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Lesson 10: Describing things in Colors

Back in the previous lesson, we have seen how to describe a person in terms of physical descriptions and attitudes. But in real life situations, simple phrases like "He is fat" is not good enough. How would you say, "She is the one with the red shirt", or "He is the man with thick black glasses" to point to someone in the crowd? Let's take a look at color words in Burmese:

Colors in Burmese

OK guys, you have 1 minute to introduce Burmese Color Words to the World.

Color Words in Burmese

OK guys, you have 1 minute to introduce Burmese Color Words to the World.

Posted by Naing Tinnyuntpu on Sunday, May 1, 2016
Guys: ဇော်ဝင်းထွဋ်၊ and သားစိုး | Zaw Win Htut and Tha Soe. Girls: Helen, မေ၊ ထက်ထက်ထွန်း၊ နန်းစန္ဒာလှထွန်း | May, Htet Htet Htun, Nun Sanda Hla Htun
Sortable Colors
#8b0000dark redyau3-gi2-youn2
#ff8c00dark orangethin2-gun3-youn2
#9acd32yellow greenkjout-sain3-youn2
#adff2fgreen yellowpfet-pfu3-youn2
#ff00ffmid violet redkha1-yan3-nu1-youn2
#000000blacka-meare3/ a-net

a-youn2 means "color" or "colour" in British English. When used as a suffix, it is simply youn2. For primary and common colors, suffix youn2 can be omitted. For example:

ain3-ji2 -- shirt
a-pfyu2 -- white
beare2 hma2 leare3 -- where is it?

ain3-ji2 a-pfyu2 beare2 hma2 leare3
-- Where is the white shirt?

However, you cannot omit the suffix youn2 with non-primary and less common colors such as pink.

The word "pink" is a coined word using pan3 "flower" and youn2 "color". Pink means flower color. MP3 Audio File

Aqua is made of three words sain3 "green" + pya2 "blue" + youn2 "color". MP3 Audio File

Purple is the color of the egg plant kha1-yan3 or "egg plant" + youn2 "color". youn2 "color". MP3 Audio File

The word nu1 (adjective) MP3 Audio File in "light green or "light blue" refers to tender new leave that has just sprung up.

The word yin1 (adjective) MP3 Audio File meaning "mature" is used to describe darker colors. a-pya2 yin1 MP3 Audio File could be understood as dark-blue color.

The most frequently used color word in Burmese is probably Gold. In the tone system, I spell it shway2. Official spelling in English is "Shwe" as in "Shwedagon Pagoda".

It is common for elder Burmese men to dye their hair a-net MP3 Audio File or a-meare3, MP3 Audio File which both mean black. Nowadays, it is fashionable for younger people to dye their hair in all kind of colors. For example, a-pya2-youn2 MP3 Audio File means blue, and hair a-pya2-youn2 thun3 deare2 MP3 Audio File means having streaks of blue color hair when looking at it from certain angles. The word thun3 MP3 Audio File in this context refers to "tinted" with color.

Cosmetic industry has its own fancy color names that are yet to be standardized in the dictionary. This is unlike the language of the web pages in HTML where several colors are named and standardized by W3C with exact coding and RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) ratios.

In automotive industry, companies like GM and Ford (both now have showrooms in Yangon) have their own color conventions with exact formula.

In Physics, the spectrum of colors as a result of refraction of white light can be described by exact wavelengths. However, physicists are not to keen in giving fancy color names to different wavelengths. If they had, they probably would have come up with Greek sounding names like "hadrons", "mesons", "bosons' and so on. Exactly how did those naming conventions come about, colors or otherwise? In several cases in my recent memory, new words are started by just one credible source or a popular person, and the rest of us happily use it. When physicist Murray Gell-Mann invented the word "quark", he had in mind the cry of the gull which also rhymes with words like "Mark" and "bark". Obviously, he was also thinking of "qu" word in "quantum". The word is now universally accepted.

Language as defined by the dictionaries lags behind industries and new trends. And when it comes to color conventions, its no exception. No standard dictionary will describe the color of rose or pink as having such and such exact wavelengths and primary color ratios.

Although there are no standardized Burmese words for several colors, we still need to communicate those in some way. When I say thin2-gun3 youn2 meaning the color of the robes worn by the Buddhist monks, it will be understood as having the color range anywhere from "dark red" to "dark orange".

In the above table, I have listed several colors that are yet to be standardized. For our learning process, we will just use simple "safe" colors that will be understood by all.

ain3-ji2 -- shirt
pan3-youn2 -- pink color
beare2 hma2 leare3 -- where is it?

ain3-ji2 pan3-youn2 beare2 hma2 leare3 -- Where is the pink color shirt?

