The Bengali language reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Bengali language

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This article is about the Bengali language. For the script, see Bengali script.

Spoken in:Bangladesh, India, and several other countries
Total native speakers: 190 Million
   Eastern Zone
    Apabhransa Avahattha
Official status
Official language of:Bangladesh, State of West Bengal in India, India
Regulated by:''not regulated by a language academy
Language codes
ISO 639-1:bn

Bangla(বাঙলা) or Bengali is the language spoken by the populations of Bangladesh and the neighboring state of West Bengal in India. There are also significant Bengali-speaking communities in Assam (another Indian state also neighboring West Bengal and Bangladesh), and in immigrant populations in the West and the Middle East. The standard form of cholit bhaashaa, the primary spoken dialect, is molded on "Calcutta Bengali".

Bengali is an English word referring to both the language and the people speaking the language; in Bengali the language is called Bangla, (বাঙলা) now more widely used in international arena and became english word as well as the origin and the people are called Bangali(বাঙালী). The traditional area of habitation of Bengali peoples is called Bengal in English and Bongo (usually transliterated as "Banga") or Bangla in Bengali ("Bangadesh" and "Bangladesh" were also common terms for the region). The region is now broken into two fragments, the western part, West Bengal, (or Poshchim Bongo) being a state in India and the eastern part, Bangladesh (East Bengal or Purbo Bongo), being an independent country.

Table of contents
1 The Fight for Bengali In Bangladesh
2 The Literature of Bengali
3 Script
4 Variation in Dialects
5 Sounds

The Fight for Bengali In Bangladesh

During the period 1947-1971, when Eastern Bengal (present-day Bangladesh) was part of Pakistan, the Bengali language became the focus and foundation of the national identity of the people of East Bengal, leading ultimately to the creation of the sovereign state of Bangladesh. Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh, administrative and official work in Bangladesh is carried out in Bengali.

Around 1950-52, the emerging middle classes of East Bengal underwent an uprising known later as the "Language Movement", and 21st February is celebrated as the Language Martyrs' Day, in memory of students and activists who (on February 21, 1952) walked into military fire in demand of the Bengali language being honored as a national language of erstwhile Pakistan. The UNESCO decided to observe February 21 as International Mother Language Day.The UNESCO General Conference took a decision to that effect on 17 November 1999 when it unanimously adopted a draft resolution submitted by Bangladesh and co-sponsored and supported by 28 other countries.

19th May, 1961, in Silchar, a small town of South Assam in North East India witnessed another fight for Bengali language and 11 people died in police firing to protest against the forcible imposition of Assamese on the Bengali speaking people there as a state policy. The martyrs of 19th May gave their everything for the language and later the Government had to back down.

The Literature of Bengali

Known by many as the Shakespeare of India, possibly the greatest and most prolific writer in Bengali is Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Influenced primarily by universalist Hindu philosophy in the Upanishads, Tagore dominated both the Bengali and Indian philosophical and literary scene for decades. His 2,000 Rabindrasangeets play a pivotal part in defining Bengali culture, both in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Other notable Bengali works of his are Gitanjali, a book of poems for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and many of his short stories and a few novels.

In a similar category is Kazi Nazrul Islam, a Muslim who remained in Bangladesh post-partition and whose work, like Tagore's, transcends sectarian boundaries, adored by Bengalis both in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Most notable are his 3,000 songs.

Michael Madhusudan Dutta, converted to Christianity but made famous by his work based on the Hindu epic Ramayana, created a masterpiece known as "The Slaying of Meghnadh," (in Bengali "Meghnadh Bodh Kabbo" (মেঘনাদ বধ কাব্য)) which essentially follows in the epic poetic tradition of Milton's Paradise Lost. It is considered by those who have read it a world-class epic poem of the modern era.

Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay was a supremely well-respected author and complex Bengali stylist and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay is most famous for writing India's unofficial national song, "Bande Mataram" (pronounced in Hindi "Vande Mataram"). Jibanananda Das was a superb poet who is notable for trying to create literature that stood apart from the Tagore paradigm.

