|Native to||Bangladesh and India|
|Region||Sylhet Division and Barak Valley|
|10 million (2017)|
L2 speakers: 1.5 million (2017)
|Sylheti Nāgarī script|
Sylheti (Sylheti Nāgarī: ꠍꠤꠟꠐꠤ [silɔʈi]; Bengali: সিলেটি [sileʈi]) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by an estimated 11 million people, primarily in the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh, the Barak Valley and Hojai district of Assam, and North Tripura and Unakoti district of Tripura, India. Besides, there are substantial numbers of Sylheti speakers in the Indian states of Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland as well as diaspora communities in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and the Middle East.
It is variously perceived as either a dialect of Bengali or a language in its own right. While most linguists consider it an independent language, for many native speakers Sylheti forms the diglossic vernacular, with standard Bengali forming the codified lect. Some incorrectly consider it as a "corrupt" form of Bengali, and there is a reported language shift from Sylheti to Standard Bengali in Bangladesh, India and the diaspora; though Sylheti has more vitality than Standard Bengali in the United Kingdom.
Sylheti is eponymously named after Sylhet, referring to the dialect or language spoken of that area. According to Grierson (1903) the vernacular was called Sylhettia by the Europeans after the town of Sylhet. Though the speakers at that time referred to it as Jaintiapuri, Purba Srihattiya, or Ujania with the latter meaning "the language of the upper country".
Sylheti is also known as Sylhetti, Sylheti Bangla, Sileti, Siloti, Syloti, and Syloty.
Sylheti belongs to the Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, that evolved from Magadhi Prakrit. The lowlands around Sylhet were originally inhabited by ancient Khasi people (Austroasiatic); and the earliest known Indo-Aryan settlements were made in the 6th century under Kamarupa king. Sylhet (Srihatta) then emerged as a center of lowland territorialism after the 10th century. The 11th century Bhatera grants from the Srihatta kings Kesavadeva and Isanadeva were written in Sanskrit. Another notable copper plate inscription was found in the village of Paschimbhag in Rajnagar, Moulvibazar that was issued by King Srichandra during the 10th century.
The Muslim Conquest of Sylhet in 1303 CE extended the migratory movements of Muslims from western lands, who settled among the native population and greatly influenced the local language. Thus Sylheti derived a large number of words from Persian and Arabic, cultivating the Perso-Arabic influence on the vernacular. A script was developed in the region called Sylheti Nagri, which primarily focused on disseminating Sufi poetry, known as puthi. Its earliest known work had been written during the 1600s, called Bhedsar by Syed Shah Husayn Alam. The literature was transcribed in the standard form of late Middle Bengali, though its phonology and some of its vocabulary was strongly influenced by Sylheti. The script was read and taught culturally among households and was not institutionalised, as the Islamic dynasties who ruled over Bengal established Persian alongside Arabic as the official languages. Printed texts of the script reached its peak during the late 19th century, however its use became obsolete by around the middle of the 20th century.
The earliest appearance of a documentation of Sylheti vocabulary was in the Government Report on the History and Statistics of Sylhet District by T. Walton, B.C.S. in 1857, which contained a list of peculiar words used in Sylhet. Many terms that were listed here differ from modern Sylheti – highlighting its evolution. In 1868, another short glossary of local terms in various districts of the Dacca Division (which included Sylhet) were written up and compared to standard Bengali to allow ease in understanding local vernaculars. There was an influence of the Assamese language on Sylheti when Sylhet was separated from Bengal and became part of the Assam Province, British India in 1874. This however led to an opposition in Sylhet where demands to be reincorporated with the Bengal Province were not taken heed of by the British. Sylhetis not only felt a historical or cultural affinity with Bengal, but also linguistically. Bengali literature had some influence from Sylheti, popular songwriters or poets such as Hason Raja or Shah Abdul Karim, significantly contributed to the literature. Sylhet was reunited with Bengal following a referendum in 1947.
According to Simard, Dopierala and Thaut, Sylheti is a "minoritised, politically unrecognised, and understudied language." It is currently not officially recognised as a language in either Bangladesh or India. Many native speakers too consider it to be an informal version of Standard Bengali and not an independent language; and there is a reported language shift to Standard Bengali and a decrease in the number of native speakers since parents are not teaching it to their children. In Bangladesh there is a diglossia where Sylheti is one among other low status regional dialects while Standard Bengali, the official language, has a high status.
In the Indian state of Assam where Assamese is the state language, Standard Bengali serves as an additional official language in its Barak Valley districts; which host a majority Sylheti-speaking population.
In the United Kingdom, British schools have begun enlisting Sylheti in their syllabi. BBC News has also broadcast online videos relating to COVID-19 in five major South Asian languages including Sylheti.
Grierson (1903) notes that the language of eastern Sylhet is not intelligible to Bengalis from the west, though he still classed it as Bengali, grouping it under "Eastern Bengali". Chatterji (1926) too calls it a dialect of Bengali and places it in the eastern Vangiya group of Magadhi Prakrit and notes that all Bengali dialects were independent of each other and did not emanate from the literary Bengali called "sadhu bhasha". Among the different dialect groups of the eastern dialects, to which Sylheti belonged, Sylheti and Chittagonian have phonetic and morphological properties that are alien to standard Bengali and other western dialects of Bengali, and these differences are such that Sylheti is more distant to standard Bengali than is Assamese. Recent scholarship notes that these morpho-phonological and mutual intelligibilty differences are significant enough that Sylheti could claim itself as a language on its own right. Ethnologue groups Sylheti in Bengali-Assamese languages; whereas Glotolog gives further subgrouping and places it in the "Eastern Bengali" group alongside Hajong, separately from the Vangiya dialect.
The classification of Sylheti is contentious—Chalmers (1996) suggested that it was generally identified as a dialect of Bengali though there were efforts to recognise it as a language. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Sylhetis, who could also speak in Standard Bengali, considered the two languages to be mutually intelligible. On the basis of the anecdotal evidence of mutual intelligibility, regionality and the fact that Sylheti is spoken by a predominantly rural community, Rasinger (2007) concludes that Sylheti could be considered a dialect of Bengali. Simard, Dopierala and Thaut have pointed out that the intelligibility could be an effect of prior exposure of Sylheti speakers to Standard Bengali, and that the academic consensus is that mutual intelligibility ranges from "unintelligible" to "hardly intelligible". On the basis of phonology and phonetics, lexicon, grammatical structure and a lack of mutual intelligibility, some recent linguists claim that Sylheti is not merely a dialectal variation of Bengali but a language in its own right.
