written in full. [{p034end}]

for {kaung:} [UKT: meaning 'good']
for {kraung.} [UKT: meaning 'because of']
for {lu.ling} [UKT: meaning 'youth']
[UKT: number 6] or for {thau:}
   [UKT: particle. Notice the likeness of numeral <6> to {tha.w-hto:} just as in the case of numeral <4>.
   I think (just a suggestion) that the use of abbreviations and came about because of the likeness in appearances.]
for {thw:thauk} [UKT: archaic term for 'comrade in arms' used before the British Annexation]
   [Lonsdale: is used instead of the final {ka.tht} , is placed over {weik-hkya.)-sign of {au:}-sign, the symbol of {AU:}; thus kouk.]

for {kywan-noap} [UKT: this abbreviation is accepted by MLC. See MEDict049.]

The {ya.ping.} symbol is interchangeably written for {ya.} occurring after {ka.tht}; as
   for {lak-ya}, -- [UKT: abbr. not accepted by MLC]
   for {yauk-kya:} (pronounced yauk-ky: [UKT: abbr. accepted by MLC. See MEDict384]

UKT: One assignment I have set for myself is to write on Burmese-Astrology and Burmese Esoteric Buddhism in which I will have to be extremely careful of giving the spellings as I found in the literature which of course would be quite different from the modern way of spelling set by the MLC.
   My development of Romabama (as a transliteration) is a preparation for such work, because without such a device, literature written in Burmese-Myanmar akshara would be lost forever. In such literature, I would be running into all kinds of abbreviations such as (which looks like a {th:th:ting} or anusvara the nasalizer, but which is not.) Because of this Romabama must be perfected to a true one-to-one transliteration. (My only regret: I am getting old and my funds are drying up!)
   In Burmese-Astrology which is actually based on Ancient Astronomy (both observation and calculations using approximate solutions of spherical trigonometric relations), I will be running into the calculations of positions of planets (moving bodies) against the background of fixed stars among which is one of the most beautiful objects in the early morning and evening skies: the Planet Venus. The following are words connected to Venus:
{mo:thauk} - n. dawn - MEDict348
{mo:thauk-kr} - n. the Morning Star - MEDict348
{thauk-rhu:kr} (Pali: {thoak~ka.}) - MEDict501
{thauk-kra-kr} - n. the Evening Star - MEDict501
{thuk~kra-n.} (with the non-anusvara dot )
{thau:kra-n.} - 'Friday' (MLC spelling)
   I remember (my memory is getting short and I am not so sure) {thuk~kra-n.} was how we spelled it in my school days 70 years ago. Of course, the present spelling is {thau:kra-n.}.

UKT: End of Chapter VI.
UKT: End of Part I

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Author's footnotes


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UKT notes


Excerpt from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anusvara#Sanskrit 081025

Anusvara (Dev: अनुस्वार anusvāra) is the diacritic used to mark a type of nasalization used in a number of Indic languages. Depending on the location of the anusvara in the word, and on the language within which it is used, its exact pronunciation can vary greatly.

Devanagari script
In the Devanagari script, anusvara is represented with a dot above the letter (मं). In IAST, it is written below the character (ṃ). Some transcriptions render notation of phonetic variants used in some Vedic shakhas with variant transcription (ṁ).

In Sanskrit, nasalization of a preceding vowel is an allophone of /m/n/ before a following consonant (either word-internally or across a word boundary); /m/ is only realized as [m] before vowels or in pausa. In the Devanagari script, this nasalization is expressed by the anusvara diacritic dot above the preceding letter, called bindu ("dot"). The nasalization can be realized either as a nasal stop homorganic (i.e. sharing the same place of articulation) to the following consonant (e.g. [ɳ ] before retroflex sounds, [ŋ ] before velar sounds, etc.), or as [m] when word-final.

In Hindi, it is pronounced as a nasal stop homorganic to the following consonant, or as nasalization of the preceding vowel when no consonant follows. It has merged in pronunciation with the chandrabindu diacritic in Hindi, the two used in complementary distribution depending on the character over which they are placed.

Other Indic script languages
Anusvara is used in other languages using Indic scripts as well, usually to represent suprasegmental phones (such as phonation type or nasalization), or for other nasal sounds.
   In the Burmese script, the anusvara is represented as a dot underneath a nasalised final to indicate a creaky tone (with a shortened vowel).
[UKT: This is a misleading statement. Anusvara is {th:th:ting} or "dot-above" as in {mn} is the nasalizer. The "dot-low" is the dot to make {mn} (modal) --> {mn.} (creak) - the checker.]

