Insightful Tips for Burmese Localization Projects
As the Myanmar government is relaxing tourist entries and barriers in business, many foreign companies are taking this opportunity to invest in tourism and business in Myanmar. To successfully communicate with Burmese audiences or partners, the use of Burmese language is the key.
GTE Localize has worked with Pyone Cherry Maung (Cherry), our experienced Burmese translator, to make a list of some of the most notable factors you should consider to achieve high-quality Burmese localization products.
Table of Contents
1. Personal Pronouns
The Burmese language has numerous politeness levels and honorifics that take the speaker’s status and age in relation to the audience into account. Therefore, using the right pronouns is of great importance, showing the speaker respect towards other people.
Polite pronouns are mostly used to address the elderly, older people, bosses, teachers, or strangers. In such situations, they use feudal-era third-person pronouns instead of first and second-person pronouns. One refers to oneself as ကျွန်တော် kya. nau [tɕənɔ̀] for men and ကျွန်မ kya. ma. [tɕəma̰] for women (meaning “your servant”) and refers the addresses as မင်း min [mɪ̃́] (meaning “your highness”) or ခင်ဗျား khang bya: [kʰəmjá] (meaning “master, lord”). These terms have been so ingrained in the daily polite speech of Burmese people that they don’t consider the root meanings of them. For younger people or those of the same status, people may use ငါ nga [ŋà] (meaning “I/me”) and နင် nang [nɪ̃̀] (meaning “you”) or use third-person pronouns (more preferred).
So what does it have to do with your Burmese localization project? You may ask. The answer is, your choice of pronouns has a direct impact on the audience impression of you. You need to carefully consider your target audience profile as well as your content types. Such information will help your native linguists understand your demands and choose suitable pronouns that show the appropriate level of politeness and respect to provoke positive feeling from the audiences.
Below are some basic personal pronouns in Burmese with their levels of speech for your reference:
|Burmese Pronouns||Person||Level of speech||Remarks|
|ငါ||First||Informal||used when speaking to one’s equals or inferiors|
|ကျွန်တော်||First||Formal||used by males|
|ကျွန်မ||First||Formal||used by females|
|ကျုပ်||First||Informal||a contraction of ကျွန်ုပ်|
|နင်||Second||Informal||used when speaking to one’s equals or inferiors|
|မင်း||Second||Informal||used when speaking to one’s equals or inferiors|
|ညည်း||Second||Informal||used by females when addressing another female of same age or one younger|
|တော်||Second||Informal||used by females|
|ခင်ဗျား||Second||Formal||used by males|
|ရှင်||Second||Formal||used by females|
2. Punctuation in Burmese
Burmese is considered one of the hardest language in the East. While the alphabet or grammar mostly doesn’t give translators a hard time, the punctuation of the Burmese language does. Even experienced translators are sometimes confused by it.
First, though Burmese is a tonal language, it doesn’t have special indicators for tones. Instead, it is implied through the use of vowels. Second, punctuation spaces in Burmese are not for words, but for separating phrases in a sentence. Third, Burmese doesn’t use the Roman alphabet punctuation marks like in English. It has a set of punctuation symbols as follows:
- ၊ – signifies a comma or a small break.
- ။ – signifies a full stop or the end of a sentence.
- – – is used as a colon.
- ။ – signifies a question mark.
- ၏ – stands for a full stop in the case where the sentence ends with a verb.
- ၍ – serves as a connector between two trains of thought.
- An interesting thing is, there are no exclamation marks in Burmese.
3. Supported Burmese Fonts in Software
Technology has become an indispensable part of supporting linguists and engineers in the translation and localization process. Besides CAT Tools, DTP tools such as InDesign or AI are also used to help produce eye-catching and well-laid-out content. However, there is one problem that Burmese linguists encounter regularly when using such software to handle Burmese localization projects. It is the incompatibility of Burmese fonts among different software.
Though there are many Burmese fonts, the two most used fonts are Zawgyi-One font and Pyidaungsu font:
- Zawgyi-One font was a dominant font for typing Burmese characters and has been used for over a decade. This font is supported by DTP software such as InDesign CS3 and CS6 but cannot be used in Trados Studio.
- The Pyidaungsu font (Unicode) was recently announced as the official Burmese font. While translators can type Burmese characters with the Unicode font in Trados Studio, it is still incompatible with InDesign CS3 and CS6.
If you only need to either localize content or layout it, then there are no troubles. However, if you need both services, there can be some inconvenience. Translated texts in Trados will be corrupted when importing into InDesign.
Having a professional engineer to solve the font conflict is highly recommended. If you work with a professional Burmese localization team, their engineer team can help you solve this problem. Some use World Composer to typeset text in Zawagyi font and implement that into the design files.
4. Careful with Spelling
Cherry informed us that a lot of people intentionally write the wrong spelling of many Burmese words on social media, with the aim of making these words shorter and quicker to type. Unfortunately, as they get used to the wrong spelling, they are sometimes confused and do not remember which are the correct spellings of these words.
For example, the pronoun “အဲဒါ” (that) is misspelt as “အဲတာ” or “အာ့” on social media. “It is like messing up our own language”, said Cherry.
When you need localizing content for social media, the use of misspelt words might be acceptable. However, in the case of more formal documents, please avoid the usages on social media and have your content checked carefully by professional native linguists.
5. Other Burmese Localization Details and Locale Specifics
Below is the checklist of localization details for the Myanmar market you should consider for the best quality Burmese localization projects:
- Texts in Burmese are usually 15% longer than in English. Below is an example of the text expansion when translating a document from English to Burmese.
- According to the 2010 CIA Factbook, Myanmar was one of three countries that had not adopted the metric system as their official systems of weight and measures. However, in 2013, the Deputy Minister for Commerce announced that the country was preparing to adopt this system. Myanmar people still use their own system of measurements in some cases.
- The date format is date-month-year.
- The time format is either a 24-hour clock or 12-hour clock.
- There are no first names or surnames in Burmese culture. Names are usually two to three syllables long, with spaces in between. These words should be taken as a whole.
- The address format follows the template name – house number and street name – town, postcode – country.
We hope the insights in this article will help you find great success in the Burmese market. If you are planning on localizing your content into other Asian languages, download our free whitepaper for more localization tips into 10 major languages in Asia.