Sylheti language

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ꠍꠤꠟꠐꠤ • ছিলটী
Native to Bangladesh (Sylhet Division) and India (Barak Valley, Hojai in Assam, Shillong and North Tripura, Unakoti and some parts of Dhalai district in Tripura)
Native speakers
11 million (2007)[1]
Sylheti Nagari, Eastern Nagari and Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 syl
Glottolog sylh1242[2]
Linguasphere 59-AAF-ui
Sylheti speaking zone.png
Sylheti speakers within South Asia
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Sylheti (Sylheti: ꠍꠤꠟꠐꠤ Silôṭi) is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language, primarily spoken by Sylheti people in the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh and in India in the Northern part of Tripura, Shillong and Barak Valley region of southern Assam.

The status of Sylheti is heavily debated where some consider it as a dialect of Bengali, while others consider it as a separate language.[3] There are significant differences between standard Bengali and Sylheti due to grammar and for the lack of mutual intelligibility. There is greater differences of Sylheti to Bengali, than Assamese to Bengali, which is recognised as separate.[4] Most Sylhetis are at least bilingual to some degree, as they are taught Bengali at all levels of education in Bangladesh. Sylhet was part of the ancient kingdom of Kamarupa,[5] and Sylheti has many common features with Assamese, including the existence of a larger set of fricatives than other East Indo-Aryan languages. According to George Abraham Grierson,[6] "The inflections also differ from those of regular Bengali, and in one or two instances assimilate to those of Assamese". Indeed it was formerly written in its own script, Sylheti Nagari, similar in style to Kaithi but with differences, though nowadays it is almost invariably written in Bengali script.[7] Though there is an incomplete mutual intelligibility, it shares a high proportion of vocabulary with Bengali at least 80% overlap.[8]

Name of the language[edit]

Sylheti is the common English spelling of the language name after the accepted British spelling of the Sylhet District. The transliteration of the Standard Bengali spelling of the name (সিলেটী) is Sileṭī'. The Sylheti name is spelled ছিলটী/ꠍꠤꠟꠐꠤ, transliterated as Silôṭi.


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.[9] In the 19th century, the British tea-planters in the area referred to the vernacular spoken in Surma and Barak Valleys as Sylheti language.[10] In Assam, the language is still referred to as Sylheti.

During the British colonial period, a Sylheti student by the name of Munshi Abdul Karim studying in London, England, after completing his education, spent several years in London and learnt the printing trade. After returning home, he 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.[11][12] Since then the Sylotinagri alphabet has been used mainly by linguists and academics.[13] It gradually became very unpopular.[14][15]

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.[16] The writing system's main use was to record religious poetry, described as a rich language and easy to learn.[17]

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.[18]

Sylheti variation from Standard Bengali[edit]

Vocabulary look[edit]

A phrase in:

  • Sylheti: এক দেশর গালি আরক দেশর বুলি / ꠄꠇ ꠖꠦꠡꠞ ꠉꠣꠟꠤ ꠀꠣꠞꠇ ꠖꠦꠡꠞ ꠛꠥꠟꠤ ex deshôr gali arôx deshôr buli
  • Standard Bengali: এক দেশের গালি আরেক দেশের বুলি æk desher gali arek desher buli

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. For example:

মেঘ megh in Standard Bengali means cloud

  • মেঘ / ꠝꠦꠊ megh in Syloti means rain
  • In Pali মেঘ megh means both rain and cloud.
  • In Sylheti cloud is called বাদল / ꠛꠣꠖꠟ badol, সাজ / ꠢꠣꠎ haz or আসমানী সাজ / ꠀꠡꠝꠣꠘꠤ ꠢꠣꠎ ashmani haz (decor of the sky).
  • In Standard Bengali বৃষ্টি brishti means Rain.

