Sylheti language

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ছিলটী Silôṭi
Native to Bangladesh (Sylhet Division) and India (Barak Valley and Tripura)
Native speakers
11 million (2007)[1]
Bengali alphabet (present)
Sylheti Nagari (ancient)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 syl
Glottolog sylh1242[2]
Linguasphere 59-AAF-ui
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Sylheti or Syloti (সিলেটী Sileṭi or ছিলটী Silôṭi) is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language variety, primarily spoken in the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh and the Barak Valley region of southern Assam. It was originally a form of Hindustani vernacular, but over the aeons, it gravitated towards standard Bengali to be considered as a dialect of the Bengali language. Despite incomplete mutual intelligibility, it shares a high proportion of vocabulary with Standard Bengali: Chalmers (1996) reports at least 80% overlap.

Name of the language[edit]

Sylheti is the common English spelling of the language name after the accepted British spelling of the Sylhet District, while the usual transliteration of the Standard Bengali spelling of the name is Silheti.


Front page of a Nagari book titled "Halat-un-Nabi", written in the mid-19th century by Sadeq Ali of Sylhet

In ancient literature, Sylhet was referred as Shilahat and Shilahatta.[3] and the people of Shilahat spoke a language very similar to the language of Kanauj, Uttar Pradesh, India, which was known as Hindustani in India and Devanagari in Shilahat and it was written in Devanagari alphabet. In the 19th century, the British tea-planters in the area referred to the vernacular spoken in Surma and Barak Valleys as Sylheti language.[4] In Assam, the language is still referred to as Sylheti.

During the British colonial period, an alphabet was created in 1860s by a Sylheti student by the name of Abdul Karim studying in London, United Kingdom.[5][6] Karim, after completing his education, spent several years in London and learnt the printing trade. After returning home, he reduced the number of Devanagari letters in the alphabet and created a new alphabet for the Sylheti language, which later came to be known as Sylhetinagari. Karim designed a woodblock type for Sylhetinagari and founded the Islamia Press in Sylhet Town in about 1870. Other Sylheti presses were established in Sunamganj, Shillong and Kolkata. These presses fell out of use during the early 1970s. Since then the Sylotinagri alphabet has been used mainly by linguists and academics.[7]

The Sylhetiagari script gradually became very unpopular.[8][9] The script includes 5 independent vowels, 5 dependent vowels attached to a consonant letter and 27 consonants. The Sylheti abugida differs from the Bengali alphabet as it is a form of Kaithi, a script that belongs to the main group of North Indian scripts of Bihar.[10] The writing system's main use was to record religious poetry, described as a rich language and easy to learn.[11]

Campaigns started to rise in London during the mid-1970s to mid-1980s to recognise Sylheti as a language on its own right. During the mid-1970s, when the first mother-tongue classes were established for Bangladeshis by community activists, the classes were given in standard Bengali rather than the Sylheti dialect which triggered the campaign. During the 1980s, a recognition campaign for Sylheti took place in the area of Spitalfields, East End of London. One of the main organisations was the Bangladeshis' Educational Needs in Tower Hamlets (usually known by its acronym as BENTH). However this organisation collapsed in 1985 and with its demise the pro-Sylheti campaign in the borough lost impetus. Nonetheless, Sylheti remains very widespread as a domestic language in working class Sylheti households in the United Kingdom. Middle-class Sylheti families are adopting standard Bengali as their 'home' language.[12]

Sylheti variation from Standard Bengali[edit]

Vocabulary look[edit]

A phrase in:

  • Syloti: এক দেশর গালি আরক দেশর বুলি êx deshôr gali arôx deshôr buli
  • Standard Bengali: এক দেশের গালি আরেক দেশের বুলি êk desher gali arek desher buli

which means "a phrase in one language mislead a phrase to another language". For example:

মেঘ megh in Standard Bengali means cloud

  • মেঘ megh in Syloti means rain and cloud
  • In Pali মেঘ megh means both rain and cloud.
  • In Syloti cloud is called বাদল haz or আছমানী হাজ ashmani haz (decor of the sky).
  • In Standard Bengali বাদল badôl and বৃষ্টি brishti means Rain.

নাড়া naṛa in Standard Bengali means to stir or to move

In Sylheti, *নাড়া naṛa is pronounced as 'লাড়া' laṛa

Grammar look[edit]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

  • In Syloti:
    সকল মানষর জন্ম হয় আজাদ আর ইজ্জত ও অধিকার লইয়া। তারার হুশ আর জ্ঞাণ-বুদ্ধি তাকার দায় যানু একজন আরকজনর লগে রুহানি ভাইট্টা ব্যবহার তাকে।
    • Transliteration Xôkhôl mainshôr zônmô ħoe azad ar izzôt o ôdikhar lôia. Tarar hush ar ggan-buddhi taxar dae zanu êxzôn arôxzônôr lôge ruhani bhaitta bêbôhar taxe.
  • In Standard Bengali:
    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।
    • Transliteration 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.

