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'The modernization of the language was not limited to West Bengal'

  • Published at 11:48 am February 24th, 2018
  • Last updated at 04:35 pm February 26th, 2018
'The modernization of the language was not limited to West Bengal'

How has the Bangla language evolved over time?

The Bangla language commands a certain amount of respect as far as world languages are concerned, making it the sixth most influential language considering that about 300 million speak it. It comes right after the likes of English, Chinese, French, Spanish and Arabic. Any scholar would agree that Bangla is a scientific language particularly after Rabindranath, when the language reached newer heights and became a global language. Even Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose spoke of how Bangla is successful in expressing all kinds of emotions. Author Ramendra Sundar Trivedi, Satyendra Nath Bose and many others have made similar observations. The British too, need to be credited for the practice of the Bangla language during the 19th century, with numerous influential personalities such as William Carey writing about the sciences, economics, society and other issues. Apart from that, a board was formed in 1817-18 which took the initiative to publish textbooks in Bangla in partnership with the Fort William College in Kolkata.

When did the modernization of Bangla begin?

The modernization of the language began in the 1850s and was not limited only to West Bengal. The publication of Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan is a prime example of how Bangla flourished in the East. Other districts of the region also began to bring out periodicals. For instance, the first weekly of modern-day Bangladesh, the Rangpur Bartabaha, was first published in 1847 from Rangpur, with active contribution of prominent scholars, writers and critics of the time. Kedarnath Majumdar was associated with Saurabh, which was being published from Mymensingh with Dinesh Chandra Sen and other famous Bangla writers. Thus, we can conclude that Bangla was under the influence of modernisation by the late 18th century. Foreign scholars also started to conduct more research and practice Bangla. Even today, scholars in Japan are studying Bangla with a focus on Lalon, folklore and more. In Germany, Prof Hans Harder from Heidelberg University is considered to be an expert on Bangla. Recently, volumes of Rabindranath Tagore’s works have been published in China under the supervision of Prof Dong Youchen from Beijing University.

How much has the language changed, especially in terms of what we write and speak? 

The modernization of Bangla resulted in shadhu bhasha, whereas cholito Bangla was popularised in 1914 by Pramatha Chaudhuri and later on, gained more prominence when Rabindranath Tagore started using it to write. The grammar rules of the former have been historically set by scholars both local and foreign, but there are no scientific rules for the latter. Rabindranath himself set out to standardize these grammar rules along with the likes of Dinesh Chandra Sen, Ramendra Sundar Trivedi and Haraprasad Shastri. But even though they were acclaimed personalities, the conservative Brahmin pundits did not let them finish. This unfinished work was completed by Bangla Academy in between 2013-15. After we met with the Bangla Academy in Kolkata, we decided that we must standardize the language since most Bengalis use the spoken form of Bangla. We formed a six-member team in Dhaka and along with a 12-man team from West Bengal, worked on the project here. After it was published, the Times of India covered the issue as its lead story with the title, “Cholito Bhasha gets a grammar of its own”. We have also prepared a dictionary that traces the changes in spellings and even meanings of Bangla words since the time of Charyapada.

Do you think it's okay to mix English and Bangla when we speak?

This is something that we as Bengalis can hardly avoid, especially after being ruled by the British and being exposed to the language. It is only understandable that in time, there would be a mixture of the two. Interestingly, foreign scholars such as Prof Hans Harder and Prof Youchen who have mastered the Bangla language, prefer using it instead of English when talking to us, and they never drop English words into their speech. Previously, there was a Bangla pundit in every school who was well-versed in Sanskrit as well, to teach Bangla. But now, more often than not, Bangla teachers themselves are not adept and often serve as all-round teachers who teach multiple subjects.

Ekushey February was our protest for the right to not only our own speech, but free speech. Do you think this is being hindered, first in our school textbooks, and then in the attempted police interventions at the Ekushey book fair?

The steps of the textbook board is something I do not approve of and I would like to voice my disapproval of it. Some of the changes that have been made are to stories or essays that have been part of our educational system for years, allegedly due to pressure from Hefazat-e-Islam. This is something I personally find condemnable. As far as the book fair restrictions are concerned, none of it comes from the Bangla Academy. It is impossible to go through thousands of books that are being released at the fair and it is something that does not fall under our jurisdiction, and neither is it the police's concerns. There is a special cell in the Home Ministry which looks over the content and takes necessary actions whenever they deem fit.