Contemporary Sound Change in Colloquial Burmese

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Contemporary Sound Change in Colloquial Burmese

Post by jhcampbell »

One of the thoughts that came during shower!

I'm a native speaker of Burmese, having spoken daily for 20 years before resettling in Oregon.

Burmese has different registers (literary and vernacular) as well as levels of politeness and casual factor. In writing it is pretty conservative - and lenition processes are common and understood but not written. ( ... ing_sandhi) Written language is not limited to literary style of course even though newspaper, journalism, and academic writings follow the literary standards.

There is a phrase that has gone through some form of sound change as I was growing up. It is possible that the different variations were already there but the "most casual" form gained more popular over social media casual writing (with the implication of trying to be edgy.)

It started as a vernacular vocative:

ဟေ့ကောင် [hé kàʊɴ] or ဟိတ်ကောင် [heɪʔ kàʊɴ] = Hey, dude! Hey, man!
* Primarily used by young men to address each other - it can be friendly or aggressive depending on tone, voice, and context

ဟေ့ [hé] or ဟိတ် [heɪʔ]: vernacular vocative particle "Hey"
(အ)ကောင် [(ə) kàʊɴ]: animal, animal classifier, referring to lower power person by higher power person (adults referring to children, etc.), [slang] high government officials (with the connotation of social power and possibly corruption)

When I was growing up, the young folks started to (at least I heard a lot more of) pronounce this phrase as [hə jàʊɴ] - [kàʊɴ] lenited into [jàʊɴ]. Since about 4-5 years ago, I started seeing this pronunciation being reflected in social media (i.e., Facebook) writing as ဟျောင် [hjàʊɴ] - even though the [hj] combo ဟျ is not used in any traditional word. We might even say it is an illegal consonant cluster (since Old Burmese?)

I think there is even a rap song titled ဟျောင်.
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