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Ahmed 1

Tanvir Ahmed
Science of Language
Prof. Nancy Haiduck
November 21st, 2016
Bengali Dialects = New Language
As a young child I lived in Chittagong, a major city in Bangladesh. There were people
from every part of the country and we lived very harmoniously. Within this peaceful
environment, I used to get confused a bit when my friends used to talk to their family member
because I wouldnt understand them at all. However, when they shifted their focus to me, I
would understand everything they were saying. As young child and not being enough
sophisticated, I just thought they were from a different country and spoke a different language.
Although I came to an amateur prediction very quickly, I started to think about it as I grew older.
Due to that reason, I picked up on this topic and wanted to conduct a research. Since I am
Bengali, I definitely have much interest in the topic of Bengali dialects and have strong
credibility because I have lived most of my life in Bangladesh. Through my observation, I really
thought Bengali dialects could be considered as new and unique languages. Throughout my
research, I tried to be the least biased as possible.

I started my research with one thought in mind which is Bengali dialects are new forms
of language and that became my thesis. My thesis is definitely arguable and controversial as
people have many different views on this particular topic. Many people believe that language
and dialects are two different things and many believe they are ultimately the same thing. I know

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my claim might raise eyebrows but hopefully people will agree with me after considering my
research. In order to find the best and appropriate resources, I sought help from a librarian, Prof.
Yoko Inagi who assisted me to find significant resources that shaped the base of this research
paper. For this research, I also conducted an experiment and interviewed few people who speaks
different dialects from different place of Bangladesh. I interviewed few Bengali (various dialect)
speakers to compare the language and dialect itself to find the difference between them.
Background Information
Bengali, the official language of Bangladesh, is a language with an enormous history
behind it. Even though the country is one of the newest in the world, the language is one of the
oldest. The language can be traced back thousands of years. From a very small part of South
Asia and the Indian subcontinent, the Bengali language has spread to all over the world. There
are over 210 million native speakers of Bengali and the language has the pride of being the 7th
most spoken language in the world (Rashel, 2012). Bengali has its own kind of pride and
meaning to Bangladeshis. The language was in danger when Bangladesh (as East Pakistan) was
part of Pakistan. West Pakistan, being the dominant side, wanted to impose Urdu as
Bangladeshs official language, despite the fact it was barely spoken in the region. The
Bangladeshis,especially college students, were outraged by the act and started a revolution,
which not only made Bengali the official language of the country, but eventually in a war which
led to Bangladeshs independence in 1971.
Bengali belongs to the Indo-European language family and slowly developed into the
modern Bengali (currently spoken in Bangladesh). Sankar Sen Gupta (1975), a linguist and
author, elaborated on the origin of Bengali. In his writing Sen Gupta said, The Proto-Australoid

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forms the basic element of the Bengaless. The Austrics, Mongoloids (Paleo-Mongoloids and
Tibeto Mongoloids), Dravidians, Alpine, Dinaric, and Armenoids too have their places and
contributions for the development of Bengali language and culture (Sen Gupta, 1975). The
Mongoloids, Dravidians, Alpine, and Dinaric are all different types of ethnic groups from
various part of India. According to Sengupta, the migration of the various ethnic groups
introduced the seed of Bengali before 1500 BC. Unfortunately, it is quite impossible to trace
back in the past to find much of their influence on the Bengali language due to the hardship of
finding evidence. After these group, the Aryans, Indo European speaking people, migrated to
northern Indian and made their way to the east. Upon arriving they quickly took over and
introduced the Aryan language. Sengupta suggests that the Aryans migrated to India between
1500 to 600 BC and built their first civilization; they made the journey to the north and west (Sen
Gupta, 1975). Through the Aryans, Maithili, Indo Aryan Language, entered North Bengal and
Magadhi, another Indo Aryan language, to central and western Bengal (refer to appendix A for
visual). Along with their own language, Aryans started to use local dialects, speech, and native
words. Thus their original language was changing drastically.
The elites among the Aryans were unhappy with the change. In order to keep their
superiority, they offered the society the Panini, new the grammar book of the Indo-Aryans, thus
the Aryans wouldnt mix local dialects with their own language. However, the rules contained in
Panini were very hard and complex for people to follow. Due to its rigidity and lack of use, the
elites offered a simpler version called Classical Sanskrit (refer to appendix A for visual diagram).
Sanskrit was again the language of the elite and was not simple enough for the regular class
peoples use. Therefore, it failed again to attract the common people and it was barely used. Due

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to the urgency of communicating with the local people, similar and simpler version of Bengali
came to existence. Thus the Bengali language was originated. (To see visual portrayal of
language change, please see appendix A). Eventually the Bengali language would turn into
several dialects.

