Day 2 in Hpa-An (ဘားအံ)

Yesterday, I arrived in the city of Hpa-An (ဘားအံ), the capital city of Karen State, Burma. According to Wikipedia, the 2014 Census of Myanmar listed over 200,000 residents in its population. It’s a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Yangon and still more populous than Naypyidaw. It also has a nice hint of Thai influence to it, as many of the residents have worked in Thailand at one point of their lives or another. A woman prepared a wonderful rendition of the simple yet filling ไข่เจียวไก่สับ (kʰaj ʝiɛːow kàːj sáp — omelette with stir-fried chicken). The Thai restaurants in Yangon can’t seem to get that right.

The hotel I’m staying in is modest and it probably wouldn’t impress me at all in the West. For here, though, it’s okay. I’ve slept in much worse conditions. I also took a walk around the lake at the foot of Zwekabin mountain, and the view was quite nice. Did I mention that I’m not really harassed here for not wearing a mask? It’s quite nice. There were, so I was told, only three cases of COVID-19 here since February. Not bad, at all.

My purpose here is actually research-related. Although this is the capital of Karen State, the majority of Karen residents of the city do not actually speak Karen. In Linguistics, we call this phenomenon language shift and its theory is fleshed out in the late Joshua A. Fishman’s Reversing Language Shift. My question is simple: why have parents stopped speaking Karen to their children? That, in essence, is the crux of the issue. A language ceases to be spoken when children stop speaking it. It may be an unconscious decision, but it’s a decision nonetheless.

I’ve interviewed four families so far and I’m about to interview a fifth one. I want to hold my readers in suspense to what I’ve found, so far. But I’ll be sure to fill everyone in.

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