SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Language in Early Burma

Dr Patrick McCormick (SEAJunction, Yangon), Dr Hideo Sawada (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), and Dr Tilman Frasch (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Date: 10 October 2017Time: 2:00 PM

Finishes: 10 October 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: 21/22 Russell Square Room: T102

Type of Event: Workshop


Burmese Dialect Studies: the Dialectics of History and Ethnic Emergence

Dr Patrick McCormick (SEAJunction, Yangon)

This talk will discuss the Burmese dialects, the history of their study and what we currently know of them. The approach taken will be both that of a historian and of a linguist. What, if anything, does the state of these languages says about the history of these communities and their relation with the larger body of Burmese speakers?

Northern Burmish languages and Burmese

Dr Hideo Sawada (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

Northern Burmish languages, spoken in Kachin State and Shan State of Myanmar and Yunnan Province of China, are the genetically closest languages to Burmese. In this presentation I will introduce Northern Burmish languages such as Zaiwa (Atsi), Lacid (Lashi), Lhaovo (Maru) as well as Gyennoʔ and Thoʔlhang dialects of Lhaovo, and Lhangsu language, which are still not well clarified. This talk will present their phonological systems and the correspondence between them and that of Burmese. This talk will also compare some aspects of grammatical system of Northern Burmish languages (especially Lhaovo) with those of Burmese.

Some Putative Pyu Loan Words in Old Burmese

Dr Tilman Frasch (Manchester Metropolitan University)

The relationship between the Pyu people, possibly the porters of Burma’s earliest urban civilization (1st-9th centuries CE), and their Burman successors from the kingdom of Bagan (11th-13th centuries CE) is still a controversial matter. One possible scenario is that of a cultural continuum from the stone age men through the Pyu to the Burmans of Bagan; an alternative version assumes some kind of immigration from Central Asia into Burma/Myanmar, which could have occurred either before or after the Pyu period. The former case would make the Pyu a kind of first-wave immigrants or proto-Burmans, the latter places them at the end of an indigenous development superseded (and in fact terminated) by the immigrating Burmans.

There can be no doubt about the pastoralist and cattle-breeding past of the Burmans – not last, they frequently used the expression “may you go where the grass is green and the water clear” when releasing a person from serfdom. Quite in contrast to this cultural imprint, the Bagan kingdom that formed the environment for the proverb, owed its strength and stability to the cultivation of wet-rice based on large-scale irrigation works. However, terms and phrases relating to agriculture, frequently as they occur in the inscriptions from Bagan, have hardly ever been properly studied; in fact, many of them are still unknown or remained unexplained. This contribution will provide a first approach to the re-examination of the vocabulary relating to agriculture, land use and irrigation found in Old Burmese. It seems natural that a people conditioned in one type of economic activity, e.g. husbandry, facing a different type such as agriculture will in all likelihood borrow the crucial terms from those already experienced in the new trade. The paper proposes that the Burmans – seen as the latecomers in Central Burma – may have ‘learnt’ from the Pyu (though perhaps not exclusively from them alone, with the Mons being another possible contributor) both agricultural technologies and the terminology relating to it.


Registration is required of all participants

Organiser: SOAS, University of London

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Contact Tel: +44 (0) 20 7898 4893

Sponsor: European Research Council