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Bengali (Bangla) belongs to the Eastern group of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. Along with Assamese, it is the easternmost of all Indo-European languages. In English, Bengali refers to both the language and the people who speak it. In Bengali, the language is called Bangla (bangla means ‘low’). The direct ancestors of Bengali are Prakrit, and Sanskrit.

There are 110 million first-language speakers of Bengali in Bangladesh, 193 million worldwide (Ethnologue).  In India, Bengali is the second most-spoken language after Hindi-Urdu. There are also large Bengali-speaking communities in Assam (an Indian state neighboring West Bengal and Bangladesh) and Bangladesh mapin the Middle East, Europe, the U.S., and Canada. The total number of 1st- and 2nd-language speakers of Bengali is estimated at 250 million (Ethnologue), making it the fifth most spoken language in the world.

Bengali is the national language of Bangladesh and one of the official languages of India. In India it is the official language of the state of West Bengal and the co-official language of the state of Tripura and union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Spoken Bengali is best described as a continuum of regional dialects. Some of them are not mutually intelligible. They are usually broken into several major groups:

Western Eastern
Southwestern Bahe
West-Central Ganda
Northern Vanga

The standard form of Bengali, accepted in Bangladesh and in West Bengal, is based on the West-Central dialect as spoken by educated people in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) back in the 19th century. Diglossia is widespread, with many speakers being able to use both formal standard Bengali and their own regional dialect. There are two styles of speaking which exist side-by- side: conservative high-style literary language which frequently uses borrowings from Sanskrit and informal everyday language.


Sound system
The sound system of Bengali is fairly typical of Indo-Aryan languages.

Bengali has 7 oral vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that differentiate word meaning. The vowels /i/, /a/, and /u/ can be short or long (i:, a:, u:). Vowel length differentiates word meaning. In addition, vowels can be nasalized.

i, i:
u, u
a, i:
  • /æ/ =in cat
  • /ɔ/ = o in bog

Bengali has a wide variety of vowel combinations. Some are true diphthongs consisting of a vowel + semivowel occurring in one syllable, while others are vowel + vowel combinations occurring across two syllables.

Bengali has 29 consonants. There is a contrast between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless and voiced stops. Aspirated consonants are produced with a strong puff of air. There is also a contrast between and apical vs. retroflex stops and affricates. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth. The use of consonant clusters is extremely limited, even in borrowed words.

Stops unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
unaspirated voiced
aspirated voiced
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
unaspirated voiced
aspirated voiced
Nasals …..
Laterals ….
Flap ….
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song

Stress in standard Bengali normally falls on the initial syllable of a word. The position of stress alone does not affect word meaning.


Bengali is an inflected language, i.e., it uses prefixes and suffixes to mark grammatical relations and to form words. Bengali typically uses postpositions, rather than prepositions. Postpositions require that the noun take a certain case.

Nouns, articles, and pronouns
Bengali nouns have the following categories:

  • Case: nominativeaccusativegenitive, and locative-instrumental.
  • There are no gender distinctions.
  • Number: singular and plural; plural markers are added only to count nouns with animate or definite referents.
  • Animacy is marked in the plural.
  • Definiteness is marked with post-posited -ţa in the singular, and -gula in the plural for inanimate nouns and -ra for animate nouns, e.g. juta-ţa ‘the shoe‘, juta-gula ‘the shoes’, and chatro-ţa ‘the student’ and chatro-ra ‘the students’.
  • Bengali uses numeral classifiers when counting nouns (similar to neighboring South Asian languages), e.g., panch-jon-chatro ‘five-human classifier-students’.
  • There are three persons: 1st, 2nd, 3rd. There is no gender distinction in the 3rd person.
  • There are three degrees of proximity in the 3rd person (someone who is nearby, someone who is a little further away, and someone who is not present.


Bengali verbs agree with their subjects in person and status category.

  • There are three persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd).
  • There are three status categories in the 2nd person (despective, ordinary, honorific) and two status categories in the 3rd person (ordinary, honorific).
  • Verb stems are derived from verbal monosyllabic or disyllabic verbal bases. Markers are combined to produce various mood/aspect/tense combinations;
  • There are three moods: indicativeimperativeconditional.
  • Ttwo aspects are distinguished: imperfective and perfective.
  • Verbs have three tenses: present, past, future.
  • Bengali verbs use a post-verbal negative particle.


