The Bengali script (Bengali: বাংলা লিপি Bangla lipi) is a variant of the Eastern Nagari script also used for Assamese and Bishnupriya Manipuri. The Eastern Nagari script belongs to the Brahmic family of scripts, along with the Devanagari script and other written systems of the Indian subcontinent. It is an abugida system of writing, although it is less blocky and presents a more sinuous shaping than Devanagari. Both Eastern Nagari and Devanagari were derived from the ancient Nagari script. The modern script was formalized in 1778 when it was first typeset by Charles Wilkins. In addition to differences in how the letters are pronounced in the different languages, there are some minor typographical differences between the version of the script used for Assamese and Bishnupriya Manipuri, and that used for Bengali and other languages. For example, the letter rô (Bengali র; Assamese ৰ; Bishnupriya Manipuri র/ৰ) and wô (Bengali not available; Assamese/Bishnupriya Manipuri ৱ) have distinct variations depending on the language being written.
The Bengali script was originally not associated with any particular language, but was prevalent as the main script in the eastern regions of Medieval India. The script was originally used to write Sanskrit, which for centuries was the only written language of the Indian subcontinent in addition to Tamil. Epics of Hindu scripture, including the Mahabharata or Ramayana, were written in older versions of the Bengali script in this region. After the medieval period, the use of Sanskrit as the sole written language gave way to Pali, and eventually the vernacular languages we know now as Bengali and Assamese. Srimanta Sankardeva used it in the 15th and 16th centuries to compose his oeuvre in Assamese and Brajavali the language of the Bhakti poets. It was also used by the later Ahom kings to write the Buranjis, the Ahom chronicles, in the Assamese language. There is a rich legacy of Indian literature written in this script, which is still occasionally used to write Sanskrit today.
Clusters of consonants are represented by different and sometimes quite irregular characters; thus, learning to read the script is complicated by the sheer size of the full set of characters and character combinations, numbering about 500. While efforts at standardizing the script for the Bengali language continue in such notable centers as the Bangla Academies (unaffiliated) at Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (West Bengal, India), it is still not quite uniform as yet, as many people continue to use various archaic forms of letters, resulting in concurrent forms for the same sounds. Among the various regional variations within this script, only the Assamese and Bengali variations exist today in the formalized system.
It seems likely that the standardization of the script will be greatly influenced by the need to typeset it on computers. The large alphabet can be represented, with a great deal of ingenuity, within the ASCII character set, omitting certain irregular conjuncts. Work has been underway since around 2001 to develop Unicode fonts, and it seems likely that it will split into two variants, traditional and modern.
The script presently has a total of 11 vowel letters, used to represent the seven main vowel sounds of Bengali, along with a number of vowel diphthongs. All of these are used in both Bengali and Assamese, the two main languages using the script. Some of the vowel letters have different sounds depending on the word, and a number of vowel distinctions preserved in the writing system are not pronounced as such in modern spoken Bengali or Assamese. For example, the Bengali script has two symbols for the vowel sound [i] and two symbols for the vowel sound [u]. This redundancy stems from the time when this script was used to write Sanskrit, a language that had a short [i] and a long [iː], and a short [u] and a long [uː]. These letters are preserved in the Bengali script with their traditional names of rhôshsho i (lit. 'short i') and dirgho i (lit. 'long i'), etc., despite the fact that they are no longer pronounced differently in ordinary speech.
Vowel signs can be used in conjunction with consonants to modify the pronunciation of the consonant (here exemplified by ক, kô). When no vowel is written, the vowel 'অ' (ô or o) is often assumed. To specifically denote the absence of a vowel, a hôshonto (্) may be written underneath the consonant.
This table reflects the modernized Bengali script system, which eliminates three of the traditional vowels, rii, li, and lii, traditionally placed between ri and e.
|Letter||Name of letter||Vowel sign with [kɔ] (ক)||Name of vowel sign||Transliteration||IPA|
|অ|| shôro ô |
|ক (none)||(none)||kô and ko|
|আ|| shôro a |
|ই|| rhôshsho i |
|কি|| rhôshsho ikar |
|ঈ||dirgho i||কী|| dirgho ikar |
|উ|| rhôshsho u |
|কু|| rhôshsho ukar |
|ঊ||dirgho u||কূ|| dirgho ukar |
|এ||e||কে||ekar||kê and ke|
|Symbol with [kɔ] (ক)||Name||Function||Transliteration||IPA|
|ক্||hôshonto||Suppresses the inherent vowel||k||/k/|
|কৎ||khônđo tô||Final unaspirated dental [t̪] (ত)||kôt||/kɔt̪/|
|কং||ônushshôr||Final velar nasal||kôņ||/kɔŋ/|
|কঃ||bishôrgo||Final voiceless breath||kôh||/kɔh/|
The names of the consonant letters in Bengali are typically just the consonant's main pronunciation plus the inherent vowel ô. Since the inherent vowel is assumed and not written, most letters' names look identical to the letter itself (e.g. the name of the letter ঘ is itself ঘ ghô). Some letters that have lost their distinctive pronunciation in Modern Bengali are called by a more elaborate name. For example, since the consonant phoneme /n/ can be written ন, ণ, or ঞ (depending on the spelling of the particular word), these letters are not simply called nô; instead, they are called দন্ত্য ন donto nô ("dental n"), মূর্ধন্য ণ murdhonno nô ("cerebral n"), and ঞীয়/ইঙ niô/ingô. Similarly, the phoneme /ʃ/ can be written as শ talobbo shô ("palatal s"), ষ murdhonno shô ("cerebral s"), or স donto shô ("dental s"), depending on the word. Since the consonant ঙ /ŋ/ cannot occur at the beginning of a word in Bengali, its name is not ঙ ngô but উঙ ungô (pronounced by some as উম umô or উঁঅ ũô). Similarly, since semivowels ([j], [w], [e̯], [o̯]) cannot occur at the beginning of a Bengali word, the name for "semi-vowel e̯" য় is not অন্তঃস্থ য় ôntostho e̯ô but অন্তঃস্থ অ ôntostho ô.
