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Lesson 58: Colloquial Burmese Vs. Literary Burmese

If you are a serious learner of the Burmese language, you will note that the language you learn through books are different from how it is spoken in real life. Colloquial language has more practical use in everyday situation, including in marketing. To give an example, Norwegian telecommunication company Telenor, the new comer to the mobile phone market in this country, uses the sales pitch: အားလုံးရဲ့ တယ်လီနော | ah3-lone3 yeare1 teare2-li2-nau3, where colloquial ရဲ့ | yeare1 is chosen over the literary | e1, which is a possessive word to mean "Everyone's Telenor".

Telenor Myanmar Ad on taxi

It does not mean, however, that it's a waste of time to learn the literary language. It has a rich and refined flavor compared to bland spoken words. And, you need this knowledge for understanding public notices, comprehending procedures, and reading newspapers. You need to differentiate the two apart so that you don't use the literary form of language in everyday conversation.

Simple Example

ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 - I (pronoun)
| e1 - modifies "I" to possessive "my" (postpositional marker)
အမည် | a-myi2 - name (noun)
သည် | dthi2 - makes "my name" subject (postpositional marker)
မောင်ဘ | moun2-ba1 - Maung Ba (male Burmese name)(noun)
ဖြစ် | pfyit - be (verb)
ပါ | ba2 - soften polite tone (particle)
သည် | dthi2 - ending affirmation word (postpositional marker)

ကျွန်တော်၏ အမည်သည် မောင်ဘဖြစ်ပါသည်။ | kja1-nau2 e1 a-myi2 dthi2 moun2-ba1 pfyit ba2 dthi2 - My name is Maung Ba.

In spoken language, as we have seen in lesson 29, the same sentence will be said like this:

ကျွန်တော့် | kja1-nau1 - my (pronoun)
နာမည် | nun2-meare2 - name (noun)
မောင်ဘ | moun2-ba1 - Maung Ba (noun)
ပါ | ba2 - polite ending word. (particle)

ကျွန်တော့် နာမည် မောင်ဘ ပါ။ | kja1-nau1 nun2-meare2 moun2-ba1 ba2 - My name is Maung Ba.

Let's analyze this in detail and take note of the similarities and differences:

  1. ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 means I (male term). Both colloquial and written language use this word.

    When it comes to the possessive terms like "my", "his", "her", spoken language just changes the tone into the first tone. ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 becomes ကျွန်တော့် | kja1-nau1 - "my". သူ | thu2 - "he" becomes သူ့ | thu1 - "his". ကျွန်မ | kja1-ma1 - I (female term) is already in the first tone, so there is no need to change it.

    Written form adds the word | e1 :

    • ကျွန်တော်၏ | kja1-nau2 e1 - my (male term).
    • သူ၏ | thu2 e1 - his or her.
    • ကျွန်မ၏ | kja1-nau2 e1 - my (female term).

    မောင်ဘ၏ကား | moun2-ba1 e1 ka3 means "Maung Ba's car". When spoken, you can either say မောင်ဘကား | moun2-ba1 ka3 or use ရဲ့ | yeare1 in place of | e1. E.g., မောင်ဘရဲ့ကား | moun2-ba1 yeare1 ka3.

    If the last digit of the name of the person is in the first or the third tone, there is no need to change the tone. If the name is in the second tone like သီတာ | thi2-da2, change it to the first tone in spoken language like this to express the possessive term: သီတာ့ကား | thi2-da1 ka3 - Thida's car.

  2. အမည် | a-myi2 - means name. In spoken language, နာမည် | nun2-meare2 is used for "name".

  3. Postpositional marker သည် | dthi2 has different usages depending on whether it is in the beginning of the sentence, in the middle, or at the end of the sentence. (Refer to lesson 37.) In the middle of the sentence here, at means "is". In spoken words, it is usually dropped.

  4. ဖြစ်ပါသည်။ | pfyit ba2 dthi2 - declarative statement on nature of things comes from the verb ဖြစ် | pfyit - "to be" . The polite word ပါ | ba2 can be used for both colloquial and literary language. The ending word သည် | dthi2 is literary equivalent of colloquial တယ် | deare2.

