Panel: Languages of Myanmar Adapting to the 21st Century

Session 7, Friday 5 March 14.45 – 16.15

While Burmese has become the language of national communication, local languages have profited from eased censorship requirements as well as the new opportunities offered by low-cost digital productions and online publications. Subtitled music videos, interactive dictionaries and phrase books with linked audio files no longer need professional equipment and large budgets. Local communities are making good use of these new possibilities to promote their cultures and languages, as numerous Facebook pages, websites, and YouTube videos in numerous languages prove. These technological innovations and their ready availability provide a good opportunity for language documentation and preservation, even revitalization.

With new possibilities arise also new challenges, though. Increased online exchange means that there are new kinds of language contact, which are likely to influence languages. There is a danger that neologisms are taken directly from Burmese or English, and that local vernaculars are affected by dominant languages also beyond the lexicon. Many local languages of Myanmar have never been written and lack standardized orthography, a prerequisite for successful broadcast in any kind of written media.

This panel, convened by Mathias Jenny and Ampika Rattanapitak brings together linguists from different backgrounds highlighting several aspects of the languages of Myanmar in the changing linguistic and cultural environment. The six papers illustrate the adaptation to the 21st century of the national language, Burmese, and Palaungic varieties as representatives of local vernaculars.