The "modern" Bengali alphabet eliminates some letters traditionally included in the table, particularly a second bo (ôntostho bô) that follows lo. This bo originally represented a v or w sound which merged with b (borgio bô) in Bengali and were represented with identical symbols occurring in two different places in the alphabet.
|Letter||Name of Letter||Transliteration||IPA|
|জ|| borgio jô |
|ণ|| murdhonno nô |
|ন|| donto nô |
|য|| ôntostho jô |
|র||(bôe shunno) rô||r||/ɾ/|
|শ|| talobbo shô |
|sh and s||/ʃ/ / /s/|
|ষ|| murdhonno shô |
(peţ kaţa shô)
|স|| donto shô |
|sh and s||/ʃ/ / /s/|
|য়|| ôntostho ô |
|e and -||/e̯/ /-|
|ড়||đôe shunno/bindu ŗô||ŗ||/ɽ/|
|ঢ়||đhôe shunno/bindu ŗô||ŗh||/ɽ/|
Often, consonant conjuncts are not actually pronounced as would be implied by the pronunciation of the individual components. For example, adding ল lô underneath শ shô in Bengali creates the conjunct শ্ল, which is not pronounced shlô but slô in Bengali. Many conjuncts represent Sanskrit sounds that were lost thousands of years before modern Bengali was ever spoken, as in জ্ঞ, which is a combination of জ jô and ঞ niô, but is not pronounced jnô. Instead, it is pronounced ggõ in Bengali. Thus, as conjuncts often represent (combinations of) sounds that cannot be easily understood from the components, the following descriptions are concerned only with the construction of the conjunct, and not the resulting pronunciation. Thus, a variant of the IAST romanization scheme is used instead of the phonemic romanization used in other articles:
Conjuncts of three consonants also exist, and follow the same rules as above. Examples include স sô + ত tô +র rô = স্ত্র strô, ম mô + প pô + র rô = ম্প্র mprô, ঙ ŋô + ক kô + ষ ṣô = ঙ্ক্ষ ŋkṣô, জ jô + জ jô + ৱ wô = জ্জ্ব jjwô, ক kô + ষ ṣô + ম mô = ক্ষ্ম kṣmô. Theoretically, four-consonant conjuncts can also be created, as in র rô + স sô + ট ṭô + র rô = র্স্ট্র rsṭrô, but these are not found in real words.
The Unicode range for Bengali is U+0980 ... U+09FF.
Bengali in Eastern Nagari script
Bengali in Romanization
Bengali in IPA
The following is a sample text of script, from the song Jana Gana Mana (জন গণ মন Jôno Gôno Mono). The selection is a Bengali song, written in Shadhubhasha (সাধুভাষা) style. The song was later adopted as the national anthem of India. It was written by a Rabindranath Tagore (রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর Robindronath Ṭhakur) who is acknowledged as the single most important and defining figure of Bengali literature.
জনগণমন-অধিনায়ক জয় হে ভারতভাগ্যবিধাতা!
পঞ্জাব সিন্ধু গুজরাট মরাঠা দ্রাবিড় উত্কল বঙ্গ
বিন্ধ্য হিমাচল যমুনা গঙ্গা উচ্ছলজলধিতরঙ্গ
তব শুভ নামে জাগে, তব শুভ আশিস মাগে,
গাহে তব জয়গাথা।
জনগণমঙ্গলদায়ক জয় হে ভারতভাগ্যবিধাতা!
জয় হে, জয় হে, জয় হে, জয় জয় জয়, জয় হে ॥
Jônogônomono-odhinaeoko jôeô he Bharotobhaggobidhata!
Pônjabo Shindhu Gujoraţo Môraţha Drabiŗo Utkôlo Bônggo,
Bindho Himachôlo Jomuna Gôngga Uchchhôlojôlodhitoronggo,
Tôbo shubho name jage, tôbo shubho ashish mage,
Gahe tôbo jôeogatha.
Jônogônomonggolodaeoko jôeô he Bharotobhaggobidhata!
Jôeo he, jôeo he, jôeo he, jôeo jôeo jôeo, jôeo he!
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