A graphic I made, showing some of the linguistic diversity found in the Burmese language.
Burmese has a hodgepodge of words that come from other languages, some that would surprise most people, at least me. It’s a given that many Burmese words come from Pali (from Buddhism) or English (from colonial rule), but quite a number of words also come from obscure and seemingly unrelated languages to Burmese. I’ve compiled a list of the most interesting ones.
- The Burmese word for noodles, khauk hswe (ခေါက်ဆွဲ) comes from Shan ‘khauk hswoi’. Perhaps it’s just me, but I would have expected the word to have been native in Burmese, considering how ubiquitous it is in Burmese cuisine.
- The Burmese word for flag, a lan (အလံ) comes from Arabic ‘alam’. This one was shocking to me, because Arabic seems like a very unlikely language to have influenced Burmese. But I was mistaken, because Arab traders first made contact with Burma during the 1400s and their ships probably carried flags, a term not present in the Burmese language at the time.
- The Burmese word for fish sauce, ngan bya yay (ငပြာရည်) comes from Thai ‘namplah’. I always thought the ngan in ngan bya yay means “salty” (because salty is ‘ngan’ in Burmese), but I found out today, for the first time, they’re spelled differently in Burmese.
- The Burmese word for gun, tha nat (သေနတ်) comes from Dutch ‘snaphaan’, which is a very primitive firearm. At first thought, one would wonder how a Dutch word became incorporated into the Burmese language. However, it is because the Netherlands’ Dutch East India Company first began trading in the 1600s with lower Burma and ended in the early 1700s. With the Dutch came their guns, and thus their word for gun was incorporated in Burmese. It’s also interesting to note that in Burmese, the ‘th’ sound represents the ‘s’ sound (that’s why the Thai Songkran is Thingyan in Burmese), so back then, Burmese speakers might have said sanat.
- The Burmese word for pineapple, na nat thi (နာနတ်သီး) comes from French ananas. The French were not as intimately tied in Burmese history as the British, but they apparently did make come cultural contributions. I’m assuming that the French either traded pineapples or introduced pineapple cultivation in Burma during the late 1800s (according to the Burmese government website).
- The Burmese word for money, pat hsan, also pronounced paik san (ပိုက်ဆံ) comes from Hindi ‘paik sa’. I remember watching several Bollywood movies, including Taxi No. 9211 (which was a good film), where the characters constantly said ‘paik sa’ or something along those lines whenever the word ‘money’ popped up in the subtitles. Perhaps coincidence, I thought, but I was mistaken. Hindi lent Burmese the word for ‘money’, which one would assume is a very basic word. I assume that the word was probably was carried over when Burma was an British Indian province.
- The Burmese word for window, ga dwin pauk (ပြာတင်းပေါက်) comes from Mon ‘batang’. This one took me by surprise, in both its spelling and its origin. I always used to wonder why people say ga dwin pauk, even though it’s spelled pya tin pauk. But I guess a lot of architectural terms, even those as basic as window, come from Mon, because Burmans adopted a lot of Mon culture.
- The Burmese word for clothing or shirt, ein gyi (အင်္ကျေး) comes from Hindi ‘amgiya’. This is very interesting, because the modern Burmese longyi comes from India, the result of British colonization (beforehand, the Burmese longyi was more elaborate and looked similar to Thai sarongs). Apparently the Burmese borrowed more than the sarong from India.
- The Burmese word for foot (the measurement), pay (ပေ) comes from Portuguese ‘pé’. This was absolutely shocking. Myanmar is almost an anomaly in not using the metric system for measurements. It uses a wide range of traditional measurements like peiktha and English measurements like the pound. Originally, I assumed that pay was an attempt to sound out English “foot”, because Burmese has no equivalent sound for the “f” sound and usually substitutes the “p” sound. But, it’s interesting that the Burmese word for foot actually comes from Portuguese, and I have no idea how they introduced the word into Burmese. Also interesting is the Burmese word for water fountain/water tap, bone hmaing, also pronounced bone baing (ဘုံဘိုင်), which comes from Portuguese as well.
- The Burmese word for garage or warehouse, go daung (ဂိုဒေါင်) comes from Malaysian ‘godong’. I’m not sure how this word transferred into Burmese, but my guess is that during British rule, Malaysian shippers and traders who transported goods to and from Burma introduced this word into the general populace, or that because lower coastal Burma is so close to Malaysia that a few words such as garage slipped into the Burmese vocabulary.
Update: Sorry, the Zawgyi pseudo-Unicode doesn’t work on WordPress for some reason, at least for me.
Update 2: I’m using Unicode 5.1 for this. You just need to install the ပီတောက် font here: http://scripts.sil.org/Padauk.
80 thoughts on “Interesting Burmese word origins”
Well, the Portuguese were as common the Bay of Bengal as the Dutch traders were. I read a lengthy article on the history of Arakan that I can’t find now, but was quite interesting and enlightening. At least during that time period, the Arakanese and Bangladeshi rulers had as much to do with Dutch and Portuguese in the area – who had settlements on some islands – as they did with the Burmans to the East. I would expect that a few Portuguese words had slipped in, and I imagine there are probably more either in Burmese or in the languages/dialects spoken around the Bay of Bengal. “Foot” was probably a common measurement back then, even if it wasn’t standardized like today. Although, there are also probably some words that just get adopted because they are easier/shorter/better sounding than the original word, and not necessarily because there was a specific need for it. American English also has lots of ‘hidden’ loan words that were brought back by soldiers during the wars. Ie. “Skosh”, is from tsukoshi – “A little bit”. We didn’t need the word, but it’s easy and fun and quickly became slang in many parts of the country.
I don’t know any Burmese, but your language posts are still interestin! It does show a lot about the history of a place.
Sorry – tsukoshi is Japanese in case that wasn’t obvious. 😉
so interesting…I think Burmese itself is mix blood of Indian ancestors and Tibatan ( Chinese ) ancestors.
Yeah , you are right. First Burmese king was Anurahddhin ( known as King Anawrhata ). I dare not say this when my late predecessor arthuba ne win was in power because he declared he alone was a pure bamar race and the only one of the kind in Burma.
‘Tha Nat’ originated from Dutch?
Is it not the shorten’d form of ‘Thay naing thaw latt nat’? I might be wrong but…
Which dictionaries did you get the etymologies from?
