Silver coin with proto-Bengali script, Harikela
Kingdom, circa 9th–13th century
Ancient language of Bengal
Sanskrit was practiced by the priests in Bengal since the first millennium BCE. But, the local people were speaking in some varieties of Prakrita languages. Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee coined it as "eastern variety of Magdhi Prakrita". But, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah argued that the language spoken by the then Bengalis was distinct from Magdhi Prakrit. He named it "Purbo Magdhi Prakrita" and explained that it included more non-Indo-Aryan vocabulary. Humayun Azad suggested that Purbo Magdhi Prakrita (defined by Shahidullah) had substantial Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic words. During the Gupta Empire, Bengal was a hub of Sanskrit literature. The Middle Indo-Aryan dialects were influential in Bengal in the first millennium when the region was a part of the Magadha Realm. These dialects were called Magadhi Prakrit spoken in current Bihar state of India. Purbo Magdhi was close to but distinct from Magdhi Prakrita. The Magdhi Prakrita eventually evolved into Ardha Magadhi and become more distinct from the languages of Bengal day by day. Ardha Magadhi began to give way to what are called Apabhraṃśa languages at the end of the first millennium. Then Bengali language evolved a as distinct language by the course of time.
Emergence of Bengali
Along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali evolved circa 1000–1200 CE from Sanskrit and Magadhi Prakrit. The local Apabhraṃśa of the eastern subcontinent, Purbi Apabhraṃśa or Abahatta ("Meaningless Sounds"), eventually evolved into regional dialects, which in turn formed three groups of the Bengali–Assamese languages, the Bihari languages, and the Odia language. Some argue that the points of divergence occurred much earlier – going back to even 500, but the language was not static: different varieties coexisted and authors often wrote in multiple dialects in this period. For example, Ardhamagadhi is believed to have evolved into Abahatta around the 6th century, which competed with the ancestor of Bengali for some time. Proto-Bengali was the language of the Pala Empire and the Sena dynasty.
During the medieval period, Middle Bengali was characterized by the elision of word-final অ ô, the spread of compound verbs and Arabic and Persian influences. Bengali was an official court language of the Sultanate of Bengal. Muslim rulers promoted the literary development of Bengali. Bengali became the most spoken vernacular language in the Sultanate. This period saw borrowing of Perso-Arabic terms into Bengali vocabulary. Major texts of Middle Bengali (1400–1800) include Chandidas' Shreekrishna Kirtana.
Language Martyr's Memorial at Silchar Railway Station in Assam
The modern literary form of Bengali was developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries based on the dialect spoken in the Nadia region, a west-central Bengali dialect. Bengali presents a strong case of diglossia, with the literary and standard form differing greatly from the colloquial speech of the regions that identify with the language. The modern Bengali vocabulary contains the vocabulary base from Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, also tatsamas and reborrowings from Sanskrit and other major borrowings from Persian, Arabic, Austroasiatic languages and other languages in contact with.
During this period,
- চলিতভাষা Chôlitôbhasha form of Bengali using simplified inflections and other changes, was emerging from
- সাধুভাষা Sadhubhasha (Proper form or original form of Bengali) as the form of choice for written Bengali.
In 1948 the Government of Pakistan tried to impose Urdu as the sole state language in Pakistan, starting the Bengali language movement. The Bengali Language Movement was a popular ethno-linguistic movement in the former East Bengal (today Bangladesh), which was a result of the strong linguistic consciousness of the Bengalis to gain and protect spoken and written Bengali's recognition as a state language of the then Dominion of Pakistan. On the day of 21 February 1952 five students and political activists were killed during protests near the campus of the University of Dhaka. In 1956 Bengali was made a state language of Pakistan. The day has since been observed as Language Movement Day in Bangladesh and is also commemorated as International Mother Language Day by UNESCO every year since 2000.
In 2010, the parliament of Bangladesh and the legislative assembly of West Bengal proposed that Bengali be made an official UN language, though no further action was taken on this matter.