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|11th Century to the present|
|ISO 15924||Beng, 325
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|The Brahmic script and its descendants|
The Bengali alphabet (Bengali: বাংলা হরফ Bangla hôrôf, Bengali: বাংলা লিপি Bangla lipi) is the writing system for the Bengali language (Bangla) and is the 6th most widely used writing system in the world. The script with minor variations is shared by Assamese and is the basis for the other languages like Meitei and Bishnupriya Manipuri. All these languages are spoken in the eastern region of South Asia. Historically, the script has also been used to write the Sanskrit language in the same region. From a classificatory point of view, the Bengali script is an abugida, i.e. its vowel graphemes are mainly realized not as independent letters, but as diacritics attached to its consonant letters. It is written from left to right and lacks distinct letter cases. It is recognizable by a distinctive horizontal line running along the tops of the letters that links them together which is known as মাত্রা matra. The Bengali script is however less blocky and presents a more sinuous shape.
- 1 History
- 2 Standardization
- 3 Description of Bengali glyphs
- 3.1 Vowels
- 3.2 Consonants
- 3.3 Consonant conjuncts
- 3.4 Modifiers and others
- 3.5 Digits and numerals
- 3.6 The matra
- 3.7 Punctuation marks
- 4 Characteristics of the Bengali text
- 5 Inconsistencies
- 6 Romanization
- 7 Sample texts
- 8 Unicode
- 9 See also
- 10 Footnotes and references
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
The Bengali script evolved from the Siddhông script, which belongs to the Brahmic family of scripts. In addition to differences in how the letters are pronounced in the different languages, there are some typographical differences between the version of the script used for Assamese language and that used for Bengali language.
- The character ক্ষ (Assamese: kkhyô, Bengali: kkhô) is considered a separate letter in Assamese script (ক্ষ kkhyô) but considered a conjunct (orthographically ক+ষ kô+ṣô, but is pronounced as kkhô) in Bengali script. In both languages, it functions as though it were orthographically খ্য khyô.
- rô is represented as র in Bengali, and as ৰ in Assamese.
- Assamese script has an additional character sounding wô represented as ৱ, which is absent in the Bengali script.
The Bengali script was originally not associated with any particular language, but was often used in the eastern regions of Medieval India and then in Pala Empire and later continued to be specifically used in the Bengal region. It was later standardized into the modern Bengali script by Ishwar Chandra under the reign of the British East India Company. Today the script holds official script status in Bangladesh and India, and is associated with the daily life of the Bengali people.
In the Bengali script, clusters of consonants are represented by different and sometimes quite irregular forms; thus, learning to read is complicated by the sheer size of the full set of letters and letter combinations, numbering about 350. While efforts at standardizing the alphabet for the Bengali language continue in such notable centres as the Bangla Academy at Dhaka (Bangladesh) and the Poshchimbônggo Bangla Akademi at Kolkata (West Bengal, India), it is still not quite uniform as yet, as many people continue to use various archaic forms of letters, resulting in concurrent forms for the same sounds. Among the various regional variations within this script, only the Assamese and Bengali variations exist today in the formalized system.
It seems likely that the standardization of the alphabet will be greatly influenced by the need to typeset it on computers. The large alphabet can be represented, with a great deal of ingenuity, within the ASCII character set, omitting certain irregular conjuncts. Work has been underway since around 2001 to develop Unicode fonts, and it seems likely that it will split into two variants, traditional and modern. In this and other articles on Wikipedia dealing with the Bengali language, a Romanization scheme used by linguists specializing in Bengali phonology is included along with IPA transcription. A recent effort by the Government of West Bengal focused on simplifying Bengali orthography in primary school texts.
There is yet to be a uniform standard collating sequence (sorting order of graphemes to be used in dictionaries, indices, computer sorting programs, etc.) of Bengali graphemes. Experts in both Bangladesh and India are currently working towards a common solution for this problem.
Description of Bengali glyphs
The glyphs of the Bengali script can be divided into vowel diacritics, consonant and vowel letters (including consonant conjuncts), modifiers, digits, and punctuation marks.
The Bengali script has a total of 11 vowel graphemes, each of which is called a স্বরবর্ণ sbôrôbôrnô "vowel letter". These sbôrôbôrnôs represent six of the seven main vowel sounds of Bengali, along with two vowel diphthongs. All of these are used in both Bengali and Assamese, the two main languages using the script. There is no standard character in the script for the Bengali main vowel sound /æ/, and vowel length differences thought to be represented by different vowel graphemes (e.g., হ্রস্ব ই hrôsbô i vs. দীর্ঘ ই dirghô i) do not hold true for the spoken language. Also, the grapheme called ঋ ri does not really represent a vowel phoneme, rather the sound /ri/.
When a vowel sound occurs at the beginning of a syllable or when it follows another vowel, it is written using a distinct letter. But when a vowel sound follows a consonant (or a consonant cluster), it is written with a diacritic which, depending on the vowel, can appear above, below, before or after the consonant. The diacritic cannot appear without a consonant. A diacritic form is named by adding a "-kar" to the end of the name of the corresponding vowel letter (see table below).