Phonologically Sylheti is distinguished from Standard Bengali and other regional varieties by significant deaspiration and spirantisation, leading to major restructuring of the consonant inventory and the development of tones. Grierson had classified Sylheti as an Eastern Bengali dialect and had noted that it "possess all the peculiar characteristics of the extreme Eastern Bengali type."
As majority of the diaspora in the United Kingdom speak Sylheti, it created an environment that was somewhat uninfluenced by Standard Bengali, inevitably leading some to view Sylheti as a distinct language. During the 1980s there were unsuccessful attempts to recognise Sylheti as a language in its own right by a small group in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which lacked support from the Sylheti community itself.
The presence and influence of Shah Jalal and Shri Chaitanya dev is found in the Sylheti literature. According to Syed Mostafa Kamal, (approximately 1650 AD) the Baul tradition was founded based on the combination of Chaitanyavad and Jaganmohani ideologies, that mystic literature influenced and seen in the Vaishnava Padavali. As a result, Sylhet is considered as the spiritual capital of mysticism and the fertile land of Baul music. A great number of poets enriched Sylheti literature. Among them, Hason Raja, Radha Raman, Syed Shah Noor, Shitalong Shaha, Durbin Shaha are noteworthy. The main theme of the Nagri literature are mainly religious, Islamic history, tradition, stories and Raga, Baul and mystic music. 140 books have been found including 88 printed books (in Nagri script).
Sylheti is the primary language of Sylhet region which today comprises the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh and Karimganj district of Assam, India. Within the Sylhet Division, it is primarily spoken in the districts of Sylhet and Moulvibazar, as well as in certain upazilas of Sunamganj and Habiganj. This is contrary to popular belief that Sylheti is spoken everywhere in the Sylhet Division. Anecdotal evidence claims that the people of Sylhet District, when visiting places like Habiganj, are often startled that the locals do not converse in Sylheti but rather in Habiganji, which is transitional to the dialects of Sylhet, Greater Mymensingh and Brahmanbaria.
It is also primarily spoken in the districts of Cachar and Hailakandi of Assam, which alongside Karimganj make up the Barak Valley, as well as in the northern parts of Tripura and the western edge of Manipur. There is also a significant population of Sylheti speakers in the Hojai district of Assam (since before Partition), Shillong in Meghalaya, and the state of Nagaland. A few numbers are also located in Kolkata, most of whom are migrants from Assam.
Outside the Indian subcontinent, the largest Sylheti diaspora communities reside in the United Kingdom and North America. In the UK, there are around 400,000 Sylheti speakers. The largest concentration live in east London boroughs, such as Tower Hamlets. In the United States, most are concentrated in New York City borough's such as the Bronx, and there are significant numbers in Hamtramck, Michigan where they constitute the majority of Bangladeshis in the city. There are also small numbers located in Toronto, Canada. Significant Sylheti-speaking communities reside in the Middle East of which most are migrant workers, and in many other countries throughout the world.
Sylheti currently does not have a standardised writing system. Historically in the Sylhet region, the Sylheti Nagri script was used alongside the Bengali script. Sylheti Nagri was however mostly limited to writing religious poetry. This written form was identical to those written in the Dobhashi register due to both lacking the use of tatsama and using Perso-Arabic vocabulary as a replacement. As per Dobhashi custom, many Sylheti Nagri texts were paginated from right to left. The orthography of the script equates with Sylheti, it has fewer characters as compared with the Bengali script due to fewer phonemes found in Sylheti. An endangered script, it has since seen a revival mostly by academics and linguists.
Standard Bengali is the medium of instruction in Bangladesh. some may therefore write in Sylheti using the Bengali–Assamese script. In United Kingdom, publishers use Latin script for Sylheti and according to the Sylheti Translation and Research (STAR), Latin (Roman) script is the most used script for writing Sylheti. New Testament in Sylheti was published in the Sylhet Nagri script along with Latin and Bengali–Assamese script, in 2014.
The phoneme inventory of Sylheti differs from both the Standard Bengali as well the Bangladeshi Standard. It is characterised by a loss of breathiness and aspiration contrasts, leading to a significant reduction in its phoneme inventory and development of tones. In particular the following developments are seen:
- Both voiced and voiceless aspirated stops have become unaspirated (d̪ʱ → d̪; t̪ʰ → t̪)
- The voiceless labials have spirantised to homorganic fricatives (p → ɸ; pʰ → ɸ)
- The velar stops have become velar fricatives (k → x; kʰ → x)
- The post-alveolar affricates have spirantised to alveolar fricatives (tʃ → s; tʃʰ → s; dʒ → z; dʒʱ → z)
- Among the voiceless stops only the dental (t̪, d̪) and retroflex (ʈ, ɖ) stops have remained stops.
Sylheti is tonal. This is rare among the Indo-Aryan languages, being present only in Punjabi, Dogri and Eastern Bengali. There are two types of tonal contrasts in Sylheti: the emergence of high tone in the vowels following the loss of aspiration, and a level tone elsewhere.
Recent study shows that there is a three-way tonal system in Sylheti.
It is considered that these tones arose when aspirated consonants lost their aspiration. Sylheti continues to have a long history of coexisting with tonal Tibeto-Burman languages such as various dialects of Kokborok, Reang[clarification needed]. Even though there is no clear evidence of direct borrowing of lexical items from those languages into Sylheti, there is still a possibility that the emergence of Sylheti tones is due to external influence, as the indigenous speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages by and large use Sylheti as a common medium for interaction.
When a definite article such as -gu/ţa (singular) or -guin/ţin (plural) is added, nouns are also inflected for number. Below are two tables which show the inflections of an animate noun, ꠍꠣꠔ꠆ꠞ satrô ('student'), and an inanimate noun, ꠎꠥꠔꠣ zuta ('shoe').
