The Bengali language (বাংলা), sometimes also referred to as Bangla, is an Indo-Aryan language spoken predominantly by the Bengali people in the Indian subcontinent and descended from the Magadhi Prakrit and Pali languages. Bengali serves as the official language of Bangladesh and is one of the 22 official scheduled languages of India. With more than 260 million native speakers and approximately 20 million second language speakers, Bengali is typically ranked as the 7th or 8th most spoken language in the world. Besides being the native language of roughly 98% of the population of Bangladesh, it is also the official language in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, and the Barak Valley in the state of Assam, and spoken by communities of Bengalis throughout India.
Outside of the Indian subcontinent, there are significant communities of Bengali speakers in the Middle East, United States, Singapore, Australia, and Canada, and with the largest population of Bengalis outside of Asia being found in the United Kingdom. In the United States, there are more than 320,000 speakers of Bengali in the United States, according to the “American Community Survey,” making Bengali the 21st most widely spoken language in the country. The largest concentrations of Bengali Americans are found in the New York Metropolitan Area, California, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, Virginia, and Florida.
The Bengali language itself is very diverse and includes a variety of dialects. While many dialects are mutually intelligible, some lack mutual intelligibility with the Standard Bengali dialect. Standard Bengali is based on the Rarhi dialect spoken in Kolkata and the Nadia districts of West Bengal. However, the Bangali dialect is the most widely spoken variety of Bengali. Other main dialect groups include Varendri, Manbhumi, Rajbanshi, and Sundarbani. Bengali also exhibits strong diglossia, with significant differences between the colloquial spoken variety of the language and the formal written language, with the colloquial spoken variety showing much greater variation than the literary variety. Most Bengalis, however, tend to be fluent in more than one dialect.
Bengali utilizes a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, although with a degree of flexibility. Nouns and pronouns are inflected for case (nominative, objective, genitive, and locative); however, since nouns are not assigned a gender, adjectives go through only minimal inflection. Verbs, on the other hand, are heavily conjugated. Non-finite verbs are not inflected for tense or person, but finite verbs are inflected for person (first, second, or third), tense (past, present, future), aspect (simple, perfect, progressive), and honor/status (intimate, familiar, and formal). They are not inflected for number. One unique feature of Bengali as compared to other Indo-Aryan languages is the lack of the use of the copula (“to be”) in the present tense.
The core of the Bengali lexicon is derived from the Magadhan languages from which it descended; however, it has also incorporated numerous loanwords over time as a result of contact with numerous different languages. Among the largest contributors of loanwords to the Bengali language are Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Sanskrit. In Bangladesh, where the majority of Bengali speakers are Muslim, a larger proportion of Arabic and Persian are used, whereas Hindu speakers of Bengali tend to display a greater degree of influence from Sanskrit.
The Bengali alphabet is a Brahmic script, and it is the fifth most widely used writing system in the world. It is also classified an abugida, meaning that vowels are not written as independent letters, but rather as diacritics that modify the vowel in the base letter to which they are added. The script is written and read from left to right.
FUN FACTS: The national anthem of India, Jana Gana Mana, was originally written in Bengali by the poet Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata. However, given that the song was written almost entirely using nouns that can also function as verbs, and since Sanskrit serves a common source of vocabulary for many of India’s 22 official languages, it can still be largely understood by speakers of widely different languages. Also, as a result of the efforts of the Bangladeshi contingent of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Sierra Leone during its civil war, Bengali was made an official language in the West African country.
At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Bengali (Bangla). Whether you need to translate marketing materials into Bengali, need a Bengali interpreter for a business meeting in Dhaka, or want to localize your software into Bengali as part of your marketing strategy in the Indian subcontinent, PGLS is here to help with all of your Bengali language needs.