An exception to the above system is the vowel /ɔ/. This has no diacritic form, but is considered inherent in every consonant letter. To specifically denote the absence of this inherent vowel [ɔ] following a consonant, a diacritic called the হসন্ত hôsôntô (্) may be written underneath the consonant.
Although there are only two diphthongs in the inventory of the script, the Bengali sound system has in fact many diphthongs. Most of these diphthongs are represented by juxtaposing the graphemes of their forming vowels, as in কেউ keu /keu/.
The table below shows the vowels present in the modern (i.e., since late nineteenth century) inventory of the Bengali alphabet, which has abandoned three historical vowels, ৠ rri, ঌ li, and ৡ lli, traditionally placed between ঋ ri and এ e.
|Full form||Name of
the consonant [kɔ] (ক)
|/ɔ/ and /o/||ক (none)||(none)||kô and ko||/kɔ/ and /ko/|
|/i/||কি||হ্রস্ব ই কার
hrôsbô i kar
|/i/||কী||দীর্ঘ ই কার
dirghô i kar
|ki and kee||/ki/|
|/u/||কু||হ্রস্ব উ কার
hrôsbô u kar
|/u/||কূ||দীর্ঘ উ কার
dirghô u kar
|ku and koo||/ku/|
|/ri/||কৃ||ঋ কার/ঋ ফলা
ri kar/ri fôla
|/e/ and /æ/||কে||এ কার
|kê and ke||/ke/ and /kæ/|
|kôi and koi||/koi̯/|
Consonant letters are called ব্যঞ্জনবর্ণ byônjônbôrnô "consonant letter" in Bengali. The names of these letters are typically just the consonant sound plus the inherent vowel অ ô. Since the inherent vowel is assumed and not written, most letters' names look identical to the letter itself (e.g. the name of the letter ঘ is itself ঘ ghô). Some letters that have lost their distinctive pronunciation in Modern Bengali are called by a more elaborate name. For example, since the consonant phoneme /nɔ/ can be written ন, ণ, or ঞ (depending on the spelling of the particular word), these letters are not simply called nô; instead, they are called দন্ত্য ন dôntyô nô ("dental n"), মূর্ধন্য ণ murdhônyô nô ("cerebral n"), and ঞীয়/ইঙ niiyô/ingô. Similarly, the phoneme /ʃɔ/ can be written শ talôbyô shô ("palatal s"), ষ murdhônyô shô ("cerebral s"), or স dôntyô sô ("dental s"), depending on the word. Since the consonant ঙ ngô /ŋɔ/ cannot occur at the beginning of a word in Bengali, its name is not ঙ ngô but উঙ ungô (pronounced by some as উম umô or উঁঅ ũô). Similarly, since semivowels cannot occur at the beginning of a Bengali word, the name for "semi-vowel yô" য় is not অন্তঃস্থ য় ôntôsthô yô but অন্তঃস্থ অ ôntôsthô ô.
The table below presents the Bengali consonant letters in their traditional order.
|ফ||phô / fô||/pʰɔ~ɸɔ/|
|ভ||bhô / vô||/bʱɔ~βɔ/|
|jô / zô||/dʒɔ~dzɔ/|
|র||বএ শূন্য র
bôe shunyô rô
|shô / śô||/ʃɔ/|
|shô / ṣô||/ʃɔ/|
|sô and shô||/sɔ/ and /ʃɔ/|
|e and yô||/e̯ɔ/|
|ড়||ঢএ শূন্য ঢ়
đôe shunyô ŗô
|ঢ়||ডএ শূন্য ড়
đhôe shunyô ŗhô
Up to four consecutive consonants not separated by vowels can be orthographically represented as a ligature called a "consonant conjunct" (Bengali: যুক্তাক্ষর juktakkhôr or যুক্তবর্ণ juktôbôrnô). Typically, the first consonant in the conjunct is shown above and/or to the left of the following consonants. Many consonants appear in an abbreviated or compressed form when serving as part of a conjunct. Others simply take exceptional forms in conjuncts, bearing little or no resemblance to the base character.
Often, consonant conjuncts are not actually pronounced as would be implied by the pronunciation of the individual components. For example, adding ল lô underneath শ shô in Bengali creates the conjunct শ্ল, which is not pronounced shlô but slô in Bengali. Many conjuncts represent Sanskrit sounds that were lost centuries before modern Bengali was ever spoken, as in জ্ঞ, which is a combination of জ jô and ঞ niô, but is not pronounced jiô, Instead, it is pronounced ggyõ in modern Bengali. Thus, as conjuncts often represent (combinations of) sounds that cannot be easily understood from the components, the following descriptions are concerned only with the construction of the conjunct, and not the resulting pronunciation.
