State of the Union Thein Sein

Word choice in Thein Sein’s 2012 State of the Union

Thein Sein made his annual address to the Union Parliament on Peasants’ Day, March 1 (official English translation here), a speech that has been praised by many. The Irrawaddy points out a change in language, as Burmese citizens were referred to as the the parents (မိဘပြည်သူ,miba pyithu) to which the government is accountable to. Thein Sein also made extensive use of the opposition’s language, incorporating English words like “all-inclusive political process” and “rule of law.” This, coming from the same man who was close to drug lords in Shan State during his tenure at the Golden Triangle’s military command.

Another interesting highlight pointed out by the Irrawaddy:

We are all working together for our minority children who wielded guns, ought to wield laptops instead and stand proud.*
သေနတ်ကိုင်ခဲ့တဲ့ကျနော်တို့တိုင်းရင်းသားလူငယ်တွေ လက်တော့ကိုင်ပြီး ထည်ထည်ဝါဝါ ရပ်တည်နေနိုင်ဖို့ကျနော်တို့အားလုံး ဝိုင်းဝန်းကြိုးပမ်းသွားကြရမှာဖြစ်ပါတယ်။
I am really saddened by this. I have pledged a vow with all my heart. During the term of my administration, we will work to make these kinds of unbelievably dreadful incidents disappear. This is also a resolution of our government.
ကျနော်တကယ့်ကိုပဲ စိတ်မကောင်းဖြစ်ရပါတယ်။ ကျနော်အခိုင်အမာ အဓိဌာန်ချထားပါတယ်။ ကျနော်တို့အစိုးရ လက်ထက်မှာ ဒီလိုမယုံမရဲဖြစ်နေတဲ့စိုးရွံ့မှုတွေ ပပျောက်ပျောက်အောင် ဖျောက်ပစ်ရပါမယ်။ ဒါ ကျနော်တို့အစိုးရရဲ့ ခံယူချက်လည်း ဖြစ်ပါတယ်။

A la New York Times, I decided to do my own word analysis of his speech, using a transcript provided by Mizzima News. It’s a fairly rudimentary way of analyzing the whole speech, but it’s a a good way to understand his word choice.

I used WordCloud to generate the data I had compiled on Excel. I compiled the counts by searching keywords in the Burmese transcript of the speech. I tried to omit monosyllables like aung (အောင်), which means ‘succeed’ and is also a grammar particle, and instead used the bisyllable forms, like aung-myin (အောင်မြင်), also ‘succeed’. I also combined similar keywords, like နိုင်ငံတကာ/နိုင်ငံခြား (foreign) or ရပ်စဲ/တိုက်ခိုက် (ceasefire/attack).

Here’s what I found.

နိုင်ငံ - nation (75), ဆောင်ရွက် - carry out (71), အစိုးရ - government (64), ပြည်သူ - citizens (62), ပြောင်း - change (54), စီးပွားရေး - economy (35), ခိုင်မာ - strong (34), လုပ်ငန်း - work (30), တိုင်းရင်းသား - minorities (29), ဖွံ့ဖြိုး/တိုးတက် - development (29), တိုးတက် - develop (28), စနစ် - system (28), ကြိုးပမ်း/ကြိုးစား - work hard (27), မိဘ - parents (26), ဒီမိုကရေစီ - democracy (25), လမ်း - road (24), သစ် - new (24), ဥပဒေ - law (23), မြန်မာ - Burma (23), အခြေခံ - situation (23), စိတ် - mind (23), နိုင်ငံတကာ/နိုင်ငံခြား - foreign (22), ပြောင်းလဲ - change (21), ကူးပြောင်း - transform (21), နိုင်ငံရေး - politics (20), တာဝန် - responsibility (19), တရား - justice (17), ပညာ - education (16), ဆက်လက် - continue (16), အမျိုးသား - national (15), ပြုပြင် - reform (15), လွှတ်တော် - parliament (15), အချိန် - time (15), ကူညီ - help (15), ဆက်ဆံ - relations (15), ရပ်စဲ/တိုက်ခိုက် - ceasefire/attack (13), ငြိမ်းချမ်း - peace (12), ဆန္ဒ - desire (12), အခြေအနေ - situation (12), ငွေ - money (12), ရင်းနှီး - close (12), ဖွင့် ပွင့် - open (12), rule of law - rule of law (11), ပူးပေါင်း - join together (11), ထာဝရ - eternal (10), ပုဂ္ဂလိက - private (10), မဏ္ဍိုင် - pillar (10), ညီညွတ် - equal (10), သမိုင်း - history (9), ယန္တရား - machine (9), ဆွေးနွေး - dialogue (9), ထူထောင် - establish (9), တက္ကသိုလ်/ကောလိပ် - university (9), ကိုယ်စားလှယ် - MP (8), ခံစား - experience (8), နာယက - patron (8), အခွင့်အရေး - rights (8), ကျန်းမာ - health (8), ကျောင်း - school (8), တပ်မတော် - military (8), ထောက်ပံ့ - support (8), တန်ဖိုး - value (7), အောင်မြင် - succeed (7), ခေတ်သစ် - new era (7), အာဏာ - power (7), လုပ်ကိုင် - making a living (7), လိုအပ် - need (7), ကတိ/အာမခံ - promise/pledge (7), ကမ္ဘာ - world (6), ဆင်းရဲ - poor (6), ဝန်ထမ်း - civil servant (6), မျှော်မှန်း - hope (6), လွတ်လပ် - free (6), လူထု - the people (6).

I did a similar one with the official English translation provided by the New Light of Myanmar:

2012 State of the Union English translation word cloud

I’m still not convinced by his speech. “Actions speak louder than words.” I’ve been following ALTSEAN’s Parliament Watch, which is a nice way of sorting through what’s actually being done in Parliament (without going through the messy PDF newspapers and articles on Myanmar.com). ALTSEAN’s November 2011 report concluded that not much of substance had been done, especially at the state/region level:

On the legislative front, [among all regional 14 parliaments] only four bills (two in the Irrawaddy Division Parliament and two in the Rangoon Division Parliament) were introduced.

Simply astonishing. A newly published article titled “Burma’s Constitution: Straitjacket or red-herring?” says the following, words that I couldn’t have put better myself:

By contrast, Burma’s military remains powerful enough to demand a veto over any reforms. Thus, the 2008 Constitution does not create the underlying power imbalance, but merely ratifies it.

But the author does note the following:

Moreover, the 2008 Constitution lacks the ingredients for a long-lived constitutional recipe – an inclusive drafting process, detailed provisions, and a flexible amendment procedure. The question is not if Burma’s democratic opposition will be able to change the constitution, but rather when.

Some food for thought.

*Official translation: We all must try our hardest to see national races youths, who had brandished guns, using laptops.

One thought on “Word choice in Thein Sein’s 2012 State of the Union

  1. Wagaung says:

    Talk is cheap. Soundbites and buzz words, in other words lip service, are the stuff of politics. Like David Cameron saying we are all in it together meaning the millionaire bankers, millionaire politicians like his coalition govt leaders and the public. If you believe this sort of PR platitude you’ll believe anything. Parents my foot.

    The question is not when Burma’s democratic opposition will be able to change the constitution, but rather how.

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