ꠎꠥꠔꠣꠉꠥꠁꠘ/ ꠎꠥꠔꠣꠐꠤꠘ/ ꠎꠥꠔꠣꠎꠥꠠꠣ
zuta-guin/ zuta-ţin/ zuta-zuŗa
(to) the student
(to) the students
(to) the shoe
(to) the shoes
on/in the shoe
on/ in the shoes
All of the inflected nouns above have an indefinite article preceding their case markers. There are some basic rules to keep in mind about the cases, apart from the "default" nominative.
For the genitive case, the ending may change, though never with a definite article attached. A noun (without an article) which ends in a consonant or the inherent vowel, ꠅ ô, is inflected by adding –ꠞ -ôr to the end of the word (and deleting the inherent vowel if applicable). An example of this would be the genitive of ꠉꠥꠍ gus 'meat' being ꠉꠥꠍꠔꠞ gustôr 'of meat' or '(the) meat's'. A noun which ends in any vowel apart from the inherent vowel will just have a -ꠞ -r following it, as in the genitive of ꠙꠥꠀ fua being ꠙꠥꠀꠞ fuar '(the) boy's'. The genitive ending is also applied to verbs (in their verbal noun forms), which is most commonly seen when using postpositions (for example: ꠢꠤꠇꠣꠞ ꠟꠣꠉꠤ hikar lagi, 'for learning').
For the locative case, the marker also changes in a similar fashion to the genitive case, with consonants and the inherent vowel having their own ending, -ꠧ -ô, and all other vowels having another ending, -ꠔ -t. For example, ꠍꠤꠟꠐꠧ silôţô 'in Sylhet', ꠑꠣꠇꠣꠔ dáxát 'in Dhaka', etc.
When counted, nouns must also be accompanied by the appropriate measure word. The noun's measure word (MW) must be used in between the numeral and the noun. Most nouns take the generic measure word gu/ţa/xán, although there are many more specific measure words, such as zôn, which is only used to count humans.
|Nôy-ţa ghoŗi||Nine-MW clock||Nine clocks|
|Xôy-ţa balish||How many-MW pillow||How many pillows|
|Ônex-zôn manush||Many-MW person||Many people|
|Sair-fas-zôn mashţôr||Four-five-MW teacher||Four or five teachers|
Measuring nouns in Sylheti without their corresponding measure words (e.g. aţ mekur instead of aţ-ţa mekur 'eight cats') would typically be considered ungrammatical. However, omitting the noun and preserving the measure word is grammatical and not uncommon to hear. For example, Xáli êx-zôn táxbô. (lit. 'Only one-MW will remain.') would be understood to mean 'Only one person will remain.', since zôn can only be used to count humans.
Sylheti personal pronouns are somewhat similar to English pronouns, having different words for first, second, and third person, and also for singular and plural (unlike for verbs, below). Sylheti pronouns, like their English counterparts, do differentiate for gender. Sylheti has different third-person pronouns for proximity. The first are used for someone who is nearby, and the second are for those who are a little further away. The third are usually for those who are not present. In addition, each of the second- and third-person pronouns have different forms for the familiar and polite forms; the second person also has a "very familiar" form (sometimes called "despective"). It may be noted that the "very familiar" form is used when addressing particularly close friends or family as well as for addressing subordinates, or in abusive language. In the following tables, the abbreviations used are as follows: VF=very familiar, F=familiar, and P=polite (honor); H=here, T=there, E=elsewhere (proximity), and I=inanimate.
The nominative case is used for pronouns that are the subject of the sentence, such as "I already did that" or "Will you please stop making that noise?"
|1||VF||ꠝꠥꠁ (mui, I)||ꠝꠞꠣ (môra, we)|
|F||ꠀꠝꠤ (ami, I)||ꠀꠝꠞꠣ (amra, we)|
|2||VF||ꠔꠥꠁ (tui, you)||ꠔꠥꠞꠣ (tura, you)|
|F||ꠔꠥꠝꠤ (tumi, you)||ꠔꠥꠝꠞꠣ/ꠔꠥꠝꠤ-ꠔꠣꠁꠘ (tumra/tumi-tain, you)|
|P||ꠀꠙꠘꠦ (afne, you)||ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞꠣ (afnara, you)|
|3||H||F||ꠄ (e, he), ꠄꠁ (ei, she) / ꠁꠉꠥ (igu, he/she)||ꠄꠞꠣ (era, they)|
|P||ꠄꠁꠘ (ein, he/she)||ꠄꠞꠣ/ꠄꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠁꠘ (era/ein-tain, they)|
|I||ꠁꠉꠥ/ꠁꠇꠐꠣ (igu/ikţa, it)||ꠁꠉꠥꠁꠘ (iguin, these)|
|T||F||ꠢꠦ (he, he), ꠔꠣꠁ (tai, she)||ꠔꠣꠞꠣ (tara, they)|
|P||ꠔꠣꠁꠘ (tain, he/she)||
ꠔꠣꠞꠣ/ꠔꠣꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠁꠘ (tara/tain-tain, they)
|I||ꠅꠉꠥ/ꠅꠇꠐꠣ (ôgu/ôxţa, it)||ꠅꠉꠥꠁꠘ (ôguin, those)|
|E||F||ꠢꠦ (he, he), ꠔꠣꠁ (tai, she)||ꠔꠣꠞꠣ (tara, they)|
|P||ꠔꠣꠁꠘ (tain, he/she)||
ꠔꠣꠞꠣ/ꠔꠣꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠁꠘ (tara/tain-tain, they)
|I||ꠢꠉꠥ/ꠢꠇꠐꠣ (hôgu/hôxţa, it)||ꠢꠉꠥꠁꠘ (hôguin, those)|
The objective case is used for pronouns serving as the direct or indirect objects, such as "I told him to wash the dishes" or "The teacher gave me the homework assignment". The inanimate pronouns remain the same in the objective case.
