Bengali language

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বাংলা Bangla
Bangla Script.svg
The word "Bangla" in the Bengali alphabet
Native to Bangladesh and India (Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and South Assam)
Region Bengal
Ethnicity Bengali people
Native speakers
210 million  (2010)[1]
20 million L2 speakers in Bangladesh (2011 census)[2]
Early forms
  • Old Bengali
    • Bengali
Bengali alphabet
Bengali Braille
Official status
Official language in

 India in the following states and union territories:

 Sierra Leone (honorary official language)[3]
Regulated by Bangladesh Bangla Academy
India West Bengal Bangla Academy
Language codes
ISO 639-1 bn
ISO 639-2 ben
ISO 639-3 ben
Glottolog beng1280[4]
Linguasphere 59-AAF-u
Bengali speaking area around the world
  Bengali with native speakers holds sole official and national language status
  Bengali with native speakers holds one of the official languages status
  Large diaspora of Bengali speakers (100,000+)
  Smaller diaspora of Bengali speakers (10,000+)
Bengali speaking area in South Asia

Bengali (/bɛŋˈɡɔːli/)[5] or Bangla (/bɑːŋlɑː/; বাংলা Bangla [ˈbaŋla]) is the language native to the region of Bengal, which comprises the present-day nation of Bangladesh and of the Indian states West Bengal, Tripura and southern Assam. It is written using the Bengali alphabet. With about 220 million native and about 300 million total speakers, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages, ranked fifth in the world.[6][7] The importance of this language to the countries of South Asia can be noted by the fact that the National Anthem of Bangladesh, National Anthem of India, National Anthem of Sri Lanka and the national song of India were all first composed in the Bengali language.

Standard Bengali in Bangladesh and West Bengal are marked by some differences in usage, accent, and phonetics. Today, literary form and different dialects of Bengali constitute the primary language spoken in Bangladesh, and the second most commonly spoken language in India.[8][9] With a rich literary tradition arising from the Bengali renaissance, the Bengali language binds together a culturally diverse region and is an important contributor to Bengali nationalism.

The Bengali Language Movement (ভাষা আন্দোলন Bhasha Andolôn) was a movement in 1951–52 in what was then East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) that heavily linked Bengali identity with the Bengali language. On 21 February 1952, protesting students and activists sacrificed their lives at the Dhaka University campus for the right to read, write, and speak in their mother language of Bengali. In 1999, UNESCO declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day in recognition of the people who sacrificed their lives for their right to use the Bengali language, instead of the then-state imposed Urdu language.[10][11]


Shohid Minar, or the Martyr's monument, in Dhaka, commemorates the struggle for the Bengali language.

Along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali evolved circa 1000–1200 CE from eastern Middle Indo-Aryan dialects such as the Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, which developed from a dialect or group of dialects that were close, but not identical, to Vedic and Classical Sanskrit.[12] The earliest recorded spoken languages in the region and the language of Gautama Buddha, evolved into the Magadhi Prakrit or ôrdhômagôdhi "Half Magadhi" in the early part of the first millennium CE.[13][14] ôrdhômagôdhi, as with all of the Prakrits of North India, began to give way to what are called 'Apabhraṃśa or ôpôbhrôngshô] ("Corrupted grammar") languages just before the turn of the first millennium.[15]

The local ôpôbhrôngshô language of the eastern subcontinent, Purbi ôpôbhrôngshô or Abahatta ("Meaningless Sounds"), eventually evolved into regional dialects, which in turn formed three groups of the Bengali-Assamese languages, the Bihari languages, and the Oriya languages. Some argue that the points of divergence occurred much earlier — going back to even 500,[16] but the language was not static: different varieties coexisted and authors often wrote in multiple dialects in this period. For example, Magadhi Prakrit is believed to have evolved into Abahatta around the 6th century, which competed with the ancestor of Bengali for some time.[17]

Literary Bengali saw borrowings and influence from Classical Sanskrit during the Middle Bengali (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu era), and also during the Bengal Renaissance.[18] This was reflected in the preserving the spellings of borrowed words, while adapting their pronunciation to that of Bengali.

The modern literary form of Bengali was developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries based on the dialect spoken in the Nadia region, a west-central Bengali dialect. Bengali presents a strong case of diglossia, with the literary and standard form differing greatly from the colloquial speech of the regions that identify with the language.[19] The modern Bengali vocabulary contains the vocabulary base from Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, also borrowings & reborrowings from Sanskrit and other major borrowings from Persian, Arabic, Austroasiatic languages and other languages in contact with.