I will be on the lookout for the earliest texts I can spot these words in, like U Kala’s chronicle or inscriptions.
The etymology for flag is particularly interesting since pennants were used in military battles and campaigns fairly early, I believe, will have to check the words they use for them.
Luce’s old Burmese word list is useful too because it cites Pagan era inscriptions using the syllable/word which is going quite far back in time.
Looking forward to seeing more of this sort of posting.
Might even start blogging these myself, since I’m going through the example inscription sentences in Luce’s word/syllable list right now.
jonfernquest: The dictionary I used was the “Myanmar-English Dictionary,” published by the Myanmar Language Commission along with an old copy of Tet Toe’s dictionary.
Very interesting . I’ve come across many of these myself .
A few thoughts though :
The term Khao soi in Tai ( Shan ) has no meaningful meaning and it would be interesting to know which tones are used . ( “Khao soi / Khauk hswoi” means “end of the lane” whereas there is some semblance of root origin in the Burmese term which might be from lit . “fold – pull” referring to the process of noodle making before the invention of noodle presses or a derivation from an original word “kauk swe” – meaning to pull “kauk” which is one Burmese word for rice . Kauk may have ultimately come from the Tai term “kao”. )
The signature dishes of Chiang Mai ( Lan Na ) both have Burmese provenance . The one-stop noodle soup meal Khao Soi seems to be a derivation of Ohn No Khauk Swe in it’s use of coconut milk , egg noodles and curry and Pork Heng Lay which is a corruption of Pork Hin Lay ( Jet ) . It is not clear whether the aquisitions are more recent or go back to when Lan Na was controlled by Pegu and then subsequently Ava in the 1550s – 1770s and therefore whether it came directly , via the Shan ( Tai ) or via Panthay ( Hui ) traders .
Although the language is Tibeto-Burman (Sino-Tibetan ) , the Burmese are made up of mainly Tibeto-Burman elements mixed with Austro-asiatic and some Tai . The identity was most likely a political invention in the 11th – 12th century to unite different ethnicities in the Bagan empire . There is some sprinkling of Siamese ( Mon-Khmer-Tai-Lao-Malay themselves ) , Indian , Chinese , Malay , Portuguese and probably original negrito and like any nation founded by empire building we are a mongrel race . Simply a hybrid of Indian and Chinese is an assumption that’s unfortunately popular but incorrect.
I have come across both Bangladeshi and Indian Bengali friends who tell me that longyi ( lon chi ) is a Burmese word like their term for “Burmese” style noodles which they call “Khaow suey” . Whereas it’s pretty clear that the cylindrical closed design is relatively modern and probably came from Bengal like the fashion for the ubiquitous plaid or checks , the name conforms to linguistic monosyllabism ( lon and chi both separate words combined to give an appropriate meaning – the name longyi though may be no more than 150 years old in keeping with when the Burmese acquired the design ) .
Ngan Pya is likely to be from Nam Pla but the Thai word “Kapi” comes from the Burmese “Nga Pi” ( lit. pressed fish ) . There is an edict from King Mongkut’s reign decreeing the name change from Nga Pi to Ka Pi .
It would probably be unlikely that older Burmese text / inscriptions would refer to common mundane items and issues in depth since most were either grandiose histories of monarchs or religious texts . There is even great difficulty searching for the etymological origin of Mohinga ( esp. why it is refered to as “kha” or bitter when the modern version isn’t ) .
There are probably more Mon and Tai words in Burmese than the average Burman would even guess. This is for obvious reasons not terribly surprising .
In Thai, “khao” means “rice” (in this case possibly means “the rice flour” used in making the “khao soi”), while “soi,” as a verb, means “to slice or shred [with a knife] into strips”.
Thanks for all of the information. You have some very interesting comments. I really appreciate it.
I think ‘kauk’ in Burmese may have come from Tai-Shan. A friend of mine who speaks Thai said “sticky rice” is ‘kao hnyaw’ and in Burmese it’s ‘kauk hnyin,’ but I could be wrong.
And I believe Mon shares a lot of more root origins with Burmese than Tai, because they’re a lot less obvious in many instances. For example, I just recently learned that ‘sa-nit’ (method) is from Mon, which caught me by surprise.
I have misplaced a research document which lists all the terms that various ethnic groups in SE Asia use in wet rice cultivation . It looked at the relationship between terms and whether this could link / confirm that the Tai-Kadai group were the original cultivators before Han expansion . There are many words that have similarity including kauk and hsan as well as sabah . It may well be that all these terms stem from Tai .
Kao is similar to the Burmese term Kauk and as you say Kauk Hnyin can be Kao Hnyaw, Kao Niew etc depending on the Tai dialect . Sticky rice certainly has its centre in Eastern Burma , Northern Thailand and North Western Laos ( the home of the “Shan” ) .
I am in no doubt that Kauk Hnyin is a Shan word . I’m just not very sure about Khauk Swe .
Then why don’t you use Unicode 5.0 encoding like Zinyaw
http://zinyaw.wordpress.com – see preface and learn something, a peice of cake after that.
please change” piece ” in correct spelling as it is a typing error
I doubt that ‘paik san’ (money) is derived from the Hindi ‘pehsa’. If you look at each syllable in ‘paik san’, it literally means ‘hold rice’. The inhabitants of ancient Burma would’ve used rice predominantly to barter for other essentials. So when the concept of money was eventually introduced to Burma, those notes and coins that comprised money came to be perceived as a kind of rice that can be ‘held’ and used to trade or barter.
However there are other Burmese words which are without any doubt derived from Hindi such as aloo(potato), gobi(cabbage), masala, palata(paratha), pankah(fan).
“Godown” is an indian term but not Hindi. It’s the other ethnic south-indian language. The original term is “gaḍaṅgu”.
“Ananas” for pineapple is a native american term. No wonder they have it in abundance in Hawaii.
“Longyi ” derived from Urdu lungī, from Persian, variant of lung.
The derivation of “Paik San” is obvious. Paik San, Paisa, Money, Money. You got my point. I really love the amazing creativity of the individual who posted the origin of the world so innovately.
The original word for Ein gyi is “Khamige” not ‘amgiya’ even though close enough.
New words for you.
The word “Namuna” as in trailers at the theaters is also indian “Namuna”.
