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BurmeseBackground and status

Burmese is the official language of Myanmar and is also spoken across Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.  A member of the Tibeto-Burman group of the Sino-Tibetan language family, Burmese is first language to an estimated 32 million people (according to a 2007 survey), with a further 10 million people speaking it as a second language.  While widely known as Burmese, the Constitution of Myanmar formally recognizes the English name of this language as the Myanmar language.

The rounded appearance of the Burmese script (known as ca-lonh) is contributed to the usage of palm leaves as antique writing material; straight line script would have been produced by a torn part of the leaf.


Burmese dialects used in the Irrawaddy River Valley are chiefly uniform as they all use modifications of Standard Burmese; although vocabulary and pronunciation differs slightly, the dialects share common clarity.  The semantic differences occur in the vocabulary choices concerning relationships. Upper Burmese speakers distinguish between maternal and paternal sides of the family, while Lower Burmese speakers do not.  In addition, certain vernaculars use the same first person pronoun for men and women alike, whereas others use different pronouns for each gender.  Furthermore, spoken Burmese takes the speaker’s status and age relative to the audience into consideration, with pronouns conveying degrees of esteem and politeness level. 

Burmese uses two different forms of language, applicable only to decorum and not with district or speech.  The Literary High form, or Written Burmese (mranma ca) is used mostly in literature, newspapers, and formal speeches; and Spoken Low form (mranma ca ka) is used in colloquial daily conversation, television, and comics.  While the Literary form remains in use in written contexts such as literary and scholarly works, the latest tendency has been to use the everyday spoken language more widely.

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