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Bengali BengaliPhoto: Aftabuzzaman CC3.0 Unported no changes made

The official language of Bangladesh, but also of the Indian state of West Bengal, is Bengali (also known as Bangla). Furthermore, there are also Bengali-speaking communities in the Indian states of Assam and Tripura and among immigrant populations in the west and the Middle East. With more than 200 million speakers, Bengali is in the top ten most spoken languages in the world. In addition, people in Bangladesh also speak English, Urdu and Hindi.

Bengali is the easternmost Indo-European language, with roots in Prakit, the most widely spoken form of Pali, the language used in the ancient scriptures of Theravada Buddhism.

Bengali is very similar to Hindi, with only some variation in pronunciation. The vocabulary was further expanded through contacts with European traders and merchants. The pronunciation of Bengali is complicated by the fact that it contains a number of subtle sounds that do not occur in Dutch or English.

Yet two distinct styles of Bengali can be discerned: "Sadhubhasa", "elegant" Bengali, and "Chaltibhasa", "common" Bengali. Chaltibhasa only developed during the 20th century and is based on the sophisticated pronunciation of the students around Calcutta in India. The differences between the two styles are very subtle, but they can be understood well. The vocabulary is roughly the same, although there are some differences in the pronunciation and conjugation of verbs.

Chaltibhasa was first widely used during the early years of the First World War. Today Chaltibhasa in the common language has been almost completely replaced by Sadhubhasa. Yet Chaltibhasa is still used in education. The difference between the two styles can be compared to Shakespearean, aristocratic English, and working-class English in England.

Some words and phrases, some of which are clearly influenced by English:


Beurden, J. van / Bangladesh : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur, milieu
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

Brace, S. / Bangladesh
Thomson Learning

McAdam, M. / Bangladesh
Lonely Planet

Whyte, M. / Bangladesh
Marshall Cavendish

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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