Bengali (Bangla)

Bangla (also known as Bengali) is spoken in Bangladesh and in part of India, primarily in the state of West Bengal. With over 250 million speakers, it ranks among the top ten of world languages. The standard colloquial language spoken and written by educated Bengalis is termed pramita, "standard," Bangla. West Bengal and East Bengal dialects, for the most part, are mutually intelligible. However, there are a few dialects, for example, those of Sylhet and Chittagong in Bangladesh, which would not be understood by speakers of the standard language.

The history of Bangla and its literature is divided into three periods: old Bangla (c 1000-1350 AD), middle Bangla (1350-1800) and modern Bangla (1800-present). Bangla has a rich literature, dating back to 1000 AD, and the prime example from the period is the celebrated manuscript of Buddhist songs, the Caryapada or Caryagiti, which was discovered in Nepal in 1907. A vast body of literature from the middle period exists, devoted to both Hindu and Muslim themes. In the 19th century, the Bengali Renaissance produced many great modern Bengali writers, centered in Kolkata, then the colonial capital. The best-known figure is Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. There is a literary form of Bangla called sadhu bhasa, "refined language." Although literature today is no longer written in sadhu bhasa, it continues to be employed for official documents in Bangladesh. Bengalis take great pride in their language and literature. The struggle for independence of Bangladesh may be traced to the Language Movement (bhasa andolan), and the most significant date for the movement is February 21, 1952. UNESCO has declared February 21 as the International Mother Language Day to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

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C. Diamond
Graduate Student in South Asian Languages and Literature, Teaching Assistant in South Asian
Michiko Urita
Teaching Assistant in Japanese