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Bangla Language


Bangla Language next to Assamese, Bangla (Bamla) is the easternmost of the languages belonging to the Indo-European language family. This new Indo-Aryan (NIA) language is historically related to Irish, english, French, Greek, Russian, persian etc. Bangla is bounded by Oriya, Magadhi and Maithili to the west and Assamese on the east. It is flanked by various Austric languages like Santali, Mundari, Khasi and Sino-Tibetan languages like Kachhari, Boro, Garo, Tripuri etc, each of them encroaching at times on the Bangla-speaking areas.

Bangla is the state language of bangladesh and one of 18 languages listed in the Indian Constitution. It is the administrative language of the Indian states of Tripura and west bengal as well as one of the administrative languages of Kachar district, Assam. Bangla speakers number about more than 230 million today, making Bangla the seventh language after Chinese, English, Hindi-urdu, Spanish, arabic and Portuguese. It is perhaps the only language on the basis of which an independent state was created.

History Bangla emerged as a new Indo-Aryan language by 900-1000 AD through Magadhi apabhramsh and abahattha, two stages of Magadhi prakrit (600 BC - 600 AD), along with two other Indo-Aryan languages, Oriya and Assamese. Until the 14th century, there was little linguistic difference between Bangla and Assamese.

The evolution of Bangla may be divided into three historical phases: Old Bangla (900/1000-1350), Medieval Bangla (1350-1800) and Modern Bangla (1800-). The earliest example of old Bangla is to be found in the poems of the charyapada, though the language of these poems is also related to eastern Magadhi languages. Shrikrsnakirtan or Shrikrsnasandarbha of baru chandidas is an example of the early form of medieval Bangla. Other writings in medieval Bangla are the translations of the ramayana and the mahabharata, Vaishnava lyrics, poetical biographies of chaitanya, various forms of the mabgalkavya, narrative poetry written at the court of Arakan and Rosang, Shakta Poetry and purbababga-gitika. An influx of Perso-Arabic words into the language took place at this point of evolution. Bangla also borrowed from sanskrit, the words known as tatsama and tadbhava, English and other languages in the modern Bangla phase.

The linguistic features of these three phases of the language can be classified as follows: Old Bangla- phonological: 1. geminate clusters born out of conjunct consonants were simplified into single consonants and the preceding vowel grew longer as a result of compensatory lengthening; 2. the word-final a (অ) remained in place and the word-final ia (ইঅ) turned into long i (ঈ). Morphological: 1. feminine gender continued to be used with genitive inflections and past verbal inflections ending in l (ল); 2. inflections as used in modern Bangla started surfacing at this stage; but verbal inflexions ending in -ila (-ইল) and -iba (-ইব) began to be used with the subject of the intransitive passive voice; 3. the proto forms of modern Bangla pronouns like ahme (আহ্মে'), tuhme (তুহ্মে) etc. surfaced at this stage of the Bangla language.

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Medieval Bangla Phonological: 1. In the early phase of medieval Bangla, the half-vowels i (ই্) and u (উ্ ) started weakening; 2. nasal aspirates lost aspiration; 3. nasalised vowel + consonant started replacing nasal sound + consonant. Morphological: 1. verbal inflections like -il (-ইল্) and -ib (-ইব্) started to be used with the subject of the active voice, instead of intransitive passive voice; 2. post-positions, rather than verbal inflections, started to be used for intransitive passive voice; 3. phrasal and compound verbs gained currency.

The last phase of medieval Bangla Phonological: 1. the elision of the word-final a (অ); 2. the evolution and currency of epenthesis; 3. the evolution of the new vowel sound ae (অ্যা) as in 'hat. Morphological: 1. the evolution of new inflections like -r (-র), -gula (-গুলা), -guli (-গুলি), -dig(e)r (-দি(ে)র etc. Lexical: huge loans of Sanskrit and Perso-Arabic words.

Modern Bangla Phonological: 1. the widespread use of vowel harmony or vowel height assimilation influenced by i (ই) and u (উ); 2. the elision of epenthetic i (ই্) and u (উ্); 3. an increase in the number of words beginning with the sound ae (অ্যা), pronounced as in 'hat,' stemming from e (এ); 4. the separation of consonant clusters in spoken form with anaptyxis or prothesis; 5. the assimilation of tatsama conjunct consonants formed with b (ব), m (ম) and y (য়). Morphological: 1. the short forms of pronouns and verbal forms in standard colloquial Bangla (tahar > tar তাহার > তার; kariyachhila > karechhila করিয়াছিল > করেছিল). Many features of medieval Bangla are still found in many Bangla dialects.

