Saturday, 13 April 2019

L is for...Language... Lexicon... n... Loanwords

The first track here today is from Lakhkhichara - a Kolkata based band who've been singing for around 20 years. Jibon chai aro beshi (Life wants much more)...tell me about it!

The next title - Keu sukhi noy (No-one is happy) is from a Bangladeshi band called LRB. Ayub Bachchu, who was the founding member of the band and its lead guitarist and vocalist, passed away tragically October last year after steering the band for 27 years. He was a well-known singer-songwriter and is acknowledged as one of the best guitarists from Bangladesh. Apart from his own band LRB, he played with different bands and also cut solo albums. Tribute concerts were held for Ayub in Dhaka  and Kolkata, and also in Toronto where a number of Canadians of Bengali/Bangladeshi origins are part of the music scene.

Last but not the least here's Runa Laila with Amay bhasaili re, a number you've heard before, a popular folk song. Runa is a legendary artiste from Bangladesh and a stalwart of the subcontinental music scenario, with a great bunch of awards from and legions of fans in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. It might be worthwhile mentioning here that India and Pakistan might be at loggerheads politically but are totally nuts about each other's cultural offerings/artistes. Bollywood actors have massive fan followings across the border, while Indians ooh and aah over Pakistani singers and poets and TV plays. And we share the same insane love for cricket too.

Languages. Loanwords. Lexicon.

Bengali has evolved over a time span greater than two thousand years, from Pali and Sanskrit to Magadhi Prakrit to Ardha Magadhi to Old Bengali and Medieval Bengali to its present form.

Ancient Bengal, as a part of the Gupta Empire (3rd century BCE to 500 CE), was a hub of Sanskrit literature. The Pala Empire (750-1200 CE) spoke a version of Proto Bengali.

Modern Bengali evolved sometime around 1000 CE diverging out from the other eastern languages such as Assamese and Odiya.  Some scholars feel the point of divergence may have been as far back as 500 CE. What is clear however, is that many different variants existed contiguously and the timeline is not a smooth, clear progression from one stage to another.

By the time the Bengal Sultanate was established in the 14th century, modern Bengali had evolved and the rulers of mainly Turkic descent adopted it as their state language. And because Bengal attracted traders and later, conquerors from all over the world, the language absorbed many different linguistic influences along the way.  Have a peek at the visual to see where the present day loanwords have originated from -

Bengali has a lexicon of around 100,000 words. These include loanwords from Arabic, Dutch, English, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, and Turkish.  Take a look at some common examples:

Arabic to Bengali 

Aql - Akkel (Wisdom, smarts)             
Baqi - Baki (Remaining)
Baad - Baade (Later, afterwards)
Dunya - Duniya (World)
Gharib (Strange) - Gorib (Poor)
Hisaab - Hisheb  (Accounts)
Hawa - Haoa (Winds)
Jawab - Jobab (Answer)
Kol (All) - Kulle (In sum, total)
Khabr - Khobor (News)
Khali - Khali (Empty)
Masunad - Mosnod (Throne)
Mushkila - Mushkil (Problem)
Qabr - Kobor (Bury/grave)
Wazn - Ojon (Weight)

Dutch to Bengali

Schoppen - Ishkabon (Spades)
Haarten -  Horoton (Hearts)
Ruiten - Ruhiton/Ruiton (Diamonds)
Klaveren - Chiriton (Clubs)
Troef - Turup (Trump)
Schroef - Iskurup (Screw)

English to Bengali

Bank - Bank
School - Ishkool
Office - Ophish
College - Kolej
Police - Poolish
Table - Taybeel
Stable - Astabol
Hospital - Hashpatal
Doctor- Daktar

Persian to Bengali

Ayna - Ayna (Mirror)
Aram -Aram (Comfort)
Ahista - Aste (Slowly)
Chashm (Eye) - Choshma (Spectacles)
Khub (Well) - Khub (Greatly/Very)
Kharab (Bad) - Kharap (Bad/Spoilt)
Khush (happy/pleasant) - Khushi (Happiness)
Kaghaz - Kagoj (Paper)
Dam - Dom (Breath)
Der - Deri (Delay)
Bad - Bod (Bad)
Rasta - Rasta (Road/way)
Roz (Day) - Roj (Daily)
Khun (Blood) - Khun (Murder)
Avaz - Aoaj (Sound)
Nakhun - Nokh (Fingernail)

