Thursday, July 30

A Little History of Bangla

Intrigued by my language classes, I did a little research and asked around to find the history and importance of Bangla.

Bangla (sometimes refered to as Bengali) is a member of the Indic group of 
Indo Iranian or Aryan branch of the Indo–European family of languages. Oddly enough, the British Raj beginning in the mid-1800s stimulated the value of Bangla.  Authors became interested in Calcutta and Dhaka, with Calcutta being
 the capital of India at the time and Dhaka a large trading port.  English writers learned Bangla and translated literature.  The poet Rabindranath Tagore was the first Asian man to win a Nobel Prize in 1913; he was Bengali.  With the invasion and cultural control of the British, using Bangla was a way to assert their cultural heritage.

With the Indian Partition and religious diaspora (Hindus to India, Muslims to Pakistan), East Bengal (East Pakistan) was being forced by the Pakistani government to speak 'Urdu and Urdu only.'  This was the last straw: East Pakistan  created the Bangla Language Movement of 1952, the first move towards independence.  People, including students, held riots fighting for their national identity that was tied their language.  After West Pakistan did little after 500,000 people died in a cyclone, Bangladesh fought for its independence in the Liberation War in 1971.

The language is strongly tied to the culture and it's nationalism.  Upper class Bangladeshis know English pretty well, and it is a requirement for university.  Lower class Bangladeshis know a few words (prices, food).  But everyone speaks Bangla perfectly. An example of how language is tied to culture is saying, 'I go now.' In Bangla, they say, 'ami ekhon ashi' which literally means, 'now I come.'  My teacher explained that Bangladeshis do not like to end encounters.  If you say, "I go now" they will insist you stay. If you say 'I come now' it is like saying "I am moving locations away from you but I am not going anywhere."  Maybe odd to you, but there is such hospitality that 'going' implied that the friendship has ended.

While I'm still struggling with the sounds, my vocabulary is growing and I hope to be comfortable soon!


  1. Hello Paagli Didi,

    It's very caring for you to dig into the history of the country / culture. I just wanted to say one thing, if I may, that West Pakistan's inactivity for the cyclone victims was not the only incident or even a major event to push the Bangladeshis into a war, there were injustices and inequalities in every spheres of life. As a nation, we are not very assertive people; in my opinion, we were taken advantage of in the post 1947 era by the Pakistanis. If you get a chance please ask around / read about the genocide of 1971 that started in March. To fully understand Bangladesh/Bangladeshis it is imperative to know about the 'Muktijuddho' -- the liberation war of 1971. I am so proud that you took time out to learn about the history of my country. Kudos to you !!

    Do you know what does 'Paagli Didi' mean? A literal translation would be something in line of 'crazy sister' -- but it really doesn't translate the endearment that is inherent in it!!

    How is the rain treating you?

  2. I know the history of Bangladesh, I was focusing on the language aspect and didn't want to dive into the complex history in this post. As for paggli didi, it was said in jest and funny nickname between my students, another teacher and i. they were my paagli bon.

  3. I didn't realize their struggles are relatively new. Thanks for enlightening me! Patti

  4. I am very sorry if my comment have offended you. I was just trying to make a general comment. It would have been foolhardy of me to assume that a Fulbright fellow didn't do her homework before jumping into her project !!! Sorry again.