Once I browsed the Flickr, there came a greeting message in random language. It made me curious what was the greeting for Burmese. So I refreshed a few times and got “Mingalaba” (မင်္ဂလာပါ) IPA:/mì̃ɡəlàbà/ MLCTS:/min ga.la ba/ as Burmese greeting. It made me smile though I expected it.
There are various spelling for မင်္ဂလာပါ in English – Mingalaba, Mingalarbar, Mingalarba, Mingalarpar, etc. Tourists or Foreigners who visit to Myanmar tend to speak “Mingalarbar” as a formal greeting. You may hear that kind of greeting in TV programs, flights, hotel receptions, restaurants and any places related to foreigners. The fact is that “Mingalarbar” was invented as a Burmese greeting some decades ago since there was no such kind of formal greeting in Burmese.
I’m the guy who agrees on paradigm shifts and that changes are needed for a better society. Myanmars did not have habit of speaking “Thank you” (ကျေးဇူးတင်ပါတယ်။ ကျေးဇူးပါပဲ။ MLCTS:/Kjei׃ Zu׃ Tin Ba de/). I have read tons of old books and thank you usage was not certainly a everyday usage. I must say “Thank you” was imported from British. It makes social life easier and sounds polite in most situations. The whole family of one of my friend used to speak “ကျေးဇူးပဲ”(MLCTS:/kye:zu:bai:/, IPA:/tʃézúbɛ́/) among family members. I felt strange when I first heard it. But I guessed it was a good practice anyway. Some people may say that speaking “Thank you” too much makes it’s meaning shallow. But a mere thank you wouldn’t hurt anybody, right? The same goes for Mingalarbar.
The origin of Mingalarbar is Mangala (မင်္ဂလ) pali word of Buddhism which means source of prosperity, blessing or anything auspicious, joyous, festive. Ba (ပါ) is the particle suffixed to a verb to effect politeness. You can listen how to pronounce it properly here.
When English has general greetings such as: “Hi”, “Good morning/afternoon/evening”, Myanmar doesn’t have such kind of greeting which is suitable for anywhere and any place. Myanmar greets according to situations –
- ဟေ့လူ/ဟေ့ကောင် (Hey guy) (MLCTS:/he.lu/, IPA:/hḛlù/) or (MLCTS:/he.kaung/, IPA:/hḛkaʊ̀̃/)
- နေကောင်းလား (Are you feeling well?/How are you doing?) (MLCTS:/ne kaung la:/, IPA:/nèkáʊ̃lá/)
- ဘယ်သွားမလို့လဲ (Where are you going?) (MLCTS:/bai swa: ma.lo. lai:/, IPA:/bɛ̀θwáməlo̰lɛ́/)
- ဘယ်ကလာတာလဲ (From where are you coming?) (MLCTS:/be ga. la da le:/, IPA:/bɛ̀ɡa̰làdàlɛ́/)
- ဟိုင်း ##This is direct translation of “Hi”.
- မတွေ့တာ ကြာပြီ (Long time no see) (MLCTS:/ma.twe. da kra byi nau/, IPA:/mətwḛdàtʃàbjìnɔ̀/)
- ပျောက်နေတယ်နော် (It’s a long time you disappeared/Haven’t seen you) (MLCTS:/pyauk ne dai nau/, IPA:/pjaʊʔnèdɛ̀nɔ̀/)
- ံစားပြီးပြီလား (Have you eaten?/Have you had your meal) (MLCTS:/sa: pi: bi la:/, IPA:/sápíbìlá/) ##This sounds weird, hmm? But, if you say “not yet”, the host will most likely treat you a meal.
- ဘာတွေလုပ်နေလဲ (What are you doing recently?) (MLCTS:/ba dwe lup ne lai:/, IPA:/bàdwèloʊʔnèlɛ́/)
The only place I said “Mingalarbar” was in school. Until 11th grade, we had to greet our teachers that “Mingalarbar Sayar Ma” (မင်္ဂလာပါ ဆရာမ) (MLCTS|/min ga.la ba sa.ya ma./). Saya Ma usage is for female teacher while Saya is for male teacher and Saya Gyi is for headmaster. And the teacher had to reply Mingalarbar. This practice was mandatory since old national schools in colonial age (1930s). Students are needed to fold their hands (လက်ပိုက်) while saying “Mingalarbar”. Folding hands means showing respect to teachers. The folding hands practice was most likely started from monasterial education system of Kon Baung Era (ကုန်းဘောင်ခေတ် ဘုန်းတော်ကြီးကျောင်း ပညာရေး) which students had to fold their hands when reciting the lessons (စာအံ). Nowadays folding hands means disrespect in most of the situations especially in the army. Isn’t it contradicting and funny when the rulers of the country are the army men and children are folding their hands? Well, that’s the reason why the students has to do obeisance putting their palms together (လက်အုပ်ချီ) in front of army leaders.
In short, a typical Myanmar usually does not say “Mingalarbar”. It’s neither a taboo nor difficult nor strange. We all are used to it but not used to greet with it. Perhaps it’s too formal. So, if you are a foreigner and are not learning real life Burmese speaking, it’s best for you just to say “Mingalarbar”. If you are lucky enough, people might “Mingalarbar” you back.