Mathias Jenny

Department of General Linguistics, University of Zurich, & INALCO, Paris




Burmese influence in Mon syntax - or independent development?


Since the 11th century Mon has been in close political, cultural and linguistic contact with Burmese, which led to mutual influence on all levels of the language. Apart from lexical borrowings and calques, the influence of Burmese, though more difficult to demonstrate, can also be seen in Mon syntax. In many cases what looks like Burmese grammatical calques in Mon can also be explained as Mon internal development, or what Aikhenvald (2006:22) calls “enhancement of an already existing feature”, i.e. an existing (but maybe marginal) construction type in Mon which became prevalent because of its similarity to a corresponding construction in Burmese. In other cases assimilation to Burmese syntax with indigenous Mon material may have led to restructuring with an outcome rather different from both Old Mon and Burmese.

C. Bauer (2006:41f) lists six grammatical words common to both early Mon and Burmese, i.e. instances of “matter loan” (s. Sakel 2007), suggesting the direction from Mon to Burmese in four cases and from Burmese to Mon in the other two. Not much has been published in terms of syntactic convergence or “pattern” transfer (“grammatical replication” in Heine and Kuteva’s (2005) terminology) to Mon from Burmese, including the modern language, and the aim of this paper, as part of a broader study of language contact phenomena in Burmese and neighbouring languages, is to at least partly fill this gap.

This study looks at some constructions in Mon with possible Burmese influence as well as pre-existing structures in Mon which can be seen as their sources. The constructions to be discussed in detail are relative/attributive expressions, conditional and complement clauses, and word order in interrogatives.



Aikhenvald, A. Y. 2006. Grammars in contact. In  Aikhenvald, A. Y. and R. M. W. Dixon (eds.) Grammars in contact. A cross-linguistic typology. Oxford: OUP, 1-66.

Bauer, C. 2006. Reflections on early Mon-Burmese grammar. In Beckwith, C. I. (ed.) Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 39-43.

Heine, B. and T. Kuteva. 2005. Language contact and grammatical change. Cambridge: CUP.

Sakel, J. 2007. Types of loan: Matter and pattern. In Matras, Y. and J. Sakel. Grammatical borrowing in cross-linguistic perspective. Berlin/New Yoprk: Mouton de Gruyter, 15-29.