|1||VF||ꠝꠞꠦ (môre, me)||ꠝꠞꠣꠞꠦ (môrare, us)|
|F||ꠀꠝꠣꠞꠦ (amare, me)||ꠀꠝꠞꠣꠞꠦ (amrare, us)|
|2||VF||ꠔꠞꠦ (tôre, you)||ꠔꠥꠞꠣꠞꠦ (turare, you)|
|F||ꠔꠥꠝꠣꠞꠦ (tumare, you)||ꠔꠥꠝꠞꠣꠞꠦ/ꠔꠥꠝꠣ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞꠦ (tumrare/tuma-tanre, you)|
|P||ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞꠦ (afnare, you)||ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞꠣꠞꠦ/ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠁꠘꠔꠞꠦ (afnarare/afnaintôre, you)|
|3||H||F||ꠄꠞꠦ (ere, him), ꠄꠁꠞꠦ (eire, her)||ꠄꠞꠣꠞꠦ (erare, them)|
|P||ꠄꠘꠞꠦ (enre, him/her)||ꠄꠞꠣꠞꠦ/ꠄꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞꠦ (erare/ein-tanre, them)|
|I||ꠁꠉꠥꠞꠦ/ꠁꠇꠐꠣꠞꠦ (igure/ikţare, it)||ꠁꠉꠥꠁꠘꠔꠞꠦ (iguintôre, these)|
|T||F||ꠄꠞꠦ (ere, him), ꠄꠁꠞꠦ (eire, her)||ꠄꠞꠣꠞꠦ (erare, them)|
|P||ꠄꠘꠞꠦ (enre, him/her)||ꠄꠞꠣꠞꠦ/ꠄꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞꠦ (erare/ein-tanre, them)|
|I||ꠅꠉꠥꠞꠦ/ꠅꠇꠐꠣꠞꠦ (ôgure/ôxţare, it)||ꠅꠉꠥꠁꠘꠔꠞꠦ (ôguintôre, those)|
|E||F||ꠢꠦꠞꠦ/ꠔꠣꠞꠦ (here/tare, him), ꠔꠣꠁꠞꠦ (taire, her)||ꠔꠣꠞꠣꠞꠦ (tarare, them)|
|P||ꠔꠣꠘꠞꠦ (tanre, him/her)||ꠔꠣꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞꠦ (tain-tanre, them)|
|I||ꠢꠉꠥ/ꠢꠇꠐꠣ (hôgu/hôxţa, it)||ꠢꠉꠥꠁꠘ (hôguin, those)|
The possessive case is used to show possession, such as "Where is your coat?" or "Let's go to our house". In addition, sentences such as "I have a book" (ꠀꠝꠣꠞ ꠄꠇꠐꠣ ꠛꠁ ꠀꠍꠦ) or "I need money" (ꠀꠝꠣꠞ ꠐꠦꠇꠣ ꠖꠞꠇꠣꠞ) also use the possessive (the literal translation of the Bengali versions of these sentences would be "There is my book" and "There is my need for money" respectively).
|1||VF||ꠝꠞ (môr, my)||ꠝꠞꠣꠞ (môrar, our)|
|F||ꠀꠝꠣꠞ (amar, my)||ꠀꠝꠞꠣꠞ (amrar, our)|
|2||VF||ꠔꠞ (tôr, your)||ꠔꠥꠞꠣꠞ (turar, your)|
|F||ꠔꠥꠝꠣꠞ (tomar, your)||ꠔꠥꠝꠞꠣꠞ/ꠔꠥꠝꠣ-ꠔꠣꠘ/ꠔꠥꠝꠣ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞ (tumar/tuma-tan/tuma-tanôr, your)|
|P||ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞ (afnar, your)||ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞꠣꠞ/ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠁꠘꠔꠞ (afnarar/afnaintôr, your)|
|3||H||F||ꠄꠞ (er, his), ꠄꠁꠞ (eir, her)||ꠄꠞꠣꠞ (erar, their)|
|P||ꠄꠘ/ꠄꠁꠘꠞ (en/einôr, his/her)||ꠄꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞ (ein-tanôr, their)|
|I||ꠁꠉꠥꠞ/ꠁꠇꠐꠣꠞ (igur/ikţar, its)||ꠁꠉꠥꠁꠘꠔꠞ (iguintôr, of these)|
|T||F||ꠄꠞ (er, his), ꠄꠁꠞ (eir, her)||ꠄꠞꠣꠞ (erar, their)|
|P||ꠄꠘ/ꠄꠁꠘꠞ (en/einôr, his/her)||ꠄꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞ (ein-tanôr, their)|
|I||ꠅꠉꠥꠞ/ꠅꠇꠐꠣꠞ (ogur/oxţar, its)||ꠅꠉꠥꠁꠘꠔꠞ (oguintôr, of those)|
|E||F||ꠔꠣꠞ (tar, his/her)||ꠔꠣꠞꠣꠞ (tader, their)|
|P||ꠔꠣꠘ/ꠔꠣꠘꠞ (tan/tanôr, his/her)||ꠔꠣꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠘꠞ (tain-tanôr, their)|
|I||ꠢꠉꠥꠞ/ꠢꠇꠐꠣꠞ (hôgur/hôxţar, its)||ꠢꠉꠥꠁꠘꠔꠞ (hôguintôr, of those)|
Indefinite and negative pronouns
Bengali has no negative pronouns (such as no one, nothing, none). These are typically represented by adding the negative particle ꠘꠣꠄ (nae) to indefinite pronouns, which are themselves derived from their corresponding question words. Common indefinite pronouns are listed below.
|Question word||Indefinite pronoun||Indefinite negative pronoun|
ꠇꠦ/ ꠇꠦꠉꠥ/ ꠇꠤꠉꠥ
xe/ xegu/ kigu
ꠇꠣꠞ/ ꠇꠦꠉꠥꠞ/ ꠇꠤꠉꠞꠥ
xar/ xegur/ kigur
ꠇꠦꠃꠞ/ ꠇꠦꠃꠞꠞ ꠘꠣꠄ
xeur/ xeurôr nae
ꠇꠦꠃꠞꠦ/ ꠇꠦꠃꠞꠞ ꠘꠣꠄ
xeure/ xeurôre nae
ꠇꠤꠌ꠆ꠍꠥ/ ꠇꠥꠘꠔꠣ ꠘꠣꠄ
kichchu/ kunta nae
The relative pronoun ꠎꠦ (ze) and its different variants, as shown below, are commonly employed in complex sentences. The relative pronouns for animate objects change for number and honour, but those for inanimate objects stay the same.
|Nominative (who)||Genitive (whose)||Objective (to whom)|
|Nominative/Objective (which)||Genitive (of which)||Locative (in which)|
Adjectives do not inflect for case, gender, or number in Sylheti and are placed before the noun they modify.
