Update: 2012-11-27 04:42 AM +0630


Romabama on Typewriter


U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.), Deep River, Ontario, Canada. Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR .

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Speech vs. Writing
Monophthongs and diphthongs
Is Burmese-Myanmar monosyllabic or poly-syllabic?
Myanmar script, ASCII, and Unicode

UKT notes
auk-mric velar consonant

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Speech vs. Writing

We must always differentiate between the spoken language (or speech), and the written language (or script). Now which is important? This is a philosophical question, which has linguistic implications. Here are two essays one written by a philosopher and the other by a linguist:

"Speech Versus Writing" in Derrida and Bhartṛhari
by Harold G. Coward, in Philosophy East and West, Vol. 41, No. 2 (1991), pp.141-162, Univ. of Hawaii Press.
  http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/ew95321.htm 071115 
The Dogma of the Priority of Speech in Language Teaching
  by Vivian Cook draft as of March 2001, University of Essex, United Kingdom

The spoken language or speech can be recorded nowadays electronically. Electronic recording has become a reality only in the last century. However, the scripts were developed, thousands of years before, to record the speech. Thus, when I was asked years ago on my first trip outside Myanmar, how many vowels were there in Burmese-language I had answered more than 10. The response was that Burmese-language was more complicated than English-language which had only 5. Little did we realised that a human speech, whether Burmese or English, have almost the same number of consonants and vowels. It is only in the script that there is a difference. I should have answered Burmese-Myanmar has more than 10 vowel-letters compared to 5 of the English-Latin.

Devanagari and Myanmar are abugidas in which most symbols stand for a consonant plus an inherent vowel (usually the sound /a/). Myanmar akshara is made up of 33 consonants, {by:} and over 10 vowel-letters, {thara.}/{a.ra.}) all of which can be pronounced and some have meanings of their own. The vowel-letters (e.g. {I} ) are stand-alone characters and are not used for forming words except in a few cases. Instead of the vowel-letters, the script uses another set of glyphs known as vowel-signs (e.g. {i}) for forming words.

UKT: The word /|bji:|/ (MLC transcript -- MEDict317) meaning 'consonant' can be represented by two entirely different glyphs: {by:} and {byi:} both of which have the same pronunciation. To bring out the difference, the Romabama word would have to be spelled as close as possible to the Burmese-Myanmar orthography: {by:} and {byi:}. Here the correct spelling is {by:}. We should note that transcription alone is not sufficient to study a language. We will come across this problem when we come to "Killed" consonants .

Now, a word about Pali and Sanskrit. Both were ancient languages of India. Pali is the holy language of Buddhism whereas Sanskrit is the holy language of Hinduism. Myanmar Buddhist monks in the course of their religious training have to learn Pali. Some, after mastering Pali, continue to learn Sanskrit. The script used for writing Pali and Sanskrit in Myanmar is the Burmese-Myanmar script. Hence Pali as pronounced by Myanmar monks is bound be influenced by the Burmese-Myanmar and consequently by Burmese pronunciation. To bring out the difference from Pali as pronounced by the Buddhists from Sri Lanka and India I will refer to it as Pali-Myanmar.

Pali as pronounced by Sri Lankans and Indians is bound to be influenced by their own languages. As an example, the Burmese-Myanmar {a.}/{tha.} is pronounced exactly like the English-Latin <th> as in <thin> /θɪn/ and <that> /t/. However, the Sri Lankans and Indians pronounce the corresponding akshara स (U0938) similar the English-Latin <s>. Consequently, the Pali adopted by the Europeans who came into contact with it through Sri Lanka and India -- the so-called "International Pali" -- is lacking in {tha.} sounds. The question now arises which pronunciation of Pali is nearer to that of Buddha and Asoka -- Pali-Myanmar or International-Pali, the Pali-Latin? Since this paper is about Burmese-Myanmar and Pali-Myanmar spoken in Myanmar, we will leave aside the contentious issue of the "authenticity" of the Pali pronunciation.

Pali is written in many scripts, such as Myanmar, Devanagari, Latin (or loosely called "English" in Myanmar), Sinhala and Thai. Pali-Latin (International-Pali) has a pronunciation quite different from Pali-Myanmar. In this work, whenever I write Pali words I will be following the Burmese-Myanmar script in which च (U091A [Ca.])  and स (U0938 [Sa.]) of Devanagari will be written as {sa.} and {tha.}.

UKT: To see how Pali is written in different scripts, see United States of America Library of Congress ALA-LC Romanization Tables http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/pali.pdf
See the downloaded pdf file in TIL-Library.