Pages from the Chôrjapôdô.

Usually three periods are identified in the history of the Bengali language:[15]

  1. Old Bengali (900/1000–1400)—texts include চর্যাপদ Chôrjapôdô, devotional songs; emergence of pronouns আমি Ami, তুমি tumi, etc.; verb inflections -ইলা -ila, -ইবা -iba, etc. The scripts and languages during this period were mainly influenced by the Kamarupi Prakrit as the entire region- Assam, Bengal and parts of Bihar was under the Kamrup kingdom (now known as Assam).
  2. Middle Bengali (1400–1800)—major texts of the period include Chandidas's Shreekrishna Kirtana; elision of word-final ô sound; spread of compound verbs; Persian influence. Some scholars further divide this period into early and late middle periods.
  3. Modern Bengali (since 1800)—shortening of verbs and pronouns, among other changes (e.g. তাহার taharতার tar "his"/"her"; করিয়াছিল kôriyachhilôকরেছিল korechhilo he/she had done).

Until the 18th century, there was no attempt to document Bengali grammar. The first written Bengali dictionary/grammar, Vocabolario em idioma Bengalla, e Portuguez dividido em duas partes, was written by the Portuguese missionary Manuel da Assumpção between 1734 and 1742, while he was serving in Bhawal Estate.[20] Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, a British grammarian, wrote a modern Bengali grammar (A Grammar of the Bengal Language (1778)) that used Bengali types in print for the first time.[6] Ram Mohan Roy, the great Bengali reformer,[21] also wrote a "Grammar of the Bengali Language" (1832).[22]

During this period, the চলিতভাষা Chôlitôbhasha form of Bengali using simplified inflections and other changes, was emerging from সাধুভাষা Sadhubhasha (Proper form or original form of Bengali) as the form of choice for written Bengali.[23]

The Bengali Language Movement was a popular ethno-linguistic movement in the former East Bengal (today Bangladesh), which was a result of the strong linguistic consciousness of the Bengali people to gain and protect spoken and written Bengali's recognition as a state language of the then Dominion of Pakistan. On the day of 21 February 1952 several students and political activists were killed during protests near the campus of the University of Dhaka. The day has since been observed as Language Movement Day in Bangladesh and was proclaimed the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO on 17 November 1999, marking Bengali language the only language in the world to be also known for its language movements and people sacrificing their life for their mother language.

There was a similar Bengali language movement in Assam, a protest against the decision of the Government of Assam to make Assamese the only official language of the state even though a significant proportion of the population were Bengali-speaking.

Geographical distribution[edit]

Bengali signage at an Indian Railway station.

Bengali language is native to the region Bengal, which comprises present-day nation of Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and southern Assam.

Besides the native region it is also spoken by the majority of the population in the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There are also significant Bengali-speaking communities in Middle East, Japan, United States, Singapore,[24] Malaysia, Maldives, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Official status[edit]

Bengali is the national and official language of Bangladesh, and one of the 23 official languages recognised by the Republic of India.[25] It is the official language of the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam.[26][27] It is also a major language in the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[28][29]

The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the National Poet of India

Bengali is a second official language of the Indian state of Jharkhand since September 2011. It is also a recognized secondary language in the City of Karachi in Pakistan.[30][31][32] The Department of Bengali in the University of Karachi also offers regular programs of studies at the Bachelors and at the Masters levels for Bengali Literature.[33] In December 2002, Sierra Leone’s then President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah also named Bengali as an "official language" in recognition of the work of 5,300 troops from Bangladesh in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone peacekeeping force.[3][34]

The national anthems of both Bangladesh and India were written in Bengali by the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.[35] In 2009, elected representatives in both Bangladesh and West Bengal called for Bengali language to be made an official language of the United Nations.[36]


