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    PrefaceScript diagramsPart One: Sounds and scriptI a, i , iu, f r ,9, n, b, m, r , l ; ru

    q(t), ?(1), ?ft), E( *), E( ..), 5t, d, ?tr, {, K, 4; T2 c/6, o, 0, d, J, B, s; Juq, \9(c l), g, q, .f, {, q; \3

    3 e, kh, y, rq; ggq(c), rl, T, (; {

    4 a, oi, k; krq(c), QG'l), s; @

    5 6 ,6 , ch&(i) , 6( f t ) , q

    6 a, t, t; nd, nt, ntuSt(t")-, o, B; v, E, E

    7 i,i, h; jv, Jv, sv, trq, {(l), q q, q, {, q

    8 th, ph, d, r; tr, ksQI, T, V, V.Jfi, gI i o[, p, !e, n; pg, ry

    tfD, (c-t), "t, $, "tt e,{10 oi c, bh; cch, dr

    Q(?), u, -ua q, q11 jh, th, 4h, 6, g tt, n4

  • T E A C H Y O U R S E T F E E N G A t I

    12 r, gh, dh; sk, 4t, ndh, hrtrl(. ), {, {; t, v, 6, q, E, e

    13 Review of Part OneTable of letters; Sanskritic transliteration

    Part Two: Conversation and grammar14 Finding out about someone _ Conversation in EastLondon: SI, T; zero verb; interrogative; p"r.onof pio_

    nouns; demonstrative pronoun. Affirmative repty 'ana

    demonstrative pronoun exercise; B, q, RI; S;subject-complement exercise. 4g15 Talking to a rickshawallah _ Conversation at San_tiniketan: e; possessive case; ach_; definite arti.fe ttfringsl;demonstrative adjectives; negative oithe zero verb. neg"iiue

    statement and demonstrative adjective exercise; word_-orderexercise. EZ

    16 puVilS fruit and vegetables _ Conversation at a stall:{, rD, S; diminutive article; indefinite utde; ;*much/many; numbers; postpositions. Number anA po.tpori-tion exercise; vi ; answering questions exercise. 6g

    17 Finding out about schools _ Conversation at girls, schooll Sylhet: R, S, E, B; -jcl and -khana; participi-al po.tpori-tions; locative/instrumental case; plurj bf p"r."nif no-unireflexive pronoun; present tense. pronoun and locative caseexercise; q; gap-fillingexercise. Zg

    18 4ygglqg a visit - Telephone conversation in Calcutta:.tl9, T, TEt appointments; future tense; infinitt;fi_ject case; impersonal congtructions. ,Also'p"rticf" ana ap_pointments exercise; H, 6, q, R; week_planningexercisl. 92

    19 Health antl diet - Conversation in Rajshahi: ft,{, #;telling the time; obligation; more impersonal "onst

    ucfions;imperative; negative of past tenses. Time+elling *a u.iiexercise; H; translation from English exercise. 105

    20 Meeting an artist - Conversation with painter in Delhi: W;past participle (connecting sentencesj compound verbs,states, adverbs, double postpositions); perfect tens". t

    "i"ik6re and perfect tense exercise; q, q ;'participte "*;il. ILT



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    t t


    C O N T E N T S

    Talking to a child - Conversation in Calcutta: presentcontinuous tense; comparisons; like/dislike. Comparison andfike/dislike exercise; tense exercise. I2gConversation on

    _a train - Travelling with a student toChittagong::9, B, af, T, B, h ; past p"lrf".i tense; verbalnoun + iaoya; adjectival postpositions; case endings forwords ending in conjuncts. Past perfect and verbal noun +iaoya exercise; g, {; adjectival postposition exercise. I4ITelling stories - Conversation with a story-teller inBirmingham: simple past tense; verbal noun as adjective(passive sentences); which and anryi compound verbs withdeoya/neoya. Whichlanylsorne and children,s storyexercise; diary-writing exercise. IS2Meeting a writer - Conversation with lady-poet in Dhaka:-U, q; conditional participle; habitual past tense; need.Calcutta metro and shopping list (need/obligation) exercise;concise sentence exercise. 164Learning Bengali - Conversation about learning Bengali:past continuous tense; extended verbs; /6di (conditions).Conditional sentence and extended verb exercise; continuousprose exercise. V6



    26 Review of Part TwoNumbers, dates, etc.; verb tables.

    Part Three: Literature27 The Tailor-bird and

    exercise.28 Sakuntala - Abanindranath's Sakuntala: T: relative/

    correlative pronoun exercise.29 Satyajit Ray - When I was small: q, q, g; translation

    from Bengali exercise.30 Tagore in England - Letters from Europz:E,F',q;

    onomatopeia exercise.31 The Bangladesh War -The Days of'71: \, E;grammatical recognition exercise.







