Language, Dialect, History & Culture |

Language, Dialect, History & Culture

Language and culture also share an undeniable relationship which is so intertwined that it is next to impossible to separate the two. This inseparable connection is both explicit and implicit, and it has been viewed from different perspectives, especially from the perspective of a dialectical relationship

    24 October, 2017 12:00 AM printer

Language, Dialect, History & Culture

Protiva Rani Karmaker

Language has a significant role in the identification of a speaker’s behavioural pattern, traditions, culture, and society. Since language is the recollection of human thoughts generated in a particular culture within a particular period of time, it upholds the nature of that culture—a culture that typically forms over an extended period of time.

There are a large number of Bangla dialects that depict the cultural, historical and linguistic pattern of a particular social class. According to

Linguistics, dialect refers to a variety of a language that is characteristic of a particular region as well as social class. Dialect as a regionally or socially distinctive variety of language, identified by a particular set of words or grammatical structure, sometimes separates particular groups of people sharing the same national identity from one another. This paper focuses mainly on the reasons of dialectical variations of Bengali from historical and cultural perspectives.

Dialects vary by geographical location. The east-regional dialects include the languages of Dhaka, Mymensingh, Srihall, Kasar, Tipura, Sandip, Faridpur, Khulna and Jessore. The south-regional dialects are found in the languages of Chittagong, Hatia, Noakhali, Ramganj, Chittagong Hill Tracts, etc. In Chittagong Hill Tracts, there are lots of indigenous languages that are also considered as dialects. All the languages are more or less related to other languages of the world. If we study these languages from a historical perspective, we will notice the traits of European languages are prevalent in the languages of Chakma, Hajong, Barman, Ora, Malo, Sing, and Mahota. The Austro-Asiatic languages are Shaotal, Khasi, Munda, Kharia and Kol. They are mainly spoken in the northern and Sylhet regions. The Kurukh language of northern Bangladesh and Tibeto Burman languages of Patra, Tripura, Garo, Marma, Khiang, Monipuri, Lucia, Pangkhua, Khumi, etc., are spoken amongst the inhabitants of different places in Mymensingh, Tangail, Sherpur, Netrokona, Sylhet, Shunamganj, Moulouvibazar,Cox’sBazar, Patuakhali,and in some other hill areas of Chittagong. Due to the socioeconomic status of the speakers, some indigenous languages are endangered. Moreover, most of the language speakers do not have their own written vernacular. A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect, a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect or topolect. The regional variation in spoken Bengali constitutes a dialect continuum. Linguist Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji grouped these dialects into four clusters: Radh, Banga, Kamarupa and Varendra. Many other alternative grouping schemes have also been proposed. Amongst all these, Bengali is the dominant dialect group in Bangladesh. G.A. Grierson proposed two groups of Bengali dialect: ‘East’ and ‘West’. Like other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali arose from the eastern Middle Indic languages of the Indian subcontinent. Though Bangla (Bengali) has a complex geographical inheritance, speakers of Bangla tend to oversimplify the geographical differentiation in terms of a dichotomy of Easterner or Bengali versus Westerner or Ghoti.

1. Old Bengali (900/1000-1400CE)

The major text in this period includes Charyapada.  Devotional songs, the emergence of pronouns, “ami”, “tumi”, etc., are noticed in old Bengali language. Oriya and Assamese branch out in this period due to historical separation.

2. Middle Bengali (1400-1800 CE)

The first structural work of Bengali dialects was done by the Portuguese priest Manuel da Assumpção. While he preached his religion in the region of Vaol at Dhaka, he learnt the dialect of that place. During this time, we get several dialects in literary works like Chandidas’s Srikrishnakirtan, a major text of this period. We also find the introduction of “Alali” language in Alaler Gharer Dulal by Peary Chand Mitra. Through this book, one can discover the hidden beauty of its dialect. In the writing of Kali Prasanna Singha, particularly in Hutom Pyanchar Naksha, we find lots of words bearing dialectical variation. The internal respect felt by the writers of that time for the regional languages was apparent in their writings.

