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Bangla Language & Script:



Linguistic History: Bengali along with two other cognate languages, Assamese and Oriya, as well as Magadhi, Maithili and Bhojpuri in south-east zone forms a linguistic group. Their immediate source can be traced back to the Magadhi Prakrit or Eastern Prakrit which was brought to this area from Magadh (or Bihar) and the language of Gauda-Banga with other eastern languages developed from this through Magadh Apabhramsa, Genetically Bengali is derived from Indo-Aryan (IA) or the Indic sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European (IE) family of languages.

The literary documents of IA language in Indian Peninsula can be classified into three periods according to their linguistic changes. (i) Old Indo-Aryan (OIA) (1500 BC/1200 BC - 600 BC) (ii) Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) (600 BC -1000 AD) (iii) New Indo-Aryan (NIA) (1000 AD - Present Time)

All these three have some substages. Bengali belongs to the NIA which was broadly derived from MIA. But there are also some written documents like Donha of Tantric Buddhists, Nathists, Saivaties or Jainas which can be traced as a transitional phase form MIA to NIA which is mentioned as Avahattha (avahattha) or Proto New Indo Aryan.

The inadequacy of written documents of immediate Pre-Bengali period is one of the most important limi-tations to find out the gradual change from Apabhramsa, Avahattha to the historic period of Bengali (16th century AD). There is no document of Magadhi Apabhramsa except a small inscription. The Avahattha literature are also not sufficient. The earliest literary record in Bengali is the Caryacaryaviniscaya. Till the 16th century, all the documents are copies of the original with varying degrees of correctness. After the 16th Century AD, the documents have more or less survived till today. On the basis of these documents, Bengali has three distinct periods:

                 1. Old Bengali: AD 950/1000 - AD 1200/1350

                 2. Middle Bengali: AD 1350 - AD 1800

                               (i) Early Middle Bengali AD 1350 - AD 1450/1600

                              (ii) Late Middle Bengali AD 1600 - AD 1800

                3. Modern Bengali: AD 1800 - today.



Style: Almost all early literary documents before 1800 AD are in poetry. A type of prose is available in personal letters, property deeds and other official documents, which are not so much remarkable for the study of prose style. Prose as a literary medium of compositions, emerged only in AD 1800.

        In this language difference between spoken and written style is a known fact to scholars. In spite of poetic form of early Bengali literature the degree of difference between these two was not so high. Just before nineteenth century, a gap was found which has produced the present sadhu (stand-ard or chaste) and calit (colloquial) dialects.

       Major difference in sadhu and calit Bengali is in the pronominal forms, finite and nonfinite verb, indiclinables and adverbs, use of tatsama (Sanskrit) words, formation of compounds, word orders etc. When two styles are mixed, special mistake appears which is known as guru-candali error. Such error should be avoided by writers. However, modern writing style is in Chalit form and Guru-Chandali form rarely occurs.



Bengali Dialect: Proper investigation of the dialect study has not been done systematically till today. According to some of the received features, the following dialects have been distin-guished.

                1. Radhi: in Central West Bengal

                2. Jhadkhandi: in South-west of West Bengal

                3. Bangali: in South-east West Bengal

                4. Varendri: in North Bengal of West Bengal

                5. Kamrupi: in North-East Bengal of West Bengal

But the Language Division of the Census Depart-ment has given the list of dialects based on linguistics ie. descriptions covering the entire eastern region of the sub-continent, with emphasis on West Bengal.

Main Divisions:

A. In Bangladesh:

     1. Northern Bengali

     2. Eastern Bengali

     3. North-eastern Bengali

B. In West Bengal:

     4.West Bengal

     5. South West Bengal

For West Bengal, the division is:

     (a) East-Central (Presidency Division)

     (b) West-Central (24 Paraganas, Hooghly, Bardhaman, and East Bankura districts)

     (c) North-Central (Murshidabad, Nadia and Malda districts)

     (d) East-South-Western (Medinipur district)

     (e) West-South-Western (West Bankura and old Manbhum districts)



Bengali Script: The word script/alphabet (lipi in Bengali) came from the Sanskrit lip meaning 'to plaster' or 'to apply'. In ancient India, writings were normally done by scribing on palm leaves with a stylus and then applying ink on it. The word lipi probably originated from this method of applying layers of ink on leaves.