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, umapatidhar 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 calcutta 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, bhabani charan bandyopadhyay, iswar chandra vidyasagar, bankimchandra chattopadhyay, 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.

Dialects suniti kumar chatterji classified Bangla dialects into four broad groups: Radh, Babga, Kamrupa and Varendra; Sukumar Sen (1939) added one more and defined five groups of dialects: Radhi, Babgali, Kamrupi, Varendri and Jhadkhandi. Radhi is the basis of standard colloquial Bangla, spoken in wide areas of south-western Bengal. Bangali is chiefly spoken in the east and south-eastern areas of Bengal. Dialects in this group still retain many of the medieval Bangla features that are extinct in Radhi, such as epenthetic vowels (semi vowels), lack of vowel height assimilation, pronunciation of the consonant g (গ্ ) in conjunct -ng (--ঙ্গ), maintenance of nasal consonant + consonant as in chand (চান্দ), instead of chand (চাঁদ). Bangali dialects lack d (ড়্) and dh (ঢ়্), and the affricates like ch (চ্), chh (ছ্), j (জ্) and jh (ঝ্) are pronounced like sibilants. But the dialects of sylhet, noakhali and chittagong are so different from Bangali that it is best to consider these spoken forms as separate dialects. All the marginal dialects of the Bangla language naturally get mixed up with the neighbouring forms. Remote Bangali and Kamrupi bear close affinity with Assamese, Jhadkhandi with south-western Bihari, and the language spoken in the Kanthi area with Oriya.

Forms of language Written Bangla has two forms: sadhu or chaste and chalita or colloquial or spoken. The two differ basically in verbs and pronouns. The verbs and pronouns get shortened in the colloquial form. For example: করিয়া (kariya; to do) > করে (kare); তাহার (tahar; his/hers) > তার (tar). The importance of the colloquial form arose at the beginning of the 20th century but the use of chaste Bangla did not disappear totally. Chaste language continued to be used in contemporary newspapers, works of documentation and in statements by the government and on matters of serious import. Colloquial Bangla was the language of the Calcutta gentry, a considerable number of whom used the colloquial form to write literary works.

The parallel currents of chaste and colloquial streams created a unique phenomenon of diglots in Bangla. Although the main peculiarity of the colloquial stream is the shortened form of verbs and pronouns, their real difference is in temperament. The mix of sadhu and chalita, as used in poetry, has been on the wane since World War II, giving way to the chalita form only. Since March 1965, many Bangla newspapers have adopted the chalita form, discarding the sadhu one. The ittefaq, which had retained the sadhu form, has also started using the chalita form since 2001.

Hindus and Muslims differ in their ways of using the language, and even West Bengalis and Bangladeshis differ somewhat in their practices. The Muslim rule in Bengal prior to the British rule led to an extensive development of Bangla and a plentiful influx of Arabic, Persian and Turkish vocabulary. Towards the end of the 18th century, even high-caste Hindus used to cultivate the court language, Persian, allowing their Bangla to be influenced by it. Even today over 2,000 Arabic and Persian words relating to war, taxation, legal and cultural matters, and crafts are in use in Bangla. Such words and their impact increased substantially in the language of the Muslim rural masses of East Bengal prior to the partition of India in 1947. A major difference exists in the language used by Hindus and Muslims in respect of words that refer to relatives or food. Hindus use Sanskrit and Bangla words, while Muslims use Urdu and Arabic words, eg kaka/chacha (uncle), ma/amma (mother), baba/abba (father), didi/bubu (sister), dada/bhaiya (brother), jal/pani (water) mamsa/goxt. At the same time, it should be noted that Muslims in the Jessore area also use the so-called 'Hindu terms' of didi and dada. Although the written language of West Bengal and Bangladesh is more or less similar, spoken Bangla differs widely. There are also many regional Bangla dialects. Some dialects, such as those of Sylhet, Noakhali and Chittagong, differ so greatly from each other and standard Bangla, that people of one region can hardly communicate with people of the other.

Standard colloquial Bangla: structural description Standard colloquial Bangla is used by educated people for speaking and writing. It is the language of literature and the media.

