|Native to||Mon state, Kayin State, Tanintharyi Region|
|Region||Irrawaddy Delta and areas further east|
The Mon language (//, Mon: ဘာသာ မန်; Burmese: မွန်ဘာသာ) is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Mon people, who live in Myanmar and Thailand. Mon, like the related Khmer language, but unlike most languages in mainland Southeast Asia, is not tonal. In recent years, usage of Mon has declined rapidly, especially among the younger generation. The Mon language is a recognised indigenous language in Myanmar as well as a recognised indigenous language of Thailand.
Many ethnic Mon in Myanmar are monolingual in Burmese, and the language is classified as "vulnerable" by UNESCO. The current number of speakers is approximately 800,000 in 2007. In Myanmar, the majority of speakers live in Mon State, followed by Tanintharyi Region and Kayin State.
Mon is an important language in Burmese history. Up until the 12th century, it was the lingua franca of the Irrawaddy valley—not only in the Mon kingdoms of the lower Irrawaddy but also of the upriver Pagan Kingdom of the Bamar people. Mon, especially written Mon, continued to be the primary language even after the fall of the Mon kingdom of Thaton to Pagan in 1057. King Kyansittha of Pagan (r. 1084–1113) admired Mon culture and the Mon language was patronized. The Old Mon script was adopted for Burmese during his reign.
Mon inscriptions from Dvaravati's ruins also litter Thailand. However it is not clear if the inhabitants were Mon, a mix of Mon and Malay or Khmer. Later inscriptions and kingdoms like Lavo were subservient to the Khmer Empire.
After the fall of Pagan, Mon again became the lingua franca of the Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1287–1539) in present-day Lower Myanmar. The language long continued to be prevalent in Lower Myanmar until the mid-19th century because the region was still mainly populated by Mon. This changed after the British Empire captured Lower Myanmar in 1852 and encouraged immigration to develop the Irrawaddy Delta for farming. The ensuing mass migration of peoples into the region from other areas of Burma as well as India and China relegated the Mon language to a tertiary status.
The language languished during British colonial rule, and has experienced a rapid decline in the number of speakers since the Burmese independence in 1948. Currently, according to scholars, the number of Mon speakers is relatively very small when compared to the large numbers who identify themselves as Mon people. With little or no support from successive governments of Myanmar, the Mon language (especially written Mon) continues to be propagated mostly by Mon monks. The Mon language instruction survives in the Thai-Burmese border inside the Mon rebel controlled areas.
Mon has three primary dialects in Burma, coming from the various regions the Mon inhabit. They are the Central (areas surrounding Mottama and Mawlamyine), Bago, and Ye dialects. All are mutually intelligible. Thai Mon has some differences from the Burmese dialects of Mon, but they are mutually intelligible.
Ethnologue lists Mon dialects as Martaban-Moulmein (Central Mon, Mon Te), Pegu (Mon Tang, Northern Mon), and Ye (Mon Nya, Southern Mon), with high mutual intelligibility among them.
The Old Mon script, which has been dated to the 6th century, with the earliest inscriptions found in Nakhon Pathom and Saraburi (in Thailand). It may be the ancestral script of the modern Mon (or Burma Mon) script although no one has shown a linkage between the Old Mon script of Dvaravati and Burma Mon. The extant archaeological evidence shows that Burma Mon was derived from the Burmese alphabet, not the other way around. The modern Mon alphabet, however, utilizes several letters and diacritics that do not exist in Burmese, such as the stacking diacritic for medial 'l', which is placed underneath the letter. (See Burmese script.)
