Voice Over Sydney: The modern Bengali language is spoken by an estimated 210 million people around the world, from the United States to the Middle East. The majority of Bengali language speakers are located in the countries of Bangladesh and India, each of which offers a unique glance at the great diversity of Bengali cultural and linguistic traditions.

Voice Over Sydney: Classification of the Bengali Language

The Bengali language is classified as a member of the Indo-Aryan subgroup of the Indo-Iranian group of languages, part of the Indo-European language family. The Indo-Aryan linguistic family developed in three major stages: Old Indo-Aryan or Sanskrit; Middle Indo-Aryan, consisting of Prakrits and Apabhramsha stages; and New Indo-Aryan, which dates from circa the 10th century CE.
Despite its classification as an Indo-European language, Bengali also exhibits a variety of influences from other Southeast Asian language families, including the Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic. These linguistic families contributed to the development of both Bengali’s vocabulary and grammatical structure. Still, despite this diversity of influences, linguists agree in their classification of Bengali as a member of the Indo-European language family.

Voice Over Sydney: Early History of the Bengali Language

The exact origins of the Bengali languages have been debated. One theory suggests that Bengali developed around the 10th century CE from the spoken Magahi Prakrit language and its written complement, the Magahi Apabhramsha language. An alternate theory suggests that Bengali developed much earlier, around the 7th century CE, from the oral Gauda Prakrit language and its complementary written form, Gauda Apabhramsha.

Voice Over Sydney: Early Bengali: Relationship to Assamese and Oriya

Whatever the exact origins of Bengali, linguists generally agree that Bengali was once part of a single linguistic branch along with the Oriya and Assamese languages. From this proto-language, Oriya is believed to have been the first of the three to develop and break away as a distinct language, followed by Bengali and finally Assamese.

Written Bengali Language

The written form of the Bengali language is derived from the ancient Indian Brahmi script, specifically from the eastern version of the Brahmi script. Some of the earliest examples of the written Bengali language are the Charyapadas, a series of Buddhist mystic songs. The Bengali alphabet is believed to have been almost fully developed by the 12th century CE, although it continued to evolve up until the 16th century. Additional changes were introduced to the Bengali script in the 19th century, such as the acquisition of punctuation marks adapted from the English language.
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