Burmese tones

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Burmese tones

Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-05-10, 3:59

I picked this from the Vietnamese Discussion - Sự thảo luận tiếng Việt thread.

Luís wrote:And just out of curiosity, does Burmese have any tones?

Raza will definitely be able to give a better view (or at least correct my own), but what I know is that there seem to be three major standard tones (creaky, low, high-falling) and two minor substandard tones (which I know nothing about). In spelling, they're indicated like this:


Image

ká      ka      

Image

ké      ke      

Image

káw      kaw      kàw
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Postby Raza » 2005-05-10, 7:01

This topic of whether Burmese is a tonal language or not is really controversial, and in my very humble opinion, I'd say it's NOT. The reason is Burmese tones are simply a matter of vowel-length distinctions and relative stress between adjoining syllables.

So for example, the creaky tone is equivalent to the shortest vowel length with an abrupt stop like the vowel in English word 'mat' or 'sit'. The low tone is NOT like a low-tone in Thai or Vietnamese at all. The low tone is simply equivalent to an unstressed syllable in English as in 'cil' in 'pencil' where 'cil' is unstressed. And the high tone is once again unlike anything like the high tone in Thai, but rather it's equivalent to a stressed syllable in English. So that'd be 'pen' in 'pencil'.

These three distinctions only apply to words which end in either a nasal or an open vowel. The two minor substandard tones as described by Psi-lord are actually the schwa as in English 'a' in 'ago', and the glottal stop, which is the one and only stopped syllable in Burmese.

So there's my explanation. It's now for you to decide. Tonal or non-tonal? That is the question. :lol:

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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-05-10, 11:33

Although I've started this from Luís's question on tones, I can't help taking the opportunity to ask three questions, if I may.

1) Is Burmese like Thai, Lao and Khmer, which basically only use spaces between sentences or general ideas? In the Seasite basic course, they do use spaces between words, but I was wondering if that's just because it's intended for beginners (since that's the reason they use spaces in their Thai course, too).

2) Does Burmese have punctuation marks? In the Seasite course (again), they use that symbol similar to Devanagari ॥ in the end of sentences, and I also know there's one similar to Devanagari ।, too, but I was wondering if they work the same way.

3) Does the following letter represent the Burmese glottal stop?

Image
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Postby Pittsboy » 2005-05-10, 13:19

The four tones of Burmese (low, high, creaky, killed) are of special interest to phonologists and phoneticians because they can be explained only with reference to several aspects of the language’s phonological structure, both segmental and suprasegmental, including the features of pitch level, pitch contour, phonation type, vowel quality and duration. This study explores the multi-tiered structure of the tones by focusing on two tones, creaky and killed.
A glance at the survey of some of the published descriptions of Burmese tone in Table 1 suggests that one of their most striking features is the lack any real consensus on major issues such as the pitch characteristics of the low and high tones, whether or not killed can properly be counted as a tone, whether or not breathy phonation is a consistent feature of high tone, and so on. Some of the anomalies in the descriptive schemata summarised in Table 1 are discussed below, although the formulation of a comprehensive account of tonal phenomena in Burmese remains far
beyond the scope of this paper. Regarding the number of tones, Allott (1967) writes: “In different descriptions of Burmese one finds the apparently conflicting statements that Burmese has variously 5 tones, 4 tones and 3 tones. In fact none of the authors is in any doubt about how to describe Burmese; they simply do not agree in their use of the word ‘tone’.” Whichever syllable types one chooses to recognise as tones, the varied descriptions of each tone arise chiefly for two reasons. The first is a complex array of tonal sandhi phenomena, which have yet to be fully described. It is clear, however, that Burmese tones cannot be described fully with reference only to the differences between syllables pronounced in any one context. The pronunciation of a tone may
be determined in part by the segmental or intonational context, or even by the syntactic features of the syllable by which it is borne and the syntactic structure of the environment in which it is found. In addition to these systematic influences, intonation wreaks further complex changes on the surface phonetic rendering of the tones. Preliminary descriptions (Sprigg 1977, Watkins 2000) of some of these effects have been assembled, but much work remains to be done.

source: http://www.soas.ac.uk/SouthEastAsia/SOAS%20WP%202000%20-%20Burmese%20tones.pdf[/quote]
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Postby froggie » 2005-05-10, 14:37

Hey there. Nice to see my teacher quoted in here hehe, I am studying Burmese at Soas with Justin Watkins :) BTW The high tone in Burmese is not falling, it is just a high tone.

(1) Is Burmese like Thai, Lao and Khmer, which basically only use spaces between sentences or general ideas? In the Seasite basic course, they do use spaces between words, but I was wondering if that's just because it's intended for beginners (since that's the reason they use spaces in their Thai course, too).


Burmese uses spaces between phrases or words, depends on the context.

2) Does Burmese have punctuation marks? In the Seasite course (again), they use that symbol similar to Devanagari ॥ in the end of sentences, and I also know there's one similar to Devanagari ।, too, but I was wondering if they work the same way.


