Romanisation of Bengali

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Romanisation of Bengali is the representation of the Bengali language in the Latin script. Various ways of romanisation systems of Bengali are used, created in recent years, which have failed to represent the true Bengali phonetic sound. While different standards for romanisation have been proposed for Bengali, none has been adopted with the same degree of uniformity as Japanese or Sanskrit.[note 1]

The Bengali script has often been included with the group of Indic scripts whose romanisation never represents the true phonetic value of Bengali. Some of them are the "International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration" or IAST system (based on diacritics),[1] "Indian languages Transliteration" or ITRANS (uses upper case alphabets suited for ASCII keyboards),[2] and the National Library at Calcutta romanisation.[3]

In the context of Bengali romanisation, it is important to distinguish transliteration from transcription. Transliteration is orthographically accurate (the original spelling can be recovered), but transcription is phonetically accurate (the pronunciation can be reproduced). English does not have all sounds of Bengali, and pronunciation does not completely reflect orthography.


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 are the Crepar Xaxtrer Orth, Bhed and the Vocabolario em idioma Bengalla, e Portuguez dividido em duas partes, both written by Manuel da Assumpção. However, the Portuguese-based romanisation did not take root. In the late 18th century, Augustin Aussant used a romanisation scheme based on the French alphabet. At the same time, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed used a romanisation scheme based on English for his Bengali grammar book. After Halhed, the renowned English philologist and oriental scholar Sir William Jones devised a romanisation scheme for Bengali and other Indian languages in general; he published it in the Asiatick Researches journal in 1801.[4] His scheme came to be known as the "Jonesian system" of romanisation and served as a model for the next century and a half.

Transliteration and transcription[edit]

Romanisation of a language written in a non-Roman script can be based on either transliteration (orthographically accurate and the original spelling can be recovered) or transcription (phonetically accurate, and the pronunciation can be reproduced). The distinction is important in Bengali, as its orthography was adopted from Sanskrit and ignores several millennia of sound change. All writing systems differ at least slightly from the way the language is pronounced, but tgst is 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 modelled on the Nadia dialect) has lost the phonetic distinctions, and all three are usually pronounced as IPA [ʃɔ]. The spelling distinction persists in orthography.

In written texts, distinguishing between homophones, such as শাপ shap "curse" and সাপ shap "snake", is easy. Such a distinction could be particularly relevant in searching for the term in an encyclopaedia, for example. However, the fact that the words sound identical means that they would be transcribed identically, so some important distinctions of meaning cannot be rendered by transcription. Another issue with transcription systems is that cross-dialectal and cross-register differences are widespread, so 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" (as in the Indian national anthem, "Jana Gana Mana").

Often, different phonemes are represented by the same symbol or grapheme. Thus, the vowel এ can represent either [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). Therefore, some important phonemic distinctions cannot be rendered in a transliteration model. In addition, to represent 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 (স্বাস্থ্য sbasthyô, spelled <swāsthya>, or অজ্ঞান ôggên, spelled <ajñāna>) that make Bengali romanisation so complicated. Such letters are misleading in a phonetic romanisation of Bengali and are a result of often inclusion of the Bengali script with other Indic scripts for romanisation, but the other Indic scripts lack the inherited vowel ô, which causes chaos for Bengali romanisation.

Comparison of romanisations[edit]

Comparisons of the standard romanisation schemes for Bengali are given in the table below. Two standards are commonly used for transliteration of Indic languages, including Bengali. Many standards (like NLK/ISO), use diacritic marks and permit case markings for proper nouns. Newer forms (like Harvard-Kyoto) are more suited for ASCII-derivative keyboards and use upper- and lower-case letters contrastively, so forgo normal standards for English capitalisation.

  • "NLK" stands for the diacritic-based letter-to-letter transliteration schemes, best represented by the National Library at Kolkata romanisation or the ISO 15919, or IAST. It is the ISO standard, and it uses diacritic marks like ā to reflect the additional characters and sounds of Bengali letters.
  • ITRANS is an ASCII representation for Sanskrit; it is one-to-many: more than one way of transliterating characters may be used, which can make internet searches more complicated. ITRANS ignores English capitalisation norms to permit representing characters from a normal ASCII keyboard.
  • "HK" stands for two other case-sensitive letter-to-letter transliteration schemes: Harvard-Kyoto and XIAST scheme. Both 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. It adds some specific characters for handling Bengali text to IAST.


The following table includes examples of Bengali words romanised by using the various systems mentioned above.

