Burmese is a member of the Tibeto-Burman branch of the very large Sino-Tibetan family. It is probably not related to Thai and Lao, which are Taic (or Tai or Daic) languages, and that family is no longer believed to be Sino-Tibetan: it may be in fact connected with Austronesian (Malay, Polynesian, et al.).

The Burmese language is also known as Myanmar, same as the country. In modern Burmese it is actually called Bamaa-zagaa, where zagaa just = 'language'.

It is tonal. One of the tones is associated with creaky voice, where the vowel is interrupted by a glottal stop; and another has breathy voice, a lower-pitch murmur.

The consonants include voiceless nasals hm hn hng hny. Like many of its neighbours, Burmese has both aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops: k kh t th p ph; however, because it also contains the English fricative th sound (derived from an earlier s), the aspirated stops are usually written hk ht hp.

The change from Myanmar to Bamaa is phonetic, and illustrates that the classical spelling is now far removed from common pronunciation. The sound r has disappeared from most dialects (except the Arakan in the west), so the capital, formerly Rangoon, is now Yangôn. The SLORC, the military government of Burma, changed the country's name to the old literary spelling Myanmar in 1989, and the spellings (not really the names) of many places at the same time. The River Irrawaddy became Ayeyarwadi, pronounced E-ya-wadi, and the River Salween became Thanlwin.

Burmese has word order SOV and postpositions, e.g. Yangôn-go 'to Yangôn'. The pronouns are distinguished by the sex of the speaker, so a woman says camá for 'I' and shin for 'you', but a man says canaw and hkamyà. However, professional and relationship terms are often used instead of pronouns.

Thanks to tres equis for correction on the native spelling of Burma vs Myanmar.

Bur`mese" (?), a.

Of or pertaining to Burmah, or its inhabitants.


n. sing. & pl.

A native or the natives of Burmah. Also (sing.), the language of the Burmans.


© Webster 1913.

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