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Language & Literature Historical Background


The earliest Myanmar writing is recorded on stone inscriptions from the Bagan dynasty nearly 900 years ago. At that time, other languages such as Pali, Mon and Pyu had taken root and flourished, which also had much influence as the Myanmar language that was still in its infancy. The content of these writings was overwhelmingly religious as the rulers documented their donations or meritorious deeds on slabs of stone for durable existence. Prior to that, the majority of documents were written in Pali and Sanskrit the languages of the Buddhist scriptures that had been introduced from India together with the Buddhism. As a result, they have had much influence on the present Myanmar language.

The Myanmar language developed gradually in the early dynasties in the form of verses that were confined to royalty and nobility. But poets and monastic scholars contributed much to the advancement of Myanmar literature. The status of verse reached its climax during the Inwa dynasty about 600 years ago. Prosaic and dramatic forms of literature were introduced about 400 years ago in addition to a variety of other new forms. Myanmar literature, including the novel, fully developed in the past 200 years, when Myanmar monarchs still reigned.

However, the flourishing Myanmar literature encountered a setback during British colonial rule, when it had to be redirected toward patriotism and revolution, intent on independence. Pioneers of contemporary literature emerged who revolutionized the old style of writing. Translations and adaptations of world literary masterpieces were introduced, and this spawned the development of contemporary Myanmar novels and short stories. Myanmar literature enjoyed a revival following independence and is still flourishing.