Anunaasika (anunāsika) is a form of vowel nasalization, often represented by an anusvara. It is a form of open mouthed nasalization akin to the nasalization of vowels followed by "n" or "m" in Parisian French. When "n" or "m" follow a vowel, the "n" or "m" becomes silent and causes the preceding vowel to become nasal (i.e. pronounced with the soft palate extended downward so as to allow part or all of the air to leave through the nostrils). Anunaasika is sometimes called a subdot because of its IAST representation. [UKT: Sanskrit (nāsi) means the 'nose', and since {th:th:ting} sound is pronounced with the mouth open, {th:th:ting} is more properly Anunaasika . 'anunaasika' is pronounced with breaks: anu-naa-si-ka ]

In Sanskrit and related orthographies it is represented as an anusvara, a dot on top of the breve above the letter (example: मँ ). When transliterated using IAST, it is represented by a consonant (usually "m") with a dot below (examples: ṃ ṇ) even though only the preceding vowel may be voiced.

In Burmese, the anunaasika (ံ) creates a nasalised final, when attached as a dot above a letter. The anunaasika primarily occurs in loan words.

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UKT: Burmese-Myanmar approximants, belonging to {a.wag}-consonants (un-classifiable consonants), are of interest because of the processes of medial-formation: {ya.ping.} (sign: ) , {ra.ric} (sing: ) , {wa.hsw:} (sign: ) and {ha.ht:} (sign: ). They are apparently different from each other as can be seen from the number of resulting aksharas formed: e.g.:
{ka.} + viram + {ya.} (approximant) --> {kya.}
  {kya.} + viram + {wa.} (approximant) --> {kywa.}
{ma.} + viram + {ra.} (approximant) --> {mra.}
  {mra.} + viram + {wa.} (approximant) --> {mrwa.}
  {mrwa.} + viram + {ha.} (approximant) --> {mhrwa.}
In my focus on approximants, I have to take note that just as a consonant such as <c> can behave differently in the coda and onset (illustrated by the "double letter cc" in <success>, the approximants {ya.}, {ra.}, {wa.} and {ha.} can show different behaviors in the onset and in the coda. That is, I should expect {ya.} as {ya.ping.} as the onset to behave differently from killed {ya.} in the coda.

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Approximant_consonant 081025

Approximants are speech sounds (phonemes) that could be regarded as intermediate between vowels and typical consonants. [UKT: refer to sonority hierarchy in my notes in ch05.htm .] In the articulation of approximants, articulatory organs produce a narrowing of the vocal tract, but leave enough space for air to flow without much audible turbulence. Approximants are therefore more open than fricatives. This class of sounds includes lateral approximants like [l] {la.}, as in <lip>, and approximants like [ j ] {ya.} and [w] {wa.} in <yes> and <well> which correspond closely to vowels and semivowels.

Corresponding vowels
Some approximants resemble vowels. The term semivowel is often used for such segments. (Semivowels are non-syllabic vowel-like segments. While some phoneticians restrict the term to true non-syllabic vowels, which form diphthongs, others include the subset of approximants that resemble vowels. The difference phonetically is that these approximants are closer than the corresponding non-syllabic vowels.)

UKT: Statements like 'Some approximants resemble vowels' are misleading. An approximant in the onset (beginning of a syllable) behaves as a consonant, but as a vowel at the end. Thus, (to me) in <yes> the <y> is a consonant, but in <boy> it is a vowel. In English <oy> is a diphthong, whereas in Burmese {ya.} has the killed sign above and is represented in Romabama as . Since Burmese-speakers cannot pronounce diphthongs, they pronounce the English <boy> as {Bweing}.
   ESL (English as Second Language) teachers teaching the pronunciation of <boy> to a Burmese-speaker should ask him to split his {Bweing} into three mono-syllables: {Bo} , {o} ,  {weing}. Then ask him to say them together rapidly. Finally ask him to leave out the {nga.} sound at the end. This is the method I use and found it "helpful".

In articulation and often diachronically, palatal approximants correspond to front vowels, velar approximants to back vowels, and labialized approximants to rounded vowels. In American English, the rhotic approximant corresponds to the rhotic vowel.

Approximants versus Fricatives
When emphasized, approximants may be slightly fricated (that is, the airstream may become slightly turbulent), which is reminiscent of fricatives. Examples are the y of English yes! (especially when lengthened) and the "weak" allophones of Spanish b, d, g, which are often transcribed as fricatives (often due perhaps to a lack of dedicated approximant symbols). However, such frication is generally slight and intermittent, unlike the strong turbulence of fricative consonants.