I think, (nothing to back me up here), the word “Gar Wun” for frock for ladies is English “Gown”.
“Akkhaya” for alphabet is from “Akchara” org. Hindi.
That’s all for now. I’ll keep you posted as I recall back.
What about Potato? In Burmese we called “Ah Loo”. I think, it is from India because my friend from India also called Potatoe as “Ah Loo”.
What about “Pauk Se” in Burmese. I think from China, they call it “Pau” (Steam bun)
Also “Nan Pya” in Burmese, I think is is probably from India, Indian also called it as “Nann”(Flat Flour baked in the charcoal oven)(indian bread??)
Aaloo(Potato) is Aaloo in Hindi.
Gawbee(Cabbage) is also Gobi in Hindi.
Nan Pya is Naan in Hindi.
Palata is obviously Paratha.
Samusa is Samosa.
Masala is Masaala.
Zeera is Jeera
To Shay(Flat Indian Pancake) is Dosa
Gari Gari(Again and Again is Gari Gari
That’s all for now.
Why do burmese call the chinese tayoke (written with an r and a p) and indians kala?
Where do these words come from?
When did burmese stop pronouncing r?
In the written language rakauk is still distict from yapalet (e.g. kra: is to hear and kya: is tiger) and of course Mranma. Rakhaings still pronounce the r correctly and also in prayers in Pali the r is pronounced correctly (like in arahan )
“Ta yoke” may come from chinese word “Dae ryoke” Dae=big or large
ryoke= land or country, so some chinese in myanmar use to mention China as “pyae Gyi” big country or “pyae gui pauk” who born in china.
May be Tayoke comes from Tao …”Taoism (modernly: Daoism) is a philosophical and religious tradition that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (modernly romanized as “Dao”). The term Tao means “way”, “path” or “principle”, and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists. It is ultimately ineffable: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” ref Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism
It’s interesting that you mention that. In older times, the Burmese word for “China” was “sein taing” (စိန့်တိုင်း), “taing” meaning ‘country’ and “sein” from Pali “cina” (where “China” comes from too). I’m not sure where “tayoke” (တရုတ်) comes from–it may be Pali or Sanskrit-derived. “Kala” (ကုလား) is from Pali ‘kula’.
Yakhaing people still pronounce the “r” because starting in middle Burmese, when the Yakhaing split from the Bamar and moved along the coast, they preserved that pronunciation while the Bamar merged it with the “y” sound. Some Pali words use “r” but others use “y” or “l”. Think of ‘taste’ (အရသာ), which can be “ayatha” or “aratha”. And ‘animal’ (တရိစ္ဆာန်) which can be “tareiksan” or “taleiksan”. I think this is because modern Burmese prefers the “y” and “l” sound to the “r” sound.
Also, on another note, many Burmese words are no longer pronounced as they are spelt. For example, the Burmese kyat (ka-gyi + ya-pin + pa-zauk + a-that) should be pronounced “kyap” with a “p” sound but that sound was lost in middle Burmese, similar to Chinese languages like Shanghainese (it used to have ending “k”, “p”, and “t” sounds like Burmese but they became glottal stops)
There’s also many other words
“namuna” (sample) from Hindi ‘namuna’
“bilat” (Britain) from Hindi ‘wilayat’
“bali” (mosque) from Hindi ‘balli’
“zani” (wife) from Hindi ‘jani’
“zagana” (tweezers) from Hindi ‘jagana’
“malaing” (cheese) from Hindi ‘mala’
“muli” (bolts) from Hindi ‘muli’
And a ton more.
Your mention of the old name for China – sein taing – seems to coincide with Marco Polo’s usage Zaitun to describe the South China port city of Quanzhou / Tsinkiang in the Taiwan Strait whence he began his return voyage to the West. Whilst we know of encroaching Islamic influence in the south Chinese ports in this era, it is unclear whether the chosen Romanisation Polo used has any relation to the Arabic Zeitoun – Olive Tree (the name of a Coptic Christian enclave in Cairo). Some small evidence has been found of Nestorian Christianity in China’s southern ports and the reference may be to a Middle Eastern Christian enclave near the Muslims. Was there much sea trade between Burma and China in the period of this usage of sein taing – perhaps from the Arakan / Rohingya community?
I doubt it if taing in sein taing has any relation to tun in Zaitun, simply because taing means state/country in Burmese. And sein from cina as mentioned above. It’s an abbreviation for “cina rahtta gandarla taing” where only taing is Burmese and the rest Pali; gandarlarit (from gandarla raja) is a related term for the Chinese emperor. So the Islamic connection is highly implausible. Overland trade with Yunnan goes back a long way probably before Marco Polo’s time whereas the Cantonese immigration did not happen until modern times. The term Rohingya did not make its appearance in Burma until the run up to the 1960 elections.
I have a few more questions:
1. Is the burmese word for tea “laphek” (ka that) derived from a Mon or Palaung word?
2. The word for sugar “thakra” (pronounced thagya nowadays) is quite similar to sugar given the fact that burmese like to switch s to th (in Pali words that happens all the time like thamma thambuddatha)
3. What does “wadi” (wriiten wa ti) mean as in Erawadi (Ayeyawadi), Hanthawadi, Myawadi etc.?
4. Shouldn’t we retain the r in burmese at least in writing like Mranma instead of Myanmar (ra kauk instead of yapelet) Kra: (hear) is not the same as kya: (tiger) although we pronounce it the same way (except for Rakhaings and for religious words in Pali). Does the mon language have an r?
The Arkanese language/dialect seems to be getting alot of attention here. But another dialect of Burmese which I as a Bamar find it more fascinating, and even more difficult to understand than Arakanese is the Dawei or Tanintharyi dialect.
I’ve only heard the Dawei dialect spoken a few times in my life, and I’ll very quickly list some of the unique features of the Dawei dialect (Of course any Tanintharyi person here can correct any mistakes I made).
* Glottal stops in the standard dialect have been completely reduced to open vowels. eg. “louk” = to do/work —> “lo”
* Verb particle “de” or “te” has become just “e”. So “louk-te” –> “lo e”
* The ra-gouk in native Burmese words which is almost always pronounced in the standard dialect with a “y” is always pronounced with an “l”. eg “Pyan” = to return —> “Plan”.