Phonology There are seven standard phonemes in standard colloquial Bangla (SCB): i (ই) as in pin, u (উ) as in put, e (এ) as in get, o (ও) as in go (but monophthongal), ae (অ্যা) as in hat, a (আ) as in father, a (অ) as in not (but a bit higher). Each of these sounds has nasalised counterparts. There are 30 consonant phonemes: p (প্) ph (ফ্) b (ব্) bh (ভ্) m (ম্), t (ত্) th (থ্) d (দ্) dh (ধ্) n (ন্), t (ট্) th (ঠ্) d (ড্/ড়্) dh (ঢ্/ঢ়্), k (ক্) kh (খ্) g (গ্) gh (ঘ্ ) n (ঙ্), ch (চ্) chh (ছ্) j (জ্) jh (ঝ্) sh (শ্র্), r (র্) l (ল্) s (স্) h (হ্). S (স্) is said to be a contextual variant of sh (শ্). There are four non-syllabic vowel sounds: i (ই্), u (উ্), e (এ্) and o (ও্). The phonological behaviour of standard colloquial Bangla is marked by the following characteristics: 1. vowel height assimilation, in which low vowel sounds gain height, such as, pyancha > penchi (ya > e) প্যাঁচা > পেঁচি (অ্যা > এ), nat > nati (a > o) নট > নটী (অ > ও), lekhe > likhi (e > i) লেখে > লিখি (এ > ই) and khoka > khuku (o > u) খোকা > খুকু (ও > উ); 2. sh (শ্) becoming s (স্) in loan words; 3. doubling of consonant sounds conditioned by semantic control: bado > baddo (বড়ো > বড্ডো ), chhoto > chhotto (ছোটো > ছোট্টো). Consonant conjuncts are simplified in loan words in spoken language. Stress usually falls on the first syllable of a word and on the first word of a meaningful phrase. The primary stress of a question falls on the neuter gender interrogative pronouns ke, ki, keno (who, what, why). General statements end in low pitch, and questions, affirmative or negative, end in high pitch. The length of vowel sounds is sometimes prolonged, influenced by emotion or voice projection ki-i? ya-i! (কী-ই? যা-ই!). Stress is also employed to put emphasis on a word. In compound sentences, the connecting words have the least stress.

Morphology The morphology of Bangla is accidence-based, although its analytical nature has gradually evolved. It has more than 50 verb-inflections, and a fewer number of case endings. The case of the nominal word is expressed in three ways: by case endings (indirect object' dative, genitive and locative cases), by case endings and post-positions (instrumental case, gerundial) and by only post-positions (ablative case). The nominative case does not primarily take any case ending, but in case of 'collective' agents, the case takes the case ending -e (-এ), such as, manuse eman kaj kare na (মানুষে এমন কাজ করে না). There is also no case ending for inanimate indirect objects. In standard colloquial Bangla, the case ending for indirect objects is -ke (-কে), the genitive case-ending is -(e)r [-(এ)র] and the locative case ending is -(e)te [-(এ)তে]. The word-final sound determines where the ending should be in -r or -er, and -te or -ete.

The accidence of verbs is fairly complex. Finite verbs are chiefly split into two groups based on the verb inflections: indicative and imperative. In addition to the second-person imperative, Bangla has another mood called the third-person imperative. The second-person imperative has three forms: honorific (karun, করুন), ordinary (karo, করো) and familiar or contemptuous (kar, কর্). The third-person imperative has two forms: ordinary and honorific (karuk, করুক, karun, করুন). The second-person imperative is used in both present and future tenses (karben-karun, করবেন-করুন, koro-karo, কোরো-করো, kar-karis, কর্-করিস্).

The indicative mood has three tenses: present, past and future. The present and the future tenses have three and four aspects respectively. The present tense includes simple (kari, করি), progressive (karchhi, করছি) and perfect (karechhi, করেছি), while the past tense includes simple (karlam, করলাম), progressive (karchhilam, করছিলাম), perfect (karechhilam, করেছিলাম) and habitual (kartam, করতাম). There is only one aspect of the future tense: simple (karba, করব). The progressive future requires more than one verb to express the aspect. The verb usually takes five inflections depending on the person, such as first-person (ami, আমি), second-person ordinary (tumi, তুমি), second-person familiar (tui, তুই), second-third person honorific (apni, আপনি), third-person ordinary (se, সে), and third-person honorific (tini তিনি). These sets of verb-inflections are different for different tenses. The inflections for aspect and tense do not change depending on the person; only the personal endings--that end the verb forms--change (present: -i (-ই), -o (-ও), -is (-ইস্), -e (-এ), -en (-এন): kari (করি), kar (কর), karis (করিস), kare (করে), karen (করেন). The causative verbs are formed with an -a (-আ) appended to the verb root (kare > karrai, করে > করাই); an -a (-আ) appended to root can also be classified as nominal verb root: ghumai, santrai (ঘুমাই, সাঁতরাই) etc. The order of endings in a verb root has the following order: (root) + causative ending + aspect ending + tense ending + personal ending (kar + ai > i + echh + ill + am, কর্ + আই > ই + এছ্ + ইল্ + আম).