Some consonants fuse in such a way that one stroke of the first consonant also serves as a stroke of the next.
- The consonants can be placed on top of one another, sharing their vertical line: ক্ক kkô গ্ন gnô গ্ল glô ন্ন nnô প্ন pnô প্প ppô ল্ল llô etc.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ৱ wô and ব bô can hang on the vertical line under the preceding consonants, taking the shape of ব bô (here referred to as বফলা bôfôla): গ্ব gwô/gbô ণ্ব ṇwô/ṇbô দ্ব dwô/dbô ল্ব lwô/lbo শ্ব śwô/śbô.
- The consonants can also be placed side-by-side, sharing their vertical line: দ্দ ddô ন্দ ndô ব্দ bdô ব্জ bjô প্ট pṭô শ্চ śchô শ্ছ śchhô etc.
Some consonants are simply written closer to one another to indicate that they are in a conjunct together.
- As the last member of a conjunct, গ gô can appear unaltered, with the preceding consonant simply written closer to it: দ্গ dgô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ৱ wô and ব bô can appear immediately to the right of the preceding consonant, taking the shape of ব bô (here referred to as বফলা bôfôla): ধ্ব dhwô/dhbô ব্ব bbô/bwô হ্ব hbô/hwô.
Some consonants are compressed (and often simplified) when appearing as the first member of a conjunct.
- As the first member of a conjunct, the consonants ঙ ngô চ chô ড ḍô ব bô and ৱ wô are often compressed and placed at the top-left of the following consonant, with little or no change to the basic shape: ঙ্ক্ষ ngkkhô ঙ্খ ngkhô ঙ্ঘ ngghô ঙ্ম ngmô চ্চ chchô চ্ছ chchhô চ্ঞ chniô ড্ড ḍḍô ব্ব bbô/bwô ৱ্ব wbô/wwô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ত tô is compressed and placed above the following consonant, with little or no change to the basic shape: ত্ন tnô ত্ম tmô ত্ব twô/tbô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ম mô is compressed and simplified to a curved shape. It is placed above or to the top-left of the following consonant: ম্ন mnô ম্প mpô ম্ফ mfô ম্ব mbô/mwô ম্ভ mbhô ম্ম mmô ম্ল mlô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ষ ṣô is compressed and simplified to an oval shape with a diagonal stroke through it. It is placed to the top-left of the following consonants: ষ্ক ṣkô ষ্ট ṣṭô ষ্ঠ ṣṭhô ষ্প ṣpô ষ্ফ ṣfô ষ্ম ṣmô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, স sô is compressed and simplified to a ribbon shape. It is placed above or to the top-left of the following consonant: স্ক skô স্খ skhô স্ট sṭô স্ত stô স্থ sthô স্ন snô স্প spô স্ফ sfô স্ব swô/sbô স্ম smô স্ল slô.
Some consonants are abbreviated when appearing in conjuncts, losing part of their basic shape.
- As the first member of a conjunct, জ jô can lose its final downstroke: জ্জ jjô জ্ঞ jñô জ্ব jwô/jbô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ঞ ñiô can lose its bottom half: ঞ্চ ñchô ঞ্ছ ñchhô ঞ্জ ñjô ঞ্ঝ ñjhô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ঞ ñiô can lose its left half (the এ part): জ্ঞ jñô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ণ ṇô and প pô can lose their downstroke: ণ্ঠ ṇṭhô ণ্ড ṇḍô প্ত ptô প্স psô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ত tô and ভ bhô can lose their final upward tail: ত্ত ttô ত্থ tthô ত্র trô ভ্র bhrô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, থ thô can lose its final upstroke, taking the form of হ hô instead (this form is called খণ্ড-থ khônḍô thô or "broken thô"(ঽ)) : ন্থ nthô স্থ sthô. An exception is ম্থ mthô (see on the compressed forms part)
- As the last member of a conjunct, ম mô can lose its initial downstroke: ক্ম kmô গ্ম gmô ঙ্ম ngmô ট্ম ṭmô ণ্ম ṇmô ত্ম tmô দ্ম dmô ন্ম nmô ম্ম mmô শ্ম śmô ষ্ম ṣmô স্ম smô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, স sô can lose its top half: ক্স ksô ন্স nsô.
- As the last member of a conjuct ট ṭô, ড ḍô and ঢ ḍhô can lose their matra: প্ট pṭô ণ্ড ṇḍô ণ্ট ṇṭô ণ্ঢ ṇḍhô
- As the last member of a conjuct ড ḍô can change its shape: ণ্ড ṇḍô
Some consonants have forms that are used regularly, but only within conjuncts.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ঙ ngô can appear as a loop and curl: ঙ্ক ngkô ঙ্গ nggô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, the curled top of ধ dhô is replaced by a straight downstroke to the right, taking the form of ঝ jhô instead: গ্ধ gdhô দ্ধ ddhô ন্ধ ndhô ব্ধ bdhô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, র rô appears as a diagonal stroke (called রেফ ref) above the following member: র্ক rkô র্খ rkhô র্গ rgô র্ঘ rghô etc.