The aim of the historians of script has so far been to minutely follow the gradual modification of the letter forms in the course of time and to discuss in the epigraphic records, a curious species of palaeographic chronometer for dating otherwise un-datable inscriptions. Studies in Bengali palaeography made by R.D. Banerji and D.N. Chakravarty reveal the same tendecy of using the mor-phology of script as a tool for history.

Till recently, early scholars are of the opinion that the art of writing in India dates back to the period of Asoka (3rd century BC), when inscriptions were engraved in two different scripts, which are known as Brahmi and Kharoshti. These are mainly of Sumerian origin. The recent discovery of a number of seals bearing inscriptions in an unknown script, however, has brought to light that the art of writing in India is as old as the third or fourth millennium BC to which these inscriptions are referred to, on the basis of their similarity with the Sumerian.

The dominant characteristics of the Brahmi are the following:

         a) The Brahmi script is written from left to right.

         b) The modern Indian scripts have evolved from the Brah-mi script.

         c) The Brahmi script is also the progenitor of many extra-Indian scripts which are in use at present and others which had fallen out of use.

The Kharoshti script was prevalent in India from the third century BC to third century AD, and outside India, in Central Asia, for a few more centuries. It did not give rise to any other script.

Bengal is an Aryan-speaking area in the second or third millennium BC, a fact not supported by literary or epigraphic evidences. The Aitareya Brahmana and the Aitareya Aryanyaka clearly reveal that the non-Aryan Pundaras (pundara) of North Bengal and the Vangas (vangd) of eastern Bengal came into con-tact with the Aryans, probably in the seventh century BC.Epigraphic evidence furnished by the Mahdsthana record of North Bengal (300 BC) and the Silua (Noakhali district) image inscriptions of eastern Bengal (200 BC) shows that the Pundaras and the Vangas were Aryanised in language and script, sometime before the third century BC.

Bengali script has been derived from the eastern variety of Brahmi script, known as Kutilalipi which took a distinctive form around the 7th century. The script evolved over the centuries, acquired the cursive form.

The evolution of the Bengali script with the ad-vent of printing technology in Bengal gives an interes-ting picture. The first Bengali scripts (movable type) were used in the printing of Nathaniel Brassey (N. B.) Halhed's book, 'A Grammar of the Bengal Language' (1778). In the year 1785, Warren Hastings requested another civilian, Charles Wilkins to cut punches for Bengali printing characters. Wilkins is 'the father of movable type in Bengali'. He also taught Panchanan Karmakar, a renowned artist in Bengal, the technique of cutting punches for printing characters. Karmakar and his family subsequently became famous in the light of this sart-evolution in Bengali printing technology. Besides Karmakar, Shepherd was another assistant of Wilkins in this exercise (cf. Printing). The ultimately became more angular with sharper turns and edges.

The movable types, first developed in Korea, were introduced into Bengal from Europe, where it evolved independently. The movable continued in the Bengali printing industry for a long time. The Linotype technique, invented by Morgan' 1886, was introduced into Bengali printing in 1935, by the efforts of Suresh Chandra Majumdar, Rajsekhar Basu and Sushil Kumar Bhattacharya. Within a few years the more advanced monotype technology came to be used Bengali printing.

A significant contribution to Bengali industry was made by Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, duced a new arrangement of letters, keeping in view the convenience of the compositors. This come to be known as Vidyasagar sart.

Half body letters were used in Bengali printing to form compound characters. The system required more than 500 different types to form the complete Bengali character set. To help the typographers to realise the problem of anarchy that exists in the field of Bengali code of signs, Pabitra Sarkar classified them into three categories.

      1. Transparent characters,

      2. Semi-transparent characters and

      3. Opaque characters

The Bengali hand-made typing shows a curious pat-tern. Initially, more than five hundred typing letters were required in each font, but the number had been gradually reduced. Even today, the existing Bengali code of signs in the foundry type consists of 448 to 536 characters. Lino-type provides for 292 characters of which 260 are good enough for the ordinary job. Monotype composition provides for 319 characters. In this the reformed script was made use of. With the advent of photo-typesetting, more number of opaque letters were introduced and Vidyasagar's principle of reform were reversed. However, a new turn was taken with the advent of computerized publication.

In the area of computerised composing popularly known as desk top publishing, a large number of Bengali type fonts have appeared in the market. The most significant contribution to Bengali computerised font designing came from the Institute of Typographical Research (ITR) in Pune. The Bengali fonts, Dilip, Devasree, Rabindra, Suvarna, Ut-tama and Vivek, introduced by ITR are in widespread use today.


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