The official language of Burma is Burmese and about 65% of Burmese people speak it. (Or, if you’re so inclined, the official language of Myanmar is “the Myanmar language,” and 65% of people in Myanmar speak it.) There are many local languages too, and they come from four major “language families” (if you’re curious: Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic, Kradai, and Indo-European). Though Burmese primarily speak Shan, Karen, Kachin, Chin, Mon, etc., all are supposed to study Burmese. English is the secondary language, though in 1964 educational reforms mandated “Burmanization.” Since then, English has primarily been the domain of the urban elite and the national government.
Since the mid 19’60s left-leaning Burmese writers have expressed solidarity with the People by promoting colloquial, spoken Burmese over more the formal written version of the language that appears in most literature and in the media. Spoken Burmese features
a number of politeness levels based upon relation between the speaker and the audience (relative status, age and interpersonal familiarity). It also reserves special vocabulary for Buddhist monks
— says Wikipedia, “to sleep” is “kyin” for monks “ip'” for everyone else. “To die” is “pyam tau mu” for monks and “se” for the rest of us.
In class we’re going to say hello and goodbye, not “to sleep” or “to die”:
Hello: Mingala ba
Goodbye: (we will meet again) Nau’to twibaounme
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