- As the last member of a conjunct, র rô appears as a wavy horizontal line (called রফলা rôfôla) under the previous member: খ্র khrô গ্র grô ঘ্র ghrô ব্র brô etc.
- In some fonts, certain conjuncts with রফলা rôfôla appear using the compressed (and often simplified) form of the previous consonant: জ্র jrô ট্র ṭrô ঠ্র ṭhrô ড্র ḍrô ম্র mrô স্র srô.
- In some fonts, certain conjuncts with রফলা rôfôla appear using the abbreviated form of the previous consonant: ক্র krô ত্র trô ভ্র bhrô
- As the last member of a conjunct, য jô appears as a wavy vertical line (called যফলা jôfôla) to the right of the previous member: ক্য kyô খ্য khyô গ্য gyô ঘ্য ghyô etc.
- In some fonts, certain conjuncts with যফলা jôfôla appear using special fused forms: দ্য dyô ন্য nyô শ্য śyô ষ্য ṣyô স্য syô হ্য hyô.
- When followed by র rô or ত tô, ক kô takes on the same form as ত tô would with the addition of a curl to the right: ক্র krô, ক্ত ktô.
- When preceded by the abbreviated form of ঞ ñiô, চ chô takes the shape of ব bô: ঞ্চ ñchô
- When preceded by another ট ṭô, ট ṭô is reduced to a leftward curl: ট্ট ṭṭô.
- When preceded by ষ ṣô, ণ ṇô appears as two loops to the right: ষ্ণ ṣṇô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, or when word-final and followed by no vowel, ত tô can appear as ৎ (called খণ্ড-ত khônḍô tô or "broken tô"): ৎস tsô ৎপ tpô ৎক tkô etc.
- When preceded by হ hô, ন nô appears as a curl to the right: হ্ন hnô.
- Certain combinations simply must be memorized: ক্ষ kṣô (kkhô) হ্ম hmô.
Exceptional consonant-vowel combinations
When serving as a vowel sign, উ u, ঊ ū, and ঋ ṛ take on many exceptional forms.
- উ u
- When following গ gô or শ śô, it takes on a variant form resembling the final tail of ও o: গু gu শু śu.
- When following a ত tô that is already part of a conjunct with প pô, ন nô or স sô, it is fused with the ত tô to resemble ও o: ন্তু ntu স্তু stu প্তু ptu.
- When following র rô, and in many fonts also following the variant রফলা rôfôla, it appears as an upward curl to the right of the preceding consonant as opposed to a downward loop below: রু ru গ্রু gru ত্রু tru থ্রু thru দ্রু dru ধ্রু dhru ব্রু bru ভ্রু bhru শ্রু śru.
- When following হ hô, it appears as an extra curl: হু hu.
- ঊ ū
- When following র rô, and in many fonts also following the variant রফলা rôfôla, it appears as a downstroke to the right of the preceding consonant as opposed to a downward hook below: রূ rū গ্রূ grū থ্রূ thrū দ্রূ drū ধ্রূ dhrū ভ্রূ bhrū শ্রূ śrū.
- ঋ ṛ
- When following হ hô, it takes the variant shape of ঊ ū: হৃ hṛ.
Conjuncts of three consonants also exist, and follow the same rules as above. Examples include স sô + ত tô +র rô = স্ত্র strô, ম mô + প pô + র rô = ম্প্র mprô, জ jô + জ jô + ৱ wô = জ্জ্ব jjwô, ক kô + ষ ṣô + ম mô = ক্ষ্ম kṣmô. Theoretically, four-consonant conjuncts can also be created, as in র rô + স sô + ট ṭô + র rô = র্স্ট্র rsṭrô, but these are not found in real words.
Modifiers and others
|Symbol with [kɔ] (ক) kô||Name||Function||Transliteration||IPA|
|Suppresses the inherent vowel [ɔ] (ô)||k||/k/|
|Final un-aspirated dental [t̪] (ত)||kôt||/kɔt̪/|
|Final velar nasal||kông||/kɔŋ/|
ঃ -h and ং -ng are also often used as abbreviation marks in Bengali, with ং -ng used when the next sound following the abbreviation would be a nasal sound, and ঃ -h otherwise. For example ডঃ ḍôh stands for ডক্টর ḍôkṭôr "doctor" and নং nông stands for নম্বর nômbôr "number". Some abbreviations have no marking at all, as in ঢাবি ḍhabi for ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় Ḍhaka Bishbôbidyalôy "Dhaka University". The full stop can also be used when writing out English letters as initials, such as ই.ইউ. i.iu "E.U.".
The jôfôla is sometimes used as a diacritic to indicate non-Bengali vowels of various kinds in transliterated foreign words. For example, the schwa is indicated by a jôfôla, the French u and the German umlaut ü as উ্য uyô, the German umlaut ö as ও্য oyô or এ্য eyô, etc.
