Bengali–Assamese script

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18th Century Eastern Nagari Text.svg
The text, from the 18th century Hastividyarnava, commissioned by Ahom king Siva Singha, says: sri sri mot xivo xingha moharaja. The modern Bengali glyph "" currently used for ra is used in this pre-modern Assamese/Sanskrit manuscript for va, the modern form of which is "". Though the modern Assamese alphabet does not use this glyph for any letter, modern Tirhuta continues to use this for va.
LanguagesAssamese, Bengali, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Meitei, Sylheti, Santali, Kokborok, Garo, Hajong, Chakma, Chittagonian, Maithili, Angika, Kamtapuri and others.
Time period
c. 1100–present
Parent systems
Child systems
Assamese, Bengali, Anga Lipi
ISO 15924Beng, 325
Unicode alias
U+0980–U+09FF (Bengali),
U+011480–U+0114DF (Tirhuta)
[a] The Semitic origin of Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.[1]

The Bengali-Assamese script[5] (or Eastern Nagari script[6]), commonly known as Bengali script, is a modern eastern script that emerged from the Brahmic script.[7] According to Carmen Brandt the script is known variously as "Eastern Nagari script" in academic discourses; as "Bengali script" among Bengali speakers and globally;[8] and as "Assamese script" among Assamese speakers.[9][10]

Besides Bengali and Assamese it is used to write Bishnupriya Manipuri, Chakma, Meitei (Manipuri), Santali, Sanskrit, Sylheti and other languages.[11][12][13] Other languages, such as Angika, Bodo, Karbi, Maithili and Mising were once written in this script.[14] The two major alphabets in this script – Assamese and Bengali – are virtually identical, except for two characters, with Assamese differing from Bengali in one letter for the /r/ sound, and an extra letter for the /w/ or /v/ sound.[15][16][17]


The Bengali—Asamese script was originally not associated with any particular regional language, but was prevalent as the main script in the eastern regions of Medieval India for Old- and Middle-Indo-Aryan including Sanskrit.[13]

The modern eastern scripts (Bengali-Assamese, Odia, and Maithili) became clearly differentiated around the 14th and 15th centuries from the predecessor Gaudi.[5] While the Bengali, Assamese and Maithili scripts remained similar the Odia script developed a curved top in the 13th-14th century and became increasingly different.[18] All of these eastern Magadhan scripts are based on a system of characters historically related to, but distinct from, Devanagari. Brahmi, an ancient Indian syllabary, is the source of most native Indian scripts including the South Indian languages and Devanagari, the script associated with classical Sanskrit and other Indo-Aryan languages.[16] Old Maithili also used a script similar to the Bengali-Assamese script, and Maithili scholars (particularly of the older generation) still write Sanskrit in that script.[15][19]


Though there were early attempts to cut Bengali types[20] it was the East India Company's interest in propagating the Bengali language[21] that ultimately prevailed. It first commissioned Willem Bolt, a Dutch adventurer, to create a grammar for Bengali, but he had to leave India after he ran into trouble with the Company.[22] The first significant book with Bengali typography was Halhed's "A Grammar of the Bengal Language"[23] Halhed compiled his grammar from a meagre set of six Bengali manuscripts.[24] When Halhed turned to Warren Hastings for publishing, he was referred to Charles Wilkins, the type-founder at the Company press at Hoogly. Learned in Sanskrit and Persian, Wilkins singlehandedly cut the most complete set. He was assisted by the Bengali blacksmith, Panchanan Karmakar, who is often erroneously credited as the father of the Bengali type.[25]


Evolution of Bengali-Assamese script
Inscription from Valavarman III from 9th-10th century, Nagaon, Assam. Modern forms of letters and matras are already discernible.
Early 13th century rock inscription near Guwahati, Assam
Halhed's script, 1778, as designed by Charles Wilkins, was the first significant type for printing. As can be clearly seen, not all the glyphs have achieved their modern forms yet. Though the chart sports the Assamese , the Bengali was used interchangeably in the text.
Modern Eastern Nagari or Bengali-Assames script

In this and other articles on Wikipedia dealing with the Assamese and Bengali languages, a Romanization scheme used by linguists specialising in Bengali phonology and a separate Assamese transliteration table used by linguists specialising in Assamese phonology are included along with IPA transcription.


