Languages of Myanmar

A map of languages used in Burma.

There are approximately a hundred languages spoken in Myanmar (also known as Burma).[1] Burmese, spoken by two thirds of the population, is the official language.[2]

Languages spoken by ethnic minorities represent five language families: Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic, Tai–Kadai, Indo-European, and Austronesian,[3] as well as an incipient national standard for sign language.[4]


Further information: Burmese language

Burmese is the native language of the Bamar people and related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar, as well as that of some ethnic minorities in Burma like the Mon. Burmese is spoken by 32 million people as a first language. Burmese is spoken as a second language by another 10 million people, particularly ethnic minorities in Burma and those in neighbouring countries.

Burmese is a Sino-Tibetan language belonging to the Southern Burmish branch of the Tibeto-Burman languages. Burmese is the most widely spoken of the Tibeto-Burman languages and among the Sino-Tibetan languages, the second most widely spoken, after the Sinitic languages.[5] Burmese was the fourth of the Sino-Tibetan languages to develop a writing system, after Chinese, Tibetan, and Tangut.[5]

Indigenous languages

Aside from Myanmar (Burmese) and its dialects, the hundred or so languages of Myanmar include Shan (Tai, spoken by 3.2 million), Karen languages (spoken by 2.6 million), Kachin (spoken by 900,000), various Chin languages (spoken by 780,000), and Mon (Mon–Khmer, spoken by 750,000).[1][3] Most of these languages use the Myanmar (Burmese) script.

Usage of minority languages is discouraged.[6]

It's not clear if there are one or two Burmese sign languages.

English as a second language

Today, Burmese is the primary language of instruction, and English is the secondary language taught.[6] English was the primary language of instruction in higher education from late 19th century to 1964, when Gen. Ne Win mandated educational reforms to "Burmanise".[7] English continues to be used by educated urbanites and the national government.

See also


  1. 1 2 Goddard 2005
  2. Burmese at Ethnologue
  3. 1 2 Lewis 2009, Languages of Myanmar
  4. Mathur & Napoli, 2010, Deaf around the World: The Impact of Language
  5. 1 2 Bradley 1993, p. 147.
  6. 1 2 Lintner 2003, p. 189
  7. Thein 2004, p. 16


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