The apostrophe, known in Bengali as ঊর্ধ্বকমা urdhbôkôma "upper comma", is sometimes used to distinguish between homographs, as in পাটা paţa "plank" and পা'টা paţa "the leg". Sometimes a hyphen is used for the same purpose (as in পা-টা, an alternative of পা'টা).
Digits and numerals
The Bengali script has ten Numerical digits (graphemes or symbols indicating the numbers from 0 to 9). Bengali numerals have no horizontal headstroke or মাত্রা "matra".
Numbers larger than 9 are written in Bengali using a positional base 10 numeral system (the decimal system). A period or dot is used to denote the decimal separator, which separates the integral and the fractional parts of a decimal number. When writing large numbers with many digits, commas are used as delimiters to group digits, indicating the thousand (হাজার hajar), the hundred thousand or lakh (লাখ lakh or লক্ষ lôkkhô), and the ten million or hundred lakh or crore (কোটি koṭi) units. In other words, going leftwards from the decimal separator, the first grouping consists of three digits, and the subsequent groupings always consist of 2 digits.
For example, the English number 17,557,345 will be written in traditional Bengali as ১,৭৫,৫৭,৩৪৫ (এক কোটি, পঁচাত্তর লাখ, সাতান্ন হাজার, তিন শত পঁয়তাল্লিশ êk koṭi põchattôr lakh, satannô hajar, tin shôtô põytallish, "one crore, seventy-five lakhs, fifty-seven thousand, three hundred forty-five").
Unlike in western scripts (Latin, Cyrillic, etc.) where the letter-forms stand on an invisible baseline, the Bengali letter-forms instead hang from a visible horizontal left-to-right headstroke called মাত্রা matra. The presence and absence of this matra can be important. For example, the letter ত tô and the numeral ৩ "3" are distinguishable only by the presence or absence of the matra, as is the case between the consonant cluster ত্র trô and the independent vowel এ e. The letter-forms also employ the concepts of letter-width and letter-height (the vertical space between the visible matra and an invisible baseline).
Bengali punctuation marks, apart from the downstroke daŗi (|), the Bengali equivalent of a full stop, have been adopted from western scripts and their usage is similar. Commas, semicolons, colons, quotation marks, etc. are the same as in English. The concept of using capital letters is absent in the Bengali script, hence proper names are unmarked.
Characteristics of the Bengali text
Bengali text is written and read horizontally, from left to right.
The consonant graphemes and the full form of vowel graphemes fit into an imaginary rectangle of uniform size (i.e. uniform width and height). The size of a consonant conjunct, regardless of its complexity, is deliberately maintained the same as that of a single consonant grapheme, so that diacritic vowel forms can be attached to it without any distortion.
In a typical Bengali text, orthographic words, i.e., words as they are written, can be seen as being separated from each other by an even spacing. Graphemes within a word are also evenly spaced, but this spacing is much narrower than the spacing between words.
As discussed earlier, the Bengali punctuation marks are often the same as their English counterparts, both in form and function.
Characteristics of the orthographic word
In every Bengali orthographic word, one can find different kinds of graphemes and their combinations, and they are as follows:
- Independent form of vowel graphemes, which can be found at the beginning of a word or after another vowel sound.
- Consonant graphemes (or consonant conjuncts) with no diacritic vowel form attached to them. An inherent vowel (either /ɔ/ or /o/, depending on context) is nevertheless assumed to be attached to them.
- Consonant graphemes (or consonant conjuncts) with a diacritic vowel form attached to them.
- Other modifier symbols indicating nasalization of vowels, suppression of the inherent vowel, etc.
The matra or the horizontal headstroke on each grapheme usually add up and often form a continuous single headstroke over the entire orthographic word, with different graphemes hanging down from it. This gives Bengali text a distinct look.
Grapheme frequency count
The following inconsistencies are inherent in the Bengali script and orthography. They often put additional burden on the person learning the script. The inconsistencies manifest themselves in various ways. Sometimes there are multiple different letters or symbols for the same sound (over-production). Sometimes a letter loses its original sound value. In other instances, the coverage of phonological information by the script is incomplete, inconsistent and/or ambiguous. Most of these inconsistencies can be attributed to the fact that the script was originally conceived to represent Sanskrit sounds.
Redundant graphemes for the vowel sounds [i] and [u]
The Bengali script has two symbols for the vowel sound [i] and two symbols for the vowel sound [u]. This redundancy stems from the time when this script was used to write Sanskrit, a language that had a short ই [i] and a long ঈ [iː], and a short উ [u] and a long ঊ [uː]. These letters are preserved in the Bengali script with their traditional names, despite the fact that they are no longer pronounced differently in ordinary speech. These graphemes do serve an etymological function, however, in preserving the original Sanskrit spelling in tôtsômô Bengali words (i.e., words that were borrowed from Sanskrit).
