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Not to be confused with Bengali-Assamese script.
Not to be confused with Meitei alphabet, even though Meitei language popularly uses the Bengali alphabet.
The Bengali script or Bangla alphabet (Bengali: ????? ????????, Bangla bôrnômala) is the alphabet used to write the Bengali language based on the Bengali-Assamese script, and has historically been used to write Sanskrit within Bengal. It is one of the most widely adopted writing systems in the world (used by over 265 million people).
From a classificatory point of view, the Bengali writing system is an abugida, i.e. its vowel graphemes are mainly realised not as independent letters, but as diacritics modifying the vowel inherent in the base letter they are added to. It is written from left to right and uses a single letter case, which makes it a unicameral script, as opposed to a bicameral one like the Latin script. It is recognisable, as are some other Brahmic scripts, by a distinctive horizontal line known as a matra (??????) running along the tops of the letters that links them together. The Bengali writing system is less blocky, however, and presents a more sinuous shape than the Devanagari script.
It is one of the official scripts of the Indian Republic. It is used as the official script of Bengali language in Bangladesh and West Bengal as well as Meitei language in Manipur (officially termed as "Manipuri language"), two of the official languages of India.
Table of contents
- Consonant conjuncts
- Certain compounds
- Diacritics and other symbols
- Digits and numerals
- Punctuation marks
- Characteristics of the Bengali text
Standardization Romanization Sample texts Unicode See also
The Bengali script can be divided into vowels and vowel diacritics, consonants and consonant conjuncts, diacritical and other symbols, digits and punctuation marks. Vowels and consonants are used as letters and also as diacritical marks.
The Bengali script has a total of 9 vowel graphemes, each of which is called a ???????? swôrôbôrnô "vowel letter". The swôrôbôrnôs represent six of the seven main vowel sounds of Bengali, along with two vowel diphthongs. All of them are used in both Bengali and Assamese languages.
The table below shows the vowels present in the modern (since the late nineteenth century) inventory of the Bengali alphabet:
- "?" ô (???? ? shôrô ô, "vocalic ô") /?/ sounds as the default inherent vowel for the entire Bengali script. Bengali, Assamese and Odia which are Eastern languages have this value for the inherent vowel, while other languages using Brahmic scripts have a for their inherent vowel.
- Even though the near-open front unrounded vowel /æ/ is one of the seven main vowel sounds in the standard Bengali language, no distinct vowel symbol has been allotted for it in the script since there is no /æ/ sound in Sanskrit, the primary written language when the script was conceived. As a result, the sound is orthographically realised by multiple means in modern Bengali orthography, usually using some combination of "?" e (???? ? shôrô e, "vocalic e") /e/, "?", "?" a (???? ? shôrô a) /a/ and the ???? jôphôla (diacritic form of the consonant grapheme ? jô).
- There are two graphemes for the vowel sound [i] and two graphemes for the vowel sound [u]. The redundancy stems from the time when this script was used to write Sanskrit, a language that had short and long vowels: "?" i (?????? ? rôshshô i, "short i") /i/ and "?" i (????? ? dirghô i, "long i") /i:/, and "?" u (?????? ? rôshshô u) /u/ and "?" u (????? ? dirghô u) /u:/. The letters are preserved in the Bengali script with their traditional names despite the fact that they are no longer pronounced differently in ordinary speech. These graphemes serve an etymological function, however, in preserving the original Sanskrit spelling in tôtsômô Bengali words (words borrowed from Sanskrit).
- The grapheme called "?" r (or ?????? ? rôshshô ri, "short ri", as it used to be) does not really represent a vowel phoneme in Bengali but the consonant-vowel combination ?? /ri/. Nevertheless, it is included in the vowel section of the inventory of the Bengali script. This inconsistency is also a remnant from Sanskrit, where the grapheme represents the vocalic equivalent of a retroflex approximant (possibly an r-colored vowel). Another grapheme called "?" l (or ?????? ? rôshshô li as it used to be) representing the vocalic equivalent of a dental approximant in Sanskrit but actually representing the consonant-vowel combination ?? /li/ in Bengali instead of a vowel phoneme, was also included in the vowel section but unlike "?", it was recently discarded from the inventory since its usage was extremely limited even in Sanskrit.
- When a vowel sound occurs syllable-initially or when it follows another vowel, it is written using a distinct letter. When a vowel sound follows a consonant (or a consonant cluster), it is written with a diacritic which, depending on the vowel, can appear above, below, before or after the consonant. These vowel marks cannot appear without a consonant and are called ??? kar.