According to Ven. Narada Thera author of An Elementary Pali Course, Buddha Dhamma Association, Inc. (Sri Lanka)  www.buddhanet.net , the Pali language has 8 vowels (Sinhala sara; Burmese-Myanmar  {thara.}) and 33 consonants (Sinhala vyajana ; Burmese-Myanmar {byi:}). The 8 vowels are: a, ā, i, ī, u,  ū , e, o. The 33 consonants by groups are: Gutturals {ka.} group (velar consonant); Palatals {sa.} group (Sinhala ca group); Cerebrals {Ta.} group (Sinhala tta group); Dentals {ta.} group; Labials {pa.} group; and the rest not really forming any group.

Myanmar script has many characters corresponding to Devanagari (and other Asoka-scripts). At least, in the following characters, we find the similarity:
virama ् -- ( {a.t}-sign ),
visarga -- ( {wus~sa. pauk} or simply {wus~sa.})
   [UKT: How should I spell : {wus~sa.} or {wis~sa.}? See rim02.htm.]
anusvara ं -- ( {auk-mric} sign )
anunāsika, also called 'chandrabindu' ("moon and dot") -- ( {:ting}-sign )
danda । -- ( {poad-hti:} or {poad-hprat}-sign )
double danda ॥ -- (   {poad-ma.}-sign  ).

UKT: I was not sure to what Myanmar diacritic  Anusvara do correspond until I came across an unequivocal statement in Wikipedia:
" In the Burmese alphabet, the anusvara is represented as a dot underneath a nasalised final to indicate a creaky tone (with a shortened vowel)." -- Wikipedia

The term "creaky tone" (used in Wikipedia) is the same as "checked tone". The latter term is used by MLC in MEDict. See {auk-mric} -- MEDict620

Anunaasika (anunāsika), also called 'chandrabindu' ("moon and dot"), is a dot on top of a breve above a letter (मँ) [UKT: {mn}], used as a diacritic in Sanskrit and other Indo-Aryan languages written in Devanagari script to represent vowel nasalization. When transliterated, it is represented with a tilde above the letter ( ~ ). -- Wikipedia

There are other similar characteristics as well, and a one-to-one transcription between Burmese-Myanmar and the various Brahmi-derived scripts is a reality. Now what I am trying to do is to derive at a transliteration (transcription would be too complex) between Burmese-Myanmar and Burmese-Latin which could be used for introducing Phonetics to Burmese-Myanmar learners.

The strong similarity of the Myanmar and Devanagari consonants and the similarity in the names (given in Windows XP character map) can be seen in  Myanmar consonants. Of course there are differences. Speakers of Hindi-Devanagari and Sinhala (language of the majority of Sri Lanka) do not have the ability to pronounce some Burmese-Myanmar consonants such as {tha.} /θ/ which they usually pronounce as "Sa" /s/. This inability to pronounce {tha.} is also seen in some minority groups such as Inthas in Myanmar Shan State.

Myanmar script, as well as Devanagari, "constitutes abugidas -- a cross between syllabic writing systems and alphabetic writing systems. The effective unit of these writing systems is the orthographic syllable, consisting of a consonant and vowel (CV) core and, optionally, one or more preceding consonants, with a canonical structure of (((C)C)C)V. The orthographic syllable need not correspond exactly with a phonological syllable, especially when a consonant cluster is involved, but the writing system is built on phonological principles and tends to correspond quite closely to pronunciation." -- http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode4.0.0/ch10.pdf

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Monophthongs and diphthongs

When I speak Burmese, I rarely use diphthongs which I use when I speak English. I am an ethnic Burmese born (1934) and educated in Burma. I went, in early childhood, to a secular vernacular school which was founded as a Burmese-Buddhist monastic school. Though both my parents speak English well, we speak in a pure Burmese accent (that of the Irrawaddy Delta) at home. Later, I went to an English school ran by Anglo-Burmese, and my English pronunciation could be described as Anglo-Burmese. However, after coming to the US in the 1950's, I made a point of studying the American (the mid-west) accent. There, I learned to pronounce words like <boy> and <oil> which few native-Burmese could pronounce. A year in Australia, taught me that <cow> should be pronounced as a diphthong. Now, after spending some 20 years in Canada, I am sure I know the difference between monophthongs and dipthongs, and I maintain that Burmese is almost a pure monophthongal language, and what has been described as diphthongs in Burmese are in fact monophthongal digraphs which have to be used in transcription of Burmese into English-Latin.

To those who would like to disagree with me, I will say this: I am a scientist, and is always ready to change my views and admit my errors in the face of experimental evidence, for example, from acoustical phonetics.