The vowel grapheme ঋ ri
The grapheme called ri does not really represent a vowel phoneme in Bengali, rather the consonant-vowel combination /ri/. Nevertheless, it is included in the vowel section of the inventory of the Bengali script. This inconsistency is also a remnant from Sanskrit, where the grapheme represents a retroflex approximant, a sound considered a vowel in Sanskrit.
The vowel sound [æ]
Even though the near-open front unrounded vowel [æ] is one of the seven main vowel sounds in the standard Bengali language, no distinct vowel symbol has been allotted for it in the script, since there is no [æ] sound in Sanskrit, the primary written language when the script was conceived. As a result, this sound is orthographically realized by multiple means in modern Bengali orthography, usually using some combination of এ, অ, আ and the jôfôla (diacritic form of the consonant grapheme য jô) as seen in the following examples:
- word-initially: এত [æt̪ɔ] "so much", এ্যাকাডেমী [ækademi] "academy", অ্যামিবা [æmiba] "amoeba"
- word-medially and following a consonant: দেখা [d̪ækha] "to see", ব্যস্ত [bæst̪ɔ] "busy", ব্যাকরণ [bækɔrɔn] "grammar".
ত and ৎ
In the native Bengali words, syllable-final ত tô /t̪ɔ/ is pronounced /t̪/, as in নাতনি /nat̪ni/ "grand daughter", করাত /kɔrat̪/ "saw", etc.
ৎ (called খণ্ড-ত khônḍô tô "broken tô") is always used syllable-finally and always pronounced as /t̪/. It is predominantly found in loan words from Sanskrit such as ভবিষ্যৎ bhôbishyôt "future", সত্যজিৎ sôtyôjit (a proper name), etc. It is also found in some onomatopoeic words (such as থপাৎ thôpat "sound of something heavy that fell", মড়াৎ môɽat "sound of something breaking", etc.), as the first member of some consonant conjuncts (such as ৎস tsô, ৎপ tpô, ৎক tkô, etc.), and in some foreign loanwords (e.g. নাৎসি natsi "Nazi", জুজুৎসু jujutsu "Jujutsu", ৎসুনামি tsunami "Tsunami", etc.) which contain the same conjuncts.
This is an over-production inconsistency, where the sound /t̪/ is realized by both ত and ৎ. This creates confusion among inexperienced writers of Bengali. There is no simple way of telling which symbol should be used. Usually, the contexts where ৎ is used need to be memorized, as these are less frequent.
শ, ষ and স
Three graphemes—শ "palatal s", ষ "cerebral s", and স "dental s"—are used to represent the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative [ʃɔ], as seen in their word-final pronunciations in ফিসফিস fisfis "whisper", বিশ biśh "twenty" and বিষ biṣh "poison". The grapheme স "dental s", however, does retain the voiceless alveolar fricative [sɔ] sound when used as the first component in certain consonant conjuncts as in স্খলন sthôlôn "fall", স্পন্দন spôndôn "beat", etc.
জ and য
There are two letters জ jô and য jô for the voiced postalveolar affricate [dʒɔ] (jô sound). Compare জাল [dʒal] "net" and যাও [dʒao] "Go!".
What was once pronounced and written as a retroflex nasal ণ [ɳɔ] is now pronounced as an alveolar [nɔ] (unless conjoined with another retroflex consonant such as ট, ঠ, ড and ঢ), although the spelling does not reflect this change.
The romanization of Bengali is the representation of the Bengali language in the Latin script. There are various ways of Romanization systems of Bengali created in recent years which have failed to represent the true Bengali phonetic sound. While different standards for romanization have been proposed for Bengali, these have not been adopted with the degree of uniformity seen in languages such as Japanese or Sanskrit. The Bengali script has often been included with the group of Indic scripts for romanization where the true phonetic value of Bengali is never represented. Some of them are the "International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration" or IAST system (based on diacritics), "Indian languages Transliteration" or ITRANS (uses upper case alphabets suited for ASCII keyboards), and the National Library at Calcutta romanization.
In the context of Bengali Romanization, it is important to distinguish transliteration from transcription. Transliteration is orthographically accurate (i.e. the original spelling can be recovered), whereas transcription is phonetically accurate (the pronunciation can be reproduced). Since English does not have the sounds of Bengali, and since pronunciation does not completely reflect the spellings, not being faithful to both.
Although it might be desirable to use a transliteration scheme where the original Bengali orthography is recoverable from the Latin text, Bengali words are currently Romanized on Wikipedia using a phonemic transcription, where the true phonetic pronunciation of Bengali is represented with no reference to how it is written. The Wikipedia Romanization scheme is given in the table below, with the IPA transcriptions as used above.