Main article: Bengali dialects

Regional variation in spoken Bengali constitutes a dialect continuum. Linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji grouped these dialects into four large clusters—Rarh, Banga, Kamarupa and Varendra;[6] but many alternative grouping schemes have also been proposed.[37] The south-western dialects (Rarh or Nadia dialect) form the basis of modern standard colloquial Bengali. In the dialects prevalent in much of eastern and south-eastern Bangladesh (Barisal division, Chittagong division, Dhaka division and Sylhet division of Bangladesh), many of the stops and affricates heard in West Bengal are pronounced as fricatives. Western alveolo-palatal affricates চ [tɕɔ], ছ [tɕʰɔ], জ [dʑɔ] correspond to eastern [tsɔ], ছ [sɔ], [dzɔ~zɔ]. The influence of Tibeto-Burman languages on the phonology of Eastern Bengali is seen through the lack of nasalized vowels. Some variants of Bengali, particularly Chittagonian and Chakma, have contrastive tone; differences in the pitch of the speaker's voice can distinguish words. Rajbangsi, Kharia Thar and Mal Paharia are closely related to Western Bengali dialects, but are typically classified as separate languages. Similarly, Hajong is considered a separate language, although it shares similarities to Northern Bengali dialects.[38]

During the standardization of Bengali in the 19th century and early 20th century, the cultural center of Bengal was in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata), founded by the British. What is accepted as the standard form today in both West Bengal and Bangladesh is based on the West-Central dialect of Nadia District, located next to the border of Bangladesh.[39] There are cases where speakers of Standard Bengali in West Bengal will use a different word from a speaker of Standard Bengali in Bangladesh, even though both words are of native Bengali descent. For example, the word salt is নুন nun in the west which corresponds to লবণ lôbôn in the east.[40]

Spoken and literary varieties[edit]

Bengali exhibits diglossia, though largely contested notion as some scholars proposed triglossia or even n-glossia or heteroglossia[41] between the written and spoken forms of the language.[42] Two styles of writing, involving somewhat different vocabularies and syntax, have emerged:[39][43]

  1. Shadhu-bhasha (সাধুভাষা ← সাধু shadhu='chaste' or 'sage' + ভাষা bhasha='language') was the written language, with longer verb inflections and more of a Pali and Sanskrit-derived tôtsômô vocabulary. Songs such as India's national anthem Jônô Gônô Mônô (by Rabindranath Tagore) were composed in Shadhubhasha. However, use of Shadhubhasha in modern writing is uncommon, restricted to some official signs and documents in Bangladesh as well as for achieving particular literary effects.
  2. Cholitobhasha (চলিতভাষা ← চলিত chôlitô='current' or 'running' + ভাষা bhasha='language') known by linguists as Manno Cholit Bangla (Standard Colloquial Bengali), is a written Bengali style exhibiting a preponderance of colloquial idiom and shortened verb forms, and is the standard for written Bengali now. This form came into vogue towards the turn of the 19th century, promoted by the writings of Peary Chand Mitra (Alaler Gharer Dulal, 1857),[44] Pramatha Chaudhuri (Sabujpatra, 1914) and in the later writings of Rabindranath Tagore. It is modeled on the dialect spoken in the Shantipur region in Nadia district, West Bengal. This form of Bengali is often referred to as the "Nadia standard", "Nadia dialect", "South-western/Western-central dialect" or "Shantipuri Bangla".[37]

While most writing is in Standard Colloquial Bengali, spoken dialects (defeated language of the captive speaker[45]) exhibit a greater variety. South-eastern West Bengal, including Kolkata, speak in Standard Colloquial Bengali. Other parts of West Bengal and western Bangladesh speak in dialects that are minor variations, such as the Medinipur dialect characterised by some unique words and constructions. However, a majority in Bangladesh speak in dialects notably different from Standard Colloquial Bengali. Some dialects, particularly those of the Chittagong region, bear only a superficial resemblance to Standard Colloquial Bengali.[46] The dialect in the Chittagong region is least widely understood by the general body of Bengalis.[46] The majority of Bengalis are able to communicate in more than one variety—often, speakers are fluent in Cholitobhasha (Standard Colloquial Bengali) and one or more regional dialects.[23] For some counter-views, one may browse some different articles.[47][48]

Even in Standard Colloquial Bengali, the words may differ according to the speakers's religion: Hindus and Muslims are more likely to use words derived from Sanskrit and Arabic respectively.[49] For example:[40]

Sanskrit-derived Arabic-derived translation
নমস্কার nômôshkar সালাম আলাইকুম salam-alaikum hello
নিমন্ত্রণ nimôntrôn দাওয়াত daoat invitation
মা ma আম্মু ammu mother
জল jôl পানি pani water


Main article: Bengali phonology

The phonemic inventory of standard Bengali consists of 29 consonants and 7 vowels, including 6 nasalized vowels. The inventory is set out below in the International Phonetic Alphabet (upper grapheme in each box) and romanization (lower grapheme).

