Christian Bauer

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin




When did Middle Mon end?


In my contribution to Medieval Tibeto–Burman Languages IV, “When did Middle Mon begin?”, (ed. by Nathan Hill, Leiden: Brill, 2009 [forthcoming]) I argue, on the basis of new evidence, that a number of sound changes, conventionally assumed since Blagden, and carried over by Shorto, to separate OM from MM (changes in finals, mediocluster reduction -rC-, -NC- [exc. -nd-, -nɗ- and -mC-]) occurred a century earlier.

Shorto held that Kyaikmaraw I of AD 1455 “[…] heralds the appearance of Middle Mon proper […]” (Shorto DMI 1971:x).

While the beginnings of MM can be dated precisely, and the criteria distinguishing it from OM are well defined, the end of the MM period has never been established.

Shorto’s remarks to this effect remain implicit and alluding. Thus in DSM 1962 he states: “Significant orthographic uncertainty first appears in Anauktpetlun’s bell inscription of 1622, which indeed reads like a modern literary document” (DSM 1962:xv), whereas his DMI 1971 by its very title implies the MM period ending with Bayinnaung’s bell of 1557.

In his paper of 1967 on the “Register distinctions in Mon-Khmer languages” (WZKU 16.1-2:245-248) he dates the emergence of register in Mon to between the second quarter of the 16th and the end of the 16th c. That coincides, of course, with the cut-off point in the epigraphic corpus considered for the DMI, and may have served as the main criterion distinguishing MM from modern Mon.

Three main arguments are thus proffered for the later periodization of Mon: (i) an orthographic argument [“uncertainty”], (ii) a phonological argument [register] and (iii) an epigraphic argument [no significant activity since].

There are a number of counterarguments which I shall set forth:

European sources, hitherto not considered, palæography and a comprehensive inventory of Mon inscriptions provide evidence that (a) fundamental sound changes affecting complex initials were beginning to occur at the very end of the 18th c., that (b) the glyph inventory remained stable only from 1755 onwards and that (c) further epigraphic activity is attested down to the mid-19th c.

The question is how much weight one gives in a periodization scheme to the emergence of register distinctions, and how much to changes in complex initials, palæography and epigraphic habit.



Shorto, H.L. 1967. The register distinctions in Mon-Khmer languages. Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Karl-Marx-Universität Leipzig 16.1/2.245-248.

_____. 1971. A dictionary of the Mon inscriptions from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries. Oxford University Press.