There are three major modern alphabets in this script: Bengali, Assamese, and Tirhuta. Modern Assamese is very similar to modern Bengali. Assamese has at least one extra letter, , that Bengali does not. It also uses a separate letter for the sound 'ro' different from the letter used for that sound in Bengali and the letter ক্ষ is not a conjunct as in Bengali, but a letter by itself. The alphabetical orders of the two alphabets also differ, in the position of the letter ক্ষ, for example. Languages like Meitei and Bishnupriya Manipuri use a hybrid of the two alphabets, with the Bengali and the Assamese . Tirhuta is more different and carries forward some forms used in medieval Assamese.

Vowels and diacritics[edit]

The script presently has a total of 11 vowel letters, used to represent the seven vowel sounds of Bengali and eight vowel sounds of Assamese, along with a number of vowel diphthongs. All of these vowel letters are used in both Assamese and Bengali. Some of the vowel letters have different sounds depending on the word, and a number of vowel distinctions preserved in the writing system are not pronounced as such in modern spoken Bengali or Assamese. For example, the 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 [i] and a long [iː], and a short [u] and a long [uː]. These letters are preserved in the script with their traditional names of "short i" and "long i", etc., despite the fact that they are no longer pronounced differently in ordinary speech.

Some language specific usages[edit]

In the Bengali alphabet অ্যা is used when the intended pronunciation would otherwise be ambiguous. Some other languages use a vowel অৗ to denote /ɯ/ which is not found in either Bengali or Assamese; and though the vowel diacritic (matra, ) is found in Tirhuta the vowel letter itself is absent. Assamese alphabet uses an additional "matra" (ʼ) that is used to represent the phonemes অʼ and এʼ.

Vowel Table
Vowels Vowel Diacritic
Assamese Bengali Bishnupriya
Sylheti Hajong Rabha Rajbongsi
ô ô/o ô ô/a o o ô ô
অʼ ʼ o
a a a a꞉ a a a a
অ্যা/এ্যা ্যা æ
অৗ â â
ি i i i i i i i i
ইʼ িʼ î
i i i ī (i)
u u u u u u u u
উʼ ুʼ â
u u u ū (u)
ri ri ri ri ri
rii rii
li li
lii lii
ê e/ê e e ê e e ê
এʼ েʼ e
ôi ôi ôi ei oi oi ôi
û o u o/ô ô o o
ôu ôu ôu ou ou ôu ôu

Vowel signs can be used in conjunction with consonants to modify the pronunciation of the consonant (here exemplified by , kô). When no vowel Diacritic symbol is written, then the vowel "" (ô) is the default inherited vowel for the consonant. To specifically denote the absence of a vowel, a hôsôntô (্) may be written underneath the consonant.


The names of the consonant letters in Eastern Nagari are typically just the consonant's main pronunciation plus the inherent vowel "" 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 "" is itself ghô, not gh). Some letters that have lost their distinctive pronunciation in Modern Assamese and Bengali are called by a more elaborate name. For example, since the consonant phoneme /n/ can be written , , or (depending on the spelling of the particular word), these letters are not simply called ; instead, they are called "dental nô", "cerebral nô" and niô. Similarly, the phoneme /ʃ/ in Bengali and /x/ in Assamese can be written as "palatal shô/xhô" , "cerebral shô/xhô" , or "dental sô/xô" , depending on the word.

Consonant Table
Consonant Assamese Bengali Bishnupriya
Sylheti Hajong Maithili
xo ko ka
khô khô khô khô xo kho kha
go go ga
ghô ghô ghô ghô go gho gha
ungô ngô ngô ngô ngo nga
so co ca
chô chô so so -
𑒕 - cha
zo jo ja
zhô jhô jhô jhô zo jho -
𑒗 jha
niô nia
ţô ţô to
𑒙 ţa
thô ţhô ţhô to ţha
đô đô do - da
ড় ŗô ŗô ŗo
dhô đhô đhô do - da
ঢ় rhô ŗhô ŗhô ro
no - -
ṭo to ta
thô thô thô thô ṭo tho tha
ḍo do da
dhô dhô dhô dhô ḍo dho dha
no no na
fo po pa
phô fo fo -
𑒙 pha
bo bo ra
bhô bhô bhô bhô bo bho bha
mo mo ma
zo - ya
য় yo
- ro va
(rô) ro ro ra
𑒪 la
o wo
şô şô - sha
şşô şşô - ssha
şô şo - sa
ho ho -
𑒯 - ha


