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BURMA

 

O.T. FORD

 

ဗမာ « Bamā »; မြန်မာ « Mranmā » (both Burmese)

Burma is a region along the Irrawaddy River (ဧရာဝတီမြစ် « Erāŭatī-Mrac »), particularly in the Irrawaddy Valley (depicted at right, center of the image), occupied by speakers of Burmese, a component of the Tibeto-Burman dialect continuum within the Sino-Tibetan language family. By extension, it is the Burmese nation itself, the state controlled by the Burmese, and the country based on that state. The main city is Rangoon (ရန်ကုန် « Rankún », pronounced [jɑŋkon], hence the newer transcription, ‘Yangon’). The state, under its military government, recently moved its seat of government to the remote Naypyidow (နေပြည်တော် « Neprañtoŭ »).

The Burmese dialect has a formal and an informal register, essentially two general ways of speaking Burmese. Formal language would be used in formal settings, like government and education, while informal language would be used in informal settings, at home or with friends. Burma has two names in Burmese, then, a formal name, မြန်မာ « Mranmā », and an informal name, ဗမာ « Bamā ». Neither is more “correct”; each is used in particular contexts. The English names ‘Myanmar’ and ‘Burma’ derive from these formal and informal names. It was the military government of Burma that insisted that ‘Myanmar’ be used in an English context; the democratic opposition has asked that ‘Burma’ continue to be used. From the perspective of the embrace of native names, again, neither name is more correct, but ‘Burma’ is probably preferable, since this is the ordinary name for Burma in Burmese. The idea that ‘Burma’ is a colonial name and ‘Myanmar’ is the authentic native name is simply false. Both transliterations, ‘Myanmar’ and ‘Burma’, were made in the context of British English, and so neither of the ‘R’s was meant to be pronounced. The ‘Y’ in ‘Myanmar’ is a consonant, as in ‘you’, not a vowel.

For the modern state of Burma:

 

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