Bengali is an official language of Bangladesh and parts of India, as well as the lingua franca of the entire Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent. As well, it’s a language (and culture!) with a huge diaspora worldwide! It’s a language with a rich literary history that has existed for over 1,300 years, with several intact texts from one of the most diverse ancient Asian literary cultures still around today.
The following interesting language facts are an introduction to the fascinating Bengali language. They cover distribution, structure, and other interesting notes to whet your linguistic appetite!
A Few Interesting Facts about Bengali
1. Passion for Bengali as a language was a major factor in Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan
A movement in the 1960s to establish Bengali as the official language of Pakistan revolutionized the Bengali population of East Pakistan and it snowballed into nationalistic pride and pro-democratic aims, eventually resulting in Bangladesh’s official establishment in 1971.
2. Bengali is the official language of several Indian states, as well as the most widely spoken in several more and highly spoken in others
|Official Language||Most widely-spoken||Significant|
The Barak Valley
|The Andaman and Nicobar Islands|
The Bay of Bengal
3. There are huge diaspora communities of Bengali speakers in the United Kingdom, the United States, the Middle East, and more
These people are made up of both Indian Bengali and Bangladeshi diasporic groups.
4. It’s the first language of around 230 million people
As well, there are around 40 million second-language Bengali speakers.
5. Bengali is an Indo-Iranian language
Its family tree is below, following only the Bengali branch. Struck-through languages are now extinct.
6. The Bengali alphabet is written in the Bengali-Assamese abugida script
It had several other historical scripts, including various Perso-Arabic scripts, Sylhet Nagri, Odia, Tirhuta, and Brahmi.
In the 16th century during exploration and colonization, and again in the 21st century during the digital revolution, there have also been waves of using the English alphabet and Latin script to write Bengali.
7. Bengali is a head-final language and follows a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, and postpositions instead of prepositions
This is flexible, though. In English, we use subject-verb-object (SVO), which is also flexible. In general, though, a sentence in English like “[I] [read] [the article]” would generally be “[I] [the article] [read] in Bengali.
8. There are between 75,000 and >10,000 words in Bengali, though several are archaic and no longer often used. Bengali also has extensively borrowed from other languages. Some examples include:
|Language||Language (Bengali)||Original Word||Meaning||Bengali Word|
|Austro-Asiatic / Munda||Deśi (Native)||Khuki||Girl||Khuki|
|Greek (via Urdu)||Grīk||Drachma||Price||Dam|
|Japanese||Japani / Nihoṅgo||Baka||Fool||Boka|
9. Bengali pronouns don’t differentiate by gender but do differentiate by distance to the speaker and formality
|First (I, we)||Here||Not applicable||Ami||Amra|
|Second (you, you all)||Here||Very formal||Tui||Tora|
10. Nouns are not inflected by gender, but they decline for cases and animation (living or non-living)
The four cases are:
- Nominative (the subject of a verb, “the reader is learning”). The definite article is the suffix –ţi or –ţa for both animate and inanimate singular objects, while it is –ra for plural animate and –gulo for plural inanimate.
- Accusative (the object of a verb, “I teach something to the reader”). There is no declension of this case in English. The accusative case adds –ke as a suffix to animate singular objects and –der-ke for plural animate objects. This case is not used for inanimate objects.
- Genitive (of something, “the facts of the language or the language’s facts). The suffix for singular animate objects and both singular and plural inanimate objects is –r, while plural animate objects take -der.
- Locative (location of the verb, “in the article”). Inanimate single nouns take both the nominative suffix and –te or e depending on their nominative ending (-te for –ţi, –y for –ţa). The locative case is not used for animate objects.
11. There is a dialect continuum amongst Bengali speakers, and each dialect is generally mutually intelligible with its neighbors.
The main Bengali dialects are:
- West Central
- Nadia/Standard Bengali language
- Kolkata & Kolkata women’s dialect
- Howrah & Howrah women’s dialect
- Eastern (Bangali)
- Noakhailla (Sandwip, Feni, Hatia, and Lakshmipur)
- South Bengal
- North Bengal (Varendri)
- East Purnia (Siripuria)
- Cooch Behar
- Darjeeling (Terai)
- Western Border (Manbhumi)
- East Medinipur
- Dhalbhum/East Singhbhum
- Pashchim Bardhaman
Bengali is a very old language with an incredibly storied history, and it’s inherently tied to the culture of the Bengal people, especially those in Bangladesh. Linguistics and culture are one and the same, and every time you learn more about a language, you learn about the world.