* The “tha” consonant is always pronounced as an “s”. So “thwaa-de” = to go would become “swaa-e”.
* The nasalised vowel “in” in standard Burmese is always pronounced as “an”. eg “alinn” = light would become “alann”.
Of course there’re several more key unique distinguishing features of this dialect but I’m not a “Tanintharyian” so that’s all I can explain.
Laphet might actually be Burmese. I know that ‘phet’ is another synonym for ‘ywet’ (leaf). But I’m not 100% sure about it.
Thagya is from Sanskrit, not Pali, but since the ‘s’ sound became a ‘th’ sound in Burmese (but, as Yadana [below] said, ‘tha’ (the letter) is still pronounced ‘sa’ in Dawei. That’s why Burmese ‘Thingyan’ (spelled ‘Sangkran’ (tha+nga+a-that + ka-gyi+ya-yit+na+a-that) is ‘Songkran’ in Thai, because the Burmese, Thai, Mon, Cambodian, Lao, etc. alphabets all originate from the same alphabet that Indian languages like Hindi use. Also, we can still see that the letter ‘tha’ still acts sort of as an ‘s’ sound when British is spelled in Burmese: ‘bri-ti-sha’ (with the sha spelled ‘tha+ya-pin+ha-hto’, and the ‘th’ becomes an ‘sh’ sound).
As for ‘wati,’ I know that Ayeyawadi comes from the name of a Hindu god ‘Iravati,’ so I did a little research and found that the root ‘vati’ (Burmese ‘wati’ ) is Sanskrit and means ‘flowing’ (http://vedabase.net/v/vati). So my guess is that Ayeyawadi means ‘flowing elephant river,’ (because Ayeya, or Erawan as the Thais call it, is an mythical elephant) Hanthawadi means ‘flowing hintha river’ and Myawadi means ‘flowing emerald river.’
And for spelling reform, of keeping or making obsolete the ‘r’ sound, I personally think that we should retain it, so we can trace word origins more easily. For example, although most Burmese pronounce jewel ‘yadana’ instead of Pali ‘ratana’ (which Thai uses), it’s more helpful for people to know the origins. Mon does have an “r” sound. Spelling reforms, however are common in Burmese language history. Until the 1600s, standard Burmese had a ‘la-hswe’ (just like the ‘wa-hswe’, except with the ‘l’ sound), when it was replaced with ‘ya-yit’ and ‘ya-pin’. Imagine people still pronouncing words like ‘kyaung’ (school) like ‘klaung.’ But isolated Burmese groups like the Dawei have retained these features in their dialects.
Thanks for the information.
It does make sense, though that the Dawei still have preserved the ‘la-hswe’ so that words like pyan become plan, because that was reformed in standard Burmese spelling in the 1600s, when the Dawei were geographically isolated from central Burma. The glottal stops that have become open vowels also makes sense. Many related languages like Shanghainese have undergone the same thing, and I expect the glottal stop will slowly disappear in the Burmese language (Burmese words were once pronounced completely, so words like ‘loke’ (work) were ‘loup’, now pronounced ‘lohh’ ) and people in the younger generation are now putting less emphasis on glottal stops.
You say that “paiksan” (money ပိုက်ဆံ) means “hold rice,” (ပိုက် စန်) but the “san” (ဆံ) in “paiksan” means “hair” and uses ‘hsa-lein+thay-thay-tin’ (ဆလိမ်+သေးသေးတင်) not ‘hsa-lein+na-ngeh+a-that’ (ဆလိမ်+န+အသတ်)
Can someone enlighten me on the etymology or the origins of these everyday Burmese words which do not seem to be comprised of distinguishable Tibeto-Burman monosyllabic roots.
thinbaw – ship
pehso – male style sarong
htamein/htami – female style sarong
pareetbawga – furniture
ledah – vulture
hle-yak-sit – electricity
kalay – child
dedaa (tantaa) – bridge
degaa – door
nan-yan – wall
beji (pann-chi) – painting
hluttaw – parliament
thanteman – diplomat
I love the way how in the Burmese language compound words that are comprised of monosyllabic roots seem to sound as if they are unbreakable polysyllabic words as a result of voicing of consonants, and full vowels being reduced to a schwa. For example:
thu-taun-sa (beggar) –> thadaunzaa
sa-pwe-htoe (waiter) –> zabwedoe
ko-saa-leh (represetative) –> kozeleh
daa-pyah (armed robber) –> demyah
kuh-tin (bed) –> gedin
Finally, one of my favourite expressions in the Burmese language would have to be ‘kuli kumar’ which is a term for a shrewd deceitful person or act. I’m sure the term originated in the days when many Burmese had a distrust towards those Chettyar money lenders.
wall = nanyan = flank + to surround = “flank that surrounds”
ship = thinbaw = Sanskrit loan
furniture = paribawga = pari + bawga (wealth) = Pali loan
ladah/lindah = vulture = commonly prefixed to bird names + call = “bird who calls”
dada (tanta) = bridge = water + obstruct = “obstructing water”
daga = door = rod + waist= “??”
hluttaw = parliament = release + royal = “royal release” (referring to thatministers release the king from some duties)
thantaman = diplomat = embassy + messenger = “messenger of the embassy”
I’m not sure about hleyatsit (did you mean hlesitdat), bagyi (pan refers to one of 10 Burmese classical arts, pan se myo), pahso or htamein, both of which may not be native Burmese words. Kalay (child) may be Mon, a lot of words that start with ka originate from Mon but are indistinguishable as loans. This may explain why many Burmese say “khalay” instead of “kalay” except for the town of Kalay.
hle-yak-sit = e-lec-tric ??
simply just Burmese mispronunciaton
Oh in that case, hlyat = lightning, sit = pure and dat = energy.
Hi, i’m looking for the translation of the word chocolate in burmese. Can anyone help me please
Isn’t it just transliterated to “chawkalek”? Caramel is “nyaungsee”.
very interesting to know the roots of :Burmese words. Thank you for the discussion that you all have so far.
I am just wondering how about word like ” Love” ah chit come from and “hate” a mone? Does anybody know?