This confusion is also common with voiceless approximants, which necessarily have a certain amount of fricative-like noise. For example, the voiceless labialized velar approximant [ʍ] has traditionally been called a fricative, and no language is known to contrast it with a voiceless labialized velar fricative [xʷ]. Tibetan has a voiceless lateral approximant, [l̥] {la.}, and Welsh has a voiceless lateral fricative [ɬ] {lha.}, but the distinction is not always clear from descriptions of these languages. Again, no language is known to contrast the two. (approx-fn01).

For places of articulation further back in the mouth, languages do not contrast voiced fricatives and approximants. Therefore the IPA allows the symbols for the voiced fricatives to double for the central approximants, with or without a lowering diacritic.

Occasionally the glottal "fricatives" are called approximants, since [h] typically has no more frication than voiceless approximants, but they are often phonations of the glottis without any accompanying manner or place of articulation.

Central approximants
bilabial approximant [β̞] (a consonantal [ʉ]; usually written <β>)
labiodental approximant [ʋ]
dental approximant [̞] (usually written <>)
alveolar approximant [ɹ]
retroflex approximant [ɻ] (a consonantal [ɚ])
palatal approximant [j] (a consonantal [i])
velar approximant [ɰ] (a consonantal [ɯ])
uvular approximant [ʁ̞] (usually written <ʁ>)
pharyngeal approximant [ʕ̞] (a consonantal [ɑ]; usually written <ʕ>)
epiglottal approximant [ʢ̞] (usually written <ʢ>)

Lateral approximants
In lateral approximants, the center of tongue makes solid contact with the roof of the mouth. However, the defining location is the side of the tongue, which only approaches the teeth.
voiced alveolar lateral approximant [l]
voiceless alveolar lateral approximant [l̥]
retroflex lateral approximant [ ɭ ]
palatal lateral approximant [ʎ]
velar lateral approximant [ʟ]

UKT: It is well to remember that English-speakers cannot pronounce lateral approximants properly. The only lateral they can pronounce properly is <L>. They cannot even pronounce the <LL> of the Welsh properly which to the Burmese-speaker is {lha.} with the {ha.hto:} sound. It is helpful to remember this point when teaching Burmese using English as the medium of instruction.
   I am finding some interesting points for comparison between the Celtic (the original language of Wales) and Burmese. The original inhabitants of Britain were not English (of the Germanic tribes). The original religion the Wicca and the cult of the Weizza seem to have parallels -- like the casting of runes. See my work in http://www.tuninst.net/Myanmar/Folk-elements/indx-folk.htm 081027.

Coarticulated approximants with dedicated IPA symbols
voiced labialized velar approximant [w] (a consonantal [u])
voiceless labialized velar approximant [ʍ]
labialized palatal approximant [ɥ] (a consonantal [y])
velarized alveolar lateral approximant [ɫ]

A central approximant
Although many languages have central vowels [ɨ, ʉ] which lie between back/velar [ɯ, u] and front/palatal [i, y], there are no confirmed reports of corresponding approximants. However, Mapudungun may be a possibility: It has three high vowel sounds, /i/, /u/, /ɨ/, written "i", "u", "", and three corresponding consonants, written "y", "w", "q". The first two are clearly /j/ and /w/. The "q" is often described as a voiced unrounded velar fricative, but some texts note a correspondence between "q" and /ɨ/ that is parallel to /j/ - /i/ and /w/ - /u/. An example is liq /'liɣ/ "white". (approx-fn02).

approx-fn01 Ladefoged, Peter; Ian Maddieson (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8. approx-fn01b
approx-fn02 Listen to a approx-fn02b

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From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Register_language 081025

In linguistics, a register language, also known as a pitch-register language, is a language which combines tone and vowel phonation into a single phonological system. Burmese and the Chinese dialect Shanghainese are examples. Burmese is often considered a tonal language, but differences in relative pitch are correlated with vowel phonation, so that neither exists independently.

There are three such registers in Burmese, which have traditionally been considered three of the four 'tones'. (The fourth is not a tone at all, but a closed syllable, called "entering tone" in translations of Chinese phonetics). Jones (1986) views the differences as

resulting from the intersection of both pitch registers and voice registers [] Clearly Burmese is not tonal in the same sense as such other languages and therefore requires a different concept, namely that of pitch register. (pitch-regis-fn01).

Khmer [UKT: represented by Mon in Myanmar] is sometimes considered to be a register language. It's also been called a "restructured register language" because both its pitch and phonation can be considered allophonic: If they are ignored, the phonemic distinctions they carry remain as a difference in diphthongs and vowel length.

pitch-regis-fn01. Robert Jones, 1986. Pitch register languages, pp 135-136, in John McCoy & Timothy Light eds., Contributions to Sino-Tibetan Studies pitch-regis-fn01b

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