SOAS Wa Dictionary Project

SOAS Dept. of South East Asia

Dictionary Database

Corpus of Wa Texts

Myanmar Minority Language Database


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Humanities Computing Lab

SOAS, University of London

A Dictionary of the Wa Language with Burmese (Myanmar), Chinese, and English Glosses


Internet Database for Minority Languages of Burma (Myanmar)

Wa is a member of the Northern Mon-Khmer language family. More specifically, it is the major language of the Palaungic branch of Mon-Khmer. (See map and chart of Austroasiatic languages, which includes, primarily, the Mon-Khmer family.) Wa is spoken by about one million people in an area on the border between China's Yunnan Province and the Shan State of the Union of Myanmar (Burma). The Wa language has been the subject of several linguistic studies, most of them in Chinese (see our table of publications in and about the Wa language). As noted in Justin Watkins' monograph The Phonetics of Wa (Pacific Linguistics 531, Canberra: Australian National University, 2002), the Wa language has featured in the phonetic literature chiefly on account of its contrastive use of vowel phonation, or register, variously described as breathy vs. clear or lax vs. tense. The only Wa dictionaries which existed hitherto are a few Wa-Chinese dictionaries which are either limited or out-dated.

The SOAS Wa Dictionary Project is a three-year effort (2003-2006), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to produce a high-quality dictionary, translating Wa into Chinese, Burmese/Myanmar and English. The project uses advanced techniques in corpus-based lexicography, centred on a database and Internet resource, which are also suitable for other languages spoken in Burma/Myanmar besides Wa after the life of the project.

Aims and Objectives

The academic objectives of this project are

  • to compile an electronic Wa language corpus from printed and recorded materials suitable for linguistic and textual analysis
  • to produce two dictionaries of the Wa language from the corpus: one scholarly and one for Wa-speaking end-users
  • to record, document, preserve and disseminate the corpus using the Internet
  • to establish, by the end of the project, an expandable template for corpus-driven lexicography and linguistic research on other minority languages of Burma.

The project benefits Wa speakers by:

  • providing a dictionary targeting Wa-speaker end-users
  • supporting literacy in Wa, Burmese, Chinese and English
  • bridging the divide between the two main Wa orthographies (Chinese and Revised Bible orthographies)

There are several alternative transcriptions or orthographies in use for spelling the sounds of Wa. See the Wa orthography page for details.

Arts and Humanities Research Council School of Oriental and African Studies

The Wa Dictionary Project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and hosted at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Please send suggestions, queries or comments to Justin Watkins or Richard Kunst.