‘Ta-yoke’ might be derived from ‘ka-rake’ of Mon [literally ‘kruk’ (ka-kyi+ra-yit+
ta-chaung-ngin+ka-kyi+a-that] as many Mon words start with ‘ka’ sound used to be ‘ta’. Then no doubt ‘ka-rake’ in Mon used to be ‘ta-rake’ [literally ‘truk’ (ta-wan-poo+ra-yit+ta-chaung-ngin+ka-kyi+a-that)]! Here, the ‘ka-that’ ( ‘ka-kyi+
a-that’) in Mon might be changed into ‘ta-that’ (ta-wan-poo+a-that) or ‘pa-that’ (pa
-zoud+a-that) in Burmese. On the other hand, we can also say that Mons loaned this word from Burmese at the time of we-don’t-know. It’s up to you! To confess
honestly, I myself still need the confirmation and you may be the one who could confirm it for everyone!
fuck u all spoiled people.
Around the second world war, a European in China complained he was too tired of seeing people with the same face everyday. Ancient Mranma might’ve have viewed them the same way. That might be the reason why they are called Tayoke. I am not sure, though. Just my thought.
The equivalent of Godown in Malayalam, a south-Indian (Kerala State) language is Gudam. See the similarity.
But the Hindi word for money is Paisa. It is used throught India as equivalent to cash.
‘sit’ may be derived from Sudh (Pure), a Sankrit word migrated to other Indian languages.
Vaikom Madhu, Kottayam, Kerala, S.India
That’s what I’ve always thought: Tayoke = different look (from Bamar).
Thant Myint-U writes in several of his books that the Burmese word for “Chinese” (tayoke) is a Burmese corruption of “Turk,” perhaps stemming from the fact that Mongol Turks (the Yuan dynasty) invaded Bagan in the late 1200s.
I rather doubt that since Turk is in English and Burmese call them Tu-ra-ki same as the country Turkey. The Mongol army that invaded Bagan was called Taruk later Tayoke. Did they call themselves Turk?
Turanians, not Turks – whence Turanki. This is a Zoroastrian Persian descriptor of the barbarian nomad infidels of the Central Asian steppe. Its original usage is very ancient and it is surprising to hear it applied to the Mongols – unless Persian / Parsee trade influence in Burma at this time is stronger that we suspect.
I see no reason why ancient Burmese had to learn the name for the Tartar/Chinese via the scenic route from Persian traders when they’d always had contact with their big eastern neighbour overland. Yes, the Persians are called Hparasi in Burmese.
It’s plausible but I’m not completely convinced.
In TMU’s “The River of Lost Footsteps”, the Pagan invasions were led by a Turkic general named Nasruddin of Bukhara (from today’s Uzbekistan!) It’s well known that soldiers in the Mongol army were drawn from all parts of the Mongol empire–Turks from the Steppe, Han Chinese, etc.
So, the Burmese could have called them Tayoke. Still, it feels very much a conjecture on his part. Mongol invaded Pagan in 1270s and 1280s. It’s quite unlikely that the Burmese hadn’t given a name to the Chinese (only the most populous people on earth!) in the late 13th century. After all, the Burmans themselves came down from Yunnan/Nanzhao only a few centuries earlier. I have to think the Burmese language must have had a term for the paukphaws even then.
It’s a good guess, but just that, in my book.
Tayoke – Ta= one, yoke=face so Tayoke= one face ( or ) same face.
Pyinthit = French, France. What about this ? Repair new ?
One thing, Khaukswe, Khauk= fold and swe=pull. Do you see how to make noodle by hand ? That’s it, Don’t think too far.
According to this link, Dr Than Tun’s definition of Tayoke is rebel.
Thant Myint U’s Kalar definition is not correct. Kalar is black in Hindi.
Pyinthit is probably a Burmese corruption of ‘française’. Khaukswe has been discussed above.
You rebel against an overlord. I doubt it if we ever lorded over the Tayoke unless they got mixed up with the Shan. Interesting to learn kalar is black in Hindi but it was used for both the white man and Indian alike. Hpyu (white) for Europeans was only suffixed by people to distinguish the two later, not when they were first encountered starting from the Portuguese.
Mon say ‘preng-sit’ for ‘French’ or ‘Francaise’. It’s spelled pa-zout r-rit nga-that: preng, tha-way-htoh tha ta-that: sit so ‘preng-sit’. That might be a gap between Burmese ‘pyinthit’ and French ‘francaise’! In his well-known novel, Thu-kyun-ma-khan-pyi, Tekkatho Pon Naing used ‘paransit’ for ‘French’ or ‘France’.
This is very surprising to me, i speak burmese because i was born and raised there until 10 years old..but i really did not know anything about Burmese language until my friend decided to do research on me…WOW now i found out,burmese is combination of so many languages..COOL
how can u make sure that ur assuming r all correct??it needs to be approved by many people especially language specialits…
Anybody know that why we called Pyin-thit to French?
I believe “pyinthit” is one of the few early transliterations of foreigners from the days of Burmese monarchy that has survived down to today.
My guess (pure guess) is that it comes from Français. They most likely used Pali-to-Burmese transliteration values to translate non-Pali words into Burmese at that time.
Fran = Prin –> Pyin
Today, letter “f” is usually translated into Burmese with “hpa u-htoat” (aspirated p). I guess they translated “f” in those days using “pa-zauk” (unaspirated p).
How “ran” in fran became “yin” in Burmese is probably has to do with the Burmanization transfer values too. For example, Pali word Panna becomes Pyinya in Burmese.
Cais (roughly pronounced “say”) –> Thit?
The transfer of “s” sound into “tha” sound in Burmese is one of the mysteries I’d love to know why. It is one of the influences of Pali-to-Burmese transliteration on Burmese. Sila is “Thila”; Samudaya is Thamudaya, etc. But it also crossed over to non-Pali translations. E.g., Hsipaw is Thibaw. Sagu (Sago) is “thagu”.
(The larger question I have is why “s” is translated as “th”, “c” as “s”, “v” as “w”. Who decided these!? One of the most fascinating Pali to Burmese translations (to me) is “sacca”, which is translated to Burmese as “thitsa”. Here, the “s” sound becomes “th” whereas the “c” sound becomes “s”!)
So my educated guess is the use of Pali-to-Burmese transliteration system to translate “français” gave birth to our “pyinthit”.
Let’s hear your guesses/hypotheses too.
In hindi phiringi means outsider (foriegner).
in malyalam sharkara (sugar) sounds similar to thakara.
lungi is also lungi in malayalam.
it is interesting to see how words migrated and got metamorphized in different places.