    An another literary variation to ဖြစ်ပါသည် | pfyit ba2 dthi2 is ဖြစ်၏ | pfyit e1.

It is possible to convert the above sentence into colloquial sentence by direct substitution of words.

ကျွန်တော်ရဲ့ | kja1-nau2 yeare1 - my (pronoun "I" + postpositional marker to modify "I" to "my")
နာမည်ကတော့ | nun2-meare2 gah1 dau1 - as for the name ( noun + postpositional marker to make subject "my name" + particle "as for")
မောင်ဘ | moun2-ba1 - Maung Ba (noun)
ဖြစ်ပါတယ်။ | pfyit ba2 deare2 - happens to be such

ကျွန်တော်ရဲ့ နာမည်ကတော့ မောင်ဘ ဖြစ်ပါတယ်။ | kja1-nau2 yeare1 nun2-meare2 gah1 dau1 moun2-ba1 pfyit ba2 deare2

Although no one will be 'declaring' oneself in such a manner, it is alright for a radio or game announcer to introduce a contestant in a third person word သူ့ | thu1 - his or her.

သူ့နာမည်ကတော့ မောင်ဘဖြစ်ပါတယ်။ | thu1 nun2-meare2 gah1 dau1 moun2-ba1 pfyit ba2 deare2 - As for his name, it's "Maung Ba".

Literary and corresponding Colloquial Word List

The following selected list is arranged by literary words in က to order followed by colloquial equivalent.

  1. ကျွန်ုပ် | kja1-noat (literary)
    ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 (male) (colloquial)
    ကျွန်မ | kja1 ma1 (female) (colloquial)
    ငါ | nga2 - (informal male, female) (colloquial) - The first person "I" to address oneself.

  2. ခေတ္တ | KHIT-ta1 (literary)
    ခဏ | kha1-na1 (colloquial) - for a while; temporarily. E.g.,

    လုပ်ငန်းများ ခေတ္တ ဆိုင်းငံ့ထားသည်။ | loat-ngan3 mya3 khit-ta1 hsine3-ngan1 hta3 dthi2 - (business + plural + a short time + suspend + continuity of the verb + ending affirmative word) (literary)

    လုပ်ငန်းတွေ ခဏ ရပ်ထားတယ်။ | loat-ngan3 dway2 kha1-na1 yut hta3 deare2 - Business is temporarily suspended. (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  3. တွင် | dwin2 (literary) မှာ | hma2 - regarding the subject; at; in. (colloquial) E.g.,

    သားသမီးများ ရန်ကုန်မြို့တွင် ထွန်းကားသည်။ | tha3 tha1-mi3 mya3 yan2-gome2 myo1 dwin2 htoon3-ka3 dthi2 (son + daughter + plural + Yangon + city + at + be blessed with + ending affirmative word) (literary)

    ကလေးတွေ ရန်ကုန်မြို့မှာ မွေးတယ်။ | kha1-lay3 dway2 yan2-gome2 myo1 hma2 mway3 deare2 - (child + plural + Yangon + city + at + born + ending affirmative word) (colloquial) - Children were born and brought up in Yangon. MP3 Audio File

  4. ထို | hto2 (literary)
    ဟို | ho2 - that (colloquial) E.g.,

    ဤယောက်ျား နှင့် ထိုမိန်းမ | e2 yout-kja3 hnin1 hto2 main3-ma1 - (this + man + with + that + woman) (literary)

    ဒီယောက်ျား နဲ့ ဟိုမိန်းမ | de2 yout-kja3 neare1 ho2 main3-ma1 - This man and that woman. (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  5. နည်း | ni3 (literary)
    လဲ | leare3 - ending "why" question word (colloquial) E.g.,

    အဘယ်ကြောင့်နည်း။ | a-beare2 joun1 ni3 (why + reason + ?) (literary)
    ဘာကြောင့်လဲ။ | ba2joun1 leare3 - Why is that so? (what + reason + ?) (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  6. နှင့် | hnin1 (literary)
    နဲ့ | neare1 - with (literary) E.g.,

