|Native to||Burma (Myanmar), Thailand|
|Region||Irrawaddy delta and east|
|unknown (850,000 cited 1984–2004)|
|Mon script (itself derived from the Old Mon Indic-based script)|
mnw – Modern Mon
omx – Old Mon
|omx Old Mon|
The Mon language (Mon: ဘာသာ မန်; Burmese: မွန်ဘာသာ) is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Mon people, who live in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand. Mon, like the related Khmer language—but unlike most languages in Indochina—is not tonal. Mon is spoken by more than a million people today. In recent years, usage of Mon has declined rapidly, especially among the younger generation. Many ethnic Mon are monolingual in Burmese. In Burma, the majority of speakers live in Mon State, followed by Tanintharyi Region and Kayin State.
- History 1
- Dialects 2
- Alphabet 3
- Consonants 4.1
- Vowels 4.2
- Vocalic register 4.3
- Verbs and verb phrases 5.1
Nouns and noun phrases 5.2
- Singular and Plural 5.2.1
- Adjectives 5.2.2
- Demonstratives 5.2.3
- Classifiers 5.2.4
- Prepositions and prepositional phrases 5.3
- Sentences 5.4
- Questions 5.5
- Notes 6
- Further reading 7
- External links 8
Mon is an important language in Burmese history. Up until the 12th century AD, it was the lingua franca of the Irrawaddy valley—not only in the Mon kingdoms of the lower Irrawaddy valley but also of the upriver Pagan Kingdom (Bagan) 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. Pagan king Kyansittha (r. 1084–1113) admired Mon culture and the Mon language was patronized. The Mon script was adopted for Burmese during his reign.
However, after Kyansittha's death, usage of the Mon language declined among the Bamar and the Burmese language began to replace Mon and Pyu as a lingua franca.
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, the Mon language again became the lingua franca of the Mon Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1287–1539) in present-day Lower Burma. The language long continued to be prevalent in Lower Burma until the mid-19th century because the region was still mainly populated by Mon. This changed after the British captured Lower Burma in 1852, and encouraged immigration to develop 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 Burmese governments, 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.
In 2013, it was announced that the Than Lwin Times would begin to carry news in the Mon language, becoming Myanmar's first Mon language publication since 1962.
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.
The Old Mon script, which has been dated to the 6th century, with the earliest inscriptions found in Nakhon Pathom and Saraburi (in Thailand), is ancestral to the Burmese alphabet, which has been adapted to modern Mon. 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.
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.The Mon alphabet contains 35 consonants (including a null consonant), as follows, with consonants belonging to the breathy register indicated in gray:
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:
- က + ဳ → ကဳ, pronounced /kɔe/
- ဂ + ဳ → ဂဳ, pronounced /ɡì/
- က + ူ → ကူ, pronounced /kao/
- ဂ + ူ → ဂူ, pronounced /ɡù/
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.
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. Furthermore, consonant stacking is possible in Mon spellings, particularly for Pali and Sanskrit-derived vocabulary.
|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:
- Clear (modal) voice, analyzed by various linguists as ranging from ordinary to creaky
- Breathy voice, vowels have a distinct breathy quality
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.
Verbs and verb phrases
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|
Nouns and noun phrases
Singular and Plural
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.
Prepositions and prepositional phrases
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 Tala Ong wash?'
Modern Mon at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
Old Mon at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
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- A hypertext grammar of the Mon language
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