The Portuguese missionaries stationed in Bengal in the 16th century were the first people to employ the Latin alphabet in writing Bengali books, the most famous of which are the Crepar Xaxtrer Orth, Bhed and the Vocabolario em idioma Bengalla, e Portuguez dividido em duas partes, both written by Manuel da Assumpção. But the Portuguese-based romanization did not take root. In the late 18th century Augustin Aussant used a romanization scheme based on the French alphabet. At the same time, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed used a romanization scheme based on English for his Bengali grammar book. After Halhed, the renowned English philologist and oriental scholar Sir William Jones devised a romanization scheme for Bengali and for Indian languages in general, and published it in the Asiatick Researches journal in 1801. This scheme came to be known as the "Jonesian System" of romanization, and served as a model for the next century and a half.
Transliteration vs transcription
The Romanization of a language written in a non-Roman script can be based on transliteration (orthographically accurate, i.e. the original spelling can be recovered) or transcription (phonetically accurate, i.e. the pronunciation can be reproduced). This distinction is important in Bengali as its orthography was adopted from Sanskrit, and ignores sound change processes of several millennia. To some degree, all writing systems differ from the way the language is pronounced, but this may be more extreme for languages like Bengali. For example, the three letters শ, ষ, and স had distinct pronunciations in Sanskrit, but over several centuries, the standard pronunciation of Bengali (usually modeled on the Nadia dialect), has lost these phonetic distinctions (all three are usually pronounced as IPA [ʃɔ]) while the spelling distinction nevertheless persists in orthography.
In written texts, it is easy to distinguish between homophones such as শাপ shap "curse" and সাপ shap "snake". Such a distinction could be particularly relevant in searching for the term in an encyclopedia, for example. However, the fact that the words sound identical means that they would be transcribed identically; thus, some important meaning distinctions cannot be rendered in a transcription model. Another issue with transcription systems is that cross-dialectal and cross-register differences are widespread, and thus the same word or lexeme may have many different transcriptions. Even simple words like মন "mind" may be pronounced "mon", "môn", or (in poetry) "mônô" (e.g. the Indian national anthem, Jana Gana Mana).
Often, different phonemes (meaningfully different sounds) are represented by the same symbol or grapheme. Thus, the vowel এ can represent both [e] (এল elo [elɔ] "came"), or [ɛ] (এক êk [ɛk] "one"). Occasionally, words written in the same way (homographs) may have different pronunciations for differing meanings: মত can mean "opinion" (pronounced môt), or "similar to" (môtô). Thus, some important phonemic distinctions cannot be rendered in a transliteration model. In addition, when representing a Bengali word to allow speakers of other languages to pronounce it easily, it may be better to use a transcription, which does not include the silent letters and other idiosyncrasies (e.g. স্বাস্থ্য sbasthyô, spelled <swāsthya>, or অজ্ঞান ôggên, spelled <ajñāna>) that make Bengali romanization so complicated. Those spelled letters are false to phonetic romanization of Bengali and is a result of often inclusion of the Bengali script with other Indic scripts for romanizations, where the other Incic scripts don't carry the inherited vowel ô, thus making Bengali romanization a mess.
Comparison of romanizations
Comparisons of standard romanization schemes for Bengali are given in the table below. Two standards are commonly used for transliteration of Indic languages including Bengali. Many standards (e.g. NLK / ISO), use diacritic marks and permit case markings for proper nouns. Newer forms (e.g. Harvard-Kyoto) are more suited for ASCII-derivative keyboards, and use upper- and lower-case letters contrastively and forgo normal standards for English capitalization.
- "NLK" stands for the diacritic-based letter-to-letter transliteration schemes, best represented by the National Library at Kolkata romanization or the ISO 15919, or IAST. This is the ISO standard, and it uses diacritic marks (e.g. ā) to reflect the additional characters and sounds of Bengali letters.
- ITRANS is an ASCII representation for Sanskrit; it is one-to-many, i.e. there may be more than one way of transliterating characters, which can make internet searching more complicated. ITRANS representations forgo capitalization norms of English so as to be able to represent the characters using a normal ASCII keyboard.
- "HK" stands for two other case-sensitive letter-to-letter transliteration schemes: Harvard-Kyoto and XIAST scheme. These are similar to the ITRANS scheme, and use only one form for each character.
- XHK or Extended Harvard-Kyoto (XHK) stands for the case-sensitive letter-to-letter Extended Harvard-Kyoto transliteration. This adds some specific characters for handling Bengali text to IAST.
- "Wiki" stands for a phonemic transcription-based romanization. It is a sound-preserving transcription based on what is perceived to be the standard pronunciation of the Bengali words, with no reference to how it is written in Bengali script. It uses diacritics often used by linguists specializing in Bengali (other than IPA), and is the transcription system used to represent Bengali sounds in Wikipedia articles.
The following table includes examples of Bengali words Romanized using the various systems mentioned above.
