Bengali vocabulary

Bengali vocabulary

The origins of words in the Bengali vocabulary are numerous and diverse, due to centuries of contact with various languages.

Linguistic classification

Bengali (বাংলা Bangla) is one of the Magadhan languages, which form the eastern group of the Indic branch of the Indo-European language family. The core of Bengali vocabulary is thus etymologically Indo-European. However, centuries of borrowing has led to the adoption of a wide range of words with foreign origins.

Classifications of origin types

The typical Bengali dictionary lists 75,000 separate words, of which 50,000 (67%) are considered তৎসম tôtshômo (words directly reborrowed from Sanskrit), 21,100 (28%) are তদ্ভব tôdbhôbo (native Bengali vocabulary with Sanskrit cognates), and the rest being বিদেশী bideshi (foreign) and deshi (indigenous Austroasiatic) borrowings.

However, these figures do not take into account the fact that a huge chunk of these words are archaic or highly technical, minimizing their actual usage. The productive vocabulary used in modern literary works, in fact, is made up mostly (67%) of native tôdbhôbo words, while tôtshômo reborrowings only make up 25% of the total. Deshi and bideshi borrowings together make up the remaining 8% of the vocabulary used in modern Bengali literature.

Examples of borrowed words

Due to centuries of contact with Europeans, Mughals, Arabs, Persians, and East Asians, Bengali has absorbed countless words from foreign languages, often totally integrating these borrowings into the core vocabulary. The most common borrowings from foreign languages come from three different kinds of contact. Close contact with neighboring peoples facilitated the borrowing of words from Hindi, Assamese, Chinese, Burmese, and several indigenous Austroasiatic languages of Bengal. After centuries of invasions from Persia and the Middle East, particularly under the Mughal Empire, numerous Turkish, Arabic, and Persian words were absorbed and fully integrated into the lexicon. Later, European colonialism brought words from Portuguese, French, Dutch, and most significantly English. Some very common borrowings are shown below.

Borrowings from neighboring languages

Austroasiatic languages (দেশী Deshi)

Word Meaning
আলু alu potato
কালা kala deaf
কুড়ি kuŗi twenty
খুকি khuki girl
খোকা khoka boy
খোঁচা khõcha stab
খোঁজ khõj notice
চাল chal / চাউল chaul rice grains
চিংড়ি chingŗi shrimp
চুলা chula oven, stove
ঝিনুক jhinuk shell
ঝোল jhol gravy
ঠ্যাং ţhêng leg
ঢোল đhol dhol
পেট peţ belly
বোবা boba mute
মাঠ maţh field, open land
মুড়ি muŗi puffed rice

Hindi (হিন্দি)

Word Meaning Original form
আচ্ছা achchha okay अच्छा achchhā
চাচা chacha father's brother चाचा chāchā
চাহিদা chahida demand चाहिदा chāhidā
কাহিনী kahini story कहानी kahānī
পছন্দ pôchhondo / pôsondo like, appreciate पसंद pasand
ফালতু faltu useless

Chinese (চীনা China)

Word Meaning Original form
চা cha tea chá
চিনি chini sugar
লিচু lichu lychee 茘枝 lìzhī
এলাচি elachi cardamom

Burmese (বর্মী Bormi)

লুঙ্গি lunggi "lungi"

Borrowings from the Mughal era

Arabic (আরবি Arbi)

Word Meaning Original form
আক্কেল akkel wisdom عقل ‘aql
আলাদা alada separate
আসল ashol real أصل ’aṣl "root"
এলাকা elaka area أﻻﻛﺔ ilākah
ওজন ojon weight وزن wazn "scale"
কবর kôbor grave قبر‎ qubr
খবর khôbor news خبر khabar
খালি khali empty خالي khālī
খেয়াল khêal consideration
গরিব gorib poor غريب gharīb "strange"
জবাব jôbab / জওয়াব jôoab answer جواب jawāb
জমা jôma collect جمع jam‘
জিনিস jinish thing جنس jins "type, sex"
তারিখ tarikh date تاريخ tārīkh "history, date"
দুনিয়া dunia world دﻧﯿﺔ dunyah
নকল nôkol fake نقل naql
ফকির fokir poor person فقير faqīr
বই boi book
বদল bôdol exchange بدل badl
বাকী baki remaining بقي baqīy
মশলা môshola spice
সাহেব shaheb sir صاحب ṣāḥib "friend"
হিসাব hishab / হিসেব hisheb calculation حساب ḥisāb

Persian (ফার্সি Farsi)