Some adjectives form their opposites by prefixing ꠅ- (before consonants) or ꠅꠘ- (before vowels) or ꠘꠤ-, for example, the opposite of ꠡꠝ꠆ꠜꠛ (shômbôb, 'possible') is ꠅꠡꠝ꠆ꠜꠛ (ôshômbôb, 'impossible'), the opposite of ꠝꠣꠔꠞꠣ (matra, 'speaker') is ꠘꠤꠝꠣꠔꠞꠣ (nimatra, 'quite').
Demonstrative adjectives – this and that – correspond to ꠁ and ꠅꠃ respectively, with the definite article attached to the following noun. Thus, this book would translate to ꠁ ꠛꠁꠐꠣ, while those books would translate to ꠅꠃ ꠛꠁꠐꠣ.
Comparatives and superlatives
Sylheti adjectives form their comparative forms with ꠀꠞꠅ (arô, 'more'), and their superlative forms with ꠡꠛ ꠕꠣꠇꠤ (shôb táki, 'than all'). Comparisons are formed by using genitive form of the object of comparison, followed by the postposition ꠕꠣꠇꠤ/ꠕꠘꠦ/ꠌꠦ (táki/tóne/se, 'than') or the postposition ꠟꠣꠇꠣꠘ (laxan, 'like') and then by ꠀꠞꠅ (arô, 'more') or ꠇꠝ (xôm, 'less'). The word for more is optional, but the word for less is required, so in its absence more is inferred. Adjectives can be additionally modified by using ꠛꠣꠇ꠆ꠇꠣ/ꠛꠃꠔ/ꠅꠘꠦꠇ (bakka/bout/ônex, 'much') or ꠅꠘꠦꠇ ꠛꠦꠡꠤ (ônex beshi, 'much more'), which are especially useful for comparing quantities.
|ꠇꠞꠤꠝ ꠞꠢꠤꠝ ꠕꠘꠦ ꠟꠣꠝ꠆ꠛꠣ||Karim of Rahim than tall||Karim is taller than Rahim|
|ꠇꠞꠤꠝ ꠞꠢꠤꠝ ꠕꠣꠇꠤ ꠀꠞꠅ ꠟꠣꠝ꠆ꠛꠣ||Karim of Rahim than more tall||Karim is taller than Rahim|
|ꠇꠞꠤꠝ ꠞꠢꠤꠝ ꠕꠘꠦ ꠇꠝ ꠟꠣꠝ꠆ꠛꠣ||Karim of Rahim than less tall||Karim is shorter than Rahim|
|ꠇꠞꠤꠝ ꠞꠢꠤꠝꠞ ꠟꠣꠇꠣꠘ ꠟꠣꠝ꠆ꠛꠣ||Karim of Rahim like tall||Karim is as tall as Rahim|
|ꠇꠞꠤꠝ ꠞꠢꠤꠝ ꠕꠣꠇꠤ ꠛꠃꠔ ꠟꠣꠝ꠆ꠛꠣ||Karim of Rahim than much tall||Karim is much taller than Rahim|
Sylheti verbs are highly inflected and are regular with only few exceptions. They consist of a stem and an ending; they are traditionally listed in Sylheti dictionaries in their "verbal noun" form, which is usually formed by adding -a to the stem: for instance, ꠇꠞꠣ (xôra, to do) is formed from the stem ꠇꠞ. The stem can end in either a vowel or a consonant. Verbs are conjugated for tense and person by changing the endings, which are largely the same for all verbs. However, the stem vowel can often change as part of the phenomenon known as vowel harmony, whereby one vowel can be influenced by other vowels in the word to sound more harmonious. An example would be the verb to write, with stem lex-: ꠟꠦꠈꠧ (lexô, 'you all write') but also ꠟꠦꠈꠤ (lekí, 'we write'). If verbs are classified by stem vowel and if the stem ends in a consonant or vowel, there are nine basic classes in which most verbs can be placed; all verbs in a class will follow the same pattern. A prototype verb from each of these classes will be used to demonstrate conjugation for that class; bold will be used to indicate mutation of the stem vowel. Additionally, there are irregular verbs, such as ꠎꠣꠅꠀ (zaoa, to go) that change the first consonant in their stem in certain conjugations.
Like many other Indo-Aryan languages (such as Standard Bengali or Assamese), nouns can be turned into verbs by combining them with select auxiliary verbs. In Sylheti, the most common such auxiliary verb is ꠇꠞꠣ (xôra, 'to do'); thus, verbs such as joke are formed by combining the noun form of joke (ꠓꠋ) with to do (ꠇꠞꠣ) to create ꠓꠋ ꠇꠞꠣ. When conjugating such verbs the noun part of such a verb is left untouched, so in the previous example, only ꠇꠞꠣ would be inflected or conjugated (e.g.: I will make a joke becomes ꠀꠝꠤ ꠓꠋ ꠇꠞꠝꠥ; see more on tenses below). Other auxiliary verbs include ꠖꠦꠅꠀ and ꠘꠦꠅꠀ, but the verb ꠇꠞꠣ enjoys significant usage because it can be combined with foreign verbs to form a native version of the verb, even if a direct translation exists. Most often this is done with English verbs: for example, to vote is often referred to as ꠜꠥꠐ ꠖꠦꠅꠀ (búţ deoa, where búţ is the transliteration of vote).
Sylheti is considered a zero copula language in some aspects.
- In the simple present tense there is no verb connecting the subject to the predicative (the "zero verb" copula). There is one notable exception, however, which is when the predicative takes on the existential, locative, or possessive aspects; for such purposes, the incomplete verb ꠀꠍ- (as) is used, which is conjugated according to the rules given below.