3. New Bengali (Since 1800CE)

New Bengali dialects emerge prominently in writings such as Hazar Bachar er Purono Bangla Vashar Boudho Gan and Dhoha by Bangiya Sahitya Parishat. In the same year, we find F.E. Pargiter’s Vocabulary of Peculiar Vernacular Bengali Words, an enriched collection of dialects. Much before Pargiter’s book, we find Grierson’s The Linguistic Survey of India and and later Suniti Kumar’s collection. In very recent times, there is another book by Dr. Muhammed Shahidhullah in which he defines dialect into five types: 1. Rari, 2. Bangali, 3. Barendri, 4. Kamrupi, and 5. Jarkhandi. There are sociological factors behind dialectical variations.

Partition played an important role in creating dialectical variation. After Partition, some people from Sylhet migrated to Assam and started adapting to Assamese language.  After Liberation, some people from Dhaka migrated to Kolkata. In spite of regional variation, cultural bonds prompted the mixed communities to adopt a shared dialect.

Language and culture also share an undeniable relationship which is so intertwined that it is next to impossible to separate the two. This inseparable connection is both explicit and implicit, and it has been viewed from different perspectives, especially from the perspective of a dialectical relationship.

Culture has mostly been understood as the way of life of a social group-the group’s total man-made environment, including all the material and nonmaterial products of group life like knowledge, set of beliefs, art, morals, laws, customs, values, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society—and they are transmitted from one generation to the next through the universal appeal of language. It has been suggested that language cannot exist without culture because language is the expression of a particular culture—they exist as parallels (Sapir, 1949).The underlying idea is that languages spread across cultures and cultures spread across languages (Risager,2003).The inherent link between language and culture becomes particularly evident when we consider dialectical variation. A dialect is not merely a dialect; it reflects our, emotion, believes, culture. For example, due to cultural differences, the languages of Dhaka and Kolkata differ. Here long-practiced lifestyle and social practice influences variations. Sometimes, the same word has a different meaning in different regions of Bangladesh .For example, the word ‰mj&is cyÎ (son) in Pabna, whereas in Sylhet, the same word means ‘cvwbi f~Z‘ (ghost of water), in Noakhali ‘Qjbv‘ (deception), etc. To indicate the manly or cowardly nature of a person, Bangla language uses words like mycyiæl, Kvcyiæl, bcyskK, bvgi`, ˆ¯¿b, †cŠiæl, cyiælZ¡nxbZv,etc. On the other hand, women are identified as my‡Kkx, my`šÍx, mynvwmbx, mybqbv, wbZw¤^bx, cwÙbx, n¯Íxwb, Qjbvgqx,etc. These words originated from culture. The Goddess Durga takes separate names such as `~M©v, cveZx©, Abœc~Y©v, PÛx, Kvwj, †MŠix, mZx, `yM©Zxbvwkbx, `kf~Rv, wÎbqbx, ÎvYKZx© (wkï wek¦‡Kvl, 257, 3q LÐ), wmsnevwnbx, gwnlgw`©bx, kvi`xqv . Moreover, in colloquial Bangla we have words like †L‡q‡`‡q, D‡V c‡o, †U‡bUz‡b where the second part is used to put emphasis on the first part. Though it may seem redundant to us, it represents the user’s culture. Culture is responsible here both for the seemingly unnecessary range of words and the redundancy within other words. Language used in the societies reflects the values shared by its people making culture a key component in language.

In conclusion, we can say that dialectal variation is not due to a single reason. Our history, cultural patterns, linguistics theory, changes in lifestyle, particular vernaculars, and geographical location are significant reasons for dialectical variation. All in all, establishing a distinct identity is one of the prominent causes of dialectical variation.

The writer is Associate Professor and Director, Institute of Modern Languages (IML) at Jagannath University, Dhaka. Her email address is

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