Burmese, language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages (see Sino-Tibetan languages). It is spoken by about 30 million people in Myanmar, where it is both the principal and the official language. Burmese can be described as monosyllabic because root words generally consist of a single syllable. Context, word order, and the use of musical pitch or tones, of which Burmese has three, help to differentiate the meanings of the many homonyms. Syllables are often used in combination, thereby increasing the number of ideas that can be expressed. Burmese has its own alphabet, which is ultimately descended from an old script from S India. There is a great difference between the spoken and written forms of the language.

See J. Okell, Reference Grammar of Colloquial Burmese (1969); W. S. Cornyn, Spoken Burmese (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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