- In the past tense, the incomplete verb ꠀꠍ- is always used as the copula, regardless of the nature of the predicative.
- For the future tense and non-finite structures, the copula is supplied by the verb ‘ꠅꠅꠀ (ówa), with the only exception being the possessive predicative for which the verb ꠕꠣꠇꠣ (táxa, 'to remain') is utilised.
The following table demonstrates the rules above with some examples.
|I am happy||ꠀꠝꠤ ꠈꠥꠡꠤ||No verb used to denote the copula|
|There is time||ꠡꠝꠄ ꠀꠍꠦ||ꠀꠍ- used to connect to an existential predicative|
|I am at home||ꠀꠝꠤ ꠛꠣꠠꠤꠔ ꠀꠍꠤ||ꠀꠍ- used to connect to a locative predicative|
|We were happy||ꠀꠝꠞꠣ ꠛꠦꠎꠣꠞ ꠀꠍꠟꠣꠝ||In the past tense, ꠀꠍ- is used as the copula|
|I will be at home||ꠀꠝꠤ ꠛꠣꠠꠤꠔ ꠕꠣꠇꠝꠥ||In the future tense, ꠕꠣꠇꠣ is used as the copula|
|He will have a car||ꠔꠣꠞ ꠄꠈꠣꠘ ꠉꠣꠠꠤ ꠕꠣꠇꠛ||In the future tense, ꠕꠣꠇꠣ is used to connect to a possessive predicative|
There are three sentence negators employed in Sylheti:
- The zero verb copula is negated using the incomplete negator ꠘ-, which is conjugated as ꠘꠣꠄ (1), ꠘꠣꠁ (2), ꠘꠣ (3).
- Existential sentences that use the verb ꠀꠍ- are negated with ꠘꠣꠁ (nai), which does not need to be conjugated.
- All other verbs (with the exceptions of the ones listed above) are negated using the universal negative particle ꠘꠣꠄ (nae). ꠘꠣꠄ is typically placed after the finite verb (see examples below), but can also be placed at the end of the sentence, which negates the whole sentence. ꠘꠣꠄ can be used in all tenses except two: the present perfect and the past perfect.
- Verbs in the present perfect and the past perfect tenses are negated using the suffix -ꠘꠣ (na) which can also refer to "no" in yes-no questions.
|I am not happy||ꠀꠝꠤ ꠈꠥꠡꠤ ꠘꠣꠄ||Incomplete negator ꠘ- conjugated for first-person|
|We don't have a car||ꠀꠝꠞꠣꠞ ꠉꠣꠠꠤ ꠘꠣꠁ||ꠘꠣꠁ used to negate ꠀꠍ-, which is completely replaced|
|I don't work||ꠀꠝꠤ ꠇꠣꠝ ꠇꠞꠤ ꠘꠣ||ꠘꠣ is used to negate all other finite verbs|
|I didn't help him||ꠀꠝꠤ ꠔꠣꠞꠦ ꠡꠣꠁꠎ꠆ꠏ ꠇꠞꠍꠤꠟꠣꠝ ꠘꠣ|
Verbs are inflected for person and honour, but not for number. There are five forms: first person, second person (very familiar), second person (familiar), third person (familiar), and second/third person (polite). The same sample subject pronouns will be used for all the example conjugation paradigms: mui (ꠝꠥꠁ), ami (ꠀꠝꠤ), tui (ꠔꠥꠁ), tumi (ꠔꠥꠝꠤ), he (ꠢꠦ), tai (ꠔꠣꠁ) and afne (ꠀꠙꠘꠦ). These have the following plurals respectively: môra (ꠝꠞꠣ), amra (ꠀꠝꠞꠣ), tura (ꠔꠥꠞꠣ), tumra (ꠔꠥꠝꠞꠣ)/tumi-tain (ꠔꠥꠝꠤ-ꠔꠣꠁꠘ), tara (ꠔꠣꠞꠣ)/tain-tain (ꠔꠣꠁꠘ-ꠔꠣꠁꠘ) and afnara (ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞꠣ).
A notable characteristic of spoken Sylheti is the correspondence of the /x/ and /ɦ/, pronounced as a voiceless velar fricative to the /k/ or /kʰ/ of Bengali and voiceless glottal fricative to the /x/ of Assamese respectively.
|Standard Bengali||Typical East Bengali||Assamese||Sylheti||IPA||Meaning|
|/exzɔn manuʃ/||A person|
|/exʈa beʈa/||A man|
|/kiɔ́ɾ/||Informal of Whereof|
|কন্যা, ঝি, মেয়ে, পুত্রী
Kônna, Jhi, Meye, Putri
|কইন্যা, ঝি, মাইয়া, পুড়ি
Kôinna, Zí, Maiya, Puri
|ꠇꠁꠘ꠆ꠘꠣ, ꠎꠤ, ꠙꠥꠠꠤ
Xôinna, Zí, Furi
|/xɔinna/, /zí/, /ɸuɽi/||Daughter|
|মানৱজাতি, মানুহৰ জাতি
Manôwzati, Manuhôr zati
|জুইত পোৰা, জুইত সেকা
Zuit püra, Zuit xeka
|সকল, সমস্ত, সব, তামাম
Shôkôl, Shômôsto, Shômôsto, Shôb, Tamam
|হগল, হক্কল, সব, তামাম, ব্যাক
Hôgôl, Hôkkôl, Shômôsto, Shôb, Tamam, Bêk
|সকলো, সৱ, চব
Xôkôlü; Xôb; Sôb
|ꠢꠇꠟ, ꠢꠇ꠆ꠇꠟ, ꠡꠛ, ꠔꠣꠝꠣꠝ
Hôxôl, Hôkkôl, Shôb, Tamam
|/ɦɔxɔl/, /ɦɔkkɔl/, /ʃɔb/||All|
|সারা, পুরা, গোটা, আস্ত
Shara, Pura, Goṭa, Astô
|হারা, পুরা, গোডা, আস্তা
Hara, Pura, Güḍa, Asta
|ꠀꠍ꠆ꠔꠣ, ꠙꠥꠞꠣ, ꠉꠥꠐꠣ
Asta, Fura, Guṭa
|/ast̪a/, /ɸura/, /guʈa/||Whole|
|সাত বিল, হাত বিল
Shat bil, Hat bil
|/ɦat̪ bil/||Seven wetlands|
|/ɦat̪xɔɽa/||Citrus macroptera fruit|
|ভালো করে খান।
Bhalo kôre khan.
