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Mon language


Mon language

ဘာသာ မန်
Native to Burma (Myanmar), Thailand
Region Irrawaddy delta and east
Native speakers
unknown (850,000 cited 1984–2004)[1]
Mon script (itself derived from the Old Mon Indic-based script)
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Burma (Myanmar), Thailand
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
mnw – Modern Mon
omx – Old Mon
Linguist list
omx Old Mon
Glottolog monn1252  (Modern Mon)[2]
oldm1242  (Old Mon)[3]

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.[4] In recent years, usage of Mon has declined rapidly, especially among the younger generation.[4] Many ethnic Mon are monolingual in Burmese. In Burma, the majority of speakers live in Mon State, followed by Tanintharyi Region and Kayin State.[5]

The Mon script is derived from the Indian Brahmi script and is used to write the Burmese language.


  • History 1
  • Dialects 2
  • Alphabet 3
  • Phonology 4
    • Consonants 4.1
    • Vowels 4.2
    • Vocalic register 4.3
  • Syntax 5
    • 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.

Kyanzittha left many inscriptions in Mon. During this period, the Myazedi inscription, which contains identical inscriptions of a story in Pali, Pyu, Mon and Burmese on the four sides, was carved.[6]

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.[6]

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.[7]


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.[8] 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,[9] 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.[10]

There is a great deal of discrepancy between the written and spoken forms of Mon, with a single pronunciation capable of having several spellings.[11] 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:[12][13]
k (/kaˀ/)

kh (/kʰaˀ/)

g (/kɛ̀ˀ/)

gh (/kʰɛ̀ˀ/)

ṅ (/ŋɛ̀ˀ/)

c (/caˀ/)

ch (/cʰaˀ/)

j (/cɛ̀ˀ/)

jh (/cʰɛ̀ˀ/)

ñ (/ɲɛ̀ˀ/)

ṭ (/taˀ/)

ṭh (/tʰaˀ/)

ḍ (/ɗaˀ/)

ḍ (/tʰaˀ/)

ṇ (/naˀ/)

t (/taˀ/)

th (/tʰaˀ/)

d (/tɛ̀ˀ/)

dh (/tʰɛ̀ˀ/)

n (/nɛ̀ˀ/)

p (/paˀ/)

ph (/pʰaˀ/)

b (/pɛ̀ˀ/)

bh (/pʰɛ̀ˀ/)

m (/mɛ̀ˀ/)

y (/yɛ̀ˀ/)

r (/rɛ̀ˀ/)

l (/lɛ̀ˀ/)

w (/wɛ̀ˀ/)

s (/saˀ/)

h (/haˀ/)

ḷ (/laˀ/)

b (/baˀ/)

a (/aˀ/)

mb (/bɛ̀ˀ/)

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 is pronounced /kɛ̀ˀ/, to accommodate the vowel complexity of the Mon phonology.[14] 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/
  • + ဂဳ, pronounced /ɡì/
  • က + ကူ, pronounced /kao/
  • + 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/.[15] Also, (/e/) is used instead of , 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.



Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops p pʰ ɓ t tʰ ɗ c cʰ k kʰ ʔ
Fricatives s ç 1 h
Nasals m n ɲ ŋ
Sonorants w l, r j

1/ç/ is only found in Burmese loans.


Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ɐ ɔ
Open æ a

Vocalic register

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:

  1. Clear (modal) voice, analyzed by various linguists as ranging from ordinary to creaky
  2. 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.[16] 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:

sɔt pakaw mòa mèa
apple one classifier

'one apple'

sɔt pakaw ɓa mèa
apple two classifier

'two apples'


Adjectives follow the noun (Pan Hla p. 24):

prɛa ce
woman beautiful

'beautiful woman'


Demonstratives follow the noun:

ŋoa nɔʔ
day this
this day


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.

IPA kaneh mòa tanəng
Gloss pen one classifier

'one pen'

IPA chup mòa tanɒm
Gloss tree one classifier

'one tree'

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Mon is a prepositional language.

ɗoa əma
in lake
'in the lake'


The ordinary word order for sentences in Mon is subject–verb–object, as in the following examples

Mon အဲ ရာန် သ္ၚု တုဲ ယျ
IPA ʔoa ran hau toa ya.
Gloss I buy rice completive affirmative

'I bought rice.'

Mon ညး တံ ဗ္တောန် ကဵု အဲ ဘာသာ အၚ်္ဂလိက်
IPA Nyeh tɔʔ paton ʔua pàsa ʔengloit
Gloss 3rd plur teach to 1st language English

'They taught me English.'


Yes-no questions are shown with a final particle ha

Mon ဗှ်ေ ပုၚ် တုဲ ယျ ဟာ
IPA ɓè shea pəng toa ya har?
Gloss you eat rice com aff q

‘Have you eaten rice?’

IPA əha a ha?
Gloss father go q

‘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:

Mon တၠ အဲ ကြာတ်ကြဴ မူ ရော
IPA Tala Ong kratkraw mu raw?
Gloss Tala Ong wash what wh:q

'What did Tala Ong wash?'


