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Documentation of Danau, an endangered language of Myanmar (Burma)


Language Danau
Depositor Aung Si
Affiliation School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne
Location Myanmar
Collection ID 0321
Grant ID SG0205
Funding Body
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection represents a preliminary documentation of the endangered Austroasiatic language Danau, spoken in Myanmar (formerly Burma), with a focus on ethnobiological and cultural knowledge.

Audio recordings representing a range of speech genres have been deposited here: these include lexical and grammatical elicitation, conversation, description and rituals. Recordings containing names of local, culturally important plants are accompanied by colour photographs of these plants. Around 90 minutes of audio (not including the wordlist recordings) have been transcribed and translated so far.

The collection also includes a preliminary analysis of the phonetics, phonology and grammar of Danau, and the transcriptions presented here should be regarded as provisional and subject to revision.


Group represented

Danau is spoken primarily in 3 or 4 villages near the town of Aungban in Shan State, Myanmar (formerly Burma). These villages include: Taungbohla Village (lat: 20.575; long: 96.790), Htinyugon Village (lat: 20.603; long: 96.736), Chaungya Village (lat: 20.614; long: 96.767), Aung Chan Tha Monastery in Aungban (lat: 20.657; long: 96.631).

The Danau are geographically and socially caught between the two big languages of the region: Burmese (Tibeto-Burman), the national language, and Shan (Tai-Kadai), the state language, which has well over 3 million speakers. The Danau are primarily farmers who sell their produce (rice and legumes) to local Burmese and Shan traders, who visit their villages around harvest time. As a result, all social and economic interactions that the younger generation are involved in are carried out in the two big languages.

The Danau community does not have any autonomous cultural organisations, but have good fraternal relations with the various political parties that represent the interests of the more numerous Shan peoples. As such, the Shan consider the Danau to be simply another Shan ethnic sub-group, albeit with a markedly different language.


Language information

Danau is a highly endangered and severely under-documented Austro-Asiatic language of the Shan state of eastern Myanmar (Burma). The only published material on this language is a 1965 paper by G. H. Luce (Lingua 1965, Vol. 14, pp. 98-129), who called it a “dying language”, and presented a ~250-item word list and rough sketch of the tonal system.

Anecdotal evidence from the field suggests that since the language has no official protection in the country, and is not formally taught, it is only spoken by a handful of scattered communities. Although around 10,000 people in Myanmar identify themselves as ethnic “Danau”, its future remains highly uncertain.

Reports from contacts in the field suggest that many children and young people do not speak Danau anymore, having instead shifted to Burmese and possibly Shan. However, there are still several older adults who speak the language fluently. Surrounded as it is by big languages from two different families (Tibeto-Burman and Tai-Kadai), it is possible that Danau, as is currently spoken by older community members, may show interesting effects of language contact.

Danau is not only highly endangered, but also highly understudied. The few data that already existed on this language indicate that it is typologically highly interesting, being quite dissimilar from languages such as Pale Palaung, with which it is meant to share a sub-group. Indeed, the lack of data on Danau has resulted in considerable uncertainty regarding the exact relationships of the languages of the Palaungic group.

The word list supplied by Luce (1965) gives some indication of the magnitude of the differences between the phonology of Danau and Mon, another Austro-Asiatic language of Myanmar. It is probably for this reason that in the Ethnologue classification of Palaungic languages, Danau is given its own clade.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Si, Aung. 2012. Documentation of Danau, an endangered language of Myanmar (Burma). Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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