Front Central Back
Close ই~ঈ

Near-open এ্যা/অ্যা

Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatoalveolar Velar Glottal

ঞ ~ ণ ~ ন

Plosive voiceless










জ ~ য
jô ~ zô






শ ~ ষ



ড় ~ ঢ়
rô / rhô

Bengali is known for its wide variety of diphthongs, combinations of vowels occurring within the same syllable.[50]


In standard Bengali, stress is predominantly initial. Bengali words are virtually all trochaic; the primary stress falls on the initial syllable of the word, while secondary stress often falls on all odd-numbered syllables thereafter, giving strings such as in সহযোগিতা shô-hô-jo-gi-ta "cooperation", where the boldface represents primary and secondary stress.

Consonant clusters[edit]

Native Bengali words (তদ্ভব tôdbhôbô) do not allow initial consonant clusters;[51] the maximum syllabic structure is CVC (i.e. one vowel flanked by a consonant on each side). Many speakers of Bengali restrict their phonology to this pattern, even when using Sanskrit or English borrowings, such as গেরাম geram (CV.CVC) for গ্রাম gram (CCVC) "village" or ইস্কুল iskul (VC.CVC) for স্কুল skul (CCVC) "school".

Writing system[edit]

An example of handwritten Bengali. Part of a poem written in Bengali (and with its English translation below each Bengali paragraph) by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1926 in Hungary.

The Bengali script is an abugida, a script with letters for consonants, diacritics for vowels, and in which an "inherent" vowel (অ ô) is assumed for consonants if no vowel is marked.[52] The Bengali alphabet is used throughout Bangladesh and eastern India (Assam, West Bengal, Tripura). The Bengali alphabet is believed to have evolved from a modified Brahmic script around 1000 CE (or 10th – 11th century).[53] The Bengali alphabet, with minor variations, is the same as the Assamese alphabet.

The Bengali script is a cursive script with eleven graphemes or signs denoting nine vowels and two diphthongs, and thirty-nine graphemes representing consonants and other modifiers.[53] There are no distinct upper and lower case letter forms. The letters run from left to right and spaces are used to separate orthographic words. Bengali script has a distinctive horizontal line running along the tops of the graphemes that links them together called মাত্রা matra.[54]

Since the Bengali script is an abugida, its consonant graphemes usually do not represent phonetic segments, but carry an "inherent" vowel and thus are syllabic in nature. The inherent vowel is usually a back vowel, either [ɔ] as in মত [mɔt̪] "opinion" or [o], as in মন [mon] "mind", with variants like the more open [ɒ]. To emphatically represent a consonant sound without any inherent vowel attached to it, a special diacritic, called the hôsôntô (্), may be added below the basic consonant grapheme (as in ম্ [m]). This diacritic, however, is not common, and is chiefly employed as a guide to pronunciation. The abugida nature of Bengali consonant graphemes is not consistent, however. Often, syllable-final consonant graphemes, though not marked by a hôsôntô, may carry no inherent vowel sound (as in the final ন in মন [mon] or the medial ম in গামলা [ɡamla]).

A consonant sound followed by some vowel sound other than the inherent [ɔ] is orthographically realized by using a variety of vowel allographs above, below, before, after, or around the consonant sign, thus forming the ubiquitous consonant-vowel ligature. These allographs, called কার kar are dependent, diacritical vowel forms and cannot stand on their own. For example, the graph মি [mi] represents the consonant [m] followed by the vowel [i], where [i] is represented as the diacritical allograph ি (called ই-কার i-kar) and is placed before the default consonant sign. Similarly, the graphs মা [ma], মী [mi], মু [mu], মূ [mu], মৃ [mri], মে [me~mæ], মৈ [moj], মো [mo] and মৌ [mow] represent the same consonant ম combined with seven other vowels and two diphthongs. It should be noted that in these consonant-vowel ligatures, the so-called "inherent" vowel [ɔ] is first expunged from the consonant before adding the vowel, but this intermediate expulsion of the inherent vowel is not indicated in any visual manner on the basic consonant sign ম [mɔ].

The vowel graphemes in Bengali can take two forms: the independent form found in the basic inventory of the script and the dependent, abridged, allograph form (as discussed above). To represent a vowel in isolation from any preceding or following consonant, the independent form of the vowel is used. For example, in মই [moj] "ladder" and in ইলিশ [iliɕ] "Hilsa fish", the independent form of the vowel ই is used (cf. the dependent form ি). A vowel at the beginning of a word is always realized using its independent form.