|ভালা কইরা খাইন।
Bála kôira khain.
|ꠜꠣꠟꠣ ꠇꠞꠤ/ꠑꠤꠇꠦ ꠈꠣꠃꠇ꠆ꠇꠣ।
Bala xôri/tike xaukka.
|/bála xɔɾi xaukka/, /bála ʈike xaukka/||Bon appetit|
|স্ত্রী, পত্নী, বউ
Stri, Pôtni, Bôu
|স্ত্রী, ঘৈণী, পত্নী
Stri, Ghôini, Pôtni
|স্বামী, বর, জামাই
Shami, Bôr, Jamai
|হাঁই, হাইন, জামাই
Hai, Hain, Zamai
|গিৰিয়েক, পতি, স্বামী
Giriyêk, Pôti, Swami
|শিহা, হিহা, হিয়া
Shiha, Hiha, Hiya
|শুকটি, শুকান মাছ
Xukôti, Xukan mas
|/ɦuʈki/, /ɦukoin/||Sundried Fish|
|আপনার নাম কী?
Apnar nam ki?
|আপনের নাম কী(তা)?
Apner nam ki(ta)?
|আপোনাৰ নাম কি?
Apünar nam ki?
|ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞ ꠘꠣꠝ ꠇꠤꠔꠣ?
Afnar nam kita?
|/aɸnaɾ nam kit̪a/||What's your name?|
|ডাক্তার আসার আগেও রোগী মারা গেল।
Daktar ashar ageo rogi mara gelô
|ডাক্তর আওয়ার আগে রোগী মইরা গেল।
Daktôr awar age rügi môira gelô
|ডাক্তৰ অহাৰ আগতেই ৰোগী মৰি গ’ল।
Daktor ohar agotei rügi mori gól
|ꠒꠣꠇ꠆ꠔꠞ ꠀꠅꠀꠞ ꠀꠉꠦꠅ ꠛꠦꠝꠣꠞꠤ ꠝꠞꠤ ꠉꠦꠟ।
Daxtôr awar ageu bemari môri gelô.
|/ɖaxt̪ɔɾ awaɾ age bemaɾi mɔɾi gelo/||Before the doctor came, the patient had died.|
|ব'উত দিন দেখছি না/দেহি নাই।
Bôút din dekhsi na/dehi nai.
|বহুদিন দেখা নাই।
Bôhudin dekha nai.
|ꠛꠣꠇ꠆ꠇꠣ ꠖꠤꠘ ꠖꠦꠈꠍꠤ ꠘꠣ।
Bakka din dexsi na.
|/bakka d̪in d̪exsi na/||Long time, no see.|
|আপনি কি ভালো আছেন?
Apni ki bhalo achhen?
|আপনে ভালা আছইন/আছেন নি?
Apne bála asôin/asen ni?
|আপুনি ভালে আছেনে?
Apuni bhale asênê?
|ꠀꠙꠘꠦ ꠜꠣꠟꠣ ꠀꠍꠁꠘ ꠘꠤ?
Afne bala asôin ni?
|/aɸne bála asoin ni/||Are you fine/good?|
|আমি তোমাকে ভালোবাসি।
Ami tomake bhalobashi.
|আমি তুমারে ভালোবাসি।
Ami tumare bálobashi.
|মই তোমাক ভাল পাওঁ।
Moi tümak bhal paü.
|ꠀꠝꠤ ꠔꠥꠝꠣꠞꠦ ꠜꠣꠟꠣ ꠙꠣꠁ।
Ami tumare bala fai.
|/ami t̪umare bála ɸai/||I love you.|
|আমি ভুলে গিয়েছি।
Ami bhule giyechhi.
|আমি ভুইল্যা গেছি। আমি পাউরি গেছি।
Ami búilla gesi. Ami pauri gesi.
|মই পাহৰি গৈছোঁ।
Môi pahôri goisü.
|ꠀꠝꠤ ꠙꠣꠅꠞꠤ ꠟꠤꠍꠤ।
Ami faûri lisi.
|/ami ɸaʊɾi lisi/||I have forgotten.|
|আলু গোশতের ঝোলটা আমার ভালো লাগলো।
Alu goshter jholṭa amar bhalo laglo.
|আলু গুস্তের ছালনডা আমার ভালা লাগলো।
Alu guster salônḍa amar bála laglo.
|মাংসৰ তৰকাৰীখন মোৰ খুব ভাল লাগিছে।
Mangxôr tôrkarikhôn mür khub bhal lagise.
|ꠀꠟꠥ ꠉꠥꠍ꠆ꠔꠞ ꠍꠣꠟꠘꠐꠣ ꠀꠝꠣꠞ ꠜꠣꠟꠣ ꠟꠣꠉꠟ
Alu gustôr salônṭa amar bala laglo.
|/gust̪ɔɾ salɔnʈa amaɾ bakka bála lagse/||I liked the potato meat curry.|
|শিলচর কোনদিগে/কোন ফাইল/কোন মুহি?
Shilcôr kündige/kün phail/kün muhi?
|/ɦil͡tʃɔɾ kunbae, kunbaed̪i, kunmuká/||Which way to Silchar?|
|/igu, ikʈa, iʈa kit̪a/||What is this?|
|/ɦigu, ɦikʈa, ɦiʈa kit̪a/||What is that?|
Comparison with Standard Bengali
A phrase in:
- Standard Bengali: এক দেশের গালি আরেক দেশের বুলি æk desher gali arek desher buli.