In order to understand the difference between the dialects, one must know the difference
between the two different types of Bengali that exist within the Bengali society: Shadhu Vasha
and Cholito Vasha (Colloquial Standard). According to J. M. Wilce (2002), In the NineteenthCentury Calcutta was a major center of linguistic modernization, where the longer verb endings
and Sanskritized lexicon that constituted Shadhu Vasha shifted to the shortened endings of the
Cholito Vasha, dominant among urban Bangladeshis today (Wilce, 2002). The Cholito Vasha is
the standard form of language used everywhere, including governmental documents, literature,
and media. Shadhu Vasha is still visible in much old literature.
It is an established truth that language changes over the course of time, even when
uninfluenced by the intrusion of foreign elements (Sen Gupta, 1975). As the Bengali language
aged, it took different turns and changed. Those changes eventually ended up giving the
language a new form, which is its various dialects. According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
a dialect is particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.
According to Md. Mostafa Rashel (2012), a linguistic and a professor at the Daffodil
International University: Bengali has several dialects and sister languages. The 19th-century
linguist, Suniti Kumar Chatterji (1926) classified Bangla dialects into four broad groups: Radh,
Banga, Karampura, and Varendra; Sukumar Sen (1939) added one more and defined five groups

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of dialects: Radhi, Bengali, Kamrupi, Varendri, and Jhadkhandi. (Mustafa, 2012). All these
dialects are strange to the modern speakers because these dialects have existed long before
Bangladesh was born. The current dialects that exist in Bangladesh are also known as the Eastern
Indo-Aryan Language dialects. Those dialects are Barishali (Barishal Region), Noakhali,
Rangpur, Khulna, Mymensingh, Sylheti (Sylhet Region), Chittaingya (Chittagong Region) and
Chakma and Rohingya (Tribal Language) (Mustafa, 2012).

The difference between the dialects are measured between the standard language and the
dialect itself. Below I will give you some examples how each dialect is different. The examples
are based on me interviewing a few native speaker of the dialects. The interviewees in this
experiment were all Bengali immigrants who moved to the United States yet speak their regional
Bengali dialects in the home. In the interview, Chittaingga dialect was taken from a native of
Chittagong called Maruf Sunny. He is a college student at CUNY City Tech. Sylheti was
collected from Zibon Ali, who is native to Sylhet. Zibon goes to International High School at
Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. And, last but not least, Noakhilla was taken from my parents who
were native to the Noakhali district in Bangladesh.


(Sylhet Region)


Meaning in

Tumi Kemn

Ken Aso ?

Kita Khobor ?

Tui Keicha Aso? How are you ?

Ami Vhat Khai.

Ai vhat Khair ?

Ami vat Khai ?

Aii bat Khaier

Im eating rice.

Tomar Nam KI

Tuar Nam Ki ?

Tomar Nam

Tomar Nam
Kiya ?

What is your
name ?

Baire Brishti

Baddi Jorr Forer

Baire Meg

Baire Joi hor

Its raining

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Ami Tomake

Ai Toware

Ami Tomare
Vala pai

Ai tuare

I love you.

(Conducted experiment personally by interviewing native speakers, October 2016)

This is quite fascinating to see how these dialects are so different from each other. Even
though these dialects have a few similarities between them and to the standard Bengali, its very
hard to communicate with people with different dialects, other than using the standard form of
Bengali. A few dialects are

intelligible depending on geographic regions but others are

completely different. Its quite easy to understand Noakhailla, Dhakaya, and Barishallia, etc.
Despite this, it is pretty challenging to speak it unless you are native to the region and have
grown up around that language.
This cause makes me wonder if the dialects of Bangladesh could be eventually
considered as a different languages. To look more deeply into the topic it is important to look
into the definition of Dialectology. Dialectology is a branch of sociolinguistics (the study of
language in society) that studies systematic variants of a language. The term first coined in 1577
from the Latin dialectus, a way of speaking (Vajda. n.d.). According to Edward J. Vajda, there
are at least three factors which often distinguishes a dialect from language: mutual intelligibility,
cultural criterion; opinion of the speaker's , and political status. (Edward. n.d.)
Looking at the first factor mutual intelligibility:- According to my interview and asking
the dialect speakers, it was apparent that speaker of each different dialects understood each
other. Even though they didnt understand the each other perfectly, but there was enough
intelligibility to get the point across. Still its believed by Bangladeshis that Chittaingga and

