Monday, December 29, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Burma

A couple of weeks ago in our country profile, we explored the linguistic diversity of Thailand. Today, we're heading back to Asia for a look at the neighboring country of Burma, also known as Myanmar.

The Official Language

The country's sole official language is Burmese, a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Burmese is spoken by approximately 32 million people, over half of the country's population of approximately 52 million.

Botataung Pagoda in Yangon, Burma
Other Languages

While Burma only has one official language, it is home to approximately 100 other languages. While none of them have official status, some have large numbers of native speakers. 

Several Sino-Tibetan languages besides Burmese are spoken in Burma. The Jingpho language is spoken by approximately 900,000 people, while Rakhine, considered by some to be a dialect of Burmese, is spoken by around 800,000 people. Akha and Lahu, two other Sino-Tibetan languages, each have around 200,000 speakers as well.

Two Austro-Asiatic languages spoken in Burma are Mon and Wa. The Wa language, spoken by the Wa people of Burma and China, is spoken by around 400,000 people in Burma.

Finally, one of the most spoken languages in Burma is Shan, a member of the Tai-Kadai language family. Shan is a tonal language related to Thai that is spoken by the Shan people, and boasts 3.2 million speakers in the country.