Western Arabic numerals 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Bengali numerals
Assamese names xuinnô ek dui tini sari pãs sôy xat ath
শূন্য এক দুই তিনি চাৰি পাঁচ ছয় সাত আঠ
Bengali names shunnô æk dui tin char pãch chhôy shat nôy
শূন্য এক দুই তিন চার পাঁচ ছয় সাত আট নয়
Meitei names shunya ama ani ahum mari manga taruk taret nipa꞉n ma꞉pan
শুন‍্য অমা অনি অহুম মরি মঙা তরূক তরেৎ নীপান মাপন
Sylheti names shuinno ex dui tin sair fas soe shat/hat noe
শুইন্য এখ দুই তিন ছাইর ফাছ ছয় সাত/হাত আট নয়
Maithili names shūnya ek du tīn chari pãch chhau sat aţh nau
শূন্য এক দু তীন চাৰি পাঁচ ছৌ সাত আঠ নৌ


There are two Unicode blocks for Bengali–Assamese script, called Bengali and Tirhuta. The Bengali block is U+0980–U+09FF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+09Bx ি
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

The Tirhuta block is U+11480–U+114DF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1148x 𑒀 𑒁 𑒂 𑒃 𑒄 𑒅 𑒆 𑒇 𑒈 𑒉 𑒊 𑒋 𑒌 𑒍 𑒎 𑒏
U+1149x 𑒐 𑒑 𑒒 𑒓 𑒔 𑒕 𑒖 𑒗 𑒘 𑒙 𑒚 𑒛 𑒜 𑒝 𑒞 𑒟
U+114Ax 𑒠 𑒡 𑒢 𑒣 𑒤 𑒥 𑒦 𑒧 𑒨 𑒩 𑒪 𑒫 𑒬 𑒭 𑒮 𑒯
U+114Bx 𑒰 𑒱 𑒲 𑒳 𑒴 𑒵 𑒶 𑒷 𑒸 𑒹 𑒺 𑒻 𑒼 𑒽 𑒾 𑒿
U+114Cx 𑓀 𑓁 𑓂 𑓃 𑓄 𑓅 𑓆 𑓇
U+114Dx 𑓐 𑓑 𑓒 𑓓 𑓔 𑓕 𑓖 𑓗 𑓘 𑓙
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


