History and Origins of the Bengali Language

The Bengali language as such belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is an official language in the country of Bangladesh with about 100 million Bengali speakers. Statistics show that Bengali is spoken by about 210 million people around the world as their first or second language. It is also one of the languages India officially recognized as a language in the constitution of the country with 85 million people speaking it. Due to the large population using this language, it is situated among the top 10 spoken languages in the world, and the second one, after Hindi, in the Indian subcontinent.

In the US, statistics show that 257,740 people actively speak the Bengali language.

History of the Bengali Language

In the distant past, the Bengali language formed a single branch in the language family tree, along with the Oriya, and Assamese, after which the latter two separated as distinct languages. Some of the Bengali linguists who work on the history and etymology of the language claim that the origins of the language date back to the 10th century AD, when it derived from the Magahi Apabhramsha which was the written language back then, and the Magahi Prakrit which was its spoken counterpart.

However, there is another equally supported theory which suggests that the Bengali language emerged before that, in the 7th century AD, and was derived from Gauda instead, which was a written and spoken language at the time.

Connection to the Other Languages

The Bengali language is strongly interconnected to other languages in the Dravidian, the Austroasiatic, and the Tibeto-Burman families. It has influenced languages from these families, but also the Bengali’s vocabulary and some of its structural forms have been influenced by them. In the 1960s and 70s linguists have examined dictionaries and found out that slightly more than a half of its vocabulary consists of naturally modified Sanskrit words, corrupted forms of Sanskrit words, and loanwords from non-Indo-European languages which are all considered to be native words. Furthermore, about 45% are unmodified Sanskrit words, and the remaining of the words are foreign, mostly belonging to Persian.

The Written Language

Brahmi (an ancient Indian script) is the base of which the Bengali script is derived. After the appearance of the language in the 10th AD, the alphabet for the written language was completed by the 12th AD, with small moderations taking place up until the 16th and 19th century. When writing, Bengali is written from left to right without the use of capital letters. The script itself consists of upstrokes, downstrokes, conjuncts and other lines written from a horizontal line. All their punctuation marks are based on the 19th-century English.

It’s interesting to mention that due to the heavy use of the previously mentioned conjuncts, one mark can change the entire meaning of a single word. Namely, it can happen that one word is repeated several times throughout the sentence, but because of the different marks around the letters, that word doesn’t have the same meaning anymore. This of course often leads to confusions even to the native speakers.

ULS Services in Bengali

At United Language Services we work with a wide array of certified professional translators and interpreters that have mastered the Bengali language. So if you need translation, interpretation, localization, or transcription of the language, please do not hesitate to contact us.