- Sylheti: ꠄꠇ ꠖꠦꠡꠞ ꠉꠣꠁꠟ ꠀꠣꠞꠇ ꠖꠦꠡꠞ ꠝꠣꠔ/এখ দেশর গাইল, আরখ দেশর মাত ex deshôr gail arôx deshôr mát.
which literally means 'one land's obscenity is another land's language', and can be roughly translated to convey that a similar word in one language can mean something very different in another.
- মেঘ megh in Standard Bengali means 'cloud'.
- মেঘ mêg(h) in Eastern Bengali means 'rain' or 'cloud'.
- ꠝꠦꠊ/মেঘ megh in Sylheti means 'rain'.
- In Pali, मेघ megha means both 'rain' and 'cloud'.
- Bengali–Assamese languages
- Languages of India
- Languages of Bangladesh
- Tibeto-Burman languages
- Barman language
- Meitei language
- Niharranjan Ray (January 1980). Bangalir Itihas (in Bengali). Vol. 2.
- Shahela Hamid (2011). Language Use and Identity: The Sylheti Bangladeshis in Leeds. pp.Preface. Verlag Peter Lang. Retrieved on 4 December 2020.
- (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:5)
- Tanweer Fazal (2012). Minority Nationalisms in South Asia: 'We are with culture but without geography': locating Sylheti identity in contemporary India, Nabanipa Bhattacharjee. pp.59–67.
- Sylheti at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
- "Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Around the World". Visual Capitalist. 15 February 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
- "Sylheti is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by about 11 million people in India and Bangladesh (Hammarström et al., 2017). Sylheti is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language, primarily spoken in the Sylhet division of Bangladesh, and in Barak valley, in Assam of the India and in the northern parts of the state of Tripura in India."(Mahanta & Gope 2018:81)
- "Along the linguistic continuum of eastern Indic languages, Sylheti occupies an ambiguous position, where it is considered a distinct language by many and also as a dialect of Bengali or Bangla by some others." (Mahanta & Gope 2018:81)
- "At the geographical extremes, Chittagonian, Sylheti, Mal Paharia, and Rohingya are so unintelligible to speakers of other dialects that they are almost universally considered by linguists to be separate languages on their own." (Khan 2018)
- "In Bangladesh, Sylheti functions as a diglossic "Low" variety and Bengali, the official language of Bangladesh, as the "High" variety. Bengali is the language of official administration and education in Bangladesh, and Sylheti is normative in informal contexts in Sylhet." (Lawson & Sachdev 2004:50)
- "Sylheti is often dismissed as ‘slang’ or as a corrupted version of Bengali, even by some of its own speakers, for whom it is not a language in its own right." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:4)
- "There is reported language shift in the Sylheti-speaking regions of Bangladesh and India, as well as in the diaspora with Bengali replacing Sylheti, as some parents do not speak Sylheti to their children, reducing the number of future Sylheti speakers." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:5)
- "In the context of the UK, Sylheti has more vitality than Bangla on the basis of its demography." (Hamid 2005:243)
- Anne Kershen (2004). Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1666-2000. pp.145. Routledge. Retrieved on 10 September 2020.
- "Sylhet Town, which is the headquarters of the District, being within six miles of the Jaintiapur Faiganaj lies within the area in which this dialect is spoken, and hence this form of speech is called Sylhettia by Europeans. For this reason, it is often wrongly said that the language of the whole Sylhet District is uniform, and the term Sylhettia is incorrectly applied to the dialect of the west of the District, as well as to that of the North-East. The term 'Sylhettia 'properly means the language of the town, and not of the District, of Sylhet." (Grierson 1903:221)
- "As already stated, the dialect spoken in Sylhet Town and in the North and North-East of the District is that which Europeans called Sylhettia. Sylheti speakers did not use this title. They called it Jaintiapuri, Purba Srihattiya, or Ujania. The latter means the language of the upper country.(Grierson 1903:224)
- William Farwley (2003). International Encyclopedia of Linguistics: 4-Volume Set. pp.483. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved on 9 September 2020.
- South Asian folklore: an encyclopedia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, By Peter J. Claus, Sarah Diamond, Margaret Ann Mills, Routledge, 2003, p. 203
- (Ludden 2003:5081)
- "copper plate inscriptions indicate that land around the Kushiara was more densely populated, because Kamarupa kings had granted large tracts of land to immigrant brahmans and their supporting castes, to make this region part of Assam (Khanda Kamarupa)." (Ludden 2003:5081)
- Sircar, Dineshchandra (1971). Studies in the geography of ancient and medieval India. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 161.
- Chatterjee, Suhas (1998). Indian Civilization and Culture. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd. p. 432.
- " Sylhet town (Srihatta) became a major centre of lowland territorialism after the 10th century CE" (Ludden 2003:5081)
- Rakhal Das Banerji (2003). Origin of the Bengali Script. pp.6.
- Gupta, Prof Dr K M (1927–1928). Hirananda Krishna Sastri (ed.). "49. The Bhatera Copper-plate Inscription of Govinda-Kesavadeva (C. 1049 A.D.)". Epigraphia Indica. Sylhet. XIX: 277–286.
- Paschimbhag Copperplate: History engraved The Daily Star. 2 August 2020. Retrieved on 16 September 2020.
- Bangladesh Itihas Samiti (1999). Sylhet: History and Heritage. pp.598.
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- "It is not officially recognised in Bangladesh, where it is simply referred to as a dialect of Bengali by the government (Faquire 2012); it has, equally, no legal status in India." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:4)
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- "Dialects are independent of literary speech: as such East Bengali dialects, North Bengali dialects (with which Assamese is to be associated) and West Bengali dialects are not only independent of one another, but also they are not, as it is popularly believed in Bengal, derived from literary Bengali, the "sadhu-bhasha", which is a composite speech on an early West Bengali basis."(Chatterji 1926:108)
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- "Chalmers and Miah (1996) describe Sylheti as a distinct language that is 'mutually unintelligible to a Standard Bengali speaker' (p. 6), but anecdotal evidence from members of the London-Bengali community suggests that the differences are relatively small (Rasinger, 2007)" (McCarthy, Evans & Mahon 2013:346)
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Glottalization is often connected with tone and in the East Bengali cases seem to be related to the evolution of tone from the voiced aspirates.
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