The Bangla roots are basically either monosyllabic or bisyllabic, such as, kar-, kara- (কর্-, করা-). The causative and the nominal verb roots are by nature bisyllabic. But there are also roots with more than two syllables: jhalmala-, chakmaka- etc. The conjunctive has four forms: verbal noun (kara, করা), completive (ka're, ক’রে), conditional (karle, করলে) and inchoative (karte, করতে). Another set of verbs like dakadaki (ডাকাডাকি), ghoraghuri (ঘোরাঘুরি) is formed in compliance with the rules of correlative compounds. Phrasal verbs are formed with finite forms of verbal roots like kar (কর্), ha (হ) or mar (মর্) placed after nouns or adjectives, such as upakar kara (উপকার করা), bhalo haoya (ভালো হওয়া), chokh mara (চোখ মারা) etc. Compound verbs are formed with verbs like uth (উঠ্), pad (পড়্), phel (ফেল্), thak (থাক্) and the like placed after completive or inchoative conjunctives, as in ka're otha (ক’রে ওঠা), base pada (বসে পড়া), bale phela (বলে ফেলা), etc.

The formation of the substantive with affixes is not an unlimited proposition in Bangla. There are not many original Bangla affixes. It borrows -ta (-তা), -tv (-ত্ব), -ima (-ইমা) very often from Sanskrit for substantive formation. Comparatives (-tara -তর, -tama -তম) and ordinals (pratham প্রথম, dvitiya দ্বিতীয় etc) are dependent on Sanskrit affixes. Although there are not many primary and secondary affixes in Bangla, affixes for enclitic definitives (-ta -টা, -ti -টি, khana খানা), suggesting largeness or ungainliness (jhola, ঝোলা), suggesting smallness or prettiness (jhuli, ঝুলি), loveableness (ramu, রামু) and unloveableness (rama, রামা) are worth considering.

Sequence The order of words in Bangla is what is called left branching, ie, adjectives are placed on the left of nouns; and adverbs precede the verbs. The sequence of words in a sentence is as follows: subject + temporal phrase + locative phrase + indirect object + direct object + adverbial phrase + verb: ami kal steshane runake kathata kane kane balechhi (আমি কাল স্টেশনে রুনাকে কথাটা কানে কানে বলেছি,, I uttered the words into Runa's ear yesterday at the station). The place of the locative phrase can change, affecting the meaning of the sentence. Sentences without the copula, as in Russian, Tamil or Japanese, are in use in Bangla- amar nam ruhul kuddus (আমার নাম রুহুল কুদ্দুস, My name [is] Ruhul Quddus). Intransitive passive voice as in English is rare in Bangla, but the passive voice formed with a verb used as a noun is a common feature of the language: tomar khaoya hayechhe? e pathe faridpur jaoya chale? (তোমার খাওয়া হয়েছে? এ পথে ফরিদপুর যাওয়া চলে? Has your eating been done? Can going to Faridpur be done through this road?). Interrogative sentences in Bangla are formed with question words. The connective words in complex and conditional sentences are worth noting: yakhan o asbe takhan ar ami thakba na (যখন ও আসবে তখন আর আমি থাকব না, I will not be here when he comes).

Lexicon The main inherited elements of the Bangla language are: tadbhava (produced from that, ie Sanskrit; the Sanskrit word that has changed at least twice in the process of becoming Bangla), tatsama (same as that, ie Sanskrit; the Sanskrit word loaned into Bangla, with changed pronunciation but retaining the original spelling) and ardha-tatsama (half tatsama in nature; the Sanskrit words changed in the spoken form in Bangla, such as pratyasha > pityesh, প্রত্যাশা > পিত্যেশ). In addition, Bangla has a large number of words of unknown etymology, also known as deshi or local words, which might have their origin in old loans from Dravidian, Austric or Sino-Tibetan languages. The new loans are from Persian, Arabic, English, Portuguese and other languages. Sunitikumar Chatterji, taking jnanedra mohan das's Babgala Bhashar Abhidhan into account, showed that Bangla has 51.45 per cent tadbhava words, 44.00 per cent tatsama words, 3.30 per cent Perso-Arabic words and 1.25 per cent from English, Portuguese and other languages. But these figures are not quite accurate. Although Jnanendra Mohan Das's lexicon has around 150,000 words, the total number of Bangla words, including dialect words, is much more.

