India is a country of rich cultural diversity where 22 officially recognised languages and over 1650 dialects are spoken across 29 states and 7 union territories, as in 2019. The 2011 Census of India last listed 1369 ‘mother tongues’, however, our country has been a witness to a great number of tongues over the centuries. One such distinctive and culturally rich language is Bengali.
The likes of C.V. Raman, Rabindranath Tagore, Amartya Sen and Mother Teresa evoke but one rich, extensive and ever growing language. Known for its artistic and revolutionary literature, the Bengali culture has given us countless generations of poets, writers, artists, philosophers and needless to say, some outrageously beautiful women! Let’s dive in to learn some more about this Eastern Indo-Aryan language from the land of terracotta, sandesh, roshogollas and fish.
The what, the where, the how many
Bengali or Bangla is the national language of Bangladesh and the second most spoken language in India, its primary language belt ranging from Bangladesh to West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. It has evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit and Sanskrit languages and boasts of about 220 million native and about 300 million total speakers worldwide.
Even though Bengali is the language native to the erstwhile region of Bengal (present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal), its importance in South Asia can be gauged by the sole fact that the National Anthems of Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka were all first composed in Bengali.
Of facts and peculiarities
What’s interesting about the Bengali alphabet is that all the consonants have built-in vowel sounds. Diacritical marks are used when writing to change the default vowel sound. This can be utterly confounding to Westerners, because a word can be repeated several times with different marks and thus is pronounced differently each time, with a different meaning.
In a study conducted by UNESCO, Bengali was found to be one of the top few sweetest spoken languages in the world! The result being, a fiercely passionate commitment to speaking the language. But of course, it has its own set of idiosyncrasies. The alphabet ‘z’ does not exist; nor does ‘v’. This gives rise to hilarious realities. For example, you could be left wondering which “bolbo” car your neighbour managed to buy.
Locals’ thoughts on the language
The fact that Bengali represents an interesting collection of words drawn from Sanskrit and Persian is itself a validation of some interesting realities – that the essential Bengali culture is accommodating and absorbing; that the language has drawn influences based on functionality and spoken refinement. There has often been a reference to the fact that even a simple exchange in Bengali between two individuals often sounds like a love poem!
Most people around this part of the country also feel that Bengali bears a striking resemblance to Assamese (the language of Assam) and Oriya (the language of Orissa), and these three languages are considered to be nearly mutually intelligible. So if you know one, you probably already know which two to add to your ‘language bucket list’ 😉
The way forward
A new wave of Indic Localisation is sweeping across the internet world in India at the moment, as governments and companies make a painstaking effort to bridge linguistic barriers and reach out to the 90% population of India that does not communicate in English.
As part of this digital revolution, in a report released by Google and KPMG regarding the internet adoption levels – the Indian language internet users are expected to account for nearly 75% of India’s internet user base by 2021, while Marathi, Bengali, Tamil and Telugu are expected to form 30% of the total Indian language internet user base. In the field of digital entertainment alone, Bengali, Malayalam and Kannada notably represent the fastest growing Indian language user base, while Hindi, Bengali and Marathi users continue to lead that user base.
*Statistics taken from ‘Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet’- report by KPMG in India and Google
Content curated & SmartRead by: Team Vernac
Author: Alifya Thingna