- An exception to the above system is the vowel /?/, which has no vowel mark but is considered inherent in every consonant letter. To denote the absence of the inherent vowel [?] following a consonant, a diacritic called the ????? hôsôntô (?) may be written underneath the consonant.
- Although there are only two diphthongs in the inventory of the script: "?" oi (???? ? shôrô oi, "vocalic oi") /oi/ and "?" ou (???? ? shôrô ou) /ou/, the Bengali phonetic system has, in fact, many diphthongs. Most diphthongs are represented by juxtaposing the graphemes of their constituent vowels, as in ??? keu /keu/.
- There also used to be two long vowels: "?" r (????? ? dirghô rri, "long rri") and "?" l (????? ? dirghô lli), which were removed from the inventory during the Vidyasagarian reform of the script due to peculiarity to Sanskrit.
Consonant letters are called ??????????? bænjônbôrnô "consonant letter" in Bengali. The names of the letters are typically just the consonant sound plus the inherent vowel ? ô. Since the inherent vowel is assumed and not written, most letters' names look identical to the letter itself (the name of the letter ? is itself ghô, not gh).
- Some letters that have lost their distinctive pronunciation in modern Bengali are called by more elaborate names. For example, since the consonant phoneme /n/ is written as both ? and ?, the letters are not called simply nô; instead, they are called ?????? ? dôntyô nô ("dental nô") and ???????? ? murdhônyô nô ("retroflex nô"). What was once pronounced and written as a retroflex nasal ? [n] is now pronounced as an alveolar [n] (unless conjoined with another retroflex consonant such as ?, ?, ? and ?) although the spelling does not reflect the change.
- Although still named murdhônyô when they are being taught, retroflex consonants do not exist in Bengali and are instead fronted to their postalveolar and alveolar equivalents.
- The voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant phoneme /?/ can be written as ?, (?????? ? talôbyô shô, "palatal shô"), ? (???????? ? murdhônyô shô, "retroflex shô"), or ? (?????? ? dôntyô sô, "dental sô" voiceless alveolar fricative), depending on the word.
- The voiced palato-alveolar affricate phoneme /d?/ can be written in two ways, as ? (???????? ? ôntôsthô jô) or ? (??????? ? bôrgiyô jô). In many varieties of Bengali, [z, dz] are not distinct from this phoneme, but speakers who distinguish them may use the letters ? and ? with contrast.
- Post-reform, the letter ?? was introduced to distinguish it from ? note]:
- The semivowel ?? yô /e?/ cannot occur at the beginning of a word . The name of ?? is ???????? ? ôntôsthô ô ('semi-vowel y') [the y is silent in the pronunciation of its name]. The pronunciation of ?? yô /e?/ varies between <w> and <j> ['w' and 'y'].
- The name of ? is ???????? ? ôntôsthô jô ('semi-vowel j'). It is found almost entirely at the beginning of words.
- When present in the middle of words, in conjuncts, ? is represented as a distinct letter: ?? (???? jôphôla) which is mostly silent or semi-silent (see below). Jôphôla may alter the pronunciation of the surrounding vowel or double the preceding consonant or be completely silent.
- Since the nasals ? ñô /e?/ and ? ngô /n?/ cannot occur at the beginning of a word in Bengali, their names are not ñô and ngô respectively but ?? ungô (pronounced by some as ?? umô or ??? uô) and ?? iñô (pronounced by some as ???? niyô or ?? ingô) respectively.
- There is a difference in the pronunciation of ?? rô (?-? ????? ?? dô-e shunyô rô, "rô (as) dô with a zero (the figure is used analogous to the ring below diacritic as the Bengali equivalent of the Devanagari nuqta, which is again analogous to the underdot)") and ?? rhô (?-? ????? ?? dhô-e shunyô rhô) with that of ? rô (sometimes called ?-? ????? ? bô-e shunyô rô for distinguishing purpose) - similar to other Indic languages. This is especially true in the parlance of western and southern part of Bengal but lesser on the dialects of the eastern side of the Padma River. ?? and ?? were introduced to the inventory during the Vidyasagarian reform to indicate the retroflex flap in the pronunciation of ? dô and ? dhô in the middle or end of a word. It is an allophonic development in some Indic languages not present in Sanskrit. Yet in ordinary speech these letters are pronounced the same as ? in modern Bengali.