I’m almost certain Aung Zeya is right about the Pali-to-Burmese derivation. Notice the tendency to spell foreign names in Pali-style piggyback consonants or vowel-over-consonant as in India or England respectively, even common nouns like ‘engineer’ similar to England. I think it’s a good system indicative of the word’s foreign origin.
My guess for the short creaky ‘thit’ in ‘pyinthit’ comes from the short creaky last syllabel in ‘français’. But it begs the question why then it wasn’t spelt and pronounced as in ‘chinthe’ (lion).
It must go back to the first encounter with the French. Why Yangon became Rangoon in English is another thing that intrigues me. Either that’s how it sounded to the British ear or they happened to ask an Indian first!
Why wasn’t spelled a la chinthe? My guess is the translators didn’t know all the French pronunciation rules. Clearly they knew that the ç (cedilla) equals “s” but apparently didn’t know that the last letter “s” is silent. (These types of half-baked translations happen all the time. Look up any foreign name in any Burmese publication today.) So my guess is they pronounced “çais” as “sis” whose closest Burmese sound would have been “sit”. And after “sit” was filtered through the Pali-to-Burmese rules, we got our now wonder-provoking “thit”. I think…
But what if the translators only knew English rules? Had they equated the ç with a “k” sound, then by the Pali to Burmese rules, the “ç” would have been translated as “s”–as in cedi=seti (zedi). We’d then have Pyinsit, or Pyinsait instead!? Ironically, either of those would have been phonetically closer to Français than Pyinthit!
I doubt it if the translitration came from written French or via the English filter. The Burmese ear probably heard it that way. One indicator is how Paris was ‘Pari’ and Boulogne ‘Boolun’ in Burmese. An interesting parallel is the name Chindit(s), the British corruption of ‘chinthe’, during WWII.
Later on Burmese translators/writers/ reporters did corrupt many a foreign name or term either English or French etc through English spelling, and I guess not listening properly to the wireless news in English but getting printed copies from AP, Reuters etc. One famous example I can recall was the ‘Pueblo Incident’, in the Gulf of Mexico I think, in the 60s. Burmese language papers came up with different versions of the boat’s name mostly incorrect as you can imagine.
The so-called voicing rule in Burmese alters the sound from its original spelling which in most cases is still adhered to, e.g. ‘cedi’ (pagoda) becomes ‘seti’ in spelling but pronouned ‘zedi’. But some actually changed over time as in ‘kyundaw’ (first person pronoun for male) and ‘kyunma’ (ditto for female) now being written by many as ‘kyanaw’ and ‘kyama’.
(A living language is always evolving and by far the most democratic instrument of all. No one can claim ownership or stage a coup! Even the English no longer own the English language. To the dismay of pedants it’s now being written every which way online and in texting.)
‘Metta’ changed in pronunciation over time to ‘myitta’ I suppose. Then again ‘titta’ for box is spelt the same way as ‘myitta’, but cannot acquire the extra ‘ya’ like the latter.
‘Dah pya’ (armed robber or dacoit in old colonial usage, literally’ knife show’) is pronounced ‘damya’ with the p altogether gone. ‘Dah lut'(unsheathed sword) acquires an aspirated sound for many to become ‘da-hlut’. In Lower Burma, ‘neyle’ (afternoon) also acquires an aspirated sound to become ‘hneyle’. In the North ‘hla’ is pronounced ‘la’ with a lisp, same as when they say Mo-nyin for their town of Mohnyin, or is it us in Upper Burma not only introducing the aspirated ‘nya’ but spelling it that way? It may be just a provincial accent like some people from Monywa say Monwa with a lisp or change a vowel sound to say ‘yedun’ for ‘yedwin’ (well), or someone from Pakokku say ‘khwin’ for ‘khun’ (seven). It’s probably the cadence and combination of sounds that come most natural to us determining how we say it in the end I guess.
Thanks, U Wagaung. My late dad, (who was a Shwebotha and very proud of it), used to tell me similar stories about different accent differences even in “Anya”. He also pronounced “titta” for box although in the south, we pronounce “thitta”. He pronounced all other “tha” sounds correctly but titta was a glaring exception. I never got to ask him why. Would you know?
As for “Khwin” and “Khun”, (and other examples of “un” sound changing to “in”), my dad attributed that to “Myelat” accent. Another example was saying “nayyy kaung ye la” (nay with the long tone) as opposed to normal “ne kaung ye la”. (He used to tease his myelat friends that they weren’t true anyatha. Or for that matter, Monywa. Come to think of it, not sure if he considered anybody else true anyatha. 🙂
Another Myelat example? I once heard a Burmese monk from Magwe (or somewhere around there from Myelat) give a sermon. He looked Burman by his looks but he pronounced “tha” as “ta” as though he was straight out of Chinatown! It wasn’t just titta for thitta. Every “tha” word was pronounced “ta”. His (mis)pronunciation kept me awake. 🙂 Turns out I wasn’t the only one his accent kept awake. We were all cracking up after that one long sermon. (Yeah, I’m going to hell.:-) I’d always equated the “ta”-“tha” mix-up with Chinatown Burmese but maybe some other regional Burmese dialects have the same “issue”? Have you heard of something like that? Or was it just one errant monk?
It could be that the monk was of part Shan or Mon descent or hailed from a part of the country where those ethnic groups are in the majority, and he just ‘picked up’ their speech habits as he was growing up. Remember, in languages like Shan and Mon, the dental fricative, the “tha” does not exist, and it’s not uncommon for a Shan or Mon to mispronounce “tha” with “ta”. That speech phenomenon is certainly not exclusive to Chinatown talk.
Interestingly, my father hails from Shwebo and spent most of his life in upper Burma, and he always pronounces ‘wanntha’ (to be delighted) as ‘winntha’. My mum, on the other was brought up in lower Burma, and she never ever pronounces that word as ‘winntha’; it’s always ‘wanntha’. The same goes for all her relatives.
So my question is, is pronouncing ‘wanntha’ or ‘wunntha’ as ‘winntha’ an upper Burma thing? Does anyone know?
Shwebothas typically suffer from the Konbaung imperial malady I’m afraid. They used to make up a large proportion of the Tatmadaw recruits following in their forefathers’ footsteps. Not sure if that’s still the case today. But his pride was as justified as mine hailing from the last royal capital (you may diagnose a variant of the same condition).
