|Native to||Myanmar, Thailand, China|
|3.3 million (2001)|
|Burmese script (Shan alphabet)|
The Shan language (written Shan: လိၵ်ႈတႆး, pronounced [lik táj] (listen), spoken Shan: ၵႂၢမ်းတႆး, pronounced [kwáːm táj] (listen) or ၽႃႇသႃႇတႆး, pronounced [pʰàːsʰàː táj]; Burmese: ရှမ်းဘာသာ, pronounced [ʃáɰ̃ bàðà]; Thai: ภาษาไทใหญ่, pronounced [pʰāː.sǎː.tʰāj.jàj]) is the native language of the Shan people and is mostly spoken in Shan State, Myanmar. It is also spoken in pockets of Kachin State in Myanmar, in Northern Thailand and decreasingly in Assam. Shan is a member of the Tai–Kadai language family and is related to Thai. It has five tones, which do not correspond exactly to Thai tones, plus a "sixth tone" used for emphasis. It is called Tai Yai or Tai Long in other Tai languages.
The number of Shan speakers is not known in part because the Shan population is unknown. Estimates of Shan people range from four million to 30 million, with about half speaking the Shan language. In 2001 Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk estimated 3.2 million Shan speakers in Myanmar; the Mahidol University Institute for Language and Culture gave the number of Shan speakers in Thailand as 95,000 in 2006, though including refugees from Burma they now total about one million. Many Shan speak local dialects as well as the language of their trading partners. Due to the civil war in Burma, few Shan today can read or write in Shan alphabet, which was derived from the Burmese alphabet.
- In Shan, the language is commonly called kwam tai (ၵႂၢမ်းတႆး, Shan pronunciation: [kwáːm.táj], literally "Tai language").
- In Burmese, it is called shan: bhasa (ရှမ်းဘာသာ, [ʃáɰ̃ bàðà]), whence the English word "Shan". The term "Shan," which was formerly spelt သျှမ်း (hsyam:) in Burmese, is an exonym believed to be a Burmese derivative of "Siam" (an old term for Thailand).
- In Thai and Southern Thai, it is called phasa thai yai (ภาษาไทใหญ่, Thai pronunciation: [pʰāː.sǎː.tʰāj.jàj], literally "big/great Tai language") or more informally or even vulgarly by some phasa ngiao (ภาษาเงี้ยว, Thai pronunciation: [pʰāː.sǎː.ŋía̯w], an outdated term that now sounds like the word for "snake").
- In Northern Thai, it is called kam tai (กำไต, Northern Thai pronunciation: [kām.tāj], literally "Tai language") or more informally or even vulgarly by some kam ngiao (กำเงี้ยว, Northern Thai pronunciation: [kām.ŋíaw]), literally "Shan language").
- In Lao, it is called phasa tai yai (ພາສາໄທໃຫຍ່, Lao pronunciation: [pʰáː.sǎː.tʰáj.ɲāj], literally "big/great Tai language") or phasa tai nuea (ພາສາໄທເໜືອ, Lao pronunciation: [pʰáː.sǎː.tʰáj.nɯ̌a], literally "Northern Tai language") or more informally or even vulgarly by some phasa ngiao (ພາສາງ້ຽວ, Lao pronunciation: [pʰáː.sǎː.ŋîaw]).
- In Tai Lü, it is called kam ngio (ᦅᧄᦇᦲᧁᧉ, Tai Lue pronunciation: [kâm.ŋìw]).
The Shan dialects spoken in Shan State can be divided into three groups, roughly coinciding with geographical and modern administrative boundaries, namely the northern, southern, and eastern dialects. Dialects differ to a certain extent in vocabulary and pronunciation, but are generally mutually intelligible. While the southern dialect has borrowed more Burmese words, Eastern Shan is somewhat closer to northern Thai languages and Lao in vocabulary and pronunciation, and the northern so-called "Chinese Shan" is much influenced by the Yunnan-Chinese dialect. A number of words differ in initial consonants. In the north, initial /k/, /kʰ/ and /m/, when combined with certain vowels and final consonants, are pronounced /tʃ/ (written ky), /tʃʰ/ (written khy) and /mj/ (written my). In Chinese Shan, initial /n/ becomes /l/. In southwestern regions /m/ is often pronounced as /w/. Initial /f/ only appears in the east, while in the other two dialects it merges with /pʰ/.
Prominent dialects are considered as separate languages, such as Khün (called Kon Shan by the Burmese), which is spoken in Kengtung valley, and Tai Lü. Chinese Shan is also called (Tai) Mao, referring to the old Shan State of Mong Mao. 'Tai Long' is used to refer to the dialect spoken in southern and central regions west of the Salween River. There are also dialects still spoken by a small number of people in Kachin State and Khamti spoken in northern Sagaing Region.
- Northern — Lashio, Burma; contains more Chinese influences
- Southern — Taunggyi, Burma (capital of Shan State); contains more Burmese influences
- Eastern — Kengtung, Burma (in the Golden Triangle); closer to Northern Tai and Lao
- The glottal plosive is implied after a short vowel without final, or the silent 'a' before a vowel.
- Initial [f] is only found in eastern dialects in words that are pronounced with [pʰ] elsewhere.
- The trill is very rare and mainly used in Pali and some English loan words, sometimes as a glide in initial consonant clusters. Many Shans find it difficult to pronounce [r], often pronouncing it [l].
