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The dialects of the Bengali language are part of the Eastern Indo-Aryan language group of the Indo-European language family. Borishali (Barisal region), Noakhali (Noakhali region), Rongpore (Rangpur Region), Khulna (Khulna region), Mymonshingh (Mymensingh region), Sylheti (Sylhet region) and Chittagonian (Chittagong region) are major spoken dialects in Bangladesh. Although these languages are mutually intelligible with neighboring dialects of Bengali, they lack mutual intelligibility with the Bengali language and sometimes would not be understood by a native speaker of Standard Bengali. Hence, some of these dialects are sometimes considered languages in their own right.
Bengali dialects can be thus classified along at least two dimensions: spoken vs. literary variations, and prestige vs. regional variations.
Spoken and literary variants
More than other languages of South Asia, Bengali exhibits strong diglossia between the formal, written language and the vernacular, spoken language. Two styles of writing, involving somewhat different vocabularies and syntax, have emerged :
- Shadhubhasha (সাধুভাষা) is the written language with longer verb inflections and a more Sanskrit-derived (তৎসম tôtshôm) vocabulary (সাধু shadhu = 'chaste' or 'sage'; ভাষা bhasha = 'language'). Songs such as India's national anthem Jana Gana Mana (by Rabindranath Tagore) and national song Vande Mātaram (by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay) were composed in Shadhubhasha, but its use is on the wane in modern writing.
- Choltibhasha (চলতিভাষা ) or Cholitobhasha (চলিতভাষা), a written Bengali style that reflects a more colloquial idiom, is increasingly the standard for written Bengali (চলিত cholito = 'current' or 'running'). This form came into vogue towards the turn of the 19th century, in an orthography promoted in the writings of Peary Chand Mitra (Alaler ghare dulal, 1857), Pramatha Chowdhury (Sabujpatra, 1914) and in the later writings of Rabindranath Tagore. It is modeled on the dialect spoken in the districts bordering the lower reaches of the Hooghly River, particularly the Shantipur region in Nadia district, West Bengal. This form of Bengali is sometimes called the "Nadia standard".
Spoken Bengali exhibits far more variation than written Bengali. Formal spoken Bengali, including what is heard in news reports, speeches, announcements, and lectures, is modeled on Choltibhasha. This form of spoken Bengali stands alongside other spoken dialects, or Ancholik Bangla (আঞ্চলিক বাংলা) (i.e. 'regional Bengali'). The majority of Bengalis are able to communicate in more than one dialect — often, speakers are fluent in Choltibhasha, one or more Ancholik dialect, and one or more forms of Gramyo Bangla (গ্রাম্য বাংলা) (i.e. 'rural Bengali'), dialects specific to a village or town.
To a non-Bengali, these dialects may sound or look vastly different, but the difference is mostly a phonological and phonetic one, and not so much a grammatical one. Many dialects share features with the so-called Shadhu Bhasha or "pure language", which was the written standard until the 19th century. Comparison of Bengali dialects gives us an idea about archaic forms of the language as well.
During standardization of Bengali in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the cultural elite were mostly from the regions of Kolkata, Hooghly, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and Nadia. What is accepted as the standard form today in both West Bengal and Bangladesh is based on the West-Central dialect. While the language has been standardized today through two centuries of education and media, variation is widespread, with many speakers familiar with or fluent in both their socio-geographical variety as well as the standard dialect used in the media.
Regional dialect differences
Dialectal differences in Bengali manifest themselves in three forms: standardized dialect vs. regional dialect, literary language vs. colloquial language and lexical (vocabulary) variations. The name of the dialects generally originates from the district where the language is spoken.
While the standard form of the language does not show much variation across the Bengali-speaking areas of South Asia, regional variation in spoken Bengali constitutes a dialect continuum. Mostly speech varies across distances of just few miles and takes distinct forms among the religious communities. Apart from the present dialects, there are a few more which have disappeared. For example, ‘Bikramapuri’, Sātagāiyã’ (this is the name used in East Bengal for the dialect of South-western Rarh region). The present dialects of Bengali are listed below with an example sentence meaning:
- English translation: "A man had two sons." (M=male indicated i.e. A man had two sons, P= person indicated, without gender, i.e. A person had two sons)
- Bengali Shadhubhasha: "Êk bektir duiṭi putrô chhilô." (P)
West Central dialects
- Nadia/Choltibhasha Standard: Êk jon loker duţi chhele chhilo. (M)
Bangali dialects include Eastern and Southeastern Bengali dialects: The Eastern dialects serve as the primary colloquial language of the Dhaka district. They do not have contrastive nasalized vowels or a distinction in approximant র /ɹ/ and flap ড়/ঢ় /ɽ/, pronouncing them all as র /ɹ/. This is also true of the Sylheti dialect, which has a lot in common with the Kamrupi dialect of Assam in particular, and is often considered a separate language. The Eastern dialects extend into Southeastern dialects, which include parts of Chittagong. The Chittagongian dialect has Tibeto-Burman influences.
