Bengali and Sylheti
Language Services


Articles on Bengali language and people





1. Article on the Sylheti dialect : click here.

2. Article on Bengali language: see below.

3. Bengali people : see below

horizontal rule


Bengali Language


Bengali or Bangla ( বাংলা ) is an Indo-Aryan language of the  Indo-Iranian subfamily and the easternmost of the languages belonging to the Indo-European language family. Geographically it's a language of the Eastern part of South Asia. It evolved from Prakrit, Pali and Sanskrit.

With nearly 200 million native speakers, Bengali is one of the most widely spoken languages of the world (ranked between four and seven based on the number of speakers). Bengali is the main language spoken in Bangladesh, the only country in the world where Bengali is the mother tongue of the majority population [ 99%].
Owing to the Bengal renaissance in the 19th and 20th centuries, Bengali literature emerged as one of the richest in South Asia, and includes luminaries like Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to be awarded a Nobel Prize, and
Kazi Nazrul Islam, among others.


Like most other modern Indic languages, Bengali arose from the Apabhramsha melting pot of Middle Indic languages, around the turn of the first millennium CE. Some argue for much earlier points of divergence - going back to even 500 BCE, but the language was not static, and different varieties co-existed concurrently, and authors often wrote in multiple dialects. In particular, the eastern region language known as Abahatta (with considerable overlap with Purvi and Magadhi Apabhrangsha), had begun to emerge by the seventh century AD. The Chinese traveler and pilgrim Hiuen Tsang has noted that the same language was spoken in most of Eastern India.
Bengali as a separate linguistic identity may have emerged around 1000 CE, and three (sometimes four) periods are identified in its history :

Old Bengali (900/1000 - 1400 CE): texts: Charyapada, devotional songs;
Oriya and Assamese branch out in this period.
Middle Bengali (1400 - 1800 CE): texts: Chandidas's SrikrishnaKirtan; Persian influence.
New Bengali (since 1800 CE): continues to the present .
Bengali is historically closer to Pali, and has seen a resurgence of Sanskrit influence in Middle Bengali (Chaitanya era), and also during the Bengal Renaissance. Of the modern Indo-European languages in South Asia, Bengali and Marathi still retain a largely Sanskrit vocabulary base while Hindi and others tend to be more heavily weighted with Arabic and Persian influence.

Mixture of languages: Bangla has been greatly influenced by two non-Aryan languages: Dravidian and Kol. Their influence is evident not only in the vocabulary but also in the construction of sentences. A large number of onomatopoeic words, repetitive words and conjunctive verbs in Bangla reveal non-Aryan influence; for example, words such as ghoda-toda (horses etc), kapad-chopad (clothes etc), tuk-tuk, khatkhat, khankha, dhandha, basiya pada (sitting down), lagiya thaka (to persevere), etc. There are plenty of Dravidian and other non-Aryan words in Bangla, especially in place names, indicating that Bangla passed through many stages and was influenced by various other languages.

One of the main influences on Bangla was that of Sanskrit as this language was the vehicle of literature and culture for almost the whole of the subcontinent since the beginning of the Christian era. (The religious discourses of the Buddhists and the Jains were carried on in pali and Ardhamagadhi respectively.) In the days of old Bangla, many Bengalis used to write poetic works in Sanskrit. Even after the evolution of Bangla, many well-known Bengali poets, such as Jaydev, Umapatidhara and Govardhan Acharya, continued to compose their literary works in Sanskrit. The result was that many pure Sanskrit words entered Bangla from the very early stages.

Following the establishment of Muslim rule in Bengal in the 13th century, Bangla came under the influence of Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Persian was the language of the court during Muslim rule in the 14th and 15th centuries. Because of this special status as well as other cultural influences, Bangla picked up many Persian words at this time. In the 16th century, with the Portuguese inroads, several Portuguese words entered Bangla; for example, words such as anaras (pineapple), ata (custard-apple) and tamak (tobacco).

From the 17th century, the Dutch, French and English started arriving in Bengal. As a result, words from these languages started entering Bangla vocabulary; for example, from the French: cartouche, coupon, depot; Dutch: hartan, iskaban, iskurup; English: table, chair, lord/lat, general/jadrel, etc. During the 17th and 18th centuries effective use of Bangla prose began through the efforts of Christian missionaries. With the start of British rule in the 18th century and the spread of English education, Bangla started absorbing increasing numbers of English words. Following the establishment of the Bengali Department at Fort William College  in 1801, the efforts of its head, William Carey, and his associate Bengali scholars, made Bangla fit for fine prose. During the 19th century, the efforts of Bengali writers contributed to the further growth of the language. Among them were Raja Rammohun Roy, Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhyay, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Mir Mosharraf Hossain. The 20th century witnessed the elevation of colloquial Bangla to a written literary medium through the work of many talented writers such as Rabindranath Tagore and Pramatha Chowdhury.

Until the 18th century, there was no attempt to document the grammar for Bengali. The first written Bengali dictionary/grammar, Vocabolario em idioma Bengalla, e Portuguez dividido em duas partes, was written by the Portuguese missionary Manoel da Assumpcam between 1734 and 1742 while he was serving in Bhawal. Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, a British grammarian, was the first to write a Bengali grammar using Bengali texts and script for illustration: A Grammar of the Bengal Language (1778). Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the great Bengali Reformer, also wrote a "Grammar of the Bengali Language" (1832). Even in this period, the Choltibhasha (colloquial) form, using simplified inflections and other changes, was emerging from Shadhubhasha (older form) as the form of choice for written Bengali. Spoken and written Bengali continue to evolve in both West Bengal and Bangladesh, and in the various regional dialects.