  1. ^ Modern Mon at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Old Mon at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Modern Mon". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Old Mon". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ a b Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (2005). "Mon: A language of Myanmar". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. SIL International. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  5. ^ Dr. SM. "The Mon Language (An endangered species)". Monland Restoration Council. Retrieved 2006-07-12. 
  6. ^ a b Strachan, Paul (1990). Imperial Pagan: Art and Architecture of Burma.  
  7. ^ Kun Chan (2013-02-13). "First Mon language newspaper in 50 years to be published". Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  8. ^ South, Ashley (2003). Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma: The Golden Sheldrake. Routledge.  
  9. ^ Bauer, Christian (1991). "Notes on Mon Epigraphy". Journal of the Siam Society 79 (1): 35. 
  10. ^ "Proposal for encoding characters for Myanmar minority languages in the UCS" (PDF). International Organization for Standardization. 2006-04-02. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  11. ^ Jenny, Mathias (2001). "A Short Introduction to the Mon Language". Mon Culture and Literature Survival Project (MCL). 
  12. ^ Dho-ong Jhaan (2010-05-09). "Mon Consonants Characters". Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  13. ^ Dho-ong Jhaan (2009-10-01). "Romanization for Mon Script by Transliteration Method". Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  14. ^ "Mon". Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world. Elsevier. 2009. pp. 719–20.  
  15. ^ Dho-ong Jhaan (2010-05-10). "Mon Vowels Characters". Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  16. ^ Thongkum, Theraphan L. 1988. The interaction between pitch and phonation type in Mon: phonetic implications for a theory of tonogenesis. Mon-Khmer Studies 16-17:11-24.

Further reading

  • Bauer, Christian. 1982. Morphology and syntax of spoken Mon. Ph.D. thesis, University of London (SOAS).
  • Bauer, Christian. 1984. A guide to Mon studies. Working Papers, Monash U.
  • Bauer, Christian. 1986. The verb in spoken Mon. Mon–Khmer Studies 15.
  • Bauer, Christian. 1986. Questions in Mon: Addenda and Corrigenda. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area v. 9, no. 1, pp. 22–26.
  • Diffloth, Gerard. 1984. The Dvarati Old Mon language and Nyah Kur. Monic Language Studies I, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. ISBN 974-563-783-1
  • Diffloth, Gerard. 1985. The registers of Mon vs. the spectrographist's tones. UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 60:55-58.
  • Ferlus, Michel. 1984. Essai de phonetique historique du môn. Mon–Khmer Studies, 9:1-90.
  • Guillon, Emmanuel. 1976. Some aspects of Mon syntax. in Jenner, Thompson, and Starosta, eds. Austroasiatic Studies. Oceanic linguistics special publication no. 13.
  • Halliday, Robert. 1922. A Mon–English dictionary. Bangkok: Siam society.
  • Haswell, James M. 1874. Grammatical notes and vocabulary of the Peguan language. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press.[1]
  • Huffman, Franklin. 1987–1988. Burmese Mon, Thai Mon, and Nyah Kur: a synchronic comparison. Mon–Khmer Studies 16-17.
  • Jenny, Mathias. 2005. The Verb System of Mon. Arbeiten des Seminars für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Zürich, Nr 19. Zürich: Universität Zürich. ISBN 3-9522954-1-8
  • Lee, Thomas. 1983. An acoustical study of the register distinction in Mon. UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 57:79-96.
  • Pan Hla, Nai. 1986. Remnant of a lost nation and their cognate words to Old Mon Epigraph. Journal of the Siam Society 7:122-155
  • Pan Hla, Nai. 1989. An introduction to Mon language Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University.
  • Pan Hla, Nai. 1992. The Significant Role of the Mon Language and Culture in Southeast Asia. Tokyo, Japan: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa.
  • Shorto, H.L. 1962. A dictionary of modern spoken Mon. Oxford University Press.
  • Shorto, H.L.; Judith M. Jacob; and E.H.S. Simonds. 1963. Bibliographies of Mon–Khmer and Tai linguistics. Oxford University Press.
  • Shorto, H.L. 1966. Mon vowel systems: a problem in phonological statement. in Bazell, Catford, Halliday, and Robins, eds. In memory of J.R. Firth, pp. 398–409.
  • Shorto, H.L. 1971. A dictionary of the Mon inscriptions from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries. Oxford University Press.
  • Thongkum, Therapan L. 1987. Another look at the register distinction in Mon. UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics. 67:132-165

External links

  • A hypertext grammar of the Mon language
  • SEAlang Project: Mon–Khmer languages: The Monic Branch
  • Mon-language Swadesh vocabulary list of basic words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
  • Mon Language Project
  • Mon Language in Thailand: The endangered heritage
  • "Monic" (lecture). Archived from the original on 2007-09-15. Retrieved 2007-09-21. 
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