Htanaw alphabetization and documentation

Ref. 20140

General description



Geographical Area

Additional Geographical Information​

Kalaw Township, Southern Shan State


Htanaw (Danau) is a poorly described Austroasiatic language of the Palaungic group spoken by some 3000 speakers in southern Shan State, Myanmar. While children grow up speaking Htanaw as their first language, most Htanaw are multilingual, being fluent also in Burmese and Pa-O, and many also have knowledge of Intha and Taungyoe, two local Burmese varieties. With facilitated access to online media and social networks in the last years, speakers of unwritten minority languages in Myanmar increasingly use their native language also in written communication. This is a welcome development in terms of linguistic and cultural diversity, and ethnic identity, but the development of an adequate orthography must be based on several societal and linguistic factors. Htanaw has not been written in any systematic way until now. Some people use Burmese orthography to approximate Htanaw pronunciation in chats, but as the two languages diverge greatly in terms of phonology, the results are frequently incomprehensible to the reader. It is therefore desirable to develop a systematic way of writing that can easily be typed on a phone and that adequately represents the sounds of the language. While being based on the Burmese script, Htanaw orthography must be developed independently of Burmese conventions in a way acceptable to young speakers. This project is a cooperation of native speakers and foreign linguists working towards developing and implementing a linguistically adequate and socially acceptable orthography as a first step towards a more comprehensive Htanaw language documentation program. The research is facilitated by the cooperation with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Mandalay. As a first step towards designing an adequate orthography for Htanaw, the phonological system of the language must be understood. Work on this is still in progress, based on fieldwork conducted in Taung Poe Hla village, Kalaw, Myanmar, since 2019.