Example words
In orthography Meaning NLK XHK ITRANS HK IPA
মন mind mana mana mana mana [mon]
সাপ snake sāpa sApa saapa sApa [ʃap]
শাপ curse śāpa zApa shaapa zApa [ʃap]
মত opinion mata mata mata mata [mɔt̪]
মত like mata mata mata mata [mɔt̪o]
তেল oil tēla tela tela tela [t̪el]
গেল went gēla gela gela gela [ɡɛlɔ]
জ্বর fever jvara jvara jvara jvara [dʒɔr]
স্বাস্থ্য health svāsthya svAsthya svaasthya svAsthya [ʃast̪ʰːo]
বাংলাদেশ Bangladesh bāṃlādēśa bAMlAdeza baa.mlaadesha bAMlAdeza [baŋlad̪eʃ]
ব্যঞ্জনধ্বনি consonant byañjanadhvani byaJjanadhvani bya~njanadhvani byaJjanadhvani [bɛndʒɔnd̪ʱoni]
আত্মহত্যা suicide ātmahatyā AtmahatyA aatmahatyaa AtmahatyA [at̪ːohɔt̪ːa]

Romanisation reference[edit]

The IPA transcription is provided in the rightmost column, representing the most common pronunciation of the glyph in Standard Colloquial Bengali, with the various romanisations described above.

Vowels and miscellaneous
a a a a a [ɔ]/[o]
ā ā ā A~aa A [a]
i i i i i [i]
ī ī ī I~ii I [i]
u u u u u [u]
ū ū ū U~uu U [u]
r RRi~R^i R [ri]
e ē e e e [e]/[ɛ]
ai ai ai ai ai [oi]
o ō o o o [o]
au au au au au [ou]
H H varies
ng .m M [ŋ]
◌̃ ɱ .N ~ [~] (nasalization)
্য y y y y y varies
্ব w/v v v v v varies
ক্ষ kṣ kṣ kṣ x kS [kʰːɔ]
জ্ঞ GY jJ [ɡːɔ]
শ্র śr śr śr shr zr [ʃɾɔ]
k k k k k [kɔ]
kh kh kh kh kh [kʰɔ]
g g g g g [ɡɔ]
gh gh gh gh gh [ɡʱɔ]
ng ~N G [ŋɔ]/[uõ]
c c c ch c [tʃɔ]
ch ch ch Ch ch [tʃʰɔ]
j j j j j [dʒɔ]
jh jh jh jh jh [dʒʱɔ]
ñ ñ ñ ~n J [nɔ]
T T [ʈɔ]
ṭh ṭh ṭh Th Th [ʈʰɔ]
D D [ɖɔ]
ড় .D P [ɽɔ]
ḍh ḍh ḍh Dh Dh [ɖʱɔ]
ঢ় ṛh ḍh ḏh .Dh Ph [ɽɔ]
N N [nɔ]
t t t t t [t̪ɔ]
th th th th th [t̪ʰɔ]
d d d d d [d̪ɔ]
dh dh dh dh dh [d̪ʱɔ]
n n n n n [nɔ]
p p p p p [pɔ]
ph ph ph ph ph [ɸɔ~pʰɔ]
b b b b b [bɔ]
bh bh bh bh bh [bʱɔ]
m m m m m [mɔ]
y/j y y y [dʒɔ]
য় y Y Y [e̯ɔ]/–
r r r r r [rɔ]
l l l l l [lɔ]
ś/sh ś ś sh z [ʃɔ]
ṣ/sh Sh S [ʃɔ]
s s s s s [sɔ]
h h h h h [ɦɔ]


  1. ^ In Japanese, some debate exists as to whether to accent certain distinctions, such as Tōhoku vs Tohoku. Sanskrit is well standardized, as it has few speakers, and sound change is not a large concern.


  1. ^ "Learning International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration". Sanskrit 3 – Learning transliteration. Gabriel Pradiipaka & Andrés Muni. Archived from the original on 12 February 2007. Retrieved 20 November 2006. 
  2. ^ "ITRANS – Indian Language Transliteration Package". Avinash Chopde. Retrieved 20 November 2006. 
  3. ^ "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 20 November 2006. 
  4. ^ Jones 1801
  5. ^ a b বাংলা একাডেমী ব্যবহারিক বাংলা অভিধান Bangla Academy Byaboharik Bangla Abhidhan (Bangla Academy Functional Bengali Dictionary) (16th reprint ed.). DHaka 1000, Bangladesh: Bangla Academy. November 2012. p. আট্রিশ (তালিকা -৪). ISBN 984-07-5071-2.