In addition to the inherent-vowel-suppressing hôsôntô, three more diacritics are commonly used in Bengali. These are the superposed chôndrôbindu (ঁ), denoting a suprasegmental for nasalization of vowels (as in চাঁদ [tɕãd] "moon"), the postposed ônusbar (ং) indicating the velar nasal [ŋ] (as in বাংলা [baŋla] "Bengali") and the postposed bisôrgô (ঃ) indicating the voiceless glottal fricative [h] (as in উঃ! [uh] "ouch!") or the gemination of the following consonant (as in দুঃখ [dukʰːɔ] "sorrow").

The Bengali consonant clusters (যুক্তব্যঞ্জন juktôbênjôn) are usually realized as ligatures (যুক্তাক্ষর juktakkhôr), where the consonant which comes first is put on top of or to the left of the one that immediately follows. In these ligatures, the shapes of the constituent consonant signs are often contracted and sometimes even distorted beyond recognition. In Bengali writing system, there are nearly 285 such ligatures denoting consonant clusters. Although there exist a few visual formulas to construct some of these ligatures, many of them have to be learned by rote. Recently, in a bid to lessen this burden on young learners, efforts have been made by educational institutions in the two main Bengali-speaking regions (West Bengal and Bangladesh) to address the opaque nature of many consonant clusters, and as a result, modern Bengali textbooks are beginning to contain more and more "transparent" graphical forms of consonant clusters, in which the constituent consonants of a cluster are readily apparent from the graphical form. However, since this change is not as widespread and is not being followed as uniformly in the rest of the Bengali printed literature, today's Bengali-learning children will possibly have to learn to recognize both the new "transparent" and the old "opaque" forms, which ultimately amounts to an increase in learning burden.

Bengali punctuation marks, apart from the downstroke daṛi (|), the Bengali equivalent of a full stop, have been adopted from western scripts and their usage is similar.[6]

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 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).

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.

Signature of Rabindranath Tagore — an example of penmanship in Bengali.

Orthographic depth[edit]

The Bengali script in general has a comparatively shallow orthography, i.e., in most cases there is a one-to-one correspondence between the sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) of Bengali. But grapheme-phoneme inconsistencies do occur in certain cases.

One kind of inconsistency is due to the presence of several letters in the script for the same sound. In spite of some modifications in the 19th century, the Bengali spelling system continues to be based on the one used for Sanskrit,[6] and thus does not take into account some sound mergers that have occurred in the spoken language. For example, there are three letters (শ, ষ, and স) for the voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative [ɕɔ], although the letter স does retain the voiceless alveolar fricative [sɔ] sound when used in certain consonant conjuncts as in স্খলন [skhɔlɔn] "fall", স্পন্দন [spɔndɔn] "beat", etc. The letter ষ also does retain the voiceless retroflex fricative [ʂɔ] sound when used in certain consonant conjuncts as in কষ্ট [kɔʂʈɔ] "suffering", গোষ্ঠী [ɡoʂʈʰi] "clan", etc. Similarly, there are two letters (জ and য) for the Voiced alveolo-palatal affricate [dʑɔ]. Moreover, what was once pronounced and written as a retroflex nasal ণ [ɳɔ] is now pronounced as an alveolar [nɔ] when in conversation (the difference is seen heard when reading) (unless conjoined with another retroflex consonant such as ট, ঠ, ড and ঢ), although the spelling does not reflect this change. The near-open front unrounded vowel [æ] is orthographically realized by multiple means, as seen in the following examples: এত [æt̪ɔ] "so much", এ্যাকাডেমী [ækademi] "academy", অ্যামিবা [æmiba] "amoeba", দেখা [d̪ækʰa] "to see", ব্যস্ত [bæst̪ɔ] "busy", ব্যাকরণ [bækɔrɔn] "grammar".

Another kind of inconsistency is concerned with the incomplete coverage of phonological information in the script. The inherent vowel attached to every consonant can be either [ɔ] or [o] depending on vowel harmony (স্বরসঙ্গতি) with the preceding or following vowel or on the context, but this phonological information is not captured by the script, creating ambiguity for the reader. Furthermore, the inherent vowel is often not pronounced at the end of a syllable, as in কম [kɔm] "less", but this omission is not generally reflected in the script, making it difficult for the new reader.

