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Karen is a group of languages spoken by around 3 million people in Burma and Thailand. They are thought to be related to the Tibeto-Burman language family, though it is unclear exactly how. They are spoken by the Karen people, who are also known as Kayin or Kariang in English, Per Ploan Poe or Ploan in Poe Karen, and Pwa Ka Nyaw or Kanyaw in Sgaw Karen, and who live mainly in Karen State in the south and southeast of Burma (Myanmar), and also in Thailand.

The are three main branches of Karen: Pa'o, Pwo and Sgaw.


Pa'o is spoken in Burma by about half a million people, and is also known as Black Karen or White Karen.


There are four languges within the Pwo Karen branch, with only marginal mutual intelligible between them: Eastern Pwo, Western Pwo, Northern Pwo, Phrae Pwo. They are spoken by the Pwo Karen people in eastern parts of Burma and western and northern parts of Thailand, and are known as Phlou or Ka Phlou ("Karen" or "human beings").


Sgaw, which is also known as S'gaw, S'gaw Karen or S'gaw Kayin, is spoken by over one million people in Burma, and Thailand. It is written using the Mon script. Some dialects of Sgaw are sufficiently different to be considered separate languages by some: Paku, Mopwa (Mobwa), Wewew and Monnepwa.

Sgaw Karen alphabet and pronunciation

Sgaw Karen alphabet and pronunciation

Sources: &

Sample text in Sgaw Karen

Sample text in Sgaw Karen (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Sample text in Pwo Karen

Sample text in Pwo Karen (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Information about Karen | Tower of Babel in Karen


Information about the Karen languages'gaw_Karen_language

Karen language courses Karen Language Course.pdf

Karen dictionaries

A Grammar of Sgaw Karen (PDF)

Karen Teacher Working Group

Tibeto-Burman languages

Burmese, Dzongkha, Garo, Kayah Li, Karen, Ladakhi, Lepcha, Limbu, Lisu, Manipuri, Marma, Mizo, Mro, Naxi, Nepal Bhasa / Newari, Sunuwar, Tangut, Tibetan, Tshangla, Tujia, Yi

Languages written with the Burmese script

Syllabic alphabets / abugidas

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