Main article: Bengali consonant clusters
Clusters of up to four consonants can be orthographically represented as a typographic ligature called a consonant conjunct (Bengali: ??????????/????????? juktakkhôr/juktôbôrnô or more specifically ????????????). Typically, the first consonant in the conjunct is shown above and/or to the left of the following consonants. Many consonants appear in an abbreviated or compressed form when serving as part of a conjunct. Others simply take exceptional forms in conjuncts, bearing little or no resemblance to the base character.
Often, consonant conjuncts are not actually pronounced as would be implied by the pronunciation of the individual components. For example, adding ? lô underneath ? shô in Bengali creates the conjunct ???, which is not pronounced shlô but slô in Bengali. Many conjuncts represent Sanskrit sounds that were lost centuries before modern Bengali was ever spoken as in ???. It is a combination of ? jô and ? ñô but it is not pronounced "jñô" or "jnô". Instead, it is pronounced ggô in modern 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.
(Some graphemes may appear in a form other than the mentioned form due to the font used)
Some consonants fuse in such a way that one stroke of the first consonant also serves as a stroke of the next.
- The consonants can be placed on top of one another, sharing their vertical line: ??? kkô ??? gnô ??? glô ??? nnô ??? pnô ??? ppô ??? llô etc.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? bô can hang on the vertical line under the preceding consonants, taking the shape of ? bô (includes ???? bôphôla): ??? gbô ??? "nbô" ??? "dbô" ??? lbô ??? "shbô".
- The consonants can also be placed side-by-side, sharing their vertical line: ??? ddô ??? ndô ??? bdô ??? bjô ??? ptô ??? stô ??? shchô ??? shchhô, etc.
Some consonants are written closer to one another simply to indicate that they are in a conjunct together.
- The consonants can be placed side-by-side, appearing unaltered: ??? dgô ??? dghô ??? ddô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? bô can appear immediately to the right of the preceding consonant, taking the shape of ? bô (includes ???? bôphôla): ??? "dhbô" ??? bbô ??? "hbô".
Some consonants are compressed (and often simplified) when appearing as the first member of a conjunct.
- As the first member of a conjunct, the consonants ? ngô ? chô ? dô and ? bô are often compressed and placed at the top-left of the following consonant, with little or no change to the basic shape: ????? "ngksô" ??? ngkhô ??? ngghô ??? ngmô ??? chchô ??? chchhô ??? "chnô" ??? ddhô ???? bbô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? tô is compressed and placed above the following consonant, with little or no change to the basic shape: ??? tnô ??? "tmô" ??? "tbô".
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? mô is compressed and simplified to a curved shape. It is placed above or to the top-left of the following consonant: ??? mnô ??? mpô ??? mfô ??? mbô ??? mbhô ??? mmô ??? mlô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? sô is compressed and simplified to an oval shape with a diagonal stroke through it. It is placed to the top-left of the following consonants: ??? skô ??? stô ??? sthô ??? spô ??? sfô ??? smô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? sô is compressed and simplified to a ribbon shape. It is placed above or to the top-left of the following consonant: ??? skô ??? skhô ??? stô ??? sthô ??? snô ??? spô ??? sfô ??? "sbô" ??? "smô" ??? slô.
Some consonants are abbreviated when appearing in conjuncts and lose part of their basic shape.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? jô can lose its final down-stroke: ??? jjô ??? "jñô" ??? "jbô".
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? ñô can lose its bottom half: ??? ñchô ??? ñchhô ??? ñjô ??? ñjhô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? ñô can lose its left half (the ? part): ??? "jñô".
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? nô and ? pô can lose their down-stroke: ??? nthô ??? ndô ??? ptô ??? psô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? tô and ? bhô can lose their final upward tail: ??? ttô ??? tthô ??? trô ??? bhrô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? thô can lose its final upstroke, taking the form of ? hô instead: ??? nthô ??? sthô ??? mthô
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? mô can lose its initial down-stroke: ??? "kmô" ??? "gmô" ??? ngmô ??? "tmô" ??? "nmô" ??? "tmô" ??? "dmô" ??? nmô ??? mmô ??? "shmô" ??? smô ??? "smô".
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? sô can lose its top half: ??? ksô.
- As the last member of a conjunct ? tô, ? dô and ? dhô can lose their matra: ??? ptô ??? ndô ??? ntô ??? ndhô.
- As the last member of a conjunct ? dô can change its shape: ??? ndô
Some consonants have forms that are used regularly but only within conjuncts.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? ngô can appear as a loop and curl: ??? ngkô ??? nggô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, the curled top of ? dhô is replaced by a straight downstroke to the right, taking the form of ? jhô instead: ??? gdhô ??? ddhô ??? ndhô ??? bdhô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, ? rô appears as a diagonal stroke (called ??? ref) above the following member: ??? rkô ??? rkhô ??? rgô ??? rghô, etc.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? rô appears as a wavy horizontal line (called ???? rôphôla) under the previous member: ??? khrô ??? grô ??? ghrô ??? brô, etc.