Many consonant clusters have different sounds than their constituent consonants. For example, the combination of the consonants ক্ [k] and ষ [ʂɔ] is graphically realized as ক্ষ and is pronounced [kkʰɔ] (as in রুক্ষ [rukkʰɔ] "rugged") or [kkʰo] (as in ক্ষতি [kkʰot̪i] "loss") or even [kkʰɔ] (as in ক্ষমতা [kkʰɔmɔt̪a] "power"), depending on the position of the cluster in a word. The Bengali writing system is, therefore, not always a true guide to pronunciation.


The Bengali alphabet, with a few small modifications, is also used for writing Assamese. Other related languages in the nearby region also make use of the Bengali alphabet like the Meithei language in the Indian state of Manipur, where the Meitei language has been written in the Bengali alphabet for centuries, though Meitei Mayek script has been promoted in recent times.


There are various ways of Romanization systems of Bengali created in recent years which have failed to represent the true Bengali phonetic sound. The Bengali alphabet has often been included with the group of Brahmic 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),[55] "Indian languages Transliteration" or ITRANS (uses upper case alphabets suited for ASCII keyboards),[56] and the National Library at Kolkata romanization.[57]

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.


Main article: Bengali grammar

Bengali nouns are not assigned gender, which leads to minimal changing of adjectives (inflection). However, nouns and pronouns are moderately declined (altered depending on their function in a sentence) into four cases while verbs are heavily conjugated, and the verbs do not change form depending on the gender of the nouns.

Word order[edit]

As a head-final language, Bengali follows subject–object–verb word order, although variations to this theme are common.[58] Bengali makes use of postpositions, as opposed to the prepositions used in English and other European languages. Determiners follow the noun, while numerals, adjectives, and possessors precede the noun.[59]

Yes-no questions do not require any change to the basic word order; instead, the low (L) tone of the final syllable in the utterance is replaced with a falling (HL) tone. Additionally optional particles (e.g. কি -ki, না -na, etc.) are often encliticized onto the first or last word of a yes-no question.

Wh-questions are formed by fronting the wh-word to focus position, which is typically the first or second word in the utterance.


Nouns and pronouns are inflected for case, including nominative, objective, genitive (possessive), and locative.[15] The case marking pattern for each noun being inflected depends on the noun's degree of animacy. When a definite article such as -টা -ṭa (singular) or -গুলা -gula (plural) is added, as in the tables below, nouns are also inflected for number.

Singular noun inflection
Animate Inanimate
Nominative ছাত্রটা
the student
the shoe
Objective ছাত্রটাকে
the student
the shoe
Genitive ছাত্রটা
the student's
the shoe's
Locative জুতাটায়
on/in the shoe
Plural noun inflection
Animate Inanimate
Nominative ছাত্ররা
the students
the shoes
Objective ছাত্রদের(কে)
the students
the shoes
Genitive ছাত্রদের
the students'
the shoes'
Locative জুতাগুলা/জুতোগুলোতে
on/in the shoes

When counted, nouns take one of a small set of measure words. Similar to Japanese, the nouns in Bengali cannot be counted by adding the numeral directly adjacent to the noun. The noun's measure word (MW) must be used between the numeral and the noun. Most nouns take the generic measure word -টা -ṭa, though other measure words indicate semantic classes (e.g. -জন -jôn for humans).

Measure words
Bengali Bengali transliteration Literal translation English translation
নয়টা গরু Nôy-ṭa goru Nine-MW cow Nine cows
কয়টা বালিশ Kôy-ṭa balish How many-MW pillow How many pillows
অনেকজন লোক Ônek-jôn lok Many-MW person Many people
চার-পাঁচজন শিক্ষক Char-pãch-jôn shikkhôk Four-five-MW teacher Four or five teachers

Measuring nouns in Bengali without their corresponding measure words (e.g. আট বিড়াল aṭ biṛal instead of আটটা বিড়াল aṭ-ṭa biṛal "eight cats") would typically be considered ungrammatical. However, when the semantic class of the noun is understood from the measure word, the noun is often omitted and only the measure word is used, e.g. শুধু একজন থাকবে। Shudhu êk-jôn thakbe. (lit. "Only one-MW will remain.") would be understood to mean "Only one person will remain.", given the semantic class implicit in -জন -jôn.