॥ is used after a whole sentence corrispoinding to a "." , while | is used as a comma.

3) Does the following letter represent the Burmese glottal stop? [/quote]

The letter above does NOT represent a glottal stop, it is the consonant without sound, meaning that vowels cannot stand alone, so you always need a consonant (like korean). glottal stops are represented usually by killed t's or g's.

greetings from London,
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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-05-11, 4:36

Thanks a bunch, froggie!

froggie wrote:The letter above does NOT represent a glottal stop, it is the consonant without sound, meaning that vowels cannot stand alone, so you always need a consonant (like korean). glottal stops are represented usually by killed t's or g's.

The Seasite course does seem to indicate it as a vowel holder, especially when they compare e.g. Image to Image, or Image to Image, but since the Omniglot page on Burmese uses the glotal stop symbol for it, I thought I might've misunderstood / misheard it.
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Postby Raza » 2005-05-11, 10:11

Psi-Lord wrote: Although I've started this from Luís's question on tones, I can't help taking the opportunity to ask three questions, if I may.

1) Is Burmese like Thai, Lao and Khmer, which basically only use spaces between sentences or general ideas? In the Seasite basic course, they do use spaces between words, but I was wondering if that's just because it's intended for beginners (since that's the reason they use spaces in their Thai course, too).


Burmese generally uses spaces between noun phrases or verb phrases, and not just between general ideas. The language itself is quite agglutinative in nature with a verbal phrase sometimes comprising of a verb root, auxiliary verbs, tense and polite particles all combined into a big phrase. And that would then be separated with a space from a noun or a noun phrase that precedes it.

Psi-Lord wrote:2) Does Burmese have punctuation marks? In the Seasite course (again), they use that symbol similar to Devanagari ॥ in the end of sentences, and I also know there's one similar to Devanagari ।, too, but I was wondering if they work the same way.


Actually the two little vertical signs similar to the one used in Devanagari are used at the end of a sentence or a paragraph. But if two sentences in the same paragraph are related in idea or topic, then only the one vertical sign version would be used. But to be honest, I'm not 100% sure.

Psi-Lord wrote:3) Does the following letter represent the Burmese glottal stop?

Image


Actually, I have to correct what froggie said. That symbol is actually an independent vowel symbol, and because it is independent it can stand alone because Burmese just like Devanagari has both dependent and independent vowel symbols. This symbol Image actually represents two things. One is the very short vowel /a/ similar to the vowel in 'Mark'. Also, it can represent a schwa vowel. But if it's used as a schwa, then it cannot stand alone. It must have a consonant following it.

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Glottal stop

Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-05-12, 10:47

Thanks for the input, Raza. :)

Back to glottal stops, I guess now I understand something from the Seasite course I hadn't understood before—would the following words end in a glottal stop?

Image
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Postby froggie_unlogged » 2005-05-12, 11:05

Hey psi :)
may i transcribe your words to the system used by John Okell: (q represents a glottal stop)
seq, siq, p'aq, p'waq, leiq, houq, laiq, pyauq (i hope this is all right...they rhymes still confuse me sometimes) but anyway i am sure they all end in a glottal stop. p' stands for aspirated p.
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Postby Raza » 2005-05-12, 13:25

Yes, all of them are syllables ending in a glottal stop. To correct froggie's transliteration, the fourth one from the left isn't p'waq, but it's actually p'uq which sounds like the vowel in English 'look'. It can be really confusing for a learner because the medial /w/ is there so it may be mistakenly pronounced. But in that case, the medial /w/ is actually part of the glottalised vowel and does not stand as a consonant. So, with that syllable (fourth one from the left), the medial /w/ and the final 'killer' consonant /t/ actually act as one to produce the glottalised vowel /uq/.

I hope that didn't sound too confusing. :wink:

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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-05-13, 4:15

Ah, great. :) What was getting me confused here was probably the fact that one of the romanisation charts for Burmese I found on the web doesn't clearly mark such syllables with a glottal stop (or even aspirated consonants, for that matter), and, if following it, those words would be romanised like this:

set sit pat put leik hôk laik pjauk

Since it gives different romanisations for the final consonants (-t / -k), I was getting the impression they should really be different. I'd better start using that chart as reference only from now on. :oops:

About voicing in Burmese… I've read that, after a vowel or a nasal consonant, unvoiced consonants become voiced, such as /k/ > /g/, /p/ > /b/, /t/ > /d/ etc. One example seems to be
Image, in which the final 'pa' becomes 'ba'. Is that really so?
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Postby Raza » 2005-05-14, 2:43

Psi-Lord wrote:Ah, great. :) What was getting me confused here was probably the fact that one of the romanisation charts for Burmese I found on the web doesn't clearly mark such syllables with a glottal stop (or even aspirated consonants, for that matter), and, if following it, those words would be romanised like this:

set sit pat put leik hôk laik pjauk

Since it gives different romanisations for the final consonants (-t / -k), I was getting the impression they should really be different. I'd better start using that chart as reference only from now on. :oops:


It's true that in some sources, Burmese is romanised with final consonants /t/ and /k/. But the important thing to note is that the language basically doesn't have any final consonants except the glottal stop and nasals. So those final consonants are simply a reflection of the orthography in which the words are still written with those final /t/s and /k/s but they're now pronounced with a glottal stop. I'm not sure, but in Old Burmese, they probably would've been pronounced. But in modern speech, those final stops have all but disappeared and become glottal stops. But the alphabet however remains unchanged.