Word Meaning Original form
আওয়াজ aoaz / aoaj sound âvâz
আন্দাজ andaz / andaj guess
আয়না aena mirror ايينه âyneh
আরাম aram comfort
আস্তে aste slowly, softly اهسته ahisteh "slowly"
কাগজ kagoj paper كاغذ kâghaz
খারাপ kharap bad xarâb
খুব khub very خوب xub "good"
গরম gôrom hot گرم garm
চশমা chôshma glasses چشم chashm "eye"
চাকরি chakri job
চাদর chador blanket چادر châdor
জান jan dear جان jân
জায়গা jaega place جايگاه jâegâh
ডেগচি đegchi pot ديگچه degcheh
দম dôm breath دم dam
দেরি deri late دير der
দোকান dokan store دكان dokân
পর্দা pôrda curtain پرده pardeh
বদ bôd bad بد bad
বাগান bagan garden باغان bâghân
বাচ্চা bachcha child بچه bachcheh
মজা môja fun
রাস্তা rasta road
রোজ roj everyday روز ruz "day"
শস্তা shôsta inexpensive
হিন্দু hindu Hindu هند hind "Sindh", "India"

Turkish (তুর্কি Turki)

Word Meaning Original form
উর্দু urdu Urdu ordu "army"
কাঁচি kãchi scissors
কোরমা korma korma
চকমক chôkmôk sparkle çakmak "flash"
দাদা dada paternal grandfather dede
নানী nani maternal grandmother nine
বাবা baba father baba
বাবুর্চি baburchi cook, chef
বেগম begom lady begüm
লাশ lash corpse

Borrowings from the Colonial Era

Dutch (ওলন্দাজ Olondaj)

The few borrowings from Dutch remaining in Bengali mostly involve card games.

Word Meaning Original form
ইস্কাবন ishkabôn / ইশকাপন ishkapôn spades schoppen
ইস্ক্রুপ ishkrup screw schroef
টেক্কা ţêkka ace
তুরুপ turup trump troef
রুইতন ruitôn diamonds ruiten (lit. "windows")
হরতন hôrtôn hearts harten

Portuguese (পর্তুগিজ Portugij)

Portuguese borrowings mostly describe household items, fruits, and religious concepts dealing with Catholicism:

Household

Word Meaning Original form
আলমারি almari closet, cupboard armário
ইস্ত্রি istri / ইস্তিরি istiri to iron estirar
ইস্পাত ishpat steel espada "sword"
কামিজ kamiz / kamij shirt camisa
গামলা gamla basket gamela "wooden trough"
চাবি chabi key chave
জানালা janala / জানলা janla window janela
তাবাক tamak tobacco tabaco
তোয়ালিয়া toalia / তোয়ালে toale towel toalha
পেরেক perek nail prego
ফিতা fita / ফিতে phite lace, ribbon fita
বারান্দা baranda verandah varanda
বালতি balti pail balde
বেহালা behala viola viola
বোতাম botam button botão
মেজ mez / mej table mesa
সাবান shaban soap sabão

Food

Word Meaning Original form
আতা ata custard apple ata
আনারস anarôsh pineapple ananás
কাজু kaju cashew caju
কপি kopi cabbage, cauliflower couve
পাউ pau sliced bread pão "bread"
পেঁপে pẽpe papaya papaia
পেয়ারা peara guava pera "pear"
সাগু shagu sago sagu
সালাদ salad salad salada

Religion

Word Meaning Original form
ক্রুশ krush cross cruz
গির্জা girja church igreja
যিশু Jishu Jesus Jesu
পাদ্রি padri Catholic priest padre

Other

Word Meaning Original form
ইংরেজ ingrej English inglês

French (ফরাসি Fôrashi)

Only a handful of French borrowings are still used in Bengali today.

Word Meaning Original form
আঁশ ãsh plant fiber
ওলন্দাজ olondaj Dutch hollandaise
কার্তুজ kartuj cartridge cartouche
রেস্তোরাঁ restorã restaurant restaurant
শেমিজ shemiz chemise chemise "shirt"

English (ইংরেজি Ingreji)

Most borrowed words of European origin in Bengali were imported through English and involve civic and household concepts:

Civic Life

Word Original form
আপিস apish / অফিস ôfish office
জেল jel jail
ডাক্তার đaktar doctor
পুলিশ pulish police
ব্যাংক bêngk bank
ভোট bhoţ vote
ইস্কুল iskul / স্কুল skul school
হাস্পাতাল hashpatal hospital

Household

Word Original form
কাপ kap cup
গ্লাস glash glass
চেয়ার chear chair
টেবিল ţebil table
বাক্স baksho box
লণ্ঠন lônţhôn lantern

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