Portuguese to Bengali

Armario - Almari (Wardrobe/Cupboard)
Camisa - Kamij (Shirt)
Gamela - Gamla (Basin/Bowl)
Chave - Chabi (Key)
Estirar - Istri (Iron)
Janela - Janala (Window)
Balde - Balti (Bucket)
Cadeira - Kedara (Chair)
Sabao - Shaban (Soap)
Fita - Fita (Tape, ribbon)
Varanda - Baranda (Balcony)
Pao (Bread) - Pauruti (Bread, Western, leavened)
Igreja - Girja (Church)
Cruz - Kurush/Krush (Cross)
Padre - Padri (Priest)
Ingles - Ingrej (English) Ingreji (English language)

Turkish to Bengali

Baba - Baba (Father)
Dolma - Dolma (Stuffed vegetables)
Baburci - Baburchi (Cook, usually Muslim)
Korma - Korma (Braised dish with yoghurt/cream/cashew paste base)
Lesh - Lash (Body)

These are by no means exhaustive. There are several other foreign languages which have also enriched Bengali, such as French and Japanese.  Several prefixes and suffixes from Arabo-Persian have been borrowed and combined with Sanskrit roots to form hybrid words eg Belaj (be- is a Persian prefix indicating lack of, laj is a colloquial form of lajja meaning modesty/shame) and Angshidar (angsha = part, dar = Persian suffix indicative of possession, part-owner)  According to one source quoted in the Asiatic Society, there are some 5000 loanwords from Arabic alone in Bengali. The long contact with Arabic traders has meant that, apart from Sanskrit, the number of words that have trickled into Bengali from Arabic and then Persian are the highest. It is estimated that loanwords from foreign languages make up around 8-10% of the Bengali lexicon. 

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019


  1. how many languages do you know? i always love to see the similarities between languages.

    Joy at The Joyous Living

    1. Me too! Love tracing the etymologies of words, and other things as well. I'm properly fluent in two languages. I can get by in two more.

  2. I suspect most languages have myriads of loan words - and love it. It is such a pointed reminder of the benefits of sharing cultures.

    1. Ya, an unexpected benefit of travelling. English has tonnes of them too. Picked up through the sojourns :)

  3. Hi Nila. I'm always fascinated by the origin or words and marvel at how many 'English' words originate from other languages. Language evolves constantly and is never static. Thanks for a great post...

    1. Hi Denise, glad you enjoyed the post. English probably has the maximum amount of loanwords. Their exposure to other cultures and languages is massive. As you say, it is always evolving - the March 2019 OED additions/updates include the word 'chuddies' which is a borrowing from Hindi.

  4. An absolutely fascinating piece. I wonder if one day, way in the future, there will be one universal language.

    My A-Z of Children's Stories

    1. That reminds me of the Biblical story - whole of the earth was one language. And then someone came up with the idea of building a skyscraper and everything got ruined.

  5. I love learning about how languages evolve, and seeing cognates from languages with a history in that area.

  6. Oooh! Thanks for the new music and for the history of words. I love it! It's great to see where words are from. (Though the best is when you find out a word means the translation. Like finding out the "oddly named" river is just a word that means river, so it's River River. Ha ha ha.)

    J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

    1. Ya, it's like calling the Sahara the 'Sahara Desert.' Because Sahara is the word for desert in Arabic :)

  7. I'm utterly fascinated by language and how it evolves and morphs. I find the idea of loan words really exciting - for me it offers encouragement that we can actually share and grow in collaboration with one another.

    1. The whole concept of cultural exchange and assimilation is so neat.

  8. Now I want to know what languages have loan words from Bengali...
    Also, I wonder why they are loan words. It's not like anyone ever gives them back...

    The Multicolored Diary

  9. I love language stew - it's amazing what mingles together and works into the lexicon. As for loggerheads - politics and religion - set them by the wayside to gather for a music/sport fest and everyone comes out a winner. We can all laugh and enjoy

  10. Every language is enriched by others. In French, we have latin roots of course, but also Arabic words, Spanish, German, and so much more! That's what make a language alive, and rich