‘Titta’ is just how it’s always been in ‘Anya’ ( upcountry Burma) instead of ‘thitta’ as spelt, and it does seem like the only exception. I suspect your unfortunate monk had a lisp, and a very common one in Burma too. It’s also common in baby talk, so it must be pretty inherent in our tongue.
‘Thanat’ (gun), spelt ‘thaynat’ (lit. death god), is another word pronounced with an aspirated sound as ‘tha-hnat’. The same for pickle ‘thanat’ and shoe ‘hpanat’.
Regional accents are well known like the Myelat (the Burmese Midlands) one. Different emphasis on syllabels is common too, like ‘yet-hta’ in Lower Burma for ‘ya-htaa’ (train) or ‘mote hinga’ for ‘mont hinga’ or even ‘mohinga’ which is becoming more common. I’ve heard someone from the Delta say ‘thamaw’ for ‘thinbaw’ (ship or papaya) which as you know is spelt with a piggyback vowel-over-consonant, and it’s also interesting how foreign stufff that came by sea got named ‘thinbaw so and so’.
Interesting… I didn’t know about aspirated thanat and hpanat. I don’t pronounce it that way. I don’t recall my dad did either. Is that usage prevalent throughout Anya or just in certain regions?
But you got me thinking. I do say gaung-hnyeint (nod) instead of gaung-nyeint the way it’s spelled. (Hopefully, my recollection of the spelling is correct.) I don’t say “thamaw” for thinbaw. I do say thinmaw, when I’m not careful or trying for emphasis. But isn’t “b” to “m” glide quite common/expected anyway? I do say mohinga. I don’t enunciate mont. I say ya-htaa.
But don’t you think these differences are minor, though? Certainly not enough to stand out. I once stayed upcountry for about a month, and I quickly picked up their speech. No one could tell that I was from Yangon. Or at least I didn’t think so.
You are quite right. Many regional accents are understood readily enough without giving rise to confusion, like the Scouse ‘wek’ for work, or the Geordie ‘cloob’ for club (least of all the acquisition or loss of an aspirated sound). The trouble I myself experienced as a newcomer in England was the vowel sounds such as between walk and work, warm and worm, Marsh and Mersh etc. The non-pouting of the lips to say Roy or Croydon, particularly Hoy so it sounded why, though it’s easy enough to say boy or toy. A classic for the Burmese I reckon is: sterling, starling, stirling and Stalin, all spelt and pronounced the same way in Burmese. So they are bound to be corrupted according to our own linguistic backgrounds.
The other day I was talking about docking bays for bikes in London, and my daughter heard dogging bays and giggled at my mispronunciation. I said k unaspirated.
Aspirated voicing of thanat and hpanat is common in Mandalay. Yes, thinbaw is commonly pronounced thinmaw. BTW it’s gaung-nyeit (nod) though nyeint is a common mispelling to the pedant. Htamain (female sarong) is more correctly spelt htabi though htami is more common today.
Wunntha is how we say it in Mandalay. Some people tend to sound more literal with certain words, and also say wann(as in one)myauk wanntha, for instance my old class mate who used to commute by bus from a monastery in Amarapura where he lived to our Catholic school in Mandalay everyday. One cannot of course say only the Mandalay usage and accent must be correct, even if it is regarded as the ‘King’s Burmese’ to coin a phrase.
I’m not sure why your father pronounces ‘wanntha’ (to be delighted) as ‘winntha’. My dad was from Shwebo, and he attributed that vowel shift to Myelat speech. He pronounced “wunntha” (as do I). Per U Wagaung’s observation, the shift is also part of Monywa speech. Wonder if your dad also lived west of Shwebo, closer to Monywa?
As for “wanntha”, it’s probably regional Lower Burmese. At least not Yangon. Just double-checked with my mom (Mawlamyaing origin); my wife (Yangon) and myself (Yangon)… We all say “wunntha”.
RE: your comment on June 2 “I doubt it if the translitration came from written French or via the English filter. The Burmese ear probably heard it that way.” About Pyinthit…
You’re probably right. But I still think it came via some written French/English filter. Please hear me out. I don’t see how the Burmese “ear” could have heard Francais (Fran-say) as pyinthit. Don’t you think it’s far more plausible that the “s” to “th” transfer occurs via the written form?
Most ordinary Burmese in those days simply called the Europeans Bayingyi or Kalabyu; unlikely they differentiated between the types of white men. (Indeed most Burmese still don’t.) To me, the likeliest identifiers of French/pyinthit were officials and their translators who needed to collect taxes, file reports to the king, etc. (In those days, the number of translators must have been few; the good ones, even fewer. Those few must have been arbiters of language that decided how a word was to be translated into Burmese.) I think it was they–the select few, not the ordinary Burmese, that identified the French, and translated it into Burmese as pyinthit. The translators likely didn’t know that the last letter in French is usually silent, the case with “Francais”.
My two kyats ($0.002 cents)…
Plausible but unlikely. Personal encounter and verbal communication seemed likely (We come in peace. Take me to your leader.) before any written stuff such as a letter of introduction got to the scribes. The English if asked would say, “He’s French”. And the French, “Je suis Francais”.
Francais if heard ‘correctly’ could variously be Hpyanthay (dead otter), Hpansay (wash sore) or Hpinsay (wash bottom), rather awkward connotations. Anyhow, just as to the British ear Chinthe, an unfamiliar consonant pairing to them, became Chindit, Francais to the Burmese ear became Pyinthit. My tuppence worth.
Burmese language also adapt foreign words.
What language doesn’t? It’s convenient and has happened from the start. Plenty of examples above in Burmese. ‘Media’ is now a Burmese word, not just ‘Internet’. It’s only natural.
No one wants to coin unwieldy translations just to pander to pedantic and nationalist sentiments. Besides they don’t tend to catch on. Language is owned by the people who use it daily, not scholars and pedants. People also prefer abbreviations and they catch on very quickly.
I generally agree but I don’t think that should come at the expense of native Burmese words.
For example, most city folk now use the word “aunty” or “uncle”. I’m guilty of using “aunty” myself but I’ve held my line with “uncle”. I call older men “u-lay” or “ba-gyi” even when they refer to themselves as uncle. When I do get to that age, I’ll insist on being called “u lay” or “ba gyi”. I’ve already begun: my friends’ kids call me “u-u”.