- In some fonts, certain conjuncts with ???? rôphôla appear using the compressed (and often simplified) form of the previous consonant: ??? jrô ??? trô ??? thrô ??? drô ??? mrô ??? srô.
- In some fonts, certain conjuncts with ???? rôphôla appear using the abbreviated form of the previous consonant: ??? krô ??? trô ??? bhrô.
- As the last member of a conjunct, ? jô appears as a wavy vertical line (called ???? jôphôla) to the right of the previous member: ??? "kyô" ??? "khyô" ??? "gyô" ??? "ghyô" etc.
- In some fonts, certain conjuncts with ???? jôphôla appear using special fused forms: ??? "dyô" ??? "nyô" ??? "shyô" ??? "syô" ??? "syô" ??? "hyô".
- When followed by ? rô or ? tô, ? kô takes on the same form as ? tô would with the addition of a curl to the right: ??? krô, ??? ktô.
- When preceded by the abbreviated form of ? ñô, ? chô takes the shape of ? bô: ??? ñchô
- When preceded by another ? tô, ? is reduced to a leftward curl: ??? ttô.
- When preceded by ? sô, ? nô appears as two loops to the right: ??? snô.
- As the first member of a conjunct, or when at the end of a word and followed by no vowel, ? tô can appear as ?: ?? "tsô" ?? tpô ?? tkô etc.
- When preceded by ? hô, ? nô appears as a curl to the right: ??? "hnô".
- Certain combinations must be memorised: ??? "ksô" ??? "hmô".
When serving as a vowel mark, ? u, ? u, and ? ri take on many exceptional forms.
Diacritics and other symbols
- ? u
- When following ? gô or ? shô, it takes on a variant form resembling the final tail of ? o: ?? gu ?? shu.
- When following a ? tô that is already part of a conjunct with ? pô, ? nô or ? sô, it is fused with the ? to resemble ? o: ???? ntu ???? stu ???? ptu.
- When following ? rô, and in many fonts also following the variant ???? rôphôla, it appears as an upward curl to the right of the preceding consonant as opposed to a downward loop below: ?? ru ???? gru ???? tru ???? thru ???? dru ???? dhru ???? bru ???? bhru ???? shru.
- When following ? hô, it appears as an extra curl: ?? hu.
- ? u
- When following ? rô, and in many fonts also following the variant ???? rôphôla, it appears as a downstroke to the right of the preceding consonant as opposed to a downward hook below: ?? ru ???? gru ???? thru ???? dru ???? dhru ???? bhru ???? shru.
- ? ri
- When following ? hô, it takes the variant shape of ? u: ?? hri.
- Conjuncts of three consonants also exist, and follow the same rules as above: ? sô + ? tô +? rô = ????? strô, ? mô + ? pô + ? rô = ????? mprô, ? jô + ? jô + ? bô = ????? "jjbô", ??? "ksô" + ? mô = ????? "ksmô".
- Theoretically, four-consonant conjuncts can also be created, as in ? rô + ? sô + ? tô + ? rô = ??????? rstrô, but they are not found in native words.
- Also theoretically, 5-letter conjuncts can be created, as ? rô + ? sô + ? tô + ? rô + ? = ???????? (pronounced rstrô but nasalised: rstrôñ). Here ? is a diacritic which nasalises the previous vowel. A theoretical 6-letter conjunct would be ????????? (rstrañ/rstra), with the addition of a (?) to ????????, and a theoretical 7-letter conjunct would be like ???????????? (rstrya/rstryañ) with the addition of ? to ?????????.
These are mainly the Brahmi-Sanskrit diacritics, phones and punctuation marks present in languages with Sanskrit influence or Brahmi-derived scripts.
Digits and numerals
Main article: Bengali numerals
The Bengali script has ten numerical digits (graphemes or symbols indicating the numbers from 0 to 9). Bengali numerals have no horizontal headstroke or ?????? "matra".
Numbers larger than 9 are written in Bengali using a positional base 10 numeral system (the decimal system). A period or dot is used to denote the decimal separator, which separates the integral and the fractional parts of a decimal number. When writing large numbers with many digits, commas are used as delimiters to group digits, indicating the thousand (????? hazar), the hundred thousand or lakh (??? lakh or ???? lôkkhô), and the ten million or hundred lakh or crore (??? koti) units. In other words, leftwards from the decimal separator, the first grouping consists of three digits, and the subsequent groupings always consist of two digits.