The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) transcription is provided in the rightmost column, representing the most common pronunciation of the glyph in Standard Colloquial Bengali, alongside the various romanizations described above.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Bengali in Bengali alphabet
- ধারা ১: সমস্ত মানুষ স্বাধীনভাবে সমান মর্যাদা এবং অধিকার নিয়ে জন্মগ্রহণ করে। তাঁদের বিবেক এবং বুদ্ধি আছে; সুতরাং সকলেরই একে অপরের প্রতি ভ্রাতৃত্বসুলভ মনোভাব নিয়ে আচরণ করা উচিত।
- Dhara êk: Sômôstô manush sbadhinbhabe sôman môrjada ebông ôdhikar niye jônmôgrôhôn kôre. Tãder bibek ebông buddhi achhe; sutôrang sôkôleri êke ôpôrer prôti bhratritbôsulôbh mônobhab niye achôrôn kôra uchit.
- d̪ʱara æk ʃɔmɔst̪ɔ manuʃ ʃad̪ʱinbʱabe ʃɔman mɔrdʒad̪a ebɔŋ ɔd̪ʱikar nie̯e dʒɔnmɔɡrɔhɔn kɔre. t̪ãd̪er bibek ebɔŋ budd̪ʱːi atʃʰe; sut̪ɔraŋ sɔkɔleri æke ɔpɔrer prɔt̪i bʱrat̪rit̪ːɔsulɔbʱ mɔnobʱab nie̯e atʃɔrɔn kɔra utʃit̪.
- Clause 1: All human free-manner-in equal dignity and right taken birth-take do. Their reason and intelligence exist; therefore everyone-indeed one another's towards brotherhood-ly attitude taken conduct do should.
- Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Bengali script was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 1991 with the release of version 1.0.
The Unicode block for Bengali is U+0980–U+09FF:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Footnotes and references
- Ancient Scripts
- Different Bengali linguists give different numbers of Bengali diphthongs in their works depending on methodology, e.g. 25 (Chatterji 1939: 40), 31 (Hai 1964), 45 (Ashraf and Ashraf 1966: 49), 28 (Kostic and Das 1972:6-7) and 17 (Sarkar 1987).
- The natural pronunciation of the grapheme অ, whether in its independent (visible) form or in its "inherent" (invisible) form in a consonant grapheme, is /ɔ/. But its pronunciation changes to /o/ in the following contexts:
- অ is in the first syllable and there is a ই /i/ or উ /u/ in the next syllable, as in অতি ôti "much" /ɔt̪i/, বলছি bôlchhi "(I am) speaking" /ˈboltʃʰi/
- if the অ is the inherent vowel in a word-initial consonant cluster ending in rôfôla "rô ending" /r/, as in প্রথম prôthôm "first" /prɔt̪ʰɔm/
- if the next consonant cluster contains a jôfôla "jô ending", as in অন্য ônyô "other" /onːo/, জন্য jônyô "for" /dʒɔnːɔ/
- See Chowdhury 1963
- In Japanese there exists some debate as to whether to accent certain distinctions, such as Tōhoku vs Tohoku. Sanskrit is well standardized, because the speaking community is relatively small, and sound change is not a large concern
- "Learning International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration". Sanskrit 3 - Learning transliteration. Gabriel Pradiipaka & Andrés Muni. Archived from the original on 12 February 2007. Retrieved 2006-11-20.
- "ITRANS — Indian Language Transliteration Package". Avinash Chopde. Retrieved 2006-11-20.
- "Annex-F: Roman Script Transliteration" (PDF). Indian Standard: Indian Script Code for Information Interchange — ISCII. Bureau of Indian Standards. 1 April 1999. p. 32. Retrieved 2006-11-20.
- Jones 1801
- Ashraf, Syed Ali; Ashraf, Asia (1966), "Bengali Diphthongs", in Dil A. S., Shahidullah Presentation Volume, Lahore: Linguistic Research Group of Pakistan, pp. 47–52
- Chatterji, Suniti Kumar (1939), Vasha-prakash Bangala Vyakaran (A Grammar of the Bengali Language), Calcutta: University of Calcutta
- Chowdhury, Munier (1963), "Shahitto, shônkhatôtto o bhashatôtto (Literature, statistics and linguistics)", Bangla Academy Potrika (Dhaka) 6 (4): 65–76
- Kostic, Djordje; Das, Rhea S. (1972), A Short Outline of Bengali Phonetics, Calcutta: Statistical Publishing Company
- Hai, Muhammad Abdul (1964), Dhvani Vijnan O Bangla Dhvani-tattwa (Phonetics and Bengali Phonology), Dhaka: Bangla Academy
- Jones, William (1801), "Orthography of Asiatick Words in Roman Letters", Asiatick Researches (Calcutta: Asiatick Society)
- Sarkar, Pabitra (1987), "Bangla Dishôrodhoni (Bengali Diphthongs)", Bhasha (Calcutta) 4–5: 10–12
- digital encoding and rendering
- Free Unicode Compliant Bangla Typing Software
- Ekushey Free Unicode Bangla Computing Solutions
- Free Bangla Unicode Fonts
- Ankur – Supporting Bangla (Bengali) on GNU/Linux
- Open source Bangla Transliteration Library