You can re-arrange the sentence. Here's an another version.

pan3-youn2 -- pink color
ain3-ji2 -- shirt
beare2 hma2 leare3 -- where is it?

pan3-youn2 ain3-ji2 beare2 hma2 leare3 -- Where is the pink color shirt?

It is OK to add the suffix youn2 to primary colors, too. The following two phrases are both correct and they mean the same: Where is the white color shirt?

ain3-ji2 a-pfyu2 youn2 beare2 hma2 leare3
a-pfyu2 youn2 ain3-ji2 beare2 hma2 leare3

Which version is better? For standardization in the learning process, I would recommend the second version, a-pfyu2 youn2 ain3-ji2", which adds the suffix youn2 to primary colors followed by the article of clothing. I find this version works all across other phrase constructions in my PHP translation program.

Let's move on.

a-pfyu2-youn2 -- white color
ain3-ji2 -- shirt
neare1 -- with (postpositional marker that shows ain3-ji2 is being used)
lu2 -- man

a-pfyu2-youn2 ain3-ji2 neare1 lu2 -- The man with the white shirt.

You can also say:

a-pfyu2-youn2 -- white
ain3-ji2 -- shirt
woot -- to wear
hta3 teare1 -- change the verb "to wear" to "the one who is wearing"
lu2 -- man

which means: "The man who is wearing white shirt."

hta3 teare1 is equivalent to the present participle [-ing] in English and "zhe" in Mandarin Chinese.

a-meare3-youn2 -- black color
pfa1-nut -- footwear
si3 -- literally it means to ride, but here it means to wear the footwear. In a way, you stand on the footwear as if you are about to ride on those.
hta3 teare1 -- change the verb "to wear" to "the one who is wearing"
lu2 -- man

a-meare3-youn2 pfa1-nut si3 hta3 teare1 lu2 -- The man who is wearing black slippers.

a-meare3-youn2 -- black color
myet-hmun2 -- glasses
woot -- to wear
hta3 teare1 -- change the verb "to wear" to the present participle "wearing".
lu2 -- man

a-meare3-youn2 myet-hmun2 woot hta3 teare1 lu2 -- The man who is wearing black glasses.

Simple Color Selections

If you are a tourist, some simple color phrases would suffice.

Situation A:

ba2 -- what
a-youn2 -- color
lo2-chin2 -- want
leare3 -- ?

Shopkeeper: ba2 a-youn2 lo2-chin2 leare3 -- What color do you want?

Tourist: a-wa2-youn2 -- Yellow.

Situation B:

The tourist had initiated the conversation:

ho2 -- that
a-wa2-youn2 -- yellow
kji1 -- to look
chin2 deare2 -- want to + affirmation ending word.

Tourist: ho2 a-wa2-youn2 kji1 chin2 deare2 -- Let me take a look at that yellow one.

What if there's no yellow item on the shelf? In that case, the tourist cannot say "that yellow one."

a-wa2-youn2 -- yellow
shi1 -- present or available
la3 -- ?

Tourist: a-wa2-youn2 shi1 la3 -- Do you have yellow?

The tourist, after inspecting the merchandize,

da2 -- this
ma1 -- not
kjite -- to like
thay3 -- yet to be
bu3 -- negative ending.

da2 ma1 kjite thay3 bu3 -- No, not this one, I still don't like this one.

lain2-mau2-youn2 -- orange color
pay3- - to pay; to give
ba2 -- suggestion word.

lain2-mau2-youn2 pay3 ba2 -- Please give me orange color.

Colorful Balls

More advanced-level descriptive words in colors will be continued in the next lesson. But for now, let me regress back to the child's level language by ending this lesson with the nursery rhyme which goes in the same tune as "Ba ba black Sheep."

youn2-zone2 bau3-lone2 -- colorful ball
youn2-zone2 bau3-lone2 -- colorful ball
ta1-lone2 nga2-pya3 -- 5 pya (cent) each
ta1-lone2 nga2-pya3 -- 5 pya (cent) each
kjite teare1 a-youn2 yway3 ba2 -- Please choose the color you like.
kjite teare1 a-youn2 yway3 ba2 -- Please choose the color you like.
ta1-lone2 nga2-pya3 -- 5 pya (cent) each
ta1-lone2 nga2-pya3 -- 5 pya (cent) each.

See how the tone of the word "ball" bau2-lone3 is changed to the musical note bau3-lone2 in this song. And here's the break-down with correct tones for the words:

youn2-zone2 -- colorful (color + all present)
bau2-lone3 -- ball (ball + sphere)
ta1-lone3 -- each ( suffix for "one" + measure word for spherical objects)
nga3-pya3 -- 5 pya (5 + equivalent of "cent")
kjite teare1 -- the one you like ( to like + that which is)
a-youn2 -- color
yway3 -- choose
ba2 -- suggestion

Note: Although spelled as bau3-lone3, the ball is read or spoken as bau2-lone3.