For example, the English number 17,557,345 will be written in traditional Bengali as ?,??,??,???.
Bengali punctuation marks, apart from the downstroke ????? dari (?), the Bengali equivalent of a full stop, have been adopted from western scripts and their usage is similar: Commas, semicolons, colons, quotation marks, etc. are the same as in English. Capital letters are absent in the Bengali script so proper names are unmarked.
An apostrophe, known in Bengali as ????????? urdhbôkôma "upper comma", is sometimes used to distinguish between homographs, as in ???? pata "plank" and ??'?? pa'ta "the leg". Sometimes, a hyphen is used for the same purpose (as in ??-??, an alternative of ??'??).
Characteristics of the Bengali text
Bengali text is written and read horizontally, from left to right. The consonant graphemes and the full form of vowel graphemes fit into an imaginary rectangle of uniform size (uniform width and height). The size of a consonant conjunct, regardless of its complexity, is deliberately maintained the same as that of a single consonant grapheme, so that diacritic vowel forms can be attached to it without any distortion. In a typical Bengali text, orthographic words, words as they are written, can be seen as being separated from each other by an even spacing. Graphemes within a word are also evenly spaced, but that spacing is much narrower than the spacing between words.
Unlike in western scripts (Latin, Cyrillic, etc.) for which the letter-forms stand on an invisible baseline, the Bengali letter-forms instead hang from a visible horizontal left-to-right headstroke called ?????? matra. The presence and absence of this matra can be important. For example, the letter ? tô and the numeral ? "3" are distinguishable only by the presence or absence of the matra, as is the case between the consonant cluster ??? trô and the independent vowel ? e. The letter-forms also employ the concepts of letter-width and letter-height (the vertical space between the visible matra and an invisible baseline).
According to Bengali linguist Munier Chowdhury, there are about nine graphemes that are the most frequent in Bengali texts, shown with its percentage of appearance in the adjacent table.
In the script, clusters of consonants are represented by different and sometimes quite irregular forms; thus, learning to read is complicated by the sheer size of the full set of letters and letter combinations, numbering about 350. While efforts at standardising the alphabet for the Bengali language continue in such notable centres as the Bangla Academy at Dhaka (Bangladesh) and the Pôshchimbônggô Bangla Akademi at Kolkata (West Bengal, India), it is still not quite uniform yet, as many people continue to use various archaic forms of letters, resulting in concurrent forms for the same sounds.
Main article: Romanization of Bengali
Romanization of Bengali is the representation of the Bengali language in the Latin script. There are various ways of Romanization systems of Bengali, created in recent years but failed to represent the true Bengali phonetic sound. While different standards for romanisation have been proposed for Bengali, they have not been adopted with the degree of uniformity seen in languages such as Japanese or Sanskrit. The Bengali alphabet has often been included with the group of Brahmic scripts for romanisation in which the true phonetic value of Bengali is never represented. Some of them are the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration or "IAST system" "Indian languages Transliteration" or ITRANS (uses upper case alphabets suited for ASCII keyboards), and the extension of IAST intended for non-Sanskrit languages of the Indian region called the National Library at Kolkata romanisation.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The first line is the Bengali alphabet; the second a phonetic Romanization, the third IPA.
????? ????? ??????????? ???? ??????? ??? ?????? ????? ????????? ???? ?????? ????? ??? ?????? ???; ?????? ?????? ??? ????? ????? ????????????? ????? ????? ???? ??? ?????
Somosto manush sadhinbhabe soman morjada ebong odhikar niye jonmogrohon kore. Tãder bibek ebong buddhi achhe; sutôrang sokoleri æke oporer proti bhratrittosulobh monobhab niye achoron kora uchit.
??mosto manu? ?adinbabe ?oman m?rd?ada ebon odikar niee d??nmogrohon k?re. tãder bibek ebon bud:i at?he; ?utoran ??koleri æke ?porer proti bratrit:o?ul?b monobab niee at?or?n k?ra ut?it
All human free-manner-in equal dignity and right taken birth-take do. Their reason and intelligence exist; therefore everyone-indeed one another's towards brotherhood-ly attitude taken conduct do should.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Main article: Bengali (Unicode block)
Bengali script was added to the Unicode Standard in October 1991 with the release of version 1.0.
The Unicode block for Bengali is U+0980-U+09FF:
- Bengali Braille
- Robert B. Wray movable type for Bengali (1778)
- Bengali phonology
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