Another one that gets me is “Thaing kyu ba”. What’s wrong with “Kyezu”?
Yes, language is owned by the people and its use can’t be dictated. Trying to replace phone, TV, radio, etc. with invented Burmese words is a useless exercise. But with native Burmese words, we ought to hold the line. Why have these perfectly fine Burmese words in use for centuries become unfashionable? Are the speakers trying impress? Is that need to sprinkle English words really a symptom of insecurity?
Couldn’t agree more that native words needn’t and shouldn’t be replaced. It has unfortunately been a fashion in Yangon in certain circles for a long long time even calling one’s mother and father Mummy and Daddy, a colonial legacy I’m afraid. Sorry these days is a very widely used term rather than “kadaw, kadaw”, “matawlo naw” or “toungban ba de”. “Thaingkyu ba” is really the pits when tourists would make an effort to say thank you “kyayzu ba” in Burmese.
Sadly even in Upper Burma, aunty and uncle are really widespread, and the more specific terms of kinship dictated by whose side it is seem to be dying out, such as “ba gyi” and “ba htway” for uncle older than your father and younger respectively, “oo gyi” and “oo lay” on your mother’s side, “a-yee/kyee kyee” and “a-yee lay” for aunt older than your father and younger respectively, and “daw gyi/gyi daw” and “daw lay” on the mother’s side. At least “oo” and “ba ba”, “daw daw” and “kyee kyee” are still current all mixed up regardless of whose side the kinship is.
Village folk in my great grandmother’s neck of the woods west of the Chindwin were said to say in the old days “a-kyun” for I and “mon” for you. This died out like before WWII once they came into increasing contact with townies who were bemused as young villagers got embarassed using these quaint rustic terms.
One of the things I admire Aung San Suu Kyi is the way she manages so easily it seems to refrain from using English words when she addresses ordinary Burmese despite the fact that she has spent most of her life abroad. You see in broadcasts a lot of the middle class educated Burmese use them liberally, fashionably I guess, without bothering to translate. Worse still the official Burmese language media now appears to print English terms and foreign names, not just actual English names, only in English without even a transliteration. You lead by example, don’t you?
I agree, we should all lead by example. We can all do our part. And it’s not that hard, with a bit of awareness and intention. I hope the educated/middle class Burmese can summon enough self confidence/assurance that it is fashionable to use pre-existing Burmese words. (It’s perfectly ok to say “Taninla Nay” instead of “Monday”! “Kadaw” instead of “sorry”.)
If there’s a will, there’s a way. Hebrew before 1948 was a liturgical language, spoken only by a handful. Now, the Israrelis have successfully relaunched Hebrew as a living language.
If they can relaunch a near-dead language into a living and thriving one, we ought to be able to retake our perfectly fine words. Shouldn’t be that hard. Just need to be a bit more aware in the beginning.
We can do it! Start with just a few words. It’ll be fine.
I think that when it comes to specialised or technical vocabulary especially in areas of politics, science, technology etc., one of the reasons that alot of Burmese people, particularly the educated middle/upper class generally prefer to use English words and expressions instead of the Burmese equivalents (especially in informal conversations) is that the Burmese terms generally tend to be much longer than the English ones as they are usually coined from compounding of words, and also this compounding makes the words sound somewhat more artificial than the English ones.
For example, it takes alot shorter and feels less ‘artificial’ to say ‘Constitution’ than ‘Phwe-sii-poun achay khan ubaday’. Or compare ‘UN’ as opposed to ‘Gaba Kula Thamaka’, ‘Referendum’ as opposed to ‘Pyi-thu sanda khan-yu pwe’, ‘Air-con’ as opposed to ‘A-aye pay sek’, and ‘TV’ versus ‘Youk-myin than-kyar’.
You got the wrong end of the stick I’m afraid. We do not have a problem with educated middle class people using these terms in conversation among themselves, but when it comes to general discourse intended for the public as in print media or even in a broadcast, we must make an effort.
Granted TV or UN is so much more convenient, and ‘thayoke-pya a-hmuntin’ never caught on like ‘director’. They should at least be transliterated for the public and not printed in English alone. I find that even a recent seminar topic advertised in Burmese by the Myanmar Fisheries Federation titled “Myanmar 2020 and Beyond” in English only. Perhaps it’s being done in the medium of English or people illiterate in English need not bother! “Myanmar Democratization” was another seminar by the UMFCCI. Shouldn’t they at least try in public statements to be more inclusive and a little less snobbish?
I will be joining my predecessor AhThuBa Ne Win in hell soon. I will pass on the message that Burmese language is slowly evolving into Mandarin. Shu Mg will be pleased !
Ineed very intersting buteven more surprising is the Burmese word for action LAY LAN comes from the Portuguse word LEILAO wich means auction.
LEIMAO or orange in Burmese coms from LIMAO wich means lemon in Portuguese.Bread in Portuguese s PAO inBurmese it is POUN MOUN so there is definitely alot of Portuguese presence in Burmese .
For the ပြင်သစ် Français/e issue, we cannot be sure how Rakhine pronunciation was hundreds of years ago (though there were people back then who did language research on Rakhine and Rohingya languages, writing down things as they heard them in Latin letters, and publishing in the journals of the time). However it is notable now that the ဧ sound suggested ‘ay’ in Rakhine dialect now sounds to me quite unstable, often changed with the အဲ အယ် ‘eh’ sound. On the other hand, the အစ် ‘it’ sound does not exist, the capital စစ်တွေ Sittwe being pronounced စိုက်တွေ ‘sait twe/è’.
As the သ ‘th’ is still pronounced ‘s’ there, and (as in Dawei) the ‘in’ is ‘an’, and of course the ‘r’ is preserved, do all the conversions and you get pransait ဖရန်စိုက် — not too far off.
It’s an obvious fact that Chinese brought the dumpling culture as they intruded into Burma since long ago. In some dialect they call it “Sio Pao” and some may call “Pao Si”. So that’s certain that Pauk Si is a deriviation of a Chinese vernacular.
Reblogged this on White Boy Learning Burmese and commented:
This is a very interesting topic that English readers and Burmese readers can enjoy.