The Bengali Language: India and Bangladesh

The Bengali Language: India and Bangladesh

The Bengali language (Bangla), together with Assamese and Oriya, belong to the eastern group within the Magadhan subfamily of Indo-Aryan languages. The two main features of difference between the Magadhan languages and other Indo-Aryan languages are phonology and Grammar. There are several sounds that occur in Maghadan languages which are absent in other Indo-Aryan languages, while grammatical peculiarities of Bengali include an absence of gender and the lack of number as a verbal category. Bengali the official language of Bangladesh and one of the official languages in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. There are approximately 200 million speakers of Bengali making it the fifth most spoken language in the world.

Literary Development

Writing and literature have played a significant role in the evolution of Bengali linguistic identity. A common script was in use throughout Eastern India centuries before the emergence of the separate Magadhan vernaculars. However even after the separation of the modern Magadhan languages from one another, literary composition in Eastern India seems to have reflected a common milieu regardless of linguistic boundaries. Although Vernacular writings appear in Eastern India by AD 1200, vernacular writings for several centuries after show a common inheritance in the whole Eastern area, regardless of language. An example of this is the collection of Buddhist hymns called the Caryapada, which although written in Old Bengali, has commentaries written on it in Assamese and Oriya, both treating the text as if it were a specimen of it’s own language.

One of the most crucial events in the formation of Bengali linguistic identity was the establishment of Islamic rule in the early Thirteenth century. This led to six hundred years of political unity in Bengal, under which it was possible for a distinctly national style to evolve. From the outset of their rule, the Muslim aristocracy did little discourage the composition of works on non Islamic religious themes such as the Ramayana Hindu religious epic. On the contrary, they often lent their patronage to the authors of such works, who were both Muslim and Hindu.

Diglossia and Dialects

Vertical differentiation, or diglossia, is a feature of the current standard Bengali language. The literary language (sadhu bhasa) shows greater conservatism in word morphology as well as lexis which is characterised by heavy borrowing from Sanskrit language. The spoken language (colti bhasa) is the everyday medium of informal discourse. In recent decades it has also gained more prominence in more formal discourse both in written and spoken from. There is an extensive existence of Bengali dialects both in terms of numbers and mutual difference between them. Some dialects (the extreme eastern dialect of Chittagong) are considered to be unintelligible to the wider Bengali speaking people.

Bengali Script
The Bengali script is known as Bangla alphasyllabary , a Brahmic script similar to the Devanagari alphasyllabary of Hindi and Sanskrit. The Bangla script has 12 vowel characters and 52 consonant characters.
The Bangla spelling system comes from an older version of the language, not taking into acount some sound mergers that have occurred in the spoken language. For example, the alphabet has two letters for the sound [dʒ] and three for the sound [ʃ]. Conversely, a number of letters now have more than one pronunciation. Furthermore, many letters and diacritics have become “silent letters” in the spoken language.

Katia Reed

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