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:
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. অ+এ = অয় (বয়)
2. অ+ও = অও (হও)
3. আ+ই = আই (খাই)
4. আ+উ= আউ (লাউ)
5. আ+এ = আয় (যায়)
6. আ+ও = আও (নাও)
7. ই+ই = ইই (দিই)
8. ই+উ = ইউ (শিউলি)
9. এ+ই = এই (নেই)
10. এ+উ = এউ (কেউ)
11. এ+ও = এও (যেও)
12. অ্যা+এ = অ্যায় (দেয়)
13. অ্যা+ও = অ্যাও (ম্যাঁও)
14. ও+ই = ওই/ঐ (মই)
15. ও+উ = ওউ/ঔ (বউ)
16. ও+এ = ওয় (শোয়)
17. ও+ও = ওও (ছোঁও)
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:
অ, আ, ই, উ, এ, ও
The seventh main vowel sound is represented by adding a special sign, called য-ফলা
(jo fola) to আ
, which results in this character: অ্যা
. 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: ঐ
. The rest of the diphthongs are written by writing the two vowels separately (sometimes the consonant letter য়
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:
অ আ ই ঈ উ ঊ ঋ এ ঐ ও ঔ
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:
, as in কঁকানো
, as in আঁচিল
, as in ইঁদুর
, as in ছুঁই
, as in বেঁটে
, as in ছোঁড়া
, as in হ্যাঁ