Below are the grammar similarities and differences look in a word to word comparison:

  • Syloti word-to-word gloss:
    All humans' born are free and dignity plus rights with. Their conscious and judgement-intelligence have obligation ensure one another's with spiritual brotherhood conduct stay.
  • Bengali word-to-word gloss:
    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.


Syloti is distinguished by a wide range of fricative consonants corresponding to aspirated consonants in closely related languages and dialects such as Bengali; a lack of the breathy voiced stops; word-final stress; and a relatively large set of loanwords from Arabic, Persian and Assamese. Syloti has affected the course of Standard Bengali in the rest of the state.

A notable characteristic of spoken Sylheti is the correspondence of the /ʜ/ (from hereby transliterated as x), pronounced as an Voiceless epiglottal fricative to the [ʃ], or "sh", of Bengali, e.g.

Standard Bengali Syloti Transliteration Meaning in English
চরণ স্পর্শ
Côrôṇ spôrshô
কদম বুচি
Kôdôm buci
Kodom busi Touch the feet (A welcome/farewell ritual)
Ḍakha Dhaka
এক লোক Ēk lōk এক আদম Ēx adom Ēkh adom A person
Ek jon Ex zon Ekh zon Someone
Ek Puruṣh Ex mord Ekh mord A man
Kiser: kīser Xixor Kior Informal of Whereof
Konya; meye Xonia; Zi Khonia; Zi Daughter
Manob Jati Manshor zat Manshor zat Human-kind
Oshomīya Axomia Ahomia People of Assam (Assamese)
Onguli; ongul Anguil Anguil Finger; toe
Onguri Anguti; angti Angti Finger-ring
Ognipokko Agunfura Agunfura Baked; grilled
Oshidharī Axaidri Ahaidri Swordsman
Osur; Osuro Axura; Xurain Ahura; Hurain People of Assyria (Assyrian)
Pakira Phaikia Faikia Plural of bird; All kinds of Bird species
Paki Phaxi Faki A (singular) bird
Prīti Phriti Firiti Love
Por Phore; bade Fore; bade Later
Sokol; somosto Xokhol Hokhol All
Sara (kon) Xara (buil) Hara (buil) Every (time)
Shāto Beel Xat Bila Hat Bila Seven wetlands
Shāt Kora Xat Khora Hat Khora Citrus macroptera fruit
Shāt bar Xat-bar Hat-bar Seven-times (Sylheti term for lots of time)
Sileṭī () Ciloṭia () Siloṭia People of Sylhet
Su bhagyo Allahr Hāola Allaar Aaola Good luck (Sylheti: God's Authority)
Shu tripti; bhalo ruchi Taza bhux; Bhalaṭike xawka Taza bhukh; Bhalaṭike khawka Bon appétit
Strī Bow Bow Wife
Shamī Zamai; beṭa Zamai; beṭa Husband
Shoshur Xoxur Hôūr Father-in-law
Shashuṛī Xoṛi Hoṛi Mother-in-law
Shala Xala Hala Brother-in-law
Shalī Xali Hali Sister-in-law
Shikśa kora Xixia newa Hikia newa Learn
Shoriṣha Xoirox Hoiroh Mustard
Shīẏal Xial Hial Jackal
Shuṭki Xuṭki; xukṭi Huṭki: hukṭi Sundried Fish
Apnar nam ki? Afnar nam kita? Afnar nam Kita? What's your name?
Daktar asar purbe rugi mara gelo Daxtor awar ageu bemari mara zain Dakhtor awar ageu bemari mara zain Before the doctor came, the patient had died
Bohu din dekhi ni Oto buile na dexlam Oto buile na dekhlam Long time no see
Bhalo Achhen? Bala acoen ni? Bala asoin ni? How are you?
Mangsher torokariṭa ami onek bhalopeyechi Ami ghustor salon bhalafaici Ami gustor salon balafaisi I loved the meat curry
Mangsher torokariṭa amar bhalō legeche Ghustor salonṭa amar bhala lagce Gustor salonṭa amar bala lagse I liked the meat curry
Shilchor kon dike pore? Xilcor xun baidi phorce? Hilsor khun baidi forse? Which way to Silchar?
Shōwchagar kōthay? Xocailoe ba leftin xun xano? Hosailoe ba liftin khun khano? Where is the toilet?
Eiṭa ki? Oxṭa xita? Okhṭa kita? What is this?
Oṭa ki? Outa xita? Outa kita? What are they?
Shēshē Xēshē Hēshē End


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Sylheti". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ James Lloyd-Williams & Sue Lloyd-Williams (Sylheti Translation and Research/STAR); Peter Constable (SIL International) Date: 2002-11-01
  4. ^ Grierson, G.A. 1903. Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. 5, Part I. Calcutta.
  5. ^ Banglapedia
  6. ^ Archive
  7. ^ Sylheti Alphabets
  8. ^ Syloti Nagri alphabet
  9. ^ Sylheti unicode chart
  10. ^ Sylheti Literature
  11. ^ Sylheti Literature
  12. ^ Anne J. Kershen (2005). Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields, 1660–2000. Routledge. pages. 148–150

External links[edit]

Sylheti phrasebook travel guide from Wikivoyage