Days of the week in Southeast Asia

One of the most interesting things about a new language is connecting vocabulary in that language with vocabulary in languages I’m already familiar with. I still recall, when I was learning elementary Thai in college, I did not face the same challenge that my peers did, in learning to rattle off the days of the week. The reason: Sanskrit.

The planet-based naming system

Both Burmese and Thai have borrowed from Sanskrit for names of the days of the week. Like most Southeast Asian systems, the Burmese and Thai naming systems are based on the classical planets of Hindu astrology (English also uses this planetary system for the days of the week).  In fact, this Indic planet-based naming system is widespread throughout Southeast Asia, used in most major Southeast Asian languages, including Burmese, Lao, Khmer, Thai, Javanese and Balinese.

Each day of the week is represented by the following planets, with Sanskrit and Pali equivalents provided below:

Day Planet Sanskrit Pali
Sunday Sun Ādityavāra [1]
အာဒိတျဝါရ
Ravivāra
ရဝိဝါရ
Monday Moon Candravāra [2]
စန္ဒြဝါရ
Candavāra
စန္ဒဝါရ
Tuesday Mars Aṅgāravāra [3]
အံဂါရဝါရ
Kujavāra
ကုဇဝါရ
Wednesday Mercury Budhavāra
ဗုဒ္ဓဝါရ
Budhavāra
ဗုဒ္ဓဝါရ
Thursday Jupiter Bṛhaspativāra [4]
ဗၖဟသ္ပတိဝါရ
Guruvāra
ဂုရုဝါရ
Friday Venus Śukravāra
ၐုကြဝါရ
Sukkavāra
သုက္ကဝါရ
Saturday Saturn Śanivāra
ၐနိဝါရ
Sanivāra
သနိဝါရ

[1] Also Ravivāra, which is preferred in South Asian languages.
[2] Also Somavāra, which is preferred in South Asian and insular Southeast Asian languages.
[3] Also Maṅgalavāra, which is preferred in South Asian languages.
[4] Also Guruvāra, which is preferred in South Asian languages.

Etymological basis for days of the week

Etymology offers a window into the histories of the languages and peoples that speak them. While I could make out the correspondence between Burmese and Thai for most days of the week, two days stumped me: Sunday and Monday. Little did I know that this irregularity was due to vestiges of old Burmese in the Burmese terms for Sunday and Monday.

Below is an examination of the borrowings in Burmese and  Thai, alongside other regional languages including Mon and Khmer, Lao and Shan. For the purposes of legibility, the word for ‘day’ has been omitted from the comparisons below. Burmese follows Pali and Sanskrit syntax in that the word for ‘day’ is suffixed to the planet name, while in the others (Khmer, Mon, Thai, Lao, and Shan), the word for ‘day’ is prefixed to the planet name.

Language Word for ‘day’ Pronunciation
(IPA)
Pali —vāra or —varo
Sanskrit —vāra
Burmese —နေ့ /nḛ/
Khmer ថ្ងៃ— /tŋay/
Mon တ္ၚဲ— /ŋoa/
Thai วัน— /wan/
Lao ວັນ— /wán/
Shan ဝၼ်း— /wan4/

Sunday

Sunday literally means “Sun’s day” in English. Except for Burmese, the others have borrowed from the Sanskrit word for ‘sun,’ āditya.

SANSKRIT
အာဒိတျ
Āditya

KHMER
អាទិត្យ
/ʔaatɨt/

MON
အဒိုတ်
/ətɜ̀t/

THAI
อาทิตย์
/aaˈtʰít/

LAO
ອາທິດ
/aː tʰīt/

SHAN
ဢႃတိတ်ႉ
/
ʔaa1 tit5/

Burmese, as the sole outlier, continues to use a descendant of an Old Burmese word, which is attested to in Pagan-era stone inscriptions. According to linguist Pho Lat, the word tanin (တန်နှင် > တနင်) means ‘day,’ while ganwe (ကုနုယ် > ဂနွေ) means ‘sun.’ The latter term has striking similarity to the Mon word for ‘day’ and ‘sun,’ while the former resembles the spelling of a Pali word for ‘sun,’ uṇhagū.

OLD BURMESE
တန်နှင်ကုနုယ်

BURMESE
တနင်္ဂနွေ
/təníɴgənwè/

Monday

Sunday literally means “Moon’s day” in English. Except for Burmese, the others have borrowed from the Sanskrit word for ‘moon,’ candra.