There is a great deal of discrepancy between the written and spoken forms of Mon, with a single pronunciation capable of having several spellings. The Mon script also makes prominent use of consonant stacking, to represent consonant clusters found in the language.
|ဉ / ည|
In the Mon script, consonants belong to one of two registers: clear and breathy, each of which has different inherent vowels and pronunciations for the same set of diacritics. For instance, က, which belongs to the clear register, is pronounced /kaˀ/, while ဂ is pronounced /kɛ̀ˀ/, to accommodate the vowel complexity of the Mon phonology. The addition of diacritics makes this obvious. Whereas in Burmese spellings with the same diacritics are rhyming, in Mon this depends on the consonant's inherent register. A few examples are listed below:
The Mon language has 8 medials, as follows: ္ၚ (/-ŋ-/), ၞ (/-n-/), ၟ (/-m-/), ျ (/-j-/), ြ (/-r-/), ၠ (/-l-/), ွ (/-w-/), and ှ (/-hn-/).
Consonantal finals are indicated with a virama (်), as in Burmese: however, instead of being pronounced as glottal stops as in Burmese, final consonants usually keep their respective pronunciations. Furthermore, consonant stacking is possible in Mon spellings, particularly for Pali and Sanskrit-derived vocabulary.
Mon uses the same diacritics and diacritic combinations as in Burmese to represent vowels, with the addition of a few diacritics unique to the Mon script, including ဴ (/ɛ̀a/), and ဳ (/i/), since the diacritic ိ represents /ìˀ/. Also, ဨ (/e/) is used instead of ဧ, as in Burmese.
|Initial or independent symbol||diacritic||Transcription and notes|
|အ||none, inherent vowel||a or e - /a/, /ɛ̀/ after some consonants|
|အာ||ာ||ā - spelled as ါ to avoid confusion with certain letters|
|ဣဳ||ဳ||ī or oe - /ì/, /ɔe/ after some consonants|
|ဥူ||ူ||ū or ao - /ù/, /ao/ after some consonants|
|အော||ော||o - spelled as ေါ to avoid confusion with certain consonants.|
|Diacritic||Transcription and notes|
|Stops||p pʰ ɓ||t tʰ ɗ||c cʰ||k kʰ||ʔ|
1/ç/ is only found in Burmese loans.
Unlike the surrounding Burmese and Thai languages, Mon is not a tonal language. As in many Mon–Khmer languages, Mon uses a vowel-phonation or vowel-register system in which the quality of voice in pronouncing the vowel is phonemic. There are two registers in Mon:
One study involving speakers of a Mon dialect in Thailand found that in some syllabic environments, words with a breathy voice vowel are significantly lower in pitch than similar words with a clear vowel counterpart. While difference in pitch in certain environments was found to be significant, there are no minimal pairs that are distinguished solely by pitch. The contrastive mechanism is the vowel phonation.
In the examples below, breathy voice is marked with a grave accent.
Mon verbs do not inflect for person. Tense is shown through particles.
Some verbs have a morphological causative, which is most frequently a /pə-/ prefix (Pan Hla 1989:29):
|Underived verb||Gloss||Causative verb||Gloss|
|chɒt||to die||kəcɒt||to kill|
|lɜm||to be ruined||pəlɒm||to destroy|
|khaɨŋ||to be firm||pəkhaɨŋ||to make firm|
|tɛm||to know||pətɛm||to inform|
Mon nouns do not inflect for number. That is, they do not have separate forms for singular and plural:
Adjectives follow the noun (Pan Hla p. 24):
Demonstratives follow the noun:
Like many other Southeast Asian languages, Mon has classifiers which are used when a noun appears with a numeral. The choice of classifier depends on the semantics of the noun involved.
Mon is a prepositional language.
|'in the lake'|
The ordinary word order for sentences in Mon is subject–verb–object, as in the following examples
'I bought rice.'
'They taught me English.'
Yes-no questions are shown with a final particle ha
‘Have you eaten rice?’
‘Will father go?’ (Pan Hla, p. 42)
Wh-questions show a different final particle, rau. The interrogative word does not undergo wh-movement. That is, it does not necessarily move to the front of the sentence:
'What did you wash?'
|Mon language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|