  • T E A C H Y O U R S E I F 8 N 6 I I - '

    32 Shamsur Rahman - poems: q, d; conjunct consonantsexercise; {.

    33 The Coming of the Monsoon - Guestby Tagore: sddhubhow; W, fr, 9, $, Q, q,


    Of all the major languages of the world, Bengali has been most neglectedby foreign learners. It stands sixth in the world in its number of speakers,has the richest and most developed modern literature in South Asia, wasthe mother-tongue of many leading reformers and activists of 19th and20th-century India, and is now the national language of Bangladesh andthe state language of West Bengal. There is a sizeable Bengali-speakingdiaspora, in India (especially the eastern states of Assam and Tripura),the Middle East, North America and Britain. The East End of London hasbecome as closely associated with its Sylheti-Bengali population as itonce was with Huguenot andJewish migrants. Bengali was the languageof Rabindranath Tagore, the greatest and best known modern SouthAsian writer; and it was the language of India's most celebrated film-maker, Satyajit Ray. Bengali scientists, doctors and academics areprominent all over South Asia, and in Europe and North America. As thelanguage of Bangladesh, Bengali has become internationally identifiablewith a people whose increasing numbers and precarious geographicalcircumstances present a huge challenge not only to the BangladeshGovernment but to other governments of good will. By the end of themillennium, there are likely to be more than 250 million Bengali speakers.Yet despite its size, literary wealth, historical importance and growingcontemporary profile, there are still remarkably few facilities for for-eigners to learn it well. Britain now has only one university lectureship urBengali, and lectureships in other countries outside South Asia can becounted on the fingers of one hand.

  • T E A C H Y O U R S E T F B E N G A I I

    The same can be said of books from which to learn Bengali. Before theSecond World War, there were perhaps more grammars and coursebooks for Bengali than for other modern South Asian languages. TheRevd. William Sutton Page ran a department of Bengali at the School ofOriental and African Studies, and produced a number of pioneeringworks; his efforts were extended by Professor T. W. Clark, who brieflyheld a unique London University Chair in Bengali from 1967 until hisdeath in 1969, and by Dr Tarapada Mukherjee. Western-based scholar-ship was nourished by the achievements of Suniti Kumar Chatterjee (DrMukherjee's teacher) and other scholars in Calcutta and Dhaka in thefields of Bengali philology and lexicography. The materials that Clark andMukherjee wrote for their students at SOAS were excellent, and servedme and other students well. But Dr Mukherjee was aware that theyneeded updating. He struggled against illness to produce a new course, incollaboration with ProfessorJ. C. Wright, but even while he was writingit the contexts and potential need for Bengali were changing fast. I havetherefore adopted a new approach in this book. Apart from the sound andscript exercises in Part One (which in their methodology go right back toSutton Page), I have conceived my task afresh, aiming to meet a widevariety of needs and contexts, and to make Bengali as easy and enjoyableto learn as possible.This is a course in speaking, writing and reading standard Bengali. Itassumes that any attempt to go beyond a phrase-book knowledge mustteach the script clearly and fully. But a purely 'reading knowledge' ofBengali would not only neglect the wonderful music of its sounds, it wouldalso leave unexplained many discrepancies between spelling and pronun-ciation. So this course teaches the sounds of Bengali with care, as well asits script and grammar, and the accompanying tape is integral. At thesame time, I have tried to enable the learner to progress to higher levelsof reading and understanding. In this, as in other aims, I have beeninfluenced by Dr Mukherjee's feeling that the 'leap'between any coursein Bengali then available and reading a text, even a newspaper, was toogreat and dispiriting for most learners (unless they happened to bespeakers of another South Asian language).Those who want primarily to speak Bengali, who are planning to go toBengal to visit or work, or who are in contact with Bengali communitieselsewhere, may feel that they do not wish to make this leap: that a novelsound-system, script, grammar and vocabulary are enough, that thewritings of Tagore orJibanananda Das may have to wait. But I urge themnot to be daunted. If they persevere with Part Three, not only will theyrefine their understanding of Bengali grammar, script and pronunciation,

