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Mon alphabet

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Mon alphabet

This article is about Mon language, spoken in southeastern Burma and western Thailand; Peguan is redirected here. For the northeastern Thai, northwestern Lao, and northern Vietnamese language of the Hmong, see Hmong language.
Pronunciation [pʰesa mɑn]
Native to Burma (Myanmar), Thailand
Region Irrawaddy delta and east
Native speakers unknown (850,000 cited 1984–2004)
Language family
Writing system Burmese alphabet (itself derived from the Old Mon Indic-based script)
Official status
Recognised minority language in Burma (Myanmar), Thailand
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
omx – Old Mon
Linguist List
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Mon language (Mon: ; Burmese: မွန်ဘာသာ) is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Mon, who live in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand. Mon, like the related language Cambodian—but unlike most languages in Mainland Southeast Asia—is not tonal. Mon is spoken by more than a million people today.[1] In recent years, usage of Mon has declined rapidly, especially among the younger generation.[1] Many ethnic Mon are monolingual in Burmese. In Burma, the majority of speakers live in Mon State, followed by Tanintharyi Division and Kayin State.[2]

The Mon script is derived from Indian Brahmi script and is the source of the Burmese script.


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 upriver Burman kingdom of Pagan (Bagan). 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 the Mon culture, and the Mon language was patronized. The Mon script was the source of the Burmese script created 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.[3] However, after Kyansittha's death, usage of the Mon language declined among the Burmans. Old Burmese began to replace Mon and Pyu as lingua franca.[3]

Mon inscriptions from the Dvaravati kingdom'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.

After the fall of Pagan, the Mon language again became the lingua franca of independent Mon kingdom of Hanthawaddy Bago (1287–1539) in the present day Lower Burma. The language long continued to be prevalent in Lower Burma until the mid-19th century for the region was still mainly populated by the 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. 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.[4]


Mon has three primary dialects in Burma, coming from the various regions the Mon inhabit. They are the Central (areas surrounding Mottama and Mawlamyaing), Bago, and Ye dialects.[5] 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,[6] with the earliest inscriptions found in Nakhon Pathom and Saraburi (in Thailand), is ancestral to the Burmese script and the Tai Tham script, a liturgical script used in Northern Thailand and Laos.[7] The modern Mon script, however, utilises several different letters and diacritics that represent phonemes that do not exist in Burmese, such as the diacritic of the simplified medial 'l', which is placed underneath the letter.[8] Furthermore, there is a great discrepancy between the written and spoken forms of Mon, with a single pronunciation capable of having several multiple spellings.[9] 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 1 vowel treated as a nominal consonant), as follows, with consonants belonging to the breathy register indicated in gray:[10][11]

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, , which belongs to the clear register, is pronounced /kaˀ/, while is pronounced /kɛ̀ˀ/, to accommodate the vowel complexity of the Mon phonology.[12] 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:

  • + → , pronounced /kɔe/
  • + → , pronounced /kì/
  • + → , pronounced /kao/
  • + → , pronounced /kù/

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/.[13] Also, (/e/) is used instead of , as in Burmese.

The Mon language has 8 medials, as follows: (/-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 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

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

IPA ʔoa ran hau toa ya.
Gloss I buy rice completive affirmative

'I bought rice.'

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

IPA ɓè ʃìa pəng toa ya ha?
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:

IPA Tala Ong kratkraw mu ràu?
Gloss Tala Ong wash what wh:q

'What did Tala Ong wash?'


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

  • Mon Language in Thailand: The endangered heritage

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