Burmese pronouns

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Burmese pronouns (Burmese: နာမ်စား) are words in the Burmese language used to address or refer to people or things.

Subject pronouns begin sentences, though the subject is generally omitted in the imperative forms and in conversation. Grammatically speaking, subject marker particles (က ([ɡa̰] in colloquial, သည် [θì] in formal) must be attached to the subject pronoun, although they are also generally omitted in conversation. Object pronouns must have an object marker particle (ကို [ɡò] in colloquial, အား [á] in formal) attached immediately after the pronoun. Proper nouns are often substituted for pronouns. One's status in relation to the audience determines the pronouns used, with certain pronouns used for different audiences.

Personal pronouns[edit]

Polite pronouns are used to address elders, teachers and strangers, through the use of feudal-era third person pronouns in lieu of first and second person pronouns. In such situations, one refers to oneself in third person: ကျွန်တော် (kya. nau [tɕənɔ̀]) for males, and ကျွန်မ (kya. ma. [tɕəma̰]) for females, both meaning "your servant") and refer to the addressee as မင်း (min [mɪ́ɴ]; "your highness"), ခင်ဗျား (khang bya: [kʰəmjá]; "master lord")[1] or ရှင် (hrang [ʃɪ̀ɴ]; "ruler/master").[2] So ingrained are these terms in the daily polite speech that people use them as the first and second person pronouns without giving a second thought to the root meaning of these pronouns.

When speaking to a person of the same status or of younger age, ငါ (nga [ŋà]; "I/me") and နင် (nang [nɪ̀ɴ]; "you") may be used, although most speakers choose to use third person pronouns, typically derived from Burmese kinship terms.[3] For example, an older person may use ဒေါ်လေး (dau le: [dɔ̀ lé]; "aunt") or ဦးလေး (u: lei: [ʔú lé]; "uncle") to refer to himself, while a younger person may use either သား (sa: [θá]; son) or သမီး (sa.mi: [θəmí]; daughter).

Basic personal pronouns[edit]

Basic pronouns can be pluralized by suffixing the following particles to the pronoun: တို့ (tui.) or colloquial ဒို့ (dui.).

IPA Burmese Person Level of
speech
Remarks
/ŋà/ ငါ First Informal used when speaking to one's equals or inferiors
/tɕənɔ̀/ ကျွန်တော် First Formal used by males
/tɕəma̰/ ကျွန်မ First Formal used by females
// ကျွန်နုပ် First Informal
/tɕouʔ/ ကျုပ် First Informal
/nɪ̀ɴ/ နင် Second Informal used when speaking to one's equals or inferiors
/mɪ́ɴ/ မင်း Second Informal used when speaking to one's equals or inferiors
/ɲí/ ညည်း Second Informal used by females when addressing another female of same age or one younger
/tɔ̀/ တော် Second Informal used by females
/kʰəmjá/ ခင်ဗျား Second Formal used by males
/ʃɪ̀ɴ/ ရှင် Second Formal used by females
/(ə)θìɴ/ (အ)သင် Second Formal
/θù/ သူ Third
/θí̃/ သင်း Third
/ʧʰíɴ/ ချင်း Third

Religious personal pronouns[edit]

Other pronouns are reserved for speaking with Buddhist monks. When speaking to a monk, pronouns like ဘုန်းဘုန်း bhun: bhun: (from ဘုန်းကြီး phun: kri:, "monk"), ဆရာတော် (chara dau [sʰəjàdɔ̀]; "royal teacher"), and အရှင်ဘုရား (a.hrang bhu.ra:; [ʔəʃɪ̀ɴ pʰəjá]; "your lordship") are used depending on their status (ဝါ); when referring to oneself, terms like တပည့်တော် (ta. pany. tau ; "royal disciple") or ဒကာ (da. ka [dəɡà], "donor") are used. When speaking to a monk, the following pronouns are used:

Person Singular
Informal Formal
First person တပည့်တော်
ta.pany. do
ဒကာ
da. ka
[dəɡà]
Second person ဘုန်းဘုန်း
bhun: bhun:
([pʰóʊɴ pʰóʊɴ])

(ဦး)ပဉ္စင်း
(u:) pasang:
([(ú) bəzín])
အရှင်ဘုရား
a.hrang bhu.ra:
([ʔəʃɪ̀ɴ pʰəjá])

ဆရာတော်
chara dau
([sʰəjàdɔ̀])
The particle ma. () is suffixed for females.
Typically reserved for the chief monk of a monastery.

Contraction pronunciation rule[edit]

In colloquial Burmese, possessive pronouns are contracted when the root pronoun itself is low toned. This does not occur in literary Burmese, which uses ([ḭ]) as postpositional marker for possessive case instead of ရဲ့ ([jɛ̰]). Examples include the following:

  • ငါ ([ŋà] "I") + ရဲ့ (postpositional marker for possessive case) = ငါ့ ([ŋa̰] "my")
  • နင် ([nɪ̀ɴ] "you") + ရဲ့ (postpositional marker for possessive case) = နင့် ([nɪ̰ɴ] "your")
  • သူ ([θù] "he, she") + ရဲ့ (postpositional marker for possessive case) = သူ့ ([θṵ] "his, her")

The contraction also occurs in some low toned nouns, making them possessive nouns (e.g. အမေ့ or မြန်မာ့, "mother's" and "Burma's" respectively).

Demonstrative and interrogative pronouns[edit]

Reflexive pronouns[edit]

Burmese has two alternative forms of the reflexive:

  1. literary form: မိမိ ([mḭ mḭ]), often used in conjunction with ကိုယ် (i.e., မိမိကိုယ် 'oneself') [4]
  2. spoken form: ကိုယ် ([kò]), used with direct objects and with pronouns (i.e., သူ့ကိုယ့်သူ 'himself' or ကိုယ့်ကိုကိုယ် 'oneself') [4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ From Burmese သခင်ဘုရား, lit. "lord master"
  2. ^ Bradley 1993, p. 157–160.
  3. ^ Bradley 1993.
  4. ^ a b Bradley 1995, p. 144.

References[edit]

  • Bradley, David (Spring 1993). "Pronouns in Burmese–Lolo". Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman area (Melbourne: La Trobe University) 16 (1). 
  • Bradley, David (1995). "Reflexives in Burmese". Papers in Southeast Asian Linguistics No. 13: studies in Burmese languages (Australian National University) (A-83): 139–172. 
  • Taw Sein Ko (1898). Elementary Handbook of the Burmese Language. Rangoon: Superintendent, Government Printing.