Adaptation of Expressions Law


Adaptation of Expressions Law
   (1989)
   In June 1989, the State Law and Order Restoration Council decreed the Adaptation of Expressions Law, which changed the official foreign language name of the country from "the Union of Burma" to "the Union of Myanma," or, more commonly in English, "Myanmar," and also changed many place names to a new romanized form closer to the Burmese (Myanmar) language pronunciation than terms originally used during the British colonial period. The military government justified the country name change on the grounds that "Burma" (Bama in Burmese) refers only to the Burman (Bamar) ethnic group, while "Myanmar" (Myanma) refers to the citizens of the country regardless of ethnic affiliation (e.g., the difference between "England" and "Britain"). In fact, this is untrue: both Bama and Myanma refer to the same thing, the country of the Burmans, though the former is more commonly found in conversation and the latter in more formal, literary contexts. Though the words have different nuances, they are used interchangeably by Burmese people in everyday communication. "Myanmar" has been adopted as the official country name by the United Nations and most Asian governments, but the governments of the United States and some European countries continue to use "Burma." Since 1989, preference for one or the other has to some extent expressed approval or disapproval of the post-1988 military government, which causes difficulties for those wishing to be politically neutral. To avoid making a political statement, a few writers use the cumbersome "Burma (Myanmar)," or vice versa.
   Many towns and cities located on the coast had colonial-era English names based on nonstandard pronunciations of Burmese words by foreigners, which the Adaptation of Expressions Law changed to something closer to the Burmese original. The old name of Rangoon reflected the Arakanese pronunciation of "Yangon," which is now its official foreign language name. Other examples include Pegu (now "Bago"), Moulmein (now "Mawlamyine"), Bassein (now "Pathein"), and Tavoy (now "Dawei"). Because their transliteration into English more closely approximated the Burmese original, many towns in Upper Burma, such as Mandalay, Sagaing, and Meiktila, have the same romanizations under the pre- and post1989 systems. However, Ava became "Inwa," Pagan became "Bagan," and Magwe became "Magway." The Irrawaddy, Salween, and Sittang Rivers became, respectively, "Ayeyarwady," "Thanlwin," and "Sittoung." Many of the post-1989 spellings of places in ethnic minority regions, especially Shan State, have no meaning in the local language, for example, the new rendering of Keng Tung, "Kyaing Tong." The new place names have caused considerable confusion, and many supporters of the movement for democracy refuse to use them. The law also changed the official foreign language name of the Burman and Karen ethnic nationalities, to "Bamar" and "Kayin," respectively. Arakan and Karenni have also disappeared from the official list of ethnic names, now replaced by "Rakhine" and "Kayah" (though both of these terms were also used before 1989).
   See also "Old and New Place Names".

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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