Word order
The normal word order in Bengali sentences is Subject-Object-Verb. Adjectives and genitive constructions expressing possession precede nouns.


Bengali vocabulary is a mixture of native Bengali words, and direct/indirect borrowings from Sanskrit, and neighboring languages such as HindiAssameseChineseBurmese, and several indigenous Austroasiatic languages of Bangladesh. Centuries of invasions from Persia and the Middle East resulted in numerous borrowings from TurkishArabic, and Persian. European colonialism resulted in borrowings from English, PortugueseFrench, and Dutch.

Below are some common words and phrases in Bengali in Latin transcription. ā represents a long /a/.

Hello nomoskār
Goodbye. ācchi
Thank you. dhonyobad
Please anugrah kore
Excuse me. māf korben
Yes. ha
No. na
Man purush, manush
Woman nari, mohila

Below are the numbers 0-10 in Bengali numerals (Arabic-based) and in Bengali script (from Omniglot)


Bengali has a rich literature dating back to 1000 AD. All pre-19th literature was in rhymed verse. The writing system of Modern Bengali developed from an ancient Indian syllabary called Brāhmī. Brāhmī is the ancestor of all other Indian scripts, including Devanāgarī, a writing system associated with classical Sanskrit as well as a number of modern Indo-Aryan languages. The Brāhmī alphabet is thought to have been modeled on the Aramaic or Phoenician alphabets. It appeared in India sometime before 500 BC, and was used to write a variety of languages, including Sanskrit and Prakrit. The Bengali script is identical to that of Assame, except for two characters. The present form of the Bengali script was standardized In 1778 to facilitate printing. It has 12 vowel and 52 consonant characters.

Like all Brāhmī-derived scripts, Bengali is written from left to right with the characters hanging from a horizontal line. No distinction is made between upper and lower case characters. Bengali is written with a syllabic alphabet in which all consonants have an inherent vowel which is not always predictable, and sometimes, is not pronounced at all. Special diacritics are used to represent a single consonant or a single vowel.

There are several systems for writing Bengali and other Indo-Aryan languages with the Latin alphabet: It is important to distinguish between transliteration and transcription. Transliteration represents the written, whereas transcription represents the spoken language.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Bengali. Note use of vertical line to mark end of sentences.

Bengali scriptধারা ১: সমস্ত মানুষ স্বাধীনভাবে সমান মর্যাদা এবং অধিকার নিয়ে জন্মগ্রহণ করে। তাঁদের বিবেক এবং বুদ্ধি আছে; সুতরাং সকলেরই একে অপরের প্রতি ভ্রাতৃত্বসুলভ মনোভাব নিয়ে আচরণ করা উচিৎ।
Transliterationsamasta mānuṣa svādhīnabhābē samāna marẏādā ēbaṃ adhikāra niyē janmagrahaṇa karē. tṃādēra bibēka ēbaṃ buddhi ācē; sutarāṃ sakalēra-i ēkē aparēra prati bhrātṛtvasulabha manōbhāba niyē ācaraṇa karā ucit.
 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood


Did You Know?

Bengali words in English
English has borrowed a few words from Bengali . Below are two of them.

jute from Bengali jhuto ‘fiber plant’
bungalow from Hindi word for ‘house in the Bengal style’


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Bengali?
Bengali is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

6 Responses to Bengali

  1. abu sadat

    It’s very easy. It has taken 20 weeka only.
    i am fluent.

    • Irene Thompson

      What is your L1? How much time did you spend on studying Bengali? What do you mean “I am fluent”?

  2. Salina

    Your mode of xplaining everything in this article is actually nice, every one be capable of effortlessly be aware of it,
    Thanks a lot.

  3. Lucinda Hossain

    I’m quite confused, am I to believe that Bangla is the same as Bengali? Wow my husband will be surprised to find out this since he is from Bangladesh and speaks Bangla not Bengali.

    • Irene Thompson
    • S.K.Banerjee

      “Bengali” and “Bangla” are one and same. In fact, the undevided India (before its independence till 1947) was under British rule. The british called the languagge as “Bengali” (in their laguagge – English). The people of(or from) either Bangladesh or from India call the languagge as “Bangla”. The Bangla speaking population (with mother tounge Bangla) around the world is known as “Bangali”. – Swapan Kumar Banerjee, Kolkata, India


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