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Bengali language

Bengali is the language spoken by almost all the population of Bangladesh, and the neighboring Indian state of West Bengal. There are also significant Bengali-speaking communities in Assam (another Indian state also neighboring Bangladesh), and in immigrant populations in the West and the Middle East.

Bengali is an English word meaning both the language and the people speaking the language; in Bengali the language is called Bangla and the people are called Bangali. The traditional area of habitation of Bengali peoples is called Bengal in English and Bongo in Bengali. The region is now broken into two fragments, the western part (West Bengal or Poshchim-Bongo) being a state in India and the eastern part (Bangladesh or East Bengal or PurboBongo) being an independent country.

West Bengal has traditionally been the center of development of Bengali literature and high culture, and still leads Bangladesh in the amount of written literature produced.

During the period 1947-1971, when Eastern Bengal (present-day Bangladesh) was a colony of Pakistan, the Bengali language became the focus and foundation of the national identity of the people of East Bengal, leading ultimately to the creation of the sovereign state of Bangladesh. Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh, administrative and official work in Bangladesh is carried out in Bengali.

Around 1950-52, the emerging middle classes of East Bengal underwent an uprising known later as the "Language Movement", and 21st February is celebrated as the "Language Martyrs' Day", in memory of students and activists who (on 21st February, 1952) walked into military fire in demand of the Bengali language being honored as a national language of erstwhile Pakistan. Bengali is thus arguably the only language for which people have sacrificed their lives.

One of the greatest authors in bengali language is nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

The language is written using a set of symbols which may be unfamiliar and, at first, confusing, to western eyes. The symbols are sanskritic in nature, the script used to print Bengali is called Devanagari.

It is not practical to reproduce the symbols here (I can't upload images and unicode is not yet universal), but the script may be seen in action at places like CalcuttaWeb (http://www.calcuttaweb.com).

In languages such as French, words have gender. One must remember the gender associated with each word.

In Bengali, certain sounds have merged, but remain distinct in the written form, and one must remember which to use (e.g. the i sound, pronounced as in 'see')

Also, the way that letters are written is affected by the neighbouring letters.

A good book to learn Bengali from is 'teach yourself Bengali' by William Radice. It is essential to get the tape, and very useful to have a native speaker to help you.

To hear the language, one could do a lot worse than obtaining some DVDs in Bengali. These are harder to come by than Hindi DVDs, but should be worth the effort. The internationally acclaimed director Satyajit Ray is having his back catalogue released as of the start of 2003, starting with 'The Apu Trilogy'.

Utsab (trans: the festival) is another Bengali film. A good source for these in the UK is play.com (http://www.play.com), note that the 'search by language' is not too reliable as of March '03. Amazon do sometimes stock Satyajit Ray films, and there are several overseas sources.

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