Bangladesh Day 6: Hearing Bengali in Dhaka and Noakhali

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We got up early Saturday to take a local bus from Dhaka to Noakhali District, best known to Indians as the site of Muslim-Hindu religious violence sixty years ago. We arrived in about 4 hours, and were met by our online friend Masud, who took us to a local guesthouse, and then to meet members of his NGO, PRAN, where we spent the rest of the day interviewing, sharing, and chatting about climate issues (more on this elsewhere).

One of the things we noticed while talking to PRAN staff, utterly unrelated to the content of our conversation, is how well they spoke Bengali. They weren't alone. Bangladeshis generally seem to speak excellent Bengali, unlike many West Bengalis, who frequently produce Bengali peppered with (and sometimes replaced by) English or Hindi, presumably from osmosis living in a tremendously linguistically-diverse part of the world.

People of a certain class in West Bengal seem to speak "Benglish" more than they do Bengali. I've never heard Bangladeshis say things like "আমরা feel করছি" -- incorporating English words into even very simple Bengali speech, something not at all unknown in West Bengal. I'm not at all against incorporating foreign expressions and vocabulary into one's language; but after hearing such lovely Bengali in Bangladesh, the contrast makes clear to me that what I hear on the other side of the border is more of a linguistic hybrid than I'd ever realized.

I'd assumed the biggest linguistic difference between West Bengal and Bangladesh would be different regional accents and terms. I was even listening to Bangladeshi podcasts, to acclimate myself to the accent. But understanding the accent's been a breeze, compared to understanding the larger spoken vocabulary; I should have been listening to podcasts for the vocabulary, not accent. I'm surprised that "they" speak our language much better than "us," in spite of all the pride West Bengalis take in their love of the language (and the occasional jibes at the Bangladeshi accent). It's nice to have one's assumptions questioned.

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3 Comments

Dude, u r dumb! It was not mus-hin religious violence. it was jihadi genocide of bengalee hindoos.

If you follow the link labeled "Muslim-Hindu religious violence sixty years ago" you'll see that it links to the "Noakhali genocide" Wikipedia article, which describes the attacks on Bengali Hindus in great detail.

You said: "I'm surprised that "they" speak our language much better than "us,""

It's "their" language too. West Bengalis and Bangladeshis are both Bengalis, separated only by religious differences.

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