Seminal Hindu religious works in Bengali include the many songs of Ramprasad Sen. His works (still sung today in West Bengal) from the 17th century cover an astonishing range of emotional responses to Ma Kali, detailing complex philosophical statements based on Vedanta teachings and more visceral prouncements of his love of Devi. Using inventive allegory, Ramprasad had 'dialogues' with the Mother Goddess through his poetry, at times chiding her, adoring her, celebrating her as the Divine Mother, reckless consort of Shiva and capricious Shakti of the cosmos. There are also the laudatory accounts of the lives and teachings of the Vaishnava saint Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (the Chaitanya Charitamrit) and Devi Advaitist Shri Ramakrishna (the Ramakrishna Charitamrit, translated roughly as Gospel of Ramakrishna).

The mystic Bauls of the Bengal countryside who preached the boundless spiritual truth of Sahaj Path (the Simple, Natural Path) and Maner Manush (The Man of The Heart) drew on Vedantic philosophy to propound transcendental truths in song format, traveling from village to village proclaiming that there was no such thing as Hindu, Muslim or Christian, only maner manush.


Bengali is usually written in the Bengali script. This is a Brahmic script, very similar to the Devanagari used for Hindi and Sanskrit. Each base symbol represents a syllable, and other symbols can be added to change (or suppress) the vowel of that syllable. Consonant clusters are often indicated by ligating two symbols.

The spelling system is based on an older version on the language without some vowel merges that have taken place in the spoken language, thus it cannot be described as a completely phonemic orthography.

Variation in Dialects

In Bangla, there exists what is known as sadhu bhaasha (literally Language of Sages) and Cholti Bhaashaa (or Chalit Bhasha in standard Bengali) (literally Running or Going Language; essentially Colloquial Speech). The primary difference is clearly more strict adherence to grammatical norms and a much more heavily Sanskritized vocabulary. Songs like the Indian national anthem "Jana Gana Mana" (by Rabindranath Tagore) and the national song of India (by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee)) "Vande Mataram" were actually composed in highly refined 'sadhu bhaashaa' Bengali. It is not really spoken by Bengalis and is more confined to literary and formal forums.

Chalit Bhasha is itself full of regional variations. Cholti bhaashaa is the less rigid and more diluted language that borrows from several sources for vocabulary (while overwhelmingly derived from Sanskrit, there are also plenty of words taken from English, Hindi, Arabic and Persian sources). Also, the pronunciation of certain words and a greater laxity in grammatical expression is a clearly distinctive factor between cholti bhaashaa and sadhu bhaasha.

There is a divide between the way in which West Bengalis and Bangladeshis speak. Less than standard pronunciation of Bengali, especially prevalent in villages and East Bengal (Bangladesh). tend to render clear 'ch' and 'sh' sounds, and the 'ph' (an aspirated p as in pillow) sound to, respectively, more sussurous ('s'-filled) and 'fh' sounds. This mode of pronunciation is closely related to the East Bengali 'Sylheti' dialect of Bengali which carries a greater Arab-Persian influence and a distinct departure from standard Bengali grammar. In Kolkata, West Bengal, the chalit bhasha adheres to more standard and 'proper' forms of Bengali, retaining the traditional sound structures and cleaving a bit more closely to the sadhu bhaashaa strand.

The largest differences, therefore, between West Bengal and Bangladesh spoken Bangla (the literary written Bangla remaining largely the same) is heard in the sound, therefore, of certain characters and regional grammatical variations as well as certain differences that many would attribute to the separation between the predominantly Muslim Bangladeshi populace and largely Hindu West Bengali populace. Due to the desire to reinforce certain cultural affiliations, Muslims may choose to utilize some Arabo-Persian words instead of the standard and literary Sanskrit-derived Bengali. For instance, many Sanskrit-derived words that are standard Sadhu and Cholti Bhaashaa, in other words, standard Bengali, have been dropped in the Bangladeshi (sometimes called Dhaka) Bengali.

Some examples of departure from standard Bangla (spoken in Kolkata) in Bangladeshi Bangla are as follow:

S=Sanskrit; U=Urdu (Arab/Persian form of Hindi)


Bangla phonetics has 45 essential and five non-essential phonemes.


Bengali is an Indo-European language.