The Bangla alphabet The Bangla alphabet evolved from Kutila lipi, which in turn evolved from ancient Indian Brahmi. The first printed book to use Bangla type was nathaniel brassey halhed's A Grammar of Bengal Language, which refined and standardised Bangla letters. Thanks to efforts by Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, the increasing use of Bangla type in the printing presses helped to stabilise the shape of the letters. Iswar Chandra also introduced new letters and rearranged the order of the alphabet. He dispensed with ঋ and ৯৯ and placed anusvara (ং) and visarga (ঃ) at the end of the consonant section of the alphabet and introduced ড়, ঢ় and ৎ. Nevertheless, the Bangla alphabet continues to be based on the scheme of the Sanskrit alphabet, consisting of 12 vowels and 30 consonants. These symbols do not, however, always represent the spoken sound of the language. The long vowels and letters such as ঞ্, ণ্, য্, ষ্ etc do not have specific sounds associated with them. At some points in history, Bangla was written in Perso-Arabic script and sylheti nagri. Apart from the dadi (।), or full stop, the other punctuation marks are European.

Generally, the peculiarities and distinctions between consonants that pertain in Sanskrit exist in Bangla as well, such as alpapran (non-aspirated)/mahapran (aspirated), aghosa (voiceless)/ghosa (voiced), dantya (dental)/pratibestita (alveolar-retroflex). As in Sanskrit, every independent consonant syllable has the inherent vowel অ (a), unless another vowel is specified. For instance, ক্ (k) is actually ক + অ (k + a), ত is ত্ + অ ) (t + a). However, there are significant variations in pronunciation. Thus, unlike Sanskrit, the pronunciation of অ is not always regular and stable. At times it is pronounced almost as o (ও). Such instability creates problems of spelling in Bangla. However, as in the case of many languages of the Indo-Aryan family, অ (a) at the end of syllables in Bangla often disappears. Some vowels are nasalised, changing the meaning and import of the word; for instance, the pronunciation of the honorific pronoun for third person is the nasalised তাঁর (tanr), clearly distinguishing the pronoun from the third person general তার (tar). If the basic ড (d) of Sanskrit falls within or at the end of a Bangla word, the sound is pronounced ড় (d). In this way the letters ড় (d) and ঢ় (dh) were added to Bangla in the 19th century. Sanskrit distinguishes between a consonant ব (b) and a semi-vowel ভ (v). However, in Bangla both letters are pronounced ব (b). Compound consonants are often pronounced as double consonants; for instance, বিশ্ব > বিশ্শ, লক্ষ্মী > লক্খী (bishva > bishsha, laksmi > lakkhi). The Sanskrit letter য (y) is pronounced জ (j) in Bangla. Thus the following Bangla words from Sanskrit are spelled যম (yam) and যাত্রা (yatra) but are pronounced as if spelled জম (jam) and জাত্রা (jatra). There are three s letters in Bangla, শ, ষ, স (sh, s, s). In most cases, however, all three letters are sounded শ (sh). However, if স (s) is compounded, its pronunciation remains intact. For example, আসতে (aste) is pronounced as if it had been spelled আশ্তে (ashte), but আস্তে is pronounced aste. Similarly, রাস্তা is pronounced rasta.

Language situation Bangla is the country's state language and is used extensively except in some isolated tribal habitations. Most official work within the country is done in Bangla, but English is used in diplomatic communications, trade contacts and in higher education and research. People speak in dialect at home, but will generally use spoken Bangla outside and standard colloquial Bangla for academic and literary purposes. Usually, standard Bangla is used in literary and artistic work, plays and mass communication, but recently the use of dialects in these activities has increased. [Mohammad Daniul Huq and Pabitra Sarkar]

See also bangla script.

Bibliography SK Chatterji, The Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, Calcutta University, Calcutta, 1926; Muhammad Shahidullah, Bangla Bhasar Itibrtta, Dhaka, 1965; PS Ray and Abdul Hai, Bengali Language Handbook, Washington DC, 1966; Sukumar Sen, Bhasar Itibrtta, Eastern Publishers, Calcutta, 1979; Humayun Azad ed, Bangla Bhasa, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 1984-85; William Radice, 'Bengali Language' in RE Asher ed, The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol. l, Oxford, 1994.