    ဇွန်းနှင့်ခက်ရင်း နှင့် စားမည်။ | zoon3 hnin1 kha1-yin3 hnin1 sa3 myi2 - (spoon + conjunction "together with" + fork + postpositional marker "using with" + eat + ending affirmative word) (literary)

    ဇွန်းနဲ့ခက်ရင်း နဲ့ စားမယ်။ | zoon3 neare1 kha1-yin3 neare1 sa3 meare2 - (spoon + conjunction "together with" + fork + postpositional marker "using with" + eat + ending affirmative word) - (We) will eat with spoon and fork. (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  7. နှင့် | hnin1 (literary)
    နဲ့ | neare1 - Don't (colloquial) E.g.,

    မသွားနှင့်။ | ma1 thwa3 hnin1 - (negative + go + negative imperative) (literary)
    မသွားနဲ့။ | ma1 thwa3 neare1 - Don't go. (colloquial)

    MP3 Audio File

  8. | hnite (literary)
    မှာ | hma2 - at (colloquial) E.g.,

    ကောင်းကင်ဘုံ၌ ရှိသော | koun3-kin2-bone2 hnite shi1 dthau3 - (heavens + at + be present + that which)(literary)

    ကောင်းကင်ဘုံမှာ ရှိတဲ့ | koun3-kin2-bone2 hma2 shi1 deare1 - (Christians' reference to God that exists) in the Heaven.(colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  9. | yway1 (literary)
    လို့ | lo1 - conjunction and; while; because. E.g.,

    ဤကဲ့သို့ ဖြစ်၍ | e2 keare1 dtho1 pfyit yway1 (this + like this + happen + because) (literary)

    ဒီလို ဖြစ်လို့ | de2 lo2 pfyit lo1 - On the account of this; As a consequence of this. (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  10. ၎င်း | la1 goun3 (literary)
    အဲ့ဒီ | eare1 de2 (colloquial)
    အဲ့ | eare1 - that (colloquial)

  11. မည် | myi2 (literary)
    မယ် | meare2 - reference to the future. (colloquial) E.g.,

    သူလာမည်။ | thu2 la2 myi2 (he + come + will) (literary)
    သူလာလိမ့်မယ်။ | thu2 la2 lain1 meare2 - He will come. (colloquial)

  12. မည်သူ | myi2-thu2 (which + person) (literary)
    ဘယ်သူ | beare2-thu2 - who? (colloquial)

  13. မည့် | myi1 (literary)
    မယ့် | meare2 - reference to the people or objects in the future. E.g.,

    သွားမည့်ပုဂ္ဂိုလ် မည်သူနည်း။ | thwa3 myi1 poat-ko2 myi2-thu2 ni3 (go + reference to + person + which + person + ?)(literary)

    သွားမယ့်လူ ဘယ်သူလဲ။ | thwa3 meare1 lu2 beare2-thu2 leare3 - Who is the person going or leaving? MP3 Audio File

  14. များ | mya3 (literary)
    တွေ | dway2 - suffix to change a noun into a plural word. (colloquial)
    (See more examples on Singular and Plural terms in lesson 32.)

  15. သင် | thin2 (literary) ခင်ဗျား | kha1-mya3 (polite)
    မင်း | min3 (informal)
    နင် | nin2 (impolite) - you

  16. သည် | dthi2 (literary)
    တယ် | deare2 - ending affirmation word to indicate something "is".(colloquial)

  17. သည် | dthi2 (literary)
    ဒီ | de2 - this.(colloquial) E.g.,

    သည်ပစ္စည်း | dthi2 pyit-si3 (this + object) (literary)
    ဒီပစ္စည်း | de2 pyit-si3 - this object. (colloquial)

  18. သည် | dthi2 (literary)
    ဟာ | ha2 - something "is" followed by description.(colloquial) E.g.,

