Bengali

Language

The Bengali language is spoken by approximately 300 million people worldwide, and is the primary language of many individuals living the the Bengal region of the Eastern Indian subcontinent.

Phonology

The Bengali phonemic inventory contains 29 consonants and 14 vowels, including seven nasalized vowels. Aside from the 14 recognized vowel sounds, Bengali also contains numerous diphthongs.

Dialects

The dominant dialect of Bengali spoken in Bangladesh is called Standard Colloquial Bengali. The majority of Bengali speakers are able to communicate using both Standard Colloquial Bengali and one or more regional dialects. The various dialects of Bengali may be grouped into four large clusters: Rarh, Banga, Kamarupa, and Varendra. Rarh corresponds with Standard Colloquial Bengali. In general, the various dialects contrast with one another through differences in pronunciation of certain sounds (e.g., stops and affricates in West Bengal are pronounced as fricatives) or variations in tone.


Literacy

The Bengali alphabet is the writing system for the Bengali language. Like English, words are sequenced from left to right. Unlike English, vowels may not be written, but rather implied when none is written. In certain instances, diacritics may mark the presence of vowels. Most writing is in Standard Colloquial Bengali, although an older literary variation, called Shadhu-Bhasha, occasionally appears in formal documents or signs. 

The literacy rate among Bangladeshi males is 54%, compared to 41.4% for females. 

Bengali has been a literate language since its origin, having produced a rich collection of works from numerous, highly regarded authors, including Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Dinabandhu Mitra, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Sharat Chandra and Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyaya. Among the more well-known literary works of Bengal are the Charyapada, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Maimansingha Gitika, Thakurmar Jhuli, and stories related to Gopal Bhar.


Bengali in the United States

According to the U.S. Census of 2000, there are 143,619 speakers of Bengali within the U.S. Emigration from the region of Bengal occurs for two primary reasons. The first reason involves members of the minority (e.g., Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists) fleeing overt persecution or escaping an entrenched system in which they are made to feel like second-class citizens. The second reason for emigration involves the pursuit of economic opportunities or living space not available in the region of Bengal. Given the extreme population growth of India and Bangladesh, opportunities for economic advancement within the region of Bengal are often limited in comparison to nations like the United States or Great Britain.


Considerations for the SLP

Language considerations

  • English phonemes that do not exist in Bengali phonology include:
    •  Consonants: /v  ð  θ  ʒ  ɹ  h/
    • Vowels: /ɪ  ɛ  ə  ʌ  ʊ  ɑ/
  • Bengali phonemes that do not exist in English phonology include:
  • Consonants: /ɾ  ɖ  ʈ  ɦ/ as well as aspirated versions of all the stops and affricates (this is distinct from English, in which voiceless stops are aspirated, but this is considered an allophonic variation rather than a phonemic distinction).
  • Vowels: nasalized versions of all the vowels (this is distinct from English, in which certain coarticulatory effects may nasalize some vowels under particular conditions, but this is considered an allophonic variation rather than a phonemic distinction).
  • Bengali script generally has a one to one grapheme-phoneme correspondence. Hence, learning English orthography will require explicit teaching of the many instances where grapheme-phoneme correspondence is more complex.
  • Native Bengali words do not contain word-initial consonant clusters. Although many Sanskrit and English words with more complex phonotactics have been borrowed into Bengali, many native speakers continue to restrict their phonology to the CVC syllabic structure. For example, the English word “gram” (CCVC word shape) may be expected to undergo epenthesis, having the pronunciation modified to /gəɹæm/ (CVCVC word shape).
  • Word-final consonant clusters are rare in Bengali. English, in contrast, has many word-final consonant clusters, including important morphological markers that convey plurality, possession, and tense.
  • Bengali follows a subject-object-verb word order, as opposed to the subject-verb-object word order seen in English. For example, the English sentence “The boy chased the dog” would be expressed (roughly) as “The boy the dog chased.”
  • Bengali includes postpositions instead of the prepositions seen in English. For example, the English sentence “The cupboard is above the stove” would be expressed (roughly) “Above the cupboard the stove is.”