  • P R E F A C E

    but they will encounter a whole new imaginative world, breathtaking in itsvigour and variety and delight. And their combined endeavour will help tomake the beauties of Bengali known to lovers of language and literatureeverywhere.Of the many friends who have assisted me, I should specially like to thankProfessor Maniruzzamm, of the Department of Bengali at the Universityof Chittagong, where I was invited to work on tlfs book as a VisitingFellow at the end of 1990. Part Two is incalculably indebted to his acutelinguistic perception, and would never have been written if his personalkindness had not protected me from the political turmoil prevailing at thetime. I am also sincerely grateful to Prodosh Bhattacharya, ManoshiBarua, Sukanta and Supriya Chaudhuri, Ghulam Murshid, Priti KumarMitra, Sudipta Kaviraj, Yasmin Hossain, Anuradha Roma Choudhury andProfessor Sisir Kumar Das. Particular thanks are due to Manoshi Barua,Sonia Kazi, Ajit Banerjee and Nurul Islam for their enthusiastic recordingof the cassette that accompanies the book, and to Biman Mullick for hisbeautiful handwritten script forms. Finally I thank all my puprls at SOAS,who, by cheerftrlly learning from very imperfect drafts, have helped meto make improvements. I hope that they and other users will not hesitateto let me know of any remaining mistakes or unclarities or omissions.w.R.School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1993Note on the first repintAdditional thanks are due to Professor Pabitra Sarkar, whose verycareful review nthe Statesmaz (Calcutta, 28January 1995) has enabledme to make a numberof improvements and corrections, and to Sabia Ali,the most sharp-eyed of my students in the first year of the book's use.1995

  • Script diagrams ,[email protected] , w Rf r @ w' h @ @tLlzrl


    4 f f qM E qw ' 4 r Bb $ q

  • w r y 44 F w < rv q qq r y wR q ' qb \ e E @s q W b @



    The languages of South Asia are richly endowed with sounds, particularlyconsonants; and the Hindus were the first people in the world to realisethat the sounds of a language can be grouped scientifically according towhere and how they are made in the mouth. Unlike the Greek and Romanalphabets, which follow ahaphazardorder, Indian scripts are based on alogical table of letters: vowels first, then the 'velar' consonants, the'palatal' consonants, the'retroflex' consonants and so on.The Bengali script, like other South Asian scripts (except Urdu) wasoriginally devised for the writing of Sanskrit. As the modern Indo-Aryanlanguages developed (growing not exactly from Sanskrit but from thePrakrits, the spoken languages of ancient India), regional varieties ofwhat was essentially the same writing system were used to write them

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  • T E A C H Y O U R S E I F S E N 6 A I I

    down. Nowadays Sanskrit is usually written and printed in Deuanagan,the script that is also used for Hindi. But it can just as well be written inthe Bengali script, and when Bengali children learn their letters, theylearn them according to the Sanskrit sequence.The complete table of letters will be found in the Review section at theend of Part One. You will need to know it, otherwise you won't be ableto use a Bengali dictionary. In the first 12 units, however, you'll beintroduced to the sounds and letters according to a different sequence.There are three reasons for this. First, I have found from my experienceof teaching Bengali that it is best to begin with sounds that are easy forforeigners to make, and progress g5adually to more difficult sounds.Second, it is important to practise the sounds by repeating words andphrases, not by pronouncing them in isolation. There are very few wordsmade of vowels alone, which is what you would start with if you followedthe traditional sequence. Third, the pronunciation of Bengali does not fitthe spelling perfectly. The mis-match between spelling and pronunciationis nothing like as great as in English, but it is enough to make Bengalipronunciation quite tricky, harder than Hindi. Both languages haveessentially 'Sanskritic' spelling systems, but Bengali has diverged fromits classical roots more than Hindi. It is essential to explain and learnBengali sounds and script with care. If I followed the traditional table, Iwould have to begin by confusing you with the letter that causes morepronunciation problems than any other!We begin with three vowel sounds. The first vowel is very much thesound you make when the doctor wants to examine your throat:

    a as in English sfarThe second also approximates to an English sound:

    i as in English seeThe third sound does not really exist in most pronunciations of English,but if you take the 'oo' sound in rzooz and push your lips right forward as ifyou were whistling, you will get it:


    Unlike most people's pronunciation of English 'oo', Bengali u is a puresound: i.e. the lips do not move when uttering it. Most English vowel-sounds are impure: they slide from one sound to another. This is oftenreflected in English spelling: break, fear, boat, etc. When pronouncingBengali a, i, u, make sure that the sounds are absolutely pure.