- Manikganj: Êk zoner duiđi saoal asilo. (P)
- Mymensingh: Êk zôner dui put asil. (P)
- Comilla: Êk bêđar dui put asil. (P)
- Noakhali (Feni): Êk zôner dui hola asil. (P)
- Noakhali (Hatia): Êk zôn mainsher duga hola asil. (P)
- Noakhali (Ramganj): Ek zôner dui hut asil. (P)
- Barisal (Bakerganj): Êk zôn mansher dugga pola asil. (P)
- Faridpur: Kero mansher duga pola asil. (P)
- Sylhet: Ekh beṭar dui phut/phua asil/aslo. (M)
- Chittagong: Egua mansher dua poa asil. (P)
South Bengal dialects
- Chuadanga : Êk jon lokir duiţo chheile chhilo. (M)
- Khulna: Êk zon manshir dui sôoal silo. (P)
- Jessore: Êk zoner duţ sôl sêl. (P)
North Bengal dialects
This dialect is mainly spoken in the districts of North Bengal. These are the only dialects in Bangladesh that pronounce the letters চ, ছ, জ, and ঝ as affricates [tʃ], [tʃʰ], [dʒ], and [dʒʱ], respectively, and preserve the breathy-voiced stops in all parts of the word, much like Western dialects (including Standard Bengali). The dialects of Rangpur and Pabna do not have contrastive nasalized vowels.
- Dinajpur: Êk manusher dui chhaoa chhilô (P)
- Pabna: Kono mansher dui chhaoal chhilô. (P)
- Bogra: Êk jhôner dui bêţa chhoil achhilô. (P)
- East Malda: Êk jhôn manuser duţa bêţa achhlô. (P)
- Rangpur: Êk zon mansher duikna bêţa asil. (P)
- Western Border dialects: This dialect is spoken in the area which is known as Manbhum.
- Manbhumi: Ek loker duţa beţa chhilô. (M)
- Hajong: Ek zôn manôlôg duida pôla thakibar.
- Chakma: Ek jônôtun diba poa el.
The latter two, along with Kharia Thar and Mal Paharia, are closely related to Western Bengali dialects, but are typically classified as separate languages. Similarly, Rajbangsi and Hajong are considered separate languages, although they are very similar to North Bengali dialects. There are many more minor dialects as well, including those spoken in the bordering districts of Purnea and Singhbhum and among the tribals of the eastern Bangladesh like the Hajong and the Chakma.
There are marked dialectal differences between the speech of Bengalis living on the পশ্চিম Poshchim (western) side and পূর্ব Purbo (eastern) side of the Padma River.
Poshchim Bengali (Western Bengali) palato-alveolar affricates চ [tʃ], ছ [tʃʰ], জ [dʒ], and ঝ [dʒʱ] correspond to Purbo Bengali (Eastern Bengali) চʻ [ts], ছ় [s], জʻ [dz]~[z], and ঝ় [z]. A similar pronunciation is also found in Assamese, a related language across the border in India.
The aspirated velar stop খ [kʰ] and the aspirated labial stop ফ [pʰ] of Poshchim Bengali correspond to খ় [x] and ফ় [f] in many dialects of Purbo Bengali. These pronunciations are most extreme in the Sylheti dialect of far northeastern Bangladesh—the dialect of Bengali most common in the United Kingdom. Sylheti is also considered by some to be a separate language.
Many Purbo Bengali dialects share phonological features with Assamese, including the debuccalization of শ [ʃ] to হ [h] or খ় [x].
The influence of Tibeto-Burman languages on the phonology of Purbo Bengali (Bangladesh) is seen through the lack of nasalized vowels, a more fronted place of articulation for the Retroflex stops ট [ʈ], ঠ [ʈʰ], ড [ɖ], and ঢ [ɖʱ], resembling the equivalent phonemes in languages such as Thai and Lao and the lack of distinction between র [ɹ] and ড়/ঢ় [ɽ]. Unlike most languages of the region, some Purbo Bengali dialects do not include the breathy voiced stops ঘ [ɡʱ], ঝ [dʑʱ], ঢ [ɖʱ], ধ [d̪ʱ], and ভ [bʱ]. Some variants of Bengali, particularly Chittagonian and Chakma Bengali, have contrastive tone; differences in the pitch of the speaker's voice can distinguish words. In dialects such as Hajong of northern Bangladesh, there is a distinction between উ and ঊ, the first corresponding exactly to its standard counterpart but the latter corresponding to the Japanese [ü͍] sound listen (help·info). There is also a distinction between ই and ঈ in many northern Bangladeshi dialects. ই representing the standard [i] sound whereas ঈ represents a much flatter i sound with the tongue much closer to the roof of the mouth.
- "Orality and Literacy" by R. K. Agnihotri in "Language in South Asia" edited by B. B. Kachru, Y. Kachru, and S. N. Sridhar.
- Huq, Daniul, Article on Chalita Bhasa, Banglapedia
- Huq, Daniul, Article on Shadhu Bhasa, Banglapedia
- Alaler Ghorer Dulal in Asiatic Society of Bangladesh 2003
- Morshed, Abul Kalam Manjoor, Article on Bengali dialects, Banglapedia