  1. ^ a b 'The theory of a Semitic origin for Brahmi, [as opposed to Indus origin], does have a strong, if not entirely conclusive, body of concrete evidence in its favor.' and 'For even many of the supporters of the Semitic hypothesis concede that, in Dani's words, "[T]he BrahmT letters are not literally 'derived' from the Semitic letters as is commonly understood, but are only based on them" (DIP 29).' (Salomon 1998:29)
  2. ^ 'The terminology for the various premodern Brahmi-derived scripts is, however, largely unstandardized and typically made up ad hoc, due mainly to the lack of attested indigenous terms for many of them (2.1.1). D. C. Sircar broadly categorizes the stages of development into "Early," "Middle," and "Late Brahmi" periods, corresponding (in northern India) to the third through first centuries B.C., the first century B.C. through third century A.D., and the fourth through sixth centuries A.D., respectively (HEP 113), though others refer to his "Late Brahmi" as "Gupta script".' (Salomon 1998:19)
  3. ^ "Around the late sixth century, the so-called Gupta script of northern India evolved into a distinct new script for which the preferred name is Siddhamatrka." (Salomon 1998:39)
  4. ^ "In the northeast, the local derivative of Siddhamatrka was the script knownas Proto-Bengali or Gaudi, which was current from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries." (Salomon 1998:41)
  5. ^ a b "This, in turn, gave rise to the modern eastern scripts, namely, Bengali-Assamese, Oriya, and Maithili, which became clearly differentiated around the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries." (Salomon 1998:41)
  6. ^ "The Eastern Nagri script was first created to write Sanskrit and later adopted by regional languages like Bengali and Assamese. The Bengali Unicode block of characters is created from the Eastern Nagri script and contains character variants, like for the ‘r’, that is different in Bengali and Assamese." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:5f)
  7. ^ See "Parent Systems" on the right, and the citations therein.
  8. ^ " Bengalis will refer to the script as the 'Bengali script', though it is used by many other languages..." (Brandt 2014:24)
  9. ^ "Assamese has, like Bengali, a long literary tradition in this script which Assamese speakers naturally refer to as the 'Assamese script'." (Brandt 2014:25)
  10. ^ "In fact, the term 'Eastern Nagari' seems to be the only designation which does not favour one or the other language. However, it is only applied in academic discourses, whereas the name 'Bengali script' dominates the global public sphere." (Brandt 2014:25)
  11. ^ "Already the fact that most Bengalis will refer to the script of their language exclusively as the 'Bengali script', though it is used for many other languages as well, e.g. Assamese, Bishnupriya, Chakma, Meitei, Santali, etc. gives a glimpse of the dominant role of the Bengali language in the eastern part of South Asia (Brandt 2014:25–26)
  12. ^ Bijan Kumar Roy, Subal Chandra Biswas and Parthasarathi Mukhopadhyay, Designing Unicode‐compliant Indic‐script based Institutional Digital Repository with special reference to Bengali, page 55, International Journal of Knowledge Content Development & Technology Vol.8, No.3, 53-67 (September, 2018)
  13. ^ a b "(T)he script used today for Assamese and Bengali was, by origin, linked to the region and not any one specific modern language. Historically, it was in fact used for Old and Middle Indo-Aryan. Today it is used not only for other modern languages (e.g. Bishnupriya) but also still for Sanskrit." (Brandt & Sohoni 2018:7)
  14. ^ Prabhakara, M S Scripting a solution Archived 10 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine, The Hindu, 19 May 2005.
  15. ^ a b Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, The History and Culture of the Indian People: British paramountcy and Indian renaissance (Part 2), page 219, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1951
  16. ^ a b Bernard Comrie, The World's Major Languages, page 419, Routledge, 2009, ISBN 9781134261567
  17. ^ B. P. Mahapatra, Constitutional languages, page 39, Presses Université Laval, 1989, ISBN 9782763771861
  18. ^ "[T]he phase when the curved tops - so prominent now in many of the Oriya letters - were just appearing, initiating the parting of ways from the proto-[Bengali-Assamese-Maithili] phase. The beginning and progress of this trend can be noticed in many of the Orissa [inscriptions] of the 13th-14th centuries A.D." (Bhattacharya 1969:56f)
  19. ^ Atindra Mojumder, Bengali Language: Historical Grammar (Part 1), page 22, Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1972
  20. ^ (Khan 1962:55)
  21. ^ "By 1772, the Company had skillfully employed the sword, diplomacy, and intrigue to take over the rule of Bengal from her people, factious nobles, and weak Nawab. Subsequently, to consolidate its hold on the province, the Company promoted the Bengali language. This did not represent an intrinsic love for Bengali speech and literature. Instead it was aimed at destroying traditional patterns of authority through supplanting the Persian language which had been the official tongue since the days of the great Moguls." (Khan 1962:53)
  22. ^ "[T]he East India Company had commissioned Bolts to prepare a grammar of the Bengali language. But although Bolts, who was a man of great enterprise and ingenuity, had represented himself as a great Orientalist, he ran into difficulties with the Company from 1766 to 1768 which culminated in his deportation from India." (Khan 1962:55-56)
  23. ^ " The first significant stride in Bengali typography, printing, and publication was made in 1778 with the appearance of A Grammar of the Bengal Language by Halhed." (Khan 1962:56)
  24. ^ "Halhed, when compiling his monumental Grammar of the Bengali Language, complained that despite his familiarity with the works of Bengali authors he could trace only six extant books in 1778. These included the great religious epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. All six, of course, were in manuscript." (Khan 1962:53)
  25. ^ (Khan 1962:57-58)


External links[edit]