Mon kingdom

Mon language

The Mon language is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Mon, who live in Burma and Thailand. Mon, unlike most languages in the Southeast Asian region, is not tonal. Mon is spoken by less than a million people today. In recent years, usage of Mon has declined rapidly, especially among the younger generation. Many ethnic Mon are monolingual in Burmese. In Burma, the majority of speakers live in Mon State, followed by Tanintharyi Division and Kayin State.

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 Kyanzittha (1084-1112) 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. However, after Kyanzittha's death, usage of the Mon language declined among the Burmans. Old Burmese began to replace Mon and Pyu as lingua franca.

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.


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. All are mutually intelligible. Thai Mon has some differences from the Burmese dialects of Mon, but is almost mutually intelligible.


The Mon script is ancestral to the Burmese script, but utilises several different letters and diacritics that represent phonemes that do not exist in Burmese, such as the diacritic of the medial 'l', which is placed underneath the letter.



Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops ʔ
Fricatives s ç 1 h
Nasals m n ɲ ŋ
Sonorants w j
1/ç/ is only found in Burmese loans.


Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ʌ 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


Further reading

  • Diffloth, Gérard. The Dvaravati Old Mon Language and Nyah Kur. Monic language studies, vol. 1. Bangkok, Thailand: Chulalongkorn University Print. House, 1984. ISBN 9745637831
  • Jenny, Mathias. The Verb System of Mon. Arbeiten des Seminars für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Zürich, Nr 19. Zürich: Universität Zürich, 2005. ISBN 3952295418
  • Panʻʺ Lha. 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, 1992.
  • Shorto, H. L. A Dictionary of Modern Spoken Mon. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

External links

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