SANSKRIT
စန္ဒြ
Candra

KHMER
ចន្ទ
/can/

MON
စန်
/cɔn/

THAI
จันทร์
/ˈjan/

LAO
ຈັນ
/can/

SHAN
ၸၼ်
/tsan1/

Going against the grain, here too, Burmese continues to use a descendant of the old Burmese word for ‘Monday.’ According to linguist Pho Lat, the word tanin (တန်နှင် > တနင်) means ‘day,’ while la (လာ) means ‘moon.’

OLD BURMESE
တန်နှင်လာ

BURMESE
တနင်္လာ
/təníɴlà/

Tuesday

Tuesday literally means “Mars’ day” in English.  All have borrowed from the Sanskrit word for ‘Mars,’ Aṅgāra. All have also reduced the syllabic count from 3 to 2.

SANSKRIT
အံဂါရ
Aṅgāra

BURMESE
အင်္ဂါ
/ɪ̀ɴgà/

KHMER
អង្គារ
/ʔɑŋkie/

MON
အၚါ
/əŋɛ̀a/

THAI
อังคาร
/aŋˈkʰaan/

LAO
ອັງຄານ
/ʔàŋkʰáːn/

SHAN
ဢင်းၵၼ်း
/ʔaŋ4 kan4/

Wednesday

Wednesday literally means “Mercury’s day” in English. All have borrowed from the Sanskrit word for ‘Mercury’s day,’ Budhavāra. While Khmer, Thai, Lao and Shan have have reduced the syllabic count substantially (in both the written and spoken forms),  Burmese and Mon both still retain 3 syllables.

SANSKRIT
ဗုဒ္ဓဝါရ
Budhavāra

BURMESE
ဗုဒ္ဓဟူး
/boʊʔdəhú/

KHMER
ពុធ
/put/

MON
ဗုဒ္ဓဝါ
/pùt-həwɛ̀a/

THAI
พุธ
/ˈpʰút/

LAO
ພຸດ
/pʰūt/

SHAN
ၽုတ်ႉ
/pʰut5/

Thursday

Thursday literally means “Jupiter’s day” in English. All have borrowed from the Sanskrit word for ‘Jupiter,’ Bṛhaspati. In written Burmese, Khmer and Thai, the original long form is spelled out completely. In Burmese, the original ‘br’ sound may have elided into a ‘ky’ sound, as it is the only language whose word for Thursday does not begin with a ‘p’ sound. Shan and Lao have substantially reduced their spoken forms, to one or two syllables.

SANSKRIT
ဗၖဟသ္ပတိ
Bṛhaspati

BURMESE
ကြာသပတေး
/ʧàðəbədé/

KHMER
ព្រហស្បត្ណិ
/prɔhoah/

MON
ဗြဴဗ္တိ
/prɛ̀apətɔeˀ/

THAI
พฤหัสบดี [1]
/pʰá.rʉ́ˈhàt.sa.bɔɔˈdii/

LAO
ພະຫັດ
/pʰā hát/

SHAN
ၽတ်း
/pʰat4/

[1] Commonly abbreviated to พฤหัส /pʰá.rʉ́ˈhàt/.

Friday

Friday literally means “Venus’ day” in English. All have borrowed from the Sanskrit word for ‘Venus,’ Śukra. With the exception of Burmese, all the other languages have reduced the syllabic count to a single syllable in the spoken form. Both Thai and Khmer still spell out the second syllable in the written form.

SANSKRIT
ၐုကြ
Śukra

BURMESE
သောကြာ
/θaʊʔʧà/

KHMER
សុក្រ
/sok/

MON
သိုက်
/sak¹/

THAI
ศุกร์
/ˈsùk/

LAO
ສຸກ
/súk/

SHAN
သုၵ်း
/sʰuk4/

Saturday

Saturday literally means “Saturn’s day” in English. All have borrowed from the Sanskrit word for ‘Saturn,’ Śani. With the exception of Burmese, all the other languages have reduced the syllabic count to a single syllable in the spoken form. Both Thai and Khmer still spell out the second syllable in the written form. Burmese may have borrowed this word through the spoken form, because the first letter in the Burmese spelling for “Saturday” is traditionally used to transcribe Sanskrit ‘c,’ not ‘s.’

SANSKRIT
ၐနိ
Śani

BURMESE
စနေ
/sənè/

KHMER
សៅរ៍
/sav/

MON
သ္ၚိသဝ်
/hɔeˀ sɔ/

THAI
เสาร์
/ˈsǎw/

LAO
ເສົາ
/săo/

SHAN
သဝ်
/sʰaw1/

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