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Sylheti are the two dialects that are very hard to understand. There is a proverb in Bangladesh
which states, If you want to visit China, you might just go visit Chittagong. This proverb
originated to express how complex Chittaingga dialect sounds to a listener.
Factor two, cultural criterion and opinion of the speaker:- It is not a surprise that the
culture of Bangladesh is very similar and it doesnt matter what part of Bangladesh you are from.
The culture is heavily affected by the religion of people. Therefore, having a population of 90%
Muslim, the culture is pretty much same everywhere. As far as the opinion of speakers,
ethnocentric behavior depending on your dialects isnt very noticeable in Bangladesh. In fact, its
the opposite. Not knowing the Standard Bengali or having a regional accent is considered an
uneducated, and lower class. Many times the cultural root of the region is deeply connected and
the people often dont like to share it with different regions. For example, it is not frequent to see
a Chittaningga (Native of Chittagong ) marrying a Sylheti (Native of Sylhet).
Factor three, political status:- Bangladesh is small, third world country. Politically the
country doesnt have much international influence. Since the country is very small, it doesnt
have any state or provinces. Therefore, the country is ruled under one government. Dhaka being
the capital and main city has greater influence than any other part of Bangladesh. Also,
Chittagong, being the business port of the country also holds great influence politically and
economically. Despite having the political and economic power, Chittagong doesnt have the
power to elevate its dialect to official language status. Moreover, English as the second language
has powerful influence over the country, creating a new form of language known as Bang-lish.

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Specially after evaluating the Edward Vajdas Dialectology article and comparing with the
evidence I got from my interviews, I conclude that the dialects of Bangladesh can not be
considered unique language. According to Vajda, most of the Bengali dialects does not qualify to
be considered as language. Vajdas article completely proves my claim wrong. The dialects of
Bengali aren't considered as a new language because, when used people can still understand what
you are saying many of the time. That means that the dialects are somewhat intelligible to the
Bangladeshis. Also, the culture of each region is very similar and there isnt any tendency of
isolation or ethnocentric ideology. At the moment the country is very united except few political
problems. Due to being a third world country, the specific regions of Bangladesh doesnt have
political or economic power. Since its a small country there isnt any states or providence but
small districts. Therefore the political/economical power is spread around the whole country.
Because of these factors, the dialects of various regions of Bangladesh cant be considered a new
language at the moment. However, I still believe chittagingga has the ability to turn into a new
language due to its complexity, condense culture and strong political power.

After writing this paper, I concluded that the Bengali dialects are not a new languages,
but I did state that Chittaingga can be maybe considered a new language in time. While
concluding this research, I was struck by a prediction. I predict that Chittagong can secede from
Bangladesh and claim their land as new free country, only if Chittaingga becomes an official
language of the region. From history we learned that, Bangladesh (East Pakistan) was originated

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when Pakistan (West Pakistan) wanted to enforce Urdu as the official language in East Pakistan.
Then there was the language movement which eventually led to the Independence War and the
independence of Bangladesh. We all know the phrase, history repeats itself and we might
never know if history will repeat and set them Chittagong from Bangladesh. The reason I predict
this is because of the immense political and economical power of Chittagong and their condense
cultural root and heritage. They also use a language/dialect that is complex and different from
any other part of the country. So, now we look forward and see what future holds for us.

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Appendix: A

(BD Language & Culture, Sen Gupta, 1975)

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Appendix B:

(Maps Of World)

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Jones, J. S. (2014). Bangladeshi Americans. In T. Riggs (Ed.), Gale Encyclopedia of
Multicultural America (3rd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 221-235). Detroit: Gale.

Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.

Rashel, Mostafa (Jan. 2012). "Standard Colloquial Bengali and Chatkhil dialect: a comparative
phonological study." Language In India: 77+. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

Sen Gupta, Sankar (1975). Bengali language and dialects. Folklore: English Monthly Devoted
to the Cause of Indian Folklore Society.

Vajda, Edward J. (n.d.) "Curriculum Vitae EDWARD J. VAJDA - Teaching & Learning." N.p.,
Web. 01 Oct. 2016.

Wilce, J. M. (2002). Bengali Language. In K. Christensen & D. Levinson (Eds.), Encyclopedia

of Modern Asia (Vol. 1, pp. 277-278). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.