Burmese is an remarkably uniform language, considering it covers a wide area in Burma, or so I thought. Since I could not differentiate Burmese spoken in Mandalay and that spoken in Rangoon (aside from minor vocabulary differences) and instead thought that there is probably a greater difference between the pronunciation of the younger generations and the older ones (I’ve noticed that older people tend to use Bama over Myanma, which is more commonly used among younger people, even in movies) and that younger people are more likely to slur their words.
But I was wrong. According to the UCLA Language Materials Project:
Standard Burmese evolved from a ‘central’ dialect spoken by the Burman population of the lower valleys of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. It is now spoken with in most of Myanmar with some regional variation. According to Wheatley, there are “a number of non-standard dialects, showing profound differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, are found in peripheral regions”. [Wheatley, 1990] Arakanese, Tavoyan, and Intha can be considered “dialects”, for their distinctive differences in pronunciation and vocabulary from standard Burmese, which does not disrupt a mutual intelligibility with Burmese. Other dialects include Beik, Danu, Taungyo, and Yaw.
I have never been exposed to any other dialects of Burmese other than the standard one. I stumbled upon an Arakanese music video named “La Kran Mray” (“La Chan Myay” in Burmese).
It is so interesting. The Arakanese (more recently called ‘Rakhine’ by the government) are a Tibeto-Burman group that descended from Burmans and moved to the western coastal region of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh. Because they were geographically isolated by the Arakan Yoma mountain range, they developed a distinct culture and language from the Burmans.
One of the most intriguing things about the Arakanese is their language, particularly its use of the ‘r’ sound, which most Burmese speakers avoid using (they favor ‘y’ or ‘l’ sounds). Because the Burmese language is awfully ambiguous in spelling, standard Burmese does not differentiate between the two ‘y’ consonants in pronunciation (for example, ‘to hear’ and ‘tiger’, both pronounced kya are spelled differently). In Arakanese, they would be kra and kya respectively, which would make spelling so much easier. Another interesting pronunciation difference is in ‘to have’, which is shi in standard Burmese and tschi in Arakanese.
Also, Arakanese pronounces various spellings differently. I don’t know if I’m making sense anymore, but I will continue anyway. Burmese has only two types of finals (sound endings): the nasal ‘n’ (exactly like the ending of ‘bon’ in the French bonjour) and the glottal stop (like the ‘h’ uh-oh). But in spelling, the nasal ‘n’ and the glottal stop can each be spelled four ways. The four main pronunciation differences I noticed in the video between Arakanese and standard Burmese are listed in the following table I made:
Arakanese also uses far more Pali terms than Burmese, as seen in the video. Burmese speakers ought to try understanding the music video. I had to refer to the karaoke subtitles, but it was understandable for the most part.
Another interesting aspect of the Arakanese dialect is its designation as a ‘language’ by the government. This is sort of like the issue among Chinese dialects (Hakka, Hokkien, Mandarin, etc), which ought to be separate languages but are “dialects” because they are all used by the Han Chinese. In the case of Arakanese, it is really a dialect of Burmese but is distinguished as a language, because the Arakanese form one of ‘Eight National Races’, separate from the Burmese. When Burma first achieved independence, Arakan State was actually Arakan Division (in Burma, divisions are Burman-dominant). However, to appease Arakanese nationalists, it was granted statehood in 1974 to prevent secession movements.
It’s amazing how much in the dark Burmans are about their kin. Until I e-mailed my mom with the Youtube video, she had never heard Arakanese in her life. Even though she has friends from Arakan State, they all use standard Burmese. I hope this superfluous entry has shed more light on the Arakanese people and their dialect (I’m sure I’ve angered a few by using dialect instead of language.)