Bengali is a complex language filled with challenges and rewards for the linguistically curious.
This isn’t meant as a ‘good old days’ speech – I think things are much improved and I prefer having the Internet to scratch my knowledge itches immediately. In fact, it makes me even more sympathetic to people trying to learn on their own today. So if you’ve thought about investigating the Bengali language, whether for an upcoming trip or simply out of sheer intellectual (and linguistic) curiosity, then allow me to give you some information and resources to help you on your way.
Bengali: A Major Language
Contrary to how it may seem to Westerners, Bengali is one of the most-spoken and most important languages in the world, with over 200 million native speakers. So your efforts to learn about it will not be in vain!
One of the first things to know about this beautiful language is that there is a formal and informal style of speech, meaning you can get yourself into trouble pretty easily even if your grammar is perfect. The informal or colloquial version is called chaltibhasa and the formal is known as sadhubhasa. The informal is marked mainly by a more casual attitude towards pronunciation and contractions, a slurring of the speech that is considered relaxed, and thus inappropriate for ‘serious’ occasions or when you need to show respect. The formal mode is heavily influenced by the ‘poetic language’ used in literature. There was a time when the informal language was the language of the poor people and the formal the language of the educated, but this has changed rapidly in recent years, with the informal version becoming the mainstream version of the language used in everyday communication.
Like almost every language, Bengali has a number of dialects spoken in both Bangladesh and India. Inside Bangladesh, you’ll find Radha (West Bengal), Pundra (northwest Bengal and Bangladesh), Kamrupa northeastern Bangladesh), and Bangla (throughout Bangladesh). Most of these dialects are very mutually intelligible, so if you speak some form of Bengali to some level of competence you will likely be able to communicate wherever you go.
India is home to the second-largest group of Bengali-speakers in the world, about 85 million people mainly in the states of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Bengali is recognised officially in India as an official language.
Bengali is well worth your efforts to learn more on your own. And these days all it takes is a search engine to begin your journey!
Image courtesy bharatonline.com