View Full Version : Learn Bengali Sounds and Alphabet

December 28, 2007, 02:34 AM
In order to learn Bengali, you will need to know the sounds of Bengali. Fortunately, Bengali sounds are VERY easy, and consistent.

Let's look at the vowels first. There are seven main vowel sounds in Bengali. These are:

1. [বাংলা]অ[/বাংলা] (Sound sample (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Open-mid_back_rounded_vowel.ogg))
2. [বাংলা]আ[/বাংলা] (Sound sample (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Open_front_unrounded_vowel.ogg))
3. [বাংলা]ই [/বাংলা] (Sound sample (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/91/Close_front_unrounded_vowel.ogg))
4. [বাংলা]উ[/বাংলা] (Sound sample (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5d/Close_back_rounded_vowel.ogg))
5. [বাংলা]এ [/বাংলা] (Sound sample (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/Close-mid_front_unrounded_vowel.ogg))
6. [বাংলা]ও[/বাংলা] (Sound sample (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/Close-mid_back_rounded_vowel.ogg))
7. [বাংলা]অ্যা[/বাংলা] (Sound sample (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Near-open_front_unrounded_vowel.ogg))

These vowels can join with each other to produce a few more combined vowel sounds, or diphthongs. There are about 17 of these diphthongs in Bengali. Let's have a look at them.

1. [বাংলা]অ+এ = অয় (বয়)[/বাংলা]
2. [বাংলা]অ+ও = অও (হও)[/বাংলা]
3. [বাংলা]আ+ই = আই (খাই)[/বাংলা]
4. [বাংলা]আ+উ= আউ (লাউ)[/বাংলা]
5. [বাংলা]আ+এ = আয় (যায়)[/বাংলা]
6. [বাংলা]আ+ও = আও (নাও)[/বাংলা]
7. [বাংলা]ই+ই = ইই (দিই)[/বাংলা]
8. [বাংলা]ই+উ = ইউ (শিউলি)[/বাংলা]
9. [বাংলা]এ+ই = এই (নেই)[/বাংলা]
10. [বাংলা]এ+উ = এউ (কেউ)[/বাংলা]
11. [বাংলা]এ+ও = এও (যেও)[/বাংলা]
12. [বাংলা]অ্যা+এ = অ্যায় (দেয়)[/বাংলা]
13. [বাংলা]অ্যা+ও = অ্যাও (ম্যাঁও)[/বাংলা]
14. [বাংলা]ও+ই = ওই/ঐ (মই)[/বাংলা]
15. [বাংলা]ও+উ = ওউ/ঔ (বউ)[/বাংলা]
16. [বাংলা]ও+এ = ওয় (শোয়)[/বাংলা]
17. [বাংলা]ও+ও = ওও (ছোঁও)[/বাংলা]

Now, a few words about how these vowels are represented in the Bengali alphabet. As you can see from above, we have separate vowel letters for six of the seven main vowel sounds in Bangla. These are:

[বাংলা]অ, আ, ই, উ, এ, ও[/বাংলা]

The seventh main vowel sound is represented by adding a special sign, called [বাংলা]য-ফলা [/বাংলা](jo fola) to [বাংলা]আ[/বাংলা], which results in this character: [বাংলা]অ্যা[/বাংলা]. This character is not officially in the Bengali basic alphabet. You may find it a little strange that one of the main vowels is not represented in the basic alphabet, but that's how it is in Bengali.

Bengali main vowels do not have long counterparts. There are, in fact, no inherently long vowels in Bengali. But as Bengali alphabet was adopted from an earlier alphabet that was built to pronounce Sanskrit words (which do have long vowels), it has retained the long vowel signs for the vowels ই and উ. These are ঈ and ঊ, respectively. Although they give us no extra phonetic information, they are important in the Bengali spelling system for showing the Sanskrit roots of Bengali words. Any word that has these long vowel signs, can be readily recognized as having been descended or borrowed from Sanskrit.

Although Bengali has many diphthongs, only two of them have distinct, unique letter forms in the Bengali alphabet: [বাংলা]ঐ [/বাংলা]and [বাংলা]ঔ[/বাংলা]. The rest of the diphthongs are written by writing the two vowels separately (sometimes the consonant letter [বাংলা]য়[/বাংলা] is used as well).

Bengali has also borrowed the letter ঋ from Sanskrit-based alphabets. In Sanskrit, this ঋ actually denoted a kind of a vowel. But in Bengali it sounds like the consonant-vowel combination of "ri". Nevertheless, this bit of the Bengali alphabet hasn't been reformed and it still stays with us as a separate sign. It is important in the same way as the long vowel signs; it shows that the word is borrowed from Sanskrit.

So, in the end, this is how the vowel part of the Bengali alphabet looks like, in the traditional order that is taught in all the schools in West Bengal and Bangladesh:

[বাংলা]অ আ ই ঈ উ ঊ ঋ এ ঐ ও ঔ[/বাংলা]

The traditional vowel alphabet, therefore, has six of the seven main vowels, two long vowel signs and the "ri" (which are phonetically useless but important for the spelling system), and two diphthong signs (although Bengali has at least 17 diphthongs). It's not the most efficient system, but that's how it has developed over the centuries.


Another thing to note that all these vowel sounds can be pronounced with a nasal tone. To indicate that a vowel has a nasal tone to it, we simply add a special sign called chondrobindu above it. Chandrabindu looks like this: ঁ.

The main vowels with chondrobindu:

[বাংলা]অঁ[/বাংলা], as in [বাংলা]কঁকানো [/বাংলা]
[বাংলা]আঁ[/বাংলা], as in [বাংলা]আঁচিল [/বাংলা]
[বাংলা]ইঁ[/বাংলা], as in[বাংলা] ইঁদুর[/বাংলা]
[বাংলা]উঁ[/বাংলা], as in [বাংলা]ছুঁই[/বাংলা]
[বাংলা]এঁ[/বাংলা], as in [বাংলা]বেঁটে[/বাংলা]
[বাংলা]ওঁ[/বাংলা], as in [বাংলা]ছোঁড়া[/বাংলা]
[বাংলা]অ্যাঁ[/বাংলা], as in [বাংলা]হ্যাঁ[/বাংলা]