Memo From Yangon: Those Who Would Remake Myanmar Find That Words Fail Them

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The copy of a Burmese-language journal in Yangon. A historian called Burmese “a guilt and a constraining factor” on a country’s future.

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Adam Dean for The New York Times

YANGON, Myanmar — It’s a emergence of democracy in Myanmar. If customarily a Burmese had their possess word for it.

As this former persecution opens to a world, denunciation is a stumbling block.

For half a century, Myanmar was so cut off from a outward universe that people were jailed for owning an unapproved fax machine. As a rest of a universe was hurtling into a information age, a despotic censorship of publications, singular entrance to tellurian media and creaking connectors to a Internet tiny a expansion of a Burmese language, withdrawal it though many difference that are elsewhere deemed essential tools of a complicated domestic and technical vocabulary.

Today, as Myanmar embraces change, many unfamiliar difference are being alien wholesale, though their meanings are removing mislaid in translation.

The English word democracy was subsumed into a Burmese denunciation decades ago — it is conspicuous dee-mock-rah-SEE — though for many Burmese it stays a unfamiliar and rather epitome concept. There are no local difference for other common ideas like racism, sovereign or globalization.

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“Burmese has a distant poorer domestic wording than English,” pronounced U Thant Myint-U, a historian who also serves as an confidant to a president. “At a time when all is about a country’s domestic future, it’s a guilt and a constraining factor.”

When unfamiliar experts endorsed that a supervision pass a mechanism remoteness law, Burmese translators scratched their heads given there is no accurate interpretation for remoteness in Burmese. The unequivocally thought competence not exist, presumably given there is small remoteness in a multitude in that people traditionally lived and slept in common areas.

Interpreters are also stumped when parades of unfamiliar advisers and scholars evangelise a virtues of clever institutions. While there is a word for an classification in Burmese, linguists say, there is no singular word that conveys a definition of an institution.

Under British colonial rule, English difference leached liberally into Burmese, agreeable such Burmese difference as bill and beer. But a xenophobic troops governments of a past 5 decades taboo a use of English loan difference on a drift that they were culturally disruptive, scholars say.

Since a troops strictly relinquished energy in 2011, foreigners have been pouring into a country. Mr. Thant Myint-U, whose grandfather U Thant was a secretary ubiquitous of a United Nations in a 1960s, says he has been in meetings between a boss and foreigners where interpretation is finished by some of a country’s tip interpreters. “Ten percent is still mislaid in translation,” he said.

Vicky Bowman, a former British envoy to Myanmar, says 10 percent is optimistic. “I would contend it’s some-more like 30 percent to 50 percent,” she said.

Ms. Bowman is executive of an classification called a Myanmar Center for Responsible Business. When she and her colleagues wanted to interpret a name of her classification for Burmese speakers, it took hours. They came adult with a Burmese name that in English sounds like a bad Internet robo-translation: “Myanmar mercantile zone carrying and presumption a responsibility, support-help department.”

The structure of a Burmese language, partial of a Sino-Tibetan denunciation family, varies extremely from English. Written Burmese has no spaces between difference and is generally wordier than English.

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Lost in Translation

As Myanmar opens to a world, difference and concepts that do not exist in Burmese are proof to be a stumbling block.

Burmese is distant from singular in carrying difference that are formidable to translate, pronounced John Okell, a academician during a School of Oriental and African Studies during a University of London and one of a heading linguists of a Burmese language.

“Plainly, between any dual languages there are difference in one that seem to have no homogeneous in a other,” he said. “As Myanmar opens up, an augmenting series of English difference are being alien and solemnly standardized. It’s a light process.”

No one is suggesting these linguistic hurdles are insurmountable; concepts can be explained and accepted even where no precisely translatable word exists. The borrowed word democracy has given been digested into Burmese and is even in a name of a categorical antithesis party, a National League for Democracy.

But some doubt how good a tenure is accepted by Myanmar’s 51 million people after so many years of heartless suppression.

“All these things — democracy, institutions, even leisure — we don’t consider Myanmar people know what loyal leisure is or what to do with it,” pronounced U Thaung Su Nyein, a editor in arch of 7Day Daily, a Burmese-language newspaper. “For them being giveaway competence mean, ‘As prolonged as no one is knocking on my doorway in a center of a night, I’m free.’ ”

Even difference and phrases that are not formidable to interpret can have unequivocally opposite shades of definition given of a bequest of troops rule.

The tenure “rule of law” has turn a mantra for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a British-trained Nobel Peace laureate and idol of democracy. She frequency fails to discuss a significance of a judgment in speeches around a country.

But to a ears of many in Myanmar, a order of law sounds identical to exhortations by generals to conform a law — a junta’s law.

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“”When we speak about my work to my mom and her friends, we can’t explain it in Burmese,” pronounced Daw Ei Myat Noe Khin, a program and app developer in Yangon.

Credit
Adam Dean for The New York Times

Rule of law “is not an appealing concept,” pronounced U Pe Myint, a commentator and columnist. “We do not customarily proportion a order of law with justice. It has connotations of pacifying, subjugating people. we consider many people don’t unequivocally know what it means.”

A identical problem of interpretation exists in a country’s assent talks with racial armed groups. Ethnic minorities are perfectionist a sovereign system, though sovereign is a term, directly borrowed from a West, that is still epitome in Myanmar. To troops leaders, a word sounds melancholy given they couple it to secession, Mr. Thant Myint-U said.

“You assume that another chairman has a same interpretation as you,” he said. “But these difference can meant unequivocally opposite things to opposite people.”

Myanmar currently has one feet in a aged compulsory and paternalistic past and one feet in a Western-inspired lurch for democracy. This creates for peculiar juxtapositions. A new book of The New Light of Myanmar, a state-run daily newspaper, had both an essay praising a “strength of honest and industrious peasants” and a story about a American radio uncover “Keeping Up With a Kardashians.”

Younger Burmese are flourishing adult unprotected to complicated record and unfamiliar concepts, formulating a cove of wording between generations.

A 21-year-old developer who creates apps for Android phones, Daw Ei Myat Noe Khin, says her pursuit is bewildering for some members of her family.

“When we speak about my work to my mom and her friends, we can’t explain it in Burmese,” she said.

“There is no word in Burmese for developer, so we used a English word programmer,” she said. “If they don’t know programmer, we say, ‘It’s what is inside your phone and creates it work.’ ”

“They say, ‘Oh, it’s something to do with computers!’ ”

And they contend it regulating a English word.

There is no Burmese word for computer. Or phone, for that matter.