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  • ; O U N D A N D 5 C R ' P I

    Here are four consonants, none of which should cause any fficulty:g as in Englishge/n as in English nolb as nBnghshbonem as in English zaf

    The next sound should be rolled or 'trilled' as in Scots or Italian - but don'toverdo it. At the end of words, particularly, the tongue flaps only once ortwice:

    r as nltafian Roma

    The last sound is perfectly tamiliar to English speakers, but make sureyou always pronounce it at the front of the mouth:

    I as in English lend, never as in English /lWhen pronouncing Bengali consonants on their own, or when referring tothem in order to spell a word or name, it is customary to give them afollowing vowel-sound - the so-called inherent vowel c, pronounced asin British English hot. (There will be more about the inherent vowel inUnit 2.) The advantage of this is that you don't have to learn names forthe letters. You simply say:

    You now need to learn the Bengali letters for the vowels and consonantsabove. All South Asian scripts (except Urdu, which is Persian in origin)follow two basic principles:

    1 If a syllable consists of a vowel alone, or a vowel followed by aconsonant. full vowels are used.

    2 If.a syllable consists of a consonant followed by vowel, vowel signsare used.

    To see how this works, let's first of all learn the letters for the fiveconsonants above. You need to learn to write them, and also to recognisethem in print. You'll see at once that printed forms are not always quitethe same as hand-written forms, and of course hand-writing styles vary.If you want to acquire elegant Bengali handwriting, the best thing isto find a native speaker who can teach you. You can also acquire hand-writing books such as Bengali schoolchildren use (see p. 276). For the



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  • T E A C H Y O U R S E I F 8 E N

    sequence of strokes, refer to the diagrams on pp. x-xi. You will see thatsome letters (e.g. the l) begin with a small loop or'blob':

    Handwriting Print

    If you want to write a on its own, you need the full vowel:a QI ql (full vowel)

    This letter is also used if the syllable consists of a vowel * consonant:qIfl qn











    A much more common sequence, however, is a consonant * vowel,and you'll be relieved to learn that the vowel sign is simply I . Thus:


    rfl*6 l l

    .ffq l




    So far so good. With i and u, however, there are two complications toexplain.(a) Each of these sounds can be represented by one or other of twoletters. In Sanskrit, there is a'short' i and a'long' i, a'short'u and a'long'u. In the standard Roman transliteration of Sanskrit (see p. 47), these aredistinguished by the use of a bar or'macron' over the long vowels, and Ipropose to adopt the same convention here. The transcription systemused in this book derives, with some modifications, from the work ofprofessor T. W. Clark (see Preface, p. viii). It borrows letters from tlteInternational Phonetic Alphabet, but it is a transliteration in that itindicates precisely which letters should be used in writing words inBengali script. The distinction between 'short' and 'long' i and u in Bengalihas not survived in Bengali pronunciation, but is still present in Bengalispelling. Thus for two sounds we have four letters and vowel signs tolearn.

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  • S O U N D A N D S C R I P T

    (b) Bengali is read, like English, from left to right; but the vowel signsdo not necessarily follow the consonant on the page. The vowel sign forthe short i is written .before the consonant; the sign for the long i iswitten,after the consonant; the signs for the short and long u are writtenbelow the consonant:

    i e e (tulvowel)| | (vowel sign)

    i A ? (tullvowel)'l

    "i (vowel sign)u $ E (tullvowel)

    { d, (vowel sign)u E G (tull.vowel)

    Syllables consisting of, say, b + i, i, u, or ! would be written as follows:

    You are now ready to start pronouncing, reading and writing someBengali words and phrases.

    ExercisesPractise sayng the words and phrases overleaf with the help of thecassette or the previous few pages. In this and in allthe first (sound) exercises in Units I to 12, you need not worry aboutanalysing the grammar. By the end of the book, you will be able to doso, and you'll know about distinctions between, for example, thedifferent pronouns for he and she. For the moment, however,concentrate on producing the right sound, and on picking up vocabul-ary items - particularly nouns and adjectives. You have already seenthe first four words:


  • T E A C H Y O U R S E T F 8 E N 6 A T '

    am fnango amra niini ue did not takema mother amra niina we do not takena no, not am anun Bing (some)nam runne body nun nii? May I tnke (some)gan song salt?arnar rry nin na Please take (some).abar again ini amar ma She is my mother.bagan gardnn uni amar mama He is mYami I (matemal) uncle.nun salt amar nam raul My nnme isini helshe Raul.uni helshe amar rumd nin Take mYrumaf handkerchief handkerchief.nil blue uni umar baba? Is he Uma'slal red father?m[l root na, uni rimir baba No, he'sami anini I did not bring Rimf s father.amianlam I brought

    2 Now see if you can write the words and phrases above in Bengaliscript. If a vowel comes between two consonants, it is alwaysthought of as 'belonging' to the consonant before, not the consonantthat follows. Thus amar is written a-mar, not am-ar:qNr