নাড়া naṛa in Standard Bengali means to stir or to move

In Sylheti, *নাড়া naṛa is pronounced as lara' (ꠟꠣꠞꠣ)

কম্বল kombol in Standard Bengali means blanket

In Sylheti, blanket is called রাজাই / ꠞꠣꠎꠣꠁ razai.
In Sylheti, *কম্বল / ꠇꠝꠛꠟ xombol means buttockarôk

Grammar comparisons[edit]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

  • In Sylheti:
    Eastern Nagari: হকল মানইশর আজাদী জন্ম অয় ইজ্জত আর হক লইয়া। তারার হুশ আর আক্কল-বুদ্ধি আছে আর তারা একজন আরকজনর লগে রুহানি ভাইট্টা ব্যবহার থাকতঃ।
    Sylheti Nagari: ꠢꠇꠟ ꠝꠣꠁꠘꠡꠞ ꠀꠎꠣꠖꠤ ꠎꠘꠝ ꠅꠄ ꠁꠎꠎꠔ ꠀꠞ ꠢꠇ ꠟꠂꠀ। ꠔꠣꠞꠣꠞ ꠢꠥꠡ ꠀꠞ ꠀꠇ꠆ꠇꠟ-ꠛꠥꠖꠗꠤ ꠀꠍꠦ ꠀꠞ ꠔꠣꠞꠣ ꠄꠇꠎꠘ ꠀꠞꠇꠎꠘꠞ ꠟꠉꠦ ꠞꠥꠢꠣꠘꠤ ꠜꠣꠁꠐ꠆ꠐꠣ ꠛꠦꠛꠢꠣꠞ ꠕꠣꠇꠔ꠩।
    • Transliteration Hoxol mainshor azadi zonmo oe izzot ar hox loia. Tarar hush ar akkol-buddi ase ar tara exzon aroxzonor loge ruhani baitta bebohar taxto.
  • 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 উচিত।
    • Transliteration Shomosto manush shadhinbhabe shôman môrjada ebông ôdhikar niye jônmôgrôhôn kôre. Tãder bibek ebông buddhi achhe; shutôrang shôkôleri êke ôpôrer prôti bhratrittôsulôbh mônobhab niye achôrôn kôra uchit.

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

  • Sylheti word-to-word gloss:
    All humans' born happen free and dignity plus rights with. Their conscious, intelligent and judgement-clever staying bearing a-person another-person's with spiritual brotherhood conduct stays.
  • 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.

English: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Sylheti 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, Standard Bengali and other Bengali dialects. Sylheti 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 Assamese Sylheti Transliteration Meaning in English
চরণ স্পর্শ
Côrôṇ spôrshô
চৰণ স্পৰ্শ
Sôrôn spôrxô
কদম বুচি, ꠇꠖꠝ ꠛꠥꠌꠤ
Kôdôm buci
Kodom busi Touch the feet (A welcome/farewell ritual)
ঢাকা, ꠓꠣꠇꠣ
ḌDhakha Dhaka
এক লোক