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Is Burmese-Myanmar monosyllabic or poly-syllabic?

This question has come up lately between my good friend U Tun Tint (of MLC) and me. He maintains that it is monosyllabic where every syllable has meaning. To this, I cannot wholly agree. For instance, what is {mran-ma}? Is it a disyllabic word made up of {mran} and {ma}? Or, is it a combination of two monosyllabic words? Whatever the case may be, in Romabama, which is actually Burmese-Latin, we would have to differentiate between words and syllables, and insert white spaces in between words. Within one word, there are no white spaces between syllables. This is one of the major differences between MLC transcripts, which separates syllables with white spaces, bringing in non-differentiation between words and syllables. U Tun Tint maintains that  when we are using Latin alphabet for transcription, white spaces are needed (note: the policy of MLC), and when I brought up the question of white spaces in Romabama to separate words, he concedes that it would be acceptable and pointed out to me that Burmese is a monosyllabic language.

Like most Tibeto-Burman languages, Burmese shows a tendency toward monosyllabicity. Each syllable has C1 (initial consonant), V (vowel) and T (tone) always present. Syllables can be full, i.e. with all components receiving their full phonetic value, or reduced to a schwa in certain contexts. Final consonants are not pronounced, and consonant clusters are absent in the Burmese sound system. As a result, loan words with final consonants or consonant clusters such as "black" or "brake", for instance, are usually pronounced with an extra vowel inserted between the consonants. -- http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=72&menu=004

When you look into the following pages, you will come across many entries from MEDict, the meanings of which you will not know even if you are well versed in Burmese-Myanmar. I am saying this from personal experience. Though I do not claim to be an expert in Burmese language, I maintain that I am quite knowledgeable. I was born and educated in Myanmar and was in the university service for over 30 years, out which for the last 20 odd years the medium of instruction was in Burmese-Myanmar. I was quite surprised to find that there are many entries in MEDict, whose meanings are strange to me unless I take them to be syllables in a polysyllabic word. e.g. the entry

{hoan:} /|houn:|/ - v. roar. -- MEDict533

The word <roar> brings to mind, a lion roaring. However, the Burmese-Myanmar for the <roar> of a lion is {hain:}.

{hain:} /|hein:|/ - v. 1. (of tigers, leopards, etc.) roar. -- MEDict533

Then, I looked further, and came across:

{hoan:hoan:tauk} /|houn: houn: tau'|/ - v. be ablaze. -- MEDict533

What MEDict should have given is:

{hoan:} /|houn:|/ - v. (of flames) roar. -- MEDict533

{hoan:hoan:tauk} /|houn: houn: tau'|/ - v. be ablaze. -- MEDict533


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Myanmar script, ASCII, and Unicode

It is very difficult to write Myanmar script on the Internet. The commonly used WinInnwa font is suitable for writing ink-on-paper pages, but not for writing web pages. Moreover, the commonly used Unicode fonts, such as Arial Unicode MS, and Lucida Sans Unicode do not display U1000-109F, the slot assigned by Unicode for Myanmar. To overcome this drawback, I have inserted my gif-glyphs whenever necessary. My gif-glyphs are based on Arial Unicode MS and WinInnwa. I have to standardise my gif-glyphs for two sizes:

Arial Unicode MS size 12, used with WinInnwa size 16. The height is set at 22 pixels.

UKT: The font22design is shown on the right. The version shown is of 070301.

Arial Unicode MS size 16, used with WinInnwa size 24. The height is set at 32 pixels.

In both cases I have make some minor changes to the what was printed out by WinInnwa.

The following show I design font32 glyphs.






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UKT notes

{auk-mric} (dot-below)

n. Orthography name of symbol ; subscripted dot employed to produce a checked tone. -- MEDict 620.
Go back auk-mric-note-b1 | auk-mric-note-b2

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Velar consonant

Derived from the word "velar" adjective for velum or soft palate. Velar consonants are formed by articulation with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft palate, as /g/ in <good> and /k/ in <cup>.
   These consonants are usually described by Pali scholars as "gutturals".

velar adj. 1. a. Of or relating to a velum. b. Concerning or using the soft palate. 2. Linguistics Articulated with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft palate, as (g) in good and (k) in cup. n. Linguistics 1. A velar sound. -- AHTD

guttural adj. 1. Of or relating to the throat. 2. Having a harsh, grating quality, as certain sounds produced in the back of the mouth. 3. Linguistics Velar. [French from New Latin gutturālis from Latin guttur  throat] -- AHTD

Go back velar-con-b

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End of TIL file