    သည်ပစ္စည်းသည် ရှားကုန်ပစ္စည်းဖြစ်သည်။ | dthi2 pyit-si3 dthi2 sha3 kone2 pyit-si3 pfyit dthi2 (this + product + is + rare + commodity + be such + affirmative ending) (literary)

    ဒီပစ္စည်းဟာ ရှားကုန်ပစ္စည်းဖြစ်တယ်။ | de2 pyit-si3 ha2 sha3 kone2 pyit-si3 pfyit deare2 - this product is a rare commodity. (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  19. သည့် | dthi1 (literary)
    တဲ့ | deare1 - that; reference to something or someone. (colloquial) E.g.,

    က နေသည့် မင်းသမီး | kah1 nay2 dthi1 min3-tha1-mi3 (dance + present participle [...ing] + she who is + actress) (literary)

    က နေတဲ့ မင်းသမီး | kah1 nay2 deare1 min3-tha1-mi3 - the actress who is dancing. (colloquial)

  20. သော | dthau3 (literary)
    တဲ့ | deare1 - 'which is'. (colloquial) E.g.,

    မမှန်သော စကား မဆိုရ။ | ma1 hmun2 dthau3 za1-ga3 ma1 hso2 yah1 - (not + correct + that which is + speech + not + say + can be done) (literary)

    မမှန်တဲ့ စကား မပြောရဘူး။ | ma1 hmun2 deare1 za1-ga3 ma1 pyau3 yah1 bu3 - Do not make a speech which is false. (Don't tell lies.) (colloquial)

    Note: ဆို | hso2 could also mean to sing. MP3 Audio File

  21. သောကြောင့် | dthau2 joun1 (literary)
    လို့ | lo1 - if. (colloquial) E.g.,

    ဤကဲ့သို့ ဖြစ်သောကြောင့် | e2 keare1 dtho1 pfyit dthau3 joun1 (this+ like + happen + because) (literary)

    ဒီလိုဖြစ်လို့ | de2 lo2 pfyit lo1 - because of this; due to this. (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  22. သော် | dthau2 (literary)
    ရင် | yin2 - if; when. E.g.,

    သူလာသော် ကျွန်ုပ်သွားမည်။ | thu2 la2 dthau2 kja1-noat thwa3 myi2 - (he + come + if + I + go + will) (literary)

    သူလာရင် ကျွန်တော်(ကျွန်မ) သွားမယ်။ | thu2 la2 yin2 kja1-nau2 (kja1-ma1) thwa3 meare2 - I (I female term) will go if he comes.

  23. သို့ရာတွင် | dtho1 ya2 dwin2 (literary)
    ဒါပေမဲ့ | da2 pay2 meare1 - however; but.(colloquial)

  24. သို့ဖြစ်ပါ၍ | dtho1 pfyit ba2 yway1 (literary)
    ဒါကြောင့်မို့လို့ | da2 joun1 mo1 lo1 - therefore; that's why. (colloquial)

  25. သို့ဖြစ်လျှင် | dtho1 pfyit hlyin2 (literary)
    ဒါဆိုရင် | da2 hso2 yin2 - in that case.(colloquial)

  26. သို့သော်လည်း | dtho1 dthau2 leare3 (literary)
    ဒါပေမဲ့ | da1 pay2 meare1 - in spite of; however. (colloquial)

  27. သို့မဟုတ် | dtho1 ma1 hote (literary)
    ဒါမှမဟုတ် | da1 hma1 ma1 hote - or; or else. (colloquial)

  28. အကျွန်ုပ်တို့ | a-kja1-note doh1 (literary)
    ကျွန်တော်တို့ | kja1-nau2 doh1 (male) (colloquial)
    ကျွန်မတို့ | kja1 ma1 doh1 (female)(colloquial)
    ငါတို့ | nga2 doh1 - (informal male, female) - "We", where speaker is either male or female. Members of "we" may include both sexes.

  29. | e1 (literary)
    ရဲ့ | yeare1 - possessive word in the middle of the sentence. (colloquial)

  30. | e1 (literary)
    တယ် | deare2 - ending word to indicate something "is". (colloquial)