The History of the Karen People and Their Language

The Karen history and language are not widely known of with many around the world. The Karen people are an ethnic group indigenous to Southeast Asia. They primarily inhabiting areas of Myanmar and Thailand. The Karen language is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Karen people and, as a result, is the most widely spoken language in Myanmar after Burmese. The language has been used for centuries and has been passed down through generations of Karen people. As the community continues to relocate around the world it becomes increasingly more important to have trusted Karen Interpreters and Translators bridge the communication gap for resettling immigrants and refugees.


The Karen people are an ethnic group of Myanmar and Thailand. Originating in Burma (Myanmar), they are estimated to have around 6 million members. As a result, they are one of the largest minority groups in both countries. The majority of the Karen people follow Buddhism and Christianity, in addition, their are smaller minorities adhering to Animism and Islam.

Historically, the Karen have experienced much oppression under Burmese rule. Since independence from Britain in 1948, their language has been denied official recognition. As a result, many of the native languages spoken by the Karen have been at risk of being lost. Therefore, this led to civil war as the Karen fought for their autonomy and recognition within Burma and Thailand.

Karen Language

The main language spoken by the Karen people is known as S’gaw Karen. There are a variety of dialects depending on location within Myanmar or Thailand. It is related to other Mon–Khmer languages, such as Khmu and Mon; however it is distinct from Burmese and Thai. S'gaw Karen is written using either a Roman alphabet or an indigenous script known as Ku Hea Pwo. It features three tones - high, mid, low - with some variation depending on dialect. Each syllable can be written differently according to its tone marking meaning that some words can be written with up to three different characters.

Likewise, the unique writing system makes learning S’gaw Karen a complex process. It requires intensive instruction due to limited materials available in translation into English. Despite this difficulty however, there are initiatives being taken to keep the language. For example, SpeakKaren hopes to preserve this ancient language for generations to come! In conclusion, finding a trusted, native speaking, Karen interpreter or translator is important for communication.

Karen Language History

Karen language is believed to have originated from proto-Tibeto-Burman which was spoken around 2000 years ago by people living in what is now known as Tibet and Burma. Over time, this language evolved into distinct dialects with each dialect divided into three sub-dialects; Northern Sgaw, Eastern Pwo, and Western Pa’o. Most of these dialects are still spoken today in various parts of Burma and Thailand.

Today, the Karen language continues to play a large role in the cultural identity of the Karen people as they strive to maintain their culture despite oppressive Burmese rule. Many schools teach children using the Karen language so that it remains alive within their community. Additionally, many NGOs have launched programs aimed at preserving the language by providing materials such as books and online resources. Despite this support however, there has been some decline in usage due to economic reasons as many young Karen leave for larger cities or countries where English is more widely spoken.

The plight of the Karen People has not gone unnoticed over recent years with more attention being given to their struggles for self-determination. As the fight for human rights continues on, so does the importance of preserving the rich history that can be found within their language.

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With years of experience working with Karen, Karenni and Burmese-speaking communities, as well as experience translating for many industries, our agency can help both you and your clients communicate easily. We can effectively translate documents or interpret conversations between the communities of Burma. 

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