Burmese Grammar

The Burmese language is not one that many Westerns learn, unless they have lived or travelled through Burma (Myanmar) for a period of time. However, for a number of years now, both scholars and the general public are taking an interest in the Burmese language.

The Burmese language is made up of 29 consonants, nine vowels, and four tones. The consonants are /k, kh, g, n, hn, s, sh, z, s, c, ch, j, t, th, d, n, hn, p, ph, b, m, hm, 1, hl, 0, y, w, h/. The vowels are /a, i, u, ei, ou, e, o, ai, au/. Each syllable consists of a consonant or a cluster plus a vowel, spoken on one of the four tones or atomically. Of the vowels, /a, i, u, ei, ou, ai, au/ occur also with a nasal final. There are four tones. For details see sections 25-30. Tone I is signified by a sharp accent /’/, tone II by a circumflex /A/, tone III by a grave /’/. There are unvoiced hush sibilants in Burmese grammar.

Burmese grammar is much easier to understand and therefore easier to speak than other Asian languages, especially Southeast Asian languages, but the grammar is very different to that of western non-tonal languages.

There are four tones – “Tone I: low, level, and shorter than before space. Tone II: high, not so long as before space, and rising. Tone III: high, short, and without glottal closure. Tone IV: high, and extremely short; the glottal closure is replaced by a plain unvoiced stop of the same position as the initial sound of the following syllable”.

The major sentences of Burmese fall into three types. These will are narrative, imperative, and equational. All three types have particular negative forms. Narrative and equational sentences, both affirmative and negative, have particular interrogative forms.

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