In this sense, all nouns in Bengali, unlike most other Indo-European languages, are similar to mass nouns.


Verbs divide into two classes: finite and non-finite. Non-finite verbs have no inflection for tense or person, while finite verbs are fully inflected for person (first, second, third), tense (present, past, future), aspect (simple, perfect, progressive), and honor (intimate, familiar, and formal), but not for number. Conditional, imperative, and other special inflections for mood can replace the tense and aspect suffixes. The number of inflections on many verb roots can total more than 200.

Inflectional suffixes in the morphology of Bengali vary from region to region, along with minor differences in syntax.

Bengali differs from most Indo-Aryan Languages in the zero copula, where the copula or connective be is often missing in the present tense.[6] Thus "he is a teacher" is সে শিক্ষক se shikkhôk, (literally "he teacher").[60] In this respect, Bengali is similar to Russian and Hungarian. Romani grammar is also the closest to Bengali grammar.[61]


Sources of modern literary Bengali words
  67% তদ্ভব Tôdbhôbô (native)
  25% তৎসম Tôtsômô (Sanskrit reborrowings)
  8% দেশী Deshi (indigenous loans) and বিদেশী Bideshi (foreign loans)
Main article: Bengali vocabulary

Bengali has as many as 100,000 separate words, of which 50,000 are considered তৎসম Tôtsômô (direct re-borrowings from Sanskrit), 21,100 are তদ্ভব Tôdbhôbô (native words), and the rest being বিদেশী bideshi (foreign borrowings) and দেশী deshi (Austroasiatic borrowings) words.

However, these figures do not take into account the fact that a large proportion of these words are archaic or highly technical, minimizing their actual usage. The productive vocabulary used in modern literary works, in fact, is made up mostly (67%) of তদ্ভব Tôdbhôbô words, while তৎসম Tôtsômô only make up 25% of the total.[62][63] দেশী deshi and বিদেশী Bideshi words together make up the remaining 8% of the vocabulary used in modern Bengali literature.

Due to centuries of contact with Europeans, Mongols, and East Asians, the Bengali language has absorbed countless words from foreign languages, often totally integrating these borrowings into the core vocabulary.

The most common borrowings from foreign languages come from three different kinds of contact. After close contact with several indigenous Austroasiatic languages,[64] and later particularly under the Mughal Empire, numerous Turkish, Arabic, and Persian words were absorbed and fully integrated into the lexicon.[citation needed]

Later, East Asian travelers and lately European colonialism brought words from Portuguese, French, Dutch, and most significantly English during the colonial period.

Sample text[edit]

The following is a sample text in Bengali of the 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 উচিৎ।

Bengali in phonetic Romanization

Dhara êk: Sômôstô manush sbadhinbhabe sôman môrzada ebông ôdhikar niye jônmôgrôhôn kôre. Tãder bibek ebông buddhi achhe; sutôrang sôkôleri êke ôpôrer prôti bhratritbôsulôbh mônobhab niye achôrôn kôra uchit.