Ēk lōk

এজন লোক

Êk lûk

এক আদম, ꠄꠇ ꠀꠖꠝ Ēx adom Ēkh adom A person
এক জন

Ek jon



ꠄꠇ ꠎꠘ

Ex zon

Ekh zon Someone
এক পুরুষ

Ek Purush

এজন পুৰুষ

Êk purux

‌ꠄꠇ ꠛꠦꠐꠣ

Ex beta

Ekh beta A man
Kiser: kīser কিহৰ


ꠇꠤꠢꠞ, ꠇꠤꠅꠞ


Kior Informal of Whereof
Konya; meye কন্যা, জী
Kônya (kôinna); zi
ꠇꠂꠘꠣ ꠎꠤ

Xonia; Zi

Khonia; Zi Daughter

Manob Jati

মানৱ জাতি; মানুহৰ জাতি

Manôw zati; Manuhôr zati

ꠝꠣꠘꠡꠞ ꠎꠣꠔ

Manshor zat

Manshor zat Mankind
Oshomīya অসমীয়া
ꠅꠢꠝꠤꠀ, ꠀꠡꠣꠝꠤ

Ôxômia; Ashami

Ohomia, Ashami People of Assam (Assamese)
Onguli; ongul আঙুলি


Anguil Finger; toe
Onguri আঙুঠি
ꠀꠋꠉꠥꠑꠤ, ꠀꠋꠑꠤ

Anguti; angti

Angti Finger-ring
Ognipokko জুইত পোৰা, জুইত সেকা
Zuit pura; Zuit Xeka


Aguinfura Baked; grilled
Oshidharī অশিধাৰী


Ahaidri Swordsman
Pakira চৰাই বোৰ, পক্ষী বোৰ
Sôrai bor; Pôkkhi bor


Faikia Plural of bird; All kinds of Bird species
Paki চৰাই, পক্ষী
Sôrai; pôkkhi


Faki A (singular) bird
Prīti পিৰিটি, প্ৰেম
Piriti; prem


Firiti Love
Por পছত
ꠙꠞꠦ; ꠛꠣꠖꠦ

Phore; bade

Fore; bade Later
Sokol; somosto সকল, সকলো, সমস্ত
Xôkôl, Xôkôlû; xômôstô

Xokhol; Xokkol

Hokhol; Hokkol All
Sara (kon) গোটেই

Xara (buil)

Hara (buil) Every (time)
Shāto Beel সাত বিল
Xat bil
ꠢꠣꠔ ꠛꠤꠟꠣ

Xat Bila

Hat Bila Seven wetlands
Shāt Kora Xat Kôra ꠢꠣꠔ ꠇꠞꠣ

Xat Khora

Hat Khora Citrus macroptera fruit
Shāt bar সাট বাৰ
Xat bar


Hat-bar Seven-times (Sylheti term for lots of time)
Sileṭī () ছিলেটিয়া
Silethiya ()

Ciloṭia ()

Silotia People of Sylhet
Su bhagyo সৌভাগ্য
Xou bhagyô (bhaiggô)
ꠀꠟꠟꠣꠞ ꠢꠣꠅꠟꠣ

Allahr Hāola

Allaar Aaola Good luck (Sylheti: God's Authority)
Shu tripti; bhalo ruchi ভালকৈ খাওক, তৃপ্তিৰে খাওকbhalkoi khaok; triptire khaok ꠔꠣꠎꠣ ꠜꠥꠇ; ꠜꠣꠟꠣꠐꠑꠤꠇꠦ ꠈꠣꠅꠇꠣ

Taza bhux; Bhalaṭtike xawka

Taza bhukh; Bhalaṭtike khawka Bon appétit
Strī পত্নী, ঘৈণী, স্ত্ৰী
Potni, Ghôini; stri


Bow Wife
Shamī পতী, গিৰি, স্বামী
Poti, Giri; Sami
ꠎꠣꠝꠣꠁ, ꠛꠦꠐꠣ

Zamai; beṭa

Zamai; beṭa Husband
Shoshur শহুৰ
ꠢꠢꠥꠞ, ꠢꠃꠞ


Hôūr Father-in-law
Shashuṛī শাহু
ꠢꠞꠤ, ꠢꠢꠥꠞꠤ


Hoṛi Mother-in-law
Shala খুলশালী


Hala Brother-in-law
Shalī খুলশালী


Hali Sister-in-law
Shikśa kora শিকা
ꠢꠤꠇꠤꠀ ꠘꠦꠅꠣ

Xixia newa

Hikia newa Learn
Shorisha সৰিয়হ


Hoiroh Mustard
Shīẏal শিয়াল


Hial Jackal
Biral মেকুৰি


Mekur Cat
Shuṭki শুকান মাছ
Xukan mas
ꠢꠥꠐꠇꠤ; ꠢꠥꠇꠐꠤ, ꠢꠥꠇꠂꠘ

Xuṭki; xukṭi; xukoin

Huṭki: hukṭi; hukoin Sundried Fish
আপনার নাম কি?

Apnar nam ki?

আপোনাৰ নাম কি?

Apûnar nam ki?

ꠀꠙꠘꠣꠞ ꠘꠣꠝ ꠇꠤꠔꠣ?

Afnar nam kita?

Afnar nam Kita? What's your name?
ডাক্তার আসার পূর্বে রুগী মারা গেলো

Daktar asar purbe rugi mara gelo

ডাক্তৰ অহাৰ আগতেই ৰোগী/বেমাৰী মৰিল

Daktôr ôhar agotei rûgi/bêmari môril

ꠒꠣꠇ꠆ꠐꠞ ꠀꠅꠣꠞ ꠀꠉꠦꠃ ꠛꠦꠝꠣꠞꠤ ꠝꠣꠞꠣ ꠎꠣꠁꠘ

Daxtor awar ageu bemari mara zain

Dakhtor awar ageu bemari mara zain Before the doctor came, the patient had died
বহু দিন দেখি নি

Bohu din dekhi ni

বহুদিন দেখা নাই

Bôhudin dêkha nai

ꠅꠔ ꠛꠥꠁꠟꠦ ꠘꠣꠖꠦꠈꠟꠣꠝ

Oto buile na dexlam

Oto buile na dekhlam Long time no see
ভালো আছেন?