Psi-Lord wrote:About voicing in Burmese… I've read that, after a vowel or a nasal consonant, unvoiced consonants become voiced, such as /k/ > /g/, /p/ > /b/, /t/ > /d/ etc. One example seems to be
Image, in which the final 'pa' becomes 'ba'. Is that really so?


That's very true, Psi. After an open or a nasalised vowel, almost all unvoiced consonants will become their respective voiced counterparts. But it is however unchanged if it comes after a glottal stop.

Also, one thing to note with regards to those glottal stops is that in polysyllabic words, in which the preceding syllable ends in glottal stop, and the following consonant is a stop or a fricative consonant such as a /t/, /k/, /s/ etc. then the glottal stop is lost, and the following consonant merges with the preceding syllable and is pronounced. So for example, the Burmese word for matter which is derived from Pali, is written as keiq sah. But the glottal stop will be lost and the word will be pronounced as keissah. So the following consonant /s/ has merged into the preceding syllable and the glottal stop is lost.

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Postby bluechiron » 2005-05-14, 2:54

What texts and other materials are you using for Burmese? Seasite and the Okell books...is there anything else out there that is worthwhile?
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Postby froggie_unlogged » 2005-05-14, 16:58

To correct froggie's transliteration, the fourth one from the left isn't p'waq, but it's actually p'uq which sounds like the vowel in English 'look'. It can be really confusing for a learner because the medial /w/ is there so it may be mistakenly pronounced. But in that case, the medial /w/ is actually part of the glottalised vowel and does not stand as a consonant. So, with that syllable (fourth one from the left), the medial /w/ and the final 'killer' consonant /t/ actually act as one to produce the glottalised vowel /uq/.


mmhhh there is no rhyme -uq, you must mean -ouq :) sounds not really like the sound in "look".
My teachers Justin and Tharapy are currently writing a colloquial Burmese course... dunno when it will be published. John Okell's books really annoy me... but the tapes are fun hehehehe ;)
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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-05-14, 17:22

Hmmm, my ears often fail me, but when I listen to the audio files in the Seasite course related to the rhyme they transcribe as [uq] themselves, I do hear an [u]-like sound.

http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Burmese/script/SLessons/SLesson26/lesson.htm

They do introduce another sound, transcribed as [ouq], in a later lesson:

http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Burmese/script/SLessons/SLesson28/lesson.htm
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Postby Raza » 2005-05-14, 23:24

Actually there is a very clear distinction made between -uq and -ouq. For example, there's luq which means free, and louq which is to work.

I should've put them up in the Burmese script, but I couldn't bother uploading them through Image Shack.

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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-05-15, 3:11

bluechiron1 wrote:What texts and other materials are you using for Burmese? Seasite and the Okell books...is there anything else out there that is worthwhile?

Unfortunately, I myself am limited to Seasite—although I could find some pieces of information about Burmese here and there on the web, it wasn't really much, and getting any paper materials on it around here in Brazil is virtually impossible (or just downright expensive). :(

Raza wrote:Actually there is a very clear distinction made between -uq and -ouq. For example, there's luq which means free, and louq which is to work.

I wasn't sure on which ending to use with them (since, according to Seasite, there are two ways to spell -uq and two ways to spell -ouq), so I just picked two other examples from there, and I hope they're correct:

Image (tuq) : to be red
Image (touq) : to be thick
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Postby Raza » 2005-05-16, 4:25

Psi-Lord wrote:
Raza wrote:Actually there is a very clear distinction made between -uq and -ouq. For example, there's luq which means free, and louq which is to work.

I wasn't sure on which ending to use with them (since, according to Seasite, there are two ways to spell -uq and two ways to spell -ouq), so I just picked two other examples from there, and I hope they're correct:

Image (tuq) : to be red
Image (touq) : to be thick


Yes, there're usually two ways to spell for other open/nasalised vowels and glottalised vowels as well. Which one to use, is simply a matter of memorisation. But it shouldn't be as hard to remember as say some of the spelling irregularities in English.

Also Psi, the spelling of both of the syllables you've got there are correct but I'm not sure whether Image (tuq) actually means to be red. One of the meanings for it that I can think of is a colloquial word for eating rapidly which is tuq-te. But apart from that I can't think of any other meaning with Imagein it.


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