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Sylheti

 


The Sylheti dialect

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Sylheti (native name সিলটী Siloti; Bengali name সিলেটী Siletee) is the language of Sylhet proper - a North Eastern region of Bangladesh. It is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the UK, USA, Canada and the Middle East. It is similar enough to Bengali (Bangla) to be considered a dialect of that language, but at times it is probably better seen as a separate language. According to Grierson (Language Survey of India, Vol II, Pt 1, p224), "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. Now it is almost invariably written in Bengali script. Approximately 70% of the Sylheti vocabulary is thought to have derived from Bengali, while the rest from Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Assamese and some of the other Bengali dialects

 

Sylheti is distinguished by a wide range of fricative sounds (which correspond to aspirated stops in closely-related languages such as Bengali), the lack of breathy voiced stops seen in many other Indic languages, word-final stress, and a relatively large set of loanwords from Arabic, Hindi, Persian and other languages as described above. Sylheti is spoken by about 10 percent of Bangladeshis, but has affected the course of  standard Bengali in the rest of the country.

While modern Sylhetis consider themselves as Bengali people and  part of the overall Bengali ethnno-linguistic identity, they are often noticed by and identified with their Sylheti regional linguistic identity when contrasted with other Bengalis - both by others and by themselves.
 

The Sylheti dialect as spoken by the rural population residing in their home district is largely unintelligible to other Bengalis.

 

More on Sylheti for translation buyers


Please note that 'Sylheti' is a dialect overwhelmingly spoken in the 'Sylhet' district of Bangladesh - that's where the name originates. The majority of these Sylhetis constitute the overwhelming majority of UK Sylhetis/Bengalis (and 10% of the population in Bangladesh). Please also note that, Sylheti is considered a 'regional dialect' OF Bengali, and not a standard language by itself, although approximately 25% of its vocabulary comes from multiple non-Bengali sources. In relation to translation issues, a few other points should be noted too:

(1) It's not just a regional dialect, but also an 'oral' 'rural' dialect and has NO script/alphabet of its own (there is a dead obsolete "Syloti Nagari" script though, which only expert researchers in the field of dead scripts can read). Consequently, the standard Bengali script is inevitably used to 'write' in Sylheti in an approximate phonetic manner. One problem in this is that, not all sounds or eccentricities/idiosyncrasies of Sylheti pronunciation can be accurately represented by a textual phonetic transcription using the Bengali script, even when the stem words are originally Bengali. In such situations only an approximation of the actual pronunciation is possible, which any genuine Sylheti person literate in the Bengali script will understand and will also be able to reproduce in its authentic oral form. But of course, a non-Sylheti Bengali person won't be able to reproduce it orally from the text - in an authentic fashion.

(2) Since Sylheti is merely a regional, rural, oral dialect - its vocabulary is very limited. Like most oral 'dialects' in the world, it is also mainly intended and used for everyday informal oral communication and not for technical, scientific, legal, philosophical (apart from folk wisdoms) or any other 'highbrow' issues - which is the job of the 'Standard' language (in this case: Bengali). This creates a problem when a 'highbrow' English text is needed to be translated into Sylheti. Then it becomes a case of fitting an elephant into a mouse's shirt! (I hope the reader understands/appreciates what I am trying to say here). In any case, what we do here is that - we use the standard Bengali word when it is absolutely inescapable or unavoidable because there is simply no Sylheti word for that English word or expression. We assume two things in this case: (a) Whoever is reading this translation is reading it in Bengali script and therefore knows Bengali. This person will then undoubtedly understand the Bengali word; (b) Whoever is the end-consumer of this translation, if the source is 'highbrow' (i.e not within the scope of everyday conversational language) and is intended for that consumer, then s/he is a person who is expected to understand/comprehend the level of the source, in the first place. So, if the translation do not exceed that level, then there should not be any problem. (4) A fourth problem is that, there is no standardization of the phonetic spelling of Sylheti as written using the Bengali script. The spelling may vary a bit, from translator to translator.

FINALLY, none of the problems stated above are insurmountable though and translators translate in Sylheti and consumers consume that translation all the time, but the bottom-line is that - a textual translation in Sylheti can never be 100% perfect to the 100% perfect satisfaction of 100% of everybody concerned, because of the inherent dichotomy between the spoken dialect and the semi-foreign script (i.e. the standard script is not designed for a 'dialect') used for it. This reality has to be accepted by the end-client or end-consumer.  The only thing I can say is that - a competent, experienced, thoughtful, perceptive and discerning, authentic-native Sylheti translator can solve any problem, because on top of knowing Sylheti - he/she knows the audience too, knows the intricacies/issues involved, and knows where the mines in the minefield are and how to avoid them.

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