Bhalo Achhen?

ভালে আছে নে?

Bhalê asê nê?

ꠜꠣꠟꠣ ꠀꠍꠂꠘ ꠘꠤ?

Bala acoen ni?

Bala asoin ni? How are you?
Mangsher torokariṭa ami onek bhalopeyechi ‍ম‍ই মাংসৰ তৰকাৰীখিনি বৰ ভাল পাইছো

Môi mangxôr tôrkarikhini bôr bhal paisû

ꠀꠝꠤ ꠉꠥꠡꠔꠞ ꠍꠣꠟꠘ ꠜꠣꠟꠣ ꠙꠣꠁꠍꠤ

Ami ghustor salon bhalafaici

Ami gustor salon balafaisi I loved the meat curry
Mangsher torokariṭa amar bhalō legeche মাংসৰ তৰকাৰীখিনি মোৰ ভাল লাগিছে

Mangxôr tôrkarikhini mûr bhal lagisê

ꠉꠥꠡꠔꠞ ꠍꠣꠟꠘꠐꠣ ꠀꠝꠣꠞ ꠜꠣꠟꠣ ꠟꠣꠉꠍꠦ

Ghustor salonṭa amar bhala lagce

Gustor salonṭa amar bala lagse I liked the meat curry
Shilchor kon dike pore? শিলচৰ কোন ফালে/দিশত?

Xilsôr kûn falê/dixôt?

ꠢꠤꠟꠌꠞ ꠇꠥꠘ ꠛꠣꠁꠖꠤ ꠙꠞꠍꠦ?

Xilcor xun baidi phorce?

Hilsor khun baidi forse? Which way to Silchar?
শৌচাগার কোথায়?

Shōwchagar kōthay?

শৌচালয় কোন ফালে?;

Xôusalôy kûn phle?;

ꠢꠃꠌꠣꠟꠄ ꠛꠣ ꠟꠦꠚꠐꠤꠘ ꠇꠥꠘ ꠈꠣꠘ?

Xocailoe ba leftin xun xano?

Hosailoe ba liftin khun khano? Where is the toilet?
এইটা কি?

Eiṭa ki?

এইটো কি?

Êitû ki?

ꠅꠈꠐꠣ ꠇꠤꠔꠣ?

Oxṭa xita?

Okhṭa kita? What is this?
ওটা কি?

Oṭa ki?

সেইটো কি?

Xêitû ki?

ꠅꠃꠐꠣ/ꠢꠃꠐꠣ ꠇꠤꠔꠣ?

Outa xita?

সৌটো কি
Xouto ki?
What is that?
Shēshē শেষ
ꠢꠦꠡꠦ, ꠡꠦꠡ

Xēshē, shesh

Hēshē End


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Sylheti". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Sebastian M. Rasinger (2007). Bengali-English in East London: A Study in Urban Multilingualism. pp. 26-27. Retrieved on 2017-05-02.
  4. ^ Glanville Price (2000). Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe. pp. 91-92.
  5. ^ Edward Gait, History of Assam, p. 274
  6. ^ George Grierson, Language Survey of India, Vol II, Pt 1, p224
  7. ^ "Sylheti Literature". Sylheti Translation And Research. Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  8. ^ Chalmers (1996)
  9. ^ James Lloyd-Williams & Sue Lloyd-Williams (Sylheti Translation and Research/STAR); Peter Constable (SIL International) Date: 1 November 2002
  10. ^ Grierson, George A. (1903). Linguistic Survey of India. Volume V, Part 1, Indo-Aryan family. Eastern group. Specimens of the Bengali and Assamese languages. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India. 
  11. ^ Banglapedia
  12. ^ Archive
  13. ^ Sylheti Alphabets
  14. ^ Syloti Nagri alphabet
  15. ^ Sylheti unicode chart
  16. ^ Sylheti Literature
  17. ^ Sylheti Literature
  18. ^ 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