The Bengali Language

Bengali ranks as the fifth most spoken language in the world. It is the native language of Bangladesh and states in East India, chiefly, West Bengal. There is a large Bengali diaspora in South East England and North America and a relatively smaller number of Bengali speakers are found in Continental Europe, Middle East, East Asia and Australia.

The Bengali language originated from Sanskrit, an Indo European classical language of the Indian subcontinent. Parts of Bengali or Bangla can also be traced from Prakrit and Pali both of which were regional and colloquial versions of Sanskrit. The language was subsequently enriched with the rise ofVaishnavism in the 15th century .Vaishnavism was a religious movement that took place in Central Bengal and led to the writing of poetry in Bengal. This period in some ways is the beginning of the ‘Bengali Renaissance’. During the British rule, Bengali literature expanded in the frontier of prose writing with great literates such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Madhushudhan Dutt and Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. The language owes its lexicon and grammar to English Orientalists of the 19th century.

Bengali has several dialects and sister languages. 19th century linguist, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, identified four large clusters of dialects : Rahrbhoomi (south bengal), Bangabhoomi (east bengal) , Kamarupa (assam) and Verendra (north bengal). More modern classifications have seperated twelve different dialects and derivatives spoken mainly in the Eastern regions of India and Bangladesh. The standard Bengali which is used mainly in Central Bengal around Calcutta and the Nadia districts. Kharia Thar, Mal Paharia, Saraki, are derivatives and is the lingua of the tribals of the Indian states of Orissa , Bihar and West Bengal. Northern Bengali dialects are Koch and Siripuria. Haijong, the official language of Nepal, has very close similarities to these Northern dialects.Other regional dialects of Bengali includes, Rajbangsi, Bahe, Ganda, Vanga and Chittagonian. There are some minor differences in the usage of vocabulary and the pronunciation between the standard Bengali of West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The Bengali script is derived from the Eastern Nagari script which is a segmental writing system. Where a consonant is accompanied by a vowel and this is represented by a modification of the consonant sign. The modern script was first formalized in 1778 when it was typeset by English typographer and Orientalist, Charles Wilkins.The language proceeds from left to right.

There are forty eight letters in the alphabet and they are arranged phonetically beginning with all the vowels followed by the consonants, the semi vowels and the breath sounds. There are some sounds that are not found in European languages but if care is taken in the use of vocal organs then the correct sound can be produced. According to some linguists, a language can be better understood only if it is approached from the perspective of what it sounds like and not how it is pronounced.

There are eleven vowels, twenty five consonants, five semi vowels and seven breath sounds in the alphabet. The consonants can be divided into five groups in accordance to the position of the mouth in which they are produced.The first class is produced at the back of the mouth and so is called “guttural”. The second class is produced on the soft palate and is called “palatal”. The third is produced on the hard palate at the top of the mouth and is called “cerebral”. The fourth is produced on the teeth and is called, “dental,”. The final class is produced with the lips and is called “labial”.

The norm of teaching the Bengali language is that the explanation of the vowels is deferred till full understanding of the consonants has been established. This is because a consonant includes a short vowel necessary to its enunciation. Bengali words are not made up of a number of letters bunched together but of a number of sounds and while it is possible for a vowel to be a sound on its own, it is impossible for a consonant to be so. It is the vowel that determines the Soor or utterance of the word.

The language exhibits a characteristic that is known as diglossia in linguistics. This is a situation in a particular society when a language has two forms the first of a higher prestige and the second of a lower prestige. While the latter is a colloquial tongue, the former is used in more formal contexts such as Government documents. The two are stylistically different from each other and in Bengali they are known as:

1) Shaadhoobhasha the finer version which uses more Sanskrit words. The national anthem of India was originally written in Shadhoobhasha. Formalised
2) Choleethbhasha which is the standard Bengali spoken in the streets of Calcutta

The syntax of the Bengali language is different from English because most sentences begin with a subject and end with a verb. The language uses post-position parts of speech instead of preposition this means that the order of words if one were to translate a Bengali sentence into English would be very different for instance:

I am going to eat now will look like I am now eat going.

Unlike other Indian languages ,the verb in Bengali does not change according to gender.

There are three forms of address. The first form of address is when the person is spoken to with respect due to the former being a senior in the family or society.

How are you? Aapnee kay mone Achheyn?

The second address is one which is associated with familiarity and the one spoken to can either be a very close family member or a friend.

How are you? Tumi Keymone Achho?

The final form of address is one where the person spoken to is a junior either by age or by social status.

How are you? Tui Keymone Achheesh?

Sometimes the last form of address may be used among friends but it is never used to refer to any family member.

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