Bengali in IPA

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2010" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2010
  2. ^ Bengali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ a b "Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan". Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Bengali". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  5. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. ^ a b c d e f Bengali language in Asiatic Society of Bangladesh 2003
  7. ^ "Statistical Summaries". Ethnologue. 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-23. 
  8. ^ "Languages of India". Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  9. ^ "Languages in Descending Order of Strength — India, States and Union Territories – 1991 Census". Census Data Online. Office of the Registrar General, India. p. 1. Archived from the original on 14 June 2007. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  10. ^ "Amendment to the Draft Programme and Budget for 2000–2001 (30 C/5)" (PDF). General Conference, 30th Session, Draft Resolution. UNESCO. 1999. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  11. ^ "Resolution adopted by the 30th Session of UNESCO's General Conference (1999)". International Mother Language Day. UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  12. ^ Oberlies, Thomas Pali: A Grammar of the Language of the Theravāda Tipiṭaka, Walter de Gruyter, 2001.
  13. ^ Shah 1998, p. 11
  14. ^ Keith 1998, p. 187
  15. ^ a b c (Bhattacharya 2000)
  16. ^ (Sen 1996)
  17. ^ Abahattha in Asiatic Society of Bangladesh 2003
  18. ^ Tagore & Das 1996, p. 222
  19. ^ "The Bengali Language at Cornell - Department of Asian Studies". 
  20. ^ Rahman, Aminur. "Grammar". Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  21. ^ Wilson & Dalton 1982, p. 155
  22. ^ "Rammohan Roy’s Goudiya Grammar". 
  23. ^ a b Ray, S Kumar. "The Bengali Language and Translation". Translation Articles. Kwintessential. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  24. ^ Bangla Language and Literary Society, Singapore
  25. ^ "Languages of India". Ethnologue Report. Retrieved 2006-11-04. 
  26. ^ NIC, Assam State Centre, Guwahati, Assam. "Language". Government of Assam. Archived from the original on 6 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-20. 
  27. ^ Bhattacharjee, Kishalay (30 April 2008). "It's Indian language vs Indian language". Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  28. ^ "Profile: A&N Islands at a Glance". Andaman District. National Informatics Center. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  29. ^ "Andaman District". Andaman & Nicobar Police. National Informatics Center. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  30. ^ Syed Yasir Kazmi (October 16, 2009). "Pakistani Bengalis". DEMOTIX. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  31. ^ "کراچی کے 'بنگالی پاکستانی'(Urdu)". محمد عثمان جامعی. 17 November 2003. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  32. ^ "The Language Movement : An Outline". Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  33. ^ "Karachi Department of Bengali". Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  34. ^ Zahurul Alam (27 December 2002). "Bengali Made One of The Official Languages of Sierra Leone". 
  35. ^ "Statement by Hon'ble Foreign Minister on Second Bangladesh-India Track II dialogue at BRAC Centre on 07 August, 2005". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Bangladesh. Archived from the original on 18 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  36. ^ Subir Bhaumik (22 December 2009). "Bengali 'should be UN language'". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  37. ^ a b Morshed, Abul Kalam Manjoor. "Dialect". Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  38. ^ "Hajong". The Ethnologue Report. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  39. ^ a b Huq, Mohammad Daniul. "Chalita Bhasa". Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  40. ^ a b "History of Bengali (Banglar itihash)". Bengal Telecommunication and Electric Company. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  41. ^ Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay 'Triglossia in Bangla'
  42. ^ "Bengali Language At Cornell: Language Information". Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University. Cornell University. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  43. ^ Huq, Mohammad Daniul. "Sadhu Bhasa". Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  44. ^ Huq, Mohammad Daniul. "Alaler Gharer Dulal". Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  45. ^ Robert Phillipson. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism.]
  46. ^ a b Ray, Hai & Ray 1966, p. 89
  47. ^ Colony’s Burden: A Case of Extending Bangla
  48. ^ "Indian Linguistic Nation State: A Report". 
  49. ^ Ray, Hai & Ray 1966, p. 80
  50. ^ (Masica 1991, pp. 116)
  51. ^ (Masica 1991, pp. 125)
  52. ^ Escudero Pascual Alberto (23 October 2005). "Writing Systems/ Scripts" (PDF). Primer to Localization of Software. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  53. ^ a b Bengali Script in Asiatic Society of Bangladesh 2003
  54. ^
  55. ^ "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. 
  56. ^ "ITRANS — Indian Language Transliteration Package". Avinash Chopde. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  57. ^ "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. 
  58. ^ (Bhattacharya 2000, pp. 16)
  59. ^ "Bengali". UCLA Language Materials project. University of California, Los Angeles. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  60. ^ Among Bengali speakers brought up in neighbouring linguistic regions (e.g. Hindi), the lost copula may surface in utterances such as she shikkhôk hocche. This is viewed as ungrammatical by other speakers, and speakers of this variety are sometimes (humorously) referred as "hocche-Bangali".
  61. ^ Hübschmannová, Milena (1995). "Romaňi čhib – romština: Několik základních informací o romském jazyku". Bulletin Muzea romské kultury (Brno: Muzeum romské kultury) (4/1995). Zatímco romská lexika je bližší hindštině, marvárštině, pandžábštině atd., v gramatické sféře nacházíme mnoho shod s východoindickým jazykem, s bengálštinou. 
  62. ^ Tatsama in Asiatic Society of Bangladesh 2003
  63. ^ Tatbhava in Asiatic Society of Bangladesh 2003
  64. ^ Byomkes Chakrabarti A Comparative Study of Santali and Bengali, K.P. Bagchi & Co., Kolkata, 1994, ISBN 81-7074-128-9


Further reading[edit]

  • Thompson, Hanne-Ruth (2012). Bengali. Volume 18 of London Oriental and African Language Library. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 9027273138.

External links[edit]