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Burmese and Chin – Language Tip Sheet

Burmese and Chin languages

The Chin peoples, from Burma’s (Myanmar’s) difficult to access western mountain regions, are a very recently arrived group in Australia who present particular problems for language services. Burmese and Chin are not the one and the same language.

The Chin language has many varieties, not all mutually intelligible, and the linguistic differences are compounded by highly varied levels of education and contact with the western world.

Background

Generally, Chin State is one of the most remote, mountainous, and least developed regions inhabited by indigenous hill tribes of Myanmar

Many Chin were christianised during British colonial rule and now the majority (estimates vary) are Christian, together with some Buddhists and some holding pre-Christian and pre-Buddhist animist beliefs. While the Chin population in Burma is only around half a million, the aggressive moves to impose Buddhism and break up Chin identity by the Burmese military regime has led many to flee.

Their relative isolation meant that modernisation came late to this region. Depending on age, the Chin may show some distinct physical features (elongated ear lobes for men and women, tattooing of faces for women) though younger age groups will be educated and do not follow these practices.

Language

The Ethnologue reference guide lists 31 different varieties of the Chin language, which are also spoken in Indi and Bangladesh. The largest are:

  • Chin Tedim                 estimated 189,000 speakers
  • Chin Falam                  estimated 100,000 speakers
  • Chin Haka (Hakha)     estimated 100,000 speakers

(not to be confused with the Chinese Hakka variety)

Smaller varieties include Chin Khumi, Chin Zotung and Chin Müün.

Some Chin speak standard Burmese, but this will vary greatly by age, work experience and education level.

An excellent overview is given by the SouthEast Region Migrant Resource Centre People of Burma in Melbourne. Perspectives of a refugee community (2011) which deals with all minority groups from Burma and is of wider interest than for Melbourne alone. www.smrc.org.au.

 

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This Language Tip Sheet is one in a series of informative publications published by InterpreterLine and All Graduates Interpreting and Translating Services.

The downloadable Language Tip Sheet may be an abridged version of the information published here.

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