With its rich history, distinct writing system, and global presence, the Bengali language holds a special place in the linguistic landscape. Bengali belongs to the Indo-Aryan language family, which is a branch of the larger Indo-European language family. Within the Indo-Aryan family, Bengali is classified as an Eastern Indo-Aryan language, sharing linguistic ties with languages like Assamese, Odia, and Maithili. This is why we have to consider Bengali speech and language development when working with young Bengali speakers in our schools.

Bengali, also known as Bangla, boasts a staggering number of speakers (300 million) making it one of the most widely spoken languages globally. The majority of these speakers reside in Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. However, the Bangladeshi diaspora led to Bengali speakers moving abroad, primarily seeking better economic conditions. That’s why in the United States, cities like New York and New Jersey are home to significant Bengali-speaking communities. Migration and family reunification have also played a key role in bringing Bengali speakers to America, as well as the pursuit of education.

Interesting Facts About Bengali Speech and Language Development

Did you know that we got the words “bungalow” and “dinghy” from Bengali? Bungalow is small house From ‘bangal’, the same root as ‘Bangladesh’. And dinghy of course means little boat.

Bengali employs its unique script, known as Bengali script or Bangla lipi, which is an abugida – a writing system in which characters represent consonant-vowel sequences. The script is cursive in nature, with a flowing and graceful appearance. It features a variety of diacritics to indicate vowel sounds, resulting in an elegant and intricate written form that complements the language’s cultural and artistic expressions.

Nobel Laureate Connection: Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali polymath, poet, and composer, was the first Asian to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. His contributions to Bengali literature and cultural enrichment are immeasurable.

Language Movement: The Bengali Language Movement in 1952 played a pivotal role in asserting the linguistic identity of the Bengali-speaking population in what was then East Pakistan, ultimately leading to the establishment of Bangladesh.

Bengali Speech and Language Development

Bengali Consonant Phonemes in Comparison to English

Bengali Consonants Not Shared with English/ʈ/ /ɖ/ /ɸ/ /β/ /ɦ/ /r/ /ɽ/
Consonants Shared With English/m/ /n/ /ŋ/ /p/ /t/ /k/ /tʃ/ /b/ /d/ /g/ /dʒ/ /s/ /ʃ/ /h/ /z/ /w//l/ /j/
English Consonants Not Shared with Bengali/ʒ/ /θ/ /ð/ /f/ /v/ /ɹ/

Bengali Vowel Phonemes in Comparison to English

Bengali Vowels Not Shared with English/ĩ/ /ũ/ /ẽ/ /õ/ /æ̃/ /ɔ̃//ã/
Vowels Shared With English/i/ /u/ /e/ /o/ /ɛ/ /ʌ//ɔ/ /æ/ /a/
English Vowels Not Shared with Bengali/ɪ/ /ə/ /ʊ/ /ɑ/

The Use of Phonotactic Constraints in Bengali Speakers

There are several specific speech patterns that are common form Bengali speakers who are speaking English.

  • Native Bengali words don’t contain word-initial consonant clusters. Many native speakers restrict their phonology to CVC syllable structure. 
  • Word-final consonant clusters are rare in Bengali. 
  • Voiceless stops may be aspirated
  • Voiced stops may be breathy
  • Vowels may be nasalized

Language Specific Differences Between English and Bengali

Bengali and English exhibit several differences due to their distinct linguistic origins. Notably, Bengali is a subject-object-verb (SOV) language, whereas English follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. This structural variation impacts sentence formation and word order. Additionally, grammatical features such as gender and verb conjugation differ between the two languages.

Sentence Word Order Subject-Object- Verb orderStrict Subject-Verb Object order
Adjectives/Noun modifiers Primarily Adjective-Noun order Determiners follow the nounAdjective-Noun order
Possessives Marked with -er at the end of the wordMarked with morpheme “‘s”
Possessive PronounsMy, our, your, his/her, their, itsMine, yours, his, hers
Verb inflection Highly inflected; inflected for person and honor2 present tense forms: I eat You eat He/She/It eats We eat They eat
Pronouns Exist; no negative pronouns present but there are possessive, nominative, and objective pronouns. Indefinite pronouns plus a negative particle are used to create negative pronouns.Exist
Pronoun Gender Pronouns aren’t differentiated; the same pronoun might be used for he and sheHe, She, It
Subject of Sentence Subject stated specifically or with pronouns in each sentence.
Regular Past Tense Exist; endings are -lam, -li, -lo, and -lenOne form (-ed)
Irregular Past Tense Exist
Negatives The equivalent of “not” is used to negate“not” follows the copula, precedes any other verb
Double negatives Not allowed
Question formationFor Yes-no questions: no change to the word order. Use a falling tone for the final syllable in the utterance Wh- questions: move the wh- word to the beginningWord order inversion or addition of “do”
Definite Articles Exist; -ţa (টা, for singular nouns) or -gulo (গুলো, for plural nouns)the  
Indefinite Articles Exista, an
Prepositions Use postpositions (occur after their object)  instead of prepositions Use prepositions (occur before their object)
Present Progressive Verb Form ExistsExists
Modal Verbs Exist (I may be late).
Copula/”To Be” VerbZero copula langauge; simple present tense: no verb connects the predicative but an incomplete verb (ach) is used; past tense: an incomplete verb is used as the copula; future tense: copula is the verb (howa).  Used with nouns and adjectives (I am a boy.  I am hungry.)
Auxiliary Verbs ExistExist
Passive Voice Add a conjugated suffix to the end of the verbObject precedes the verb and stating the subject is optional (His hair was cut by the woman)
Direct Object Pronouns Use objective case 
Conjunctions Conjoins ideas with a conjunction word (and, but, or)
Plurals Add (-gulo, -guli, ra, bohu, kichhu, koyek) to create pluralsAdd “s” and some irregular plurals (children)


Bengali and English Contrastive Analysis

Bengali grammar. (n.d.). In Wikipedia.

Bengali language. (2023, May 31). In Wikipedia.

Native Phonetic Inventory: english. (n.d.). Speech Accent Archive. Retrieved June, 2, 2023

Native Phonetic Inventory: bengali. (n.d.). Speech Accent Archive. Retrieved June 2, 2023

Contributing Researchers:

A special thanks to Abby Onnen and Kelly Stiles with Truman State University for data compilation and research that went into this article!

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