Vowels and diphthongs
Shan has ten vowels and 13 diphthongs:
[iu], [eu], [ɛu]; [ui], [oi], [ɯi], [ɔi], [əi]; [ai], [aɯ], [au]; [aːi], [aːu]
Shan has less vowel complexity than Thai, and Shan people learning Thai have difficulties with sounds such as "ia," "ua," and "uea" [ɯa]. Triphthongs are absent. Shan has no systematic distinction between long and short vowels characteristic of Thai.
Shan has phonemic contrasts among the tones of syllables. There are five to six tonemes in Shan, depending on the dialect. The sixth tone is only spoken in the north; in other parts it is only used for emphasis.
Contrastive tones in unchecked syllables
The table below presents six phonemic tones in unchecked syllables, i.e. closed syllables ending in sonorant sounds such as [m], [n], [ŋ], [w], and [j] and open syllables.
|1||rising (24)||˨˦||Starting rather low and rising pitch||ǎ||a (not marked)|
|2||low (11)||˩||Low, even pitch||à||a,|
|3||mid(-falling) (32)||˧˨||Medium level pitch, slightly falling in the end||a (not marked)||a;|
|4||high (55)||˥||High, even pitch||á||a:|
|5||falling (creaky) (42)||˦˨ˀ||Short, creaky, strongly falling with lax final glottal stop||âʔ, â̰||a.|
|6||emphatic (343)||˧˦˧||Starting mid level, then slightly rising, with a drop at the end (similar to tones 3 and 5)||a᷈|
- * The symbol in the first column corresponds to conventions used for other tonal languages; the second is derived from the Shan orthography.
The following table shows an example of the phonemic tones:
The Shan tones correspond to Thai tones as follows:
- The Shan rising tone is close to the Thai rising tone.
- The Shan low tone is equivalent to the Thai low tone.
- The Shan mid-tone is different from the Thai mid-tone. It falls in the end.
- The Shan high tone is close to the Thai high tone. But it is not rising.
- The Shan falling tone is different from the Thai falling tone. It is short, creaky and ends with a glottal stop.
Contrastive tones in checked syllables
|low||လၢၵ်ႇ||/làːk/||[laːk˩]||laak,||differ from others|
The syllable structure of Shan is C(G)V((V)/(C)), which is to say the onset consists of a consonant optionally followed by a glide, and the rhyme consists of a monophthong alone, a monophthong with a consonant, or a diphthong alone. (Only in some dialects, a diphthong may also be followed by a consonant.) The glides are: -w-, -y- and -r-. There are seven possible final consonants: /ŋ/, /n/, /m/, /k/, /t/, /p/, and /ʔ/.
Some representative words are:
- CV /kɔ/ also
- CVC /kàːt/ market
- CGV /kwàː/ to go
- CGVC /kwaːŋ/ broad
- CVV /kǎi/ far
- CGVV /kwáːi/ water buffalo
Typical Shan words are monosyllabic. Multisyllabic words are mostly Pali loanwords, or Burmese words with the initial weak syllable /ə/.
|ၶႃႈ||kʰaː||I/me (formal) "servant, slave"|
|ႁႃး||háː||we/us two (familiar/dual)|
|ႁဝ်းၶႃႈ||háw.kʰaː||we/us (formal) "we servants, we slaves"|
|ၸဝ်ႈ||tsaw||you (formal) "master, lord"|
|ၶိူဝ်||kʰə̌ə||you two (familiar/dual)|
|သူ||sʰǔ||you (formal/singular, general/plural)|
|သူၸဝ်ႈ||sʰǔ.tsaw||you (formal/singular, general/plural) "you masters, you lords"|
|ၶႃ||kʰǎa||they/them two (familiar/dual)|
|ၶဝ်||kʰǎw||he/she/it (formal), or they/them (general)|
|ၶဝ်ၸဝ်ႈ||kʰǎw.tsaw||he/she/it (formal), or they/them (formal) "they masters, they lords"|
Given the present instabilities in Burma, one choice for scholars is to study the Shan people and their language in Thailand, where estimates of Shan refugees run as high as two million, and Mae Hong Son Province is home to a Shan majority. The major source for information about the Shan language in English is Dunwoody Press's Shan for English Speakers. They also publish a Shan-English dictionary. Aside from this, the language is almost completely undescribed in English.
- Shan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
- "Shan". Ethnologue. Retrieved Apr 27, 2020.
- "Refugee Conundrum: Little movement in Myanmar's repatriation schemes".
- Brown, J. Marvin. 1965. From Ancient Thai To Modern Dialects and Other Writings on Historical Thai Linguistics. Bangkok: White Lotus Press, reprinted 1985.
- "SEAlang Library Shan Lexicography". sealang.net. Retrieved Apr 27, 2020.
- Sai Kam Mong. The History and Development of the Shan Scripts. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 2004. ISBN 974-9575-50-4
- The Major Languages of East and South-East Asia. Bernard Comrie (London, 1990).
- A Guide to the World's Languages. Merritt Ruhlen (Stanford, 1991).
- Shan for English Speakers. Irving I. Glick & Sao Tern Moeng (Dunwoody Press, Wheaton, 1991).
- Shan - English Dictionary. Sao Tern Moeng (Dunwoody Press, Kensington, 1995).
- Shan phonology and morphology. Aggasena Lengtai. (MA thesis, Mahidol University, 2009).
- An English and Shan Dictionary. H. W. Mix (American Baptist Mission Press, Rangoon, 1920; Revised edition by S.H.A.N., Chiang Mai, 2001).
- Grammar of the Shan Language. J. N. Cushing (American Baptist Mission Press, Rangoon, 1887).
- Myanmar - Unicode Consortium 
|Shan edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|