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A History of the Bengali Language


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A History of the Bengali Language

The Bengali language developed in the Indian region of Bengal, where it has been spoken since approximately the fifth century CE, and it’s believed to have originated beyond the influence of the Brahman society of the Aryans. However, historians aren’t entirely sure how this process came about, as there are conflicting theories regarding the exact origins of Bengali and its relationship to other Indo-Aryan languages, such as Marathi and Hindi. This article will explore some popular theories about how Bengali became one of India’s most widely spoken languages.

The history of the Bengali language
The first written records of Bengali are from 1476, though a few manuscripts from earlier periods survive. The earliest is a short manuscript entitled Charyapada, believed to have been composed in the 8th century.

Borrowings from Sanskrit
According to Shopen, there are also a large number of words borrowed from Sanskrit into Old Bengali. He states that despite often being mutually unintelligible with Middle Indo-Aryan languages, modern Assamese and Bengali retain most of the vocabulary of proto-Assamese-Bengali. These include dhana (grain), dhatu (element, parts), Guro (to dig), ghora (wild cow) and so on.

The earliest documents (6th–11th centuries)
Classical Bangla emerged in vernacular literature during the medieval period and was influenced by Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali (ancient Indian languages). The oldest records of written Bangla date from 1729. Between 1350 and 1800, some 25 collections of poetry were published, but only fragments remain from before 1600. Fewer than a dozen manuscripts are in circulation today.

Middle period (12th–17th centuries)
The language and its dialects continued to evolve and a community of poets in Muslim-ruled Bengal produced an abundance of devotional literature in Bangla. The Islamic influence that came with these Muslim invasions made many Hindus change their writing style, often steering it away from Sanskrit and other Indian languages like Hindi and Bhojpuri, which resulted in dialects for Bangla (Sauraseni). This literary period is known as Middle Bengali.

Late period (18th century to present)
The modern language came into being in 1798 with writings such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's Bishan Shatak. The languages that are spoken in different parts of Bangladesh today evolved from Magadhi Prakrit, a language that developed from Eastern Middle Indo-Aryan dialects.


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