Bengali was the focus, in 1951-52, of the Language movement (Bhasha Andolon) in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Although Bengali speakers were more numerous in the population of Pakistan [54% of the total], Urdu was [only 7% native speakers] legislated as the sole national language. On February 21, 1952, protesting students and activists walked into military and police fire in Dhaka University and three young students and several others were killed. Subsequently, Bengali was recognized as one of the official languages of the then Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, from the then Pakistan, Bengali became the sole official language of the newly independent country. Recently UNESCO has declared 21 February as 'International Mother Language Day', in memory of the sacrifices made by the 'Language Martyrs' of the 21st February of 1952..

In a separate event, in May, 1961, 11 people were killed in police firing in Silchar in southern Assam protesting legislation making the use of Assamese language compulsory in the state. Eventually, the legislation was withdrawn.

Classification and related languages

Bengali is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-European language family. Assamese, Oriya, and Maithili, three other languages belonging to the Maghadan Branch of the Indo-Aryan language family, are closely related to Bengali.

Sylheti, Chittagonian, and Chakma are some of the many languages that are often considered dialects of Bengali. Although these languages are mutually intelligible with neighboring dialects of Bengali, some of them would not be understood by a native speaker of Standard Bengali.

Geographical distribution

Bengali is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. More than 98% of the total population of Bangladesh speak Bengali as a native language. It is the official language in Bangladesh and one of the official languages in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. There are significant Bengali-speaking communities in the Indian states of Assam and Tripura and in immigrant populations in the West and the Middle East. The national anthems of both India and Bangladesh are written in Bengali.

Official status

Bengali is the national and official language of Bangladesh and one of the 14 regional languages recognized by the Union of India. It is the official language of the state of West Bengal and the co-official language of the state of Tripura and union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was made an official language of Sierra Leone in order to honor the Bangladeshi peace keeping force from United Nations stationed there.

Spoken and literary variants

More than other languages of South Asia, Bengali exhibits strong diglossia between the formal, written language and the vernacular, spoken language. Two styles of writing, involving somewhat different vocabularies and syntax, have emerged:
Shadhubhasha is the written language with longer verb inflections and a more Sanskrit-derived (tôtshôm) vocabulary (shadhu = 'chaste' or 'sage'; bhasha = 'language'). Songs such as India's national anthem Jana Gana Mana (by Rabindranath Tagore) and national song Vande Mātaram (by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay) were composed in Shadhubhasha, but its use is on the wane in modern writing.

Choltibhasha or Cholitobhasha, a written Bengali style that reflects a more colloquial idiom, is increasingly the standard for written Bengali . This form came into vogue towards the turn of the 19th century, promoted in the writings of Peary Chand Mitra (Alaler ghare dulal, 1857), Pramatha Chowdhury (Sabujpatra, 1914) and in  the later writings of Rabindranath Tagore.

Spoken Bengali exhibits far more variation than written Bengali. Formal spoken Bengali, including what is heard in news reports, speeches, announcements, and lectures, is modeled on Choltibhasha. This form of spoken Bengali stands alongside other spoken dialects, or Ancholik Bangla ("regional Bengali"). The majority of Bengalis are able to communicate in more than one dialect - often, speakers are fluent in Choltibhasha, one or more Ancholik dialect, and one or more forms of Grammo Bangla ("rural Bengali"), dialects specific to a village or town.


Dialectical differences in Bengali manifest themselves in three forms: standardized dialect vs. regional dialect, literary language vs. colloquial language and lexical (vocabulary) variations. While the standard form of the language does not show much variation across the Bengali-speaking areas of South Asia, regional variation in spoken Bengali constitutes a dialect continuum. Eight groups are typically considered: Western, Southwestern, Central (or West-Central), Northern, Bahe, Eastern, Ganda, and Vanga, but this list is very fluid.

Kharia Thar and Mal Paharia are closely related to Western Bengali dialects, but are typically classified as separate languages. Similarly, Rajbangshi and Hajong are considered separate languages, although they are very similar to Northern Bengali dialects. Sylheti, closely related to Eastern Bengali, is sometimes considered a separate language by some people. Chittagonian and Chakma are heavily influenced by the neighboring Tibeto-Burman languages, and the last one is often considered a separate language.

Writing system

Bengali is written in the Bengali alphasyllabary (also called syllabic alphabet or abugida), a Brahmic script similar to the Devanagari alphasyllabary used for Hindi, Sanskrit, and many other Indic languages. The Bengali alphasyllabary is a cursive script with 12 vowel characters and 52 consonant characters.



The Bengali People

The Bengali people are the ethnic community from Bengal (divided between Bangladesh & west Bengal) in South Asia with a history going back more than two millennia. They speak Bengali (Bangla), a language of the eastern branch of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian languages. In their native language, they are referred to as Bangalis. They are  related to Indo-Aryans, Biharis, Assamese, the indigenous Munda people (Proto-Australoids), the Tibeto-Burmans and Austro-Asiatics of North-East India, and the Dravidian people of South India. As a result, Bengalis are a heterogeneous and considerably diverse ethnic group. They are mostly concentrated in Bangladesh, and in the state of West Bengal . There are also a significant number of Bengali communities scattered  around the world, including regions like the Middle East, , Malaysia, UK and USA.



Find samples of contemporary Bengali script using 9 different Unicode fonts : here. [pdf]


[Articles adapted from Wikipedia]



bulletLarger Font
bulletSmaller Font






© Bengali and Sylheti Language Services. Estd.1998-. SP.IC.FL. Arif Ahmed. All applicable rights reserved. Contact.
5 / 5