SOAS University of London

SOAS Language Centre

Burmese at SOAS Language Centre

Burmese belongs to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, a family that contains a huge number of speakers in that all dialects of Chinese are included. That said, Burmese is not intelligible with any Chinese dialect or indeed with Tibetan, since the differences in all aspects of the language system (phonological, morphological, grammatical, etc.) are simply too great.  

Historically, Burmese borrowed heavily from Mon, a language to which it is not genetically related but with which it shares an important cultural tradition. The diffusion of Mon predates the formation of the first Burmese kingdoms, hence Mon provided Burmese with a considerable number of terms relating to flora, fauna, food, agriculture and basic technology.

Buddhism made incursions into Southeast Asia in the first millennium, principally through trade, and Burmese is first attested in monumental inscriptions of the 12th Century that are bi- or multilingual in nature and in which the use of Pali, the language of Buddhist scripture is widespread. Burmese script is itself derived from an earlier script of Indian origin, although its development is complex.  

From around the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Burmese began to develop a tradition of courtly literature alongside a literary output that continued to be largely religious in nature. There is also a tradition of chronicle writing which is of the greatest importance for investigating the economic and social changes that took place in Burma prior to the arrival of the British.

SOAS Language Centre offers the following in Burmese: