The History of the Bengali Language

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The History of the Bengali Language (1920)
by Bijay Chandra Majumdar
1725223The History of the Bengali Language1920Bijay Chandra Majumdar



Lecturer in the Departments of Comparative Philology,
Anthropology and Indian Vernaculars,
Calcutta University


Printed by Atulchandra Bhattacharyya
at the Calcutta University Press, Senate House, Calcutta


The following lectures on the History of the Bengali Language are intended to give a sketch, in broad outline, of the origins of that language and the various influences, linguistic, ethnic, social, that shaped and moulded its earlier history. One essential requirement of a scientific procedure in an investigation of this sort, I have steadily kept in view. The ethnic as well as the social history of a people or group of peoples must corroborate and light up the linguistic history, if the latter is to be rescued from the realm of prehistoric romance to which the story of philological origins, as so often told, must be however reluctantly assigned by the critical or scientific historian of to-day. One or two incidental results of my application of this anthropological test may be here mentioned. I have had no occasion to invent different Aryan belts for the imaginary migratory movements of some unknowable patois-speaking hordes, to account for the distinctive and peculiar phenomena of the provincial languages or dialects, e.g., those of Bengal: they are fitly explained by the successive ethnic contacts and mixtures with neighbouring or surrounding indigenous peoples. Similarly I have had no hesitation in recognizing within proper limits, the principle of miscegenation in the growth of language, as of race, provided that the organic accretions from outside grow to the living radicle or nucleus which persists as an independent or individual entity. In this way I have sought to explain many of the phenomena, regarding the grafting of Dravidian structural and syntactical elements, on some languages or dialects of so-called Aryan stock (including those of Bengal). One interesting example of this is to be seen in the accent systems of the different Bengali dialects, which naturally show traces of that ethnic miscegenation to which the anthropological history of the people, bears an unmistakable testimony, the more so as tone and accent are among what may be called tertiary racial characters of speech, and in their deep working predispositions, and relative stability, supply fit material for experimental variations of this sort.

In the course of these lectures, I have dealt with the more important topics relating to the origins of the Bengali language, explaining my own views and conclusions, rather than combating the theories that hold the field, and I have used the illustrative material briefly and suggestively, rather than exhaustively.

A few words may be necessary to explain the occasion of the present publication. It was in 1909 that I first gave a definite shape to the results of my study of the Bengali language and its history, but certain eye troubles which began at about that time, interfered with the immediate completion of my plans. Three or four years later, after those troubles had ceased with the total loss of eye-sight, I turned to my materials again, and worked at them, till in 1917, not knowing what to do with these unpublished papers, I sent them at the instance of a friend, to the Hon'ble Sir Asutosh Mukerjee, President of the Council of Post-Graduate Teaching in Arts in the University of Calcutta to see if any use could be made of them in connection with that scientific study of the Vernacular, which had long been one of Sir Asutosh's cherished projects in his scheme of University reconstruction and extension. To my great surprise, not unmixed with thankfulness, I found myself called upon, months later, to deliver a course of lectures on the History of the Bengali Language, in the Post-Graduate Department in the University of Calcutta. I took the advantage of the opportunity so generously afforded, to revise my original papers, in view of a number of facts, that had been since brought to light. I have to thankfully acknowledge, that when revising these papers, I was very much benefited by some highly valuable suggestions, which my friend, the eminent scholar Dr. Brojendranath Seal very generously offered.

Having had to use an amanuensis, and being without the means of inspecting either the manuscripts or the printed proofs, I am afraid, the following pages must contain numerous errors and misprints, for which the reader will, I know, excuse me. I am thankful to my young friend and colleague Babu Hemantakumar Sarkar, M.A., who has prepared the indexical contents and has brought several serious misprints to my notice.

I cannot end these prefatory words, without giving an expression, however feeble and halting, to the feeling of deep gratitude which overpowers me, when I think of the opportunity, which Sir Asutosh as the presiding genius of University education in Bengal, has opened to one circumstanced like me, an opportunity not only of that active self-expression, which has now become the staff of my life, but also of the fruition of my life's studies and constructive endeavours in one important direction.





A. Preliminary.—How Philology is related to Ethnology—pp. 1-2; the unscientific methods of Philologists criticised by Karl Pearson, pp. 2, 3; Grierson's theory, about the origin of Indian Dialects, pp. 3, 4; Risley's explanation, p. 6; Grammar and not vocabulary which gives a dialect its character, p. 6. B. Preparatory.—Bengali-speaking tracts, pp. 7, 8; Bengali loosely called a sanskritic language, p. 8; Aryan vernacular, a better name, p. 8; the term Aryan has no ethnic significance, p. 8; structure and accent system are great factors in a language, p. 8; for derivation of words sound suggestions are misleading, p. 9; subjects necessary to discuss, as a preparatory measure:—(1) Geographical limits of Ancient Vanga or Bengal and the character of the Pre-Aryan tribes of Bengal, (2) The form of Aryan speech first introduced in Bengal, (3) The Aryan or Aryanized and the non-Aryan hordes which made inroads into Bengal from the earliest known time to the end of the 12th century A. D., p. 9; some important propositions stated:—

(1) Linguistic miscegenation—Keane's view—structure may be influenced to some extent by foreign influence—the mixture of vocabularies is not of much consequence—The example of Urdu—pp. 10-11.

(2) When a new structure is gradually built with new elements on a fresh basis, a new language is evolved; The natural and organised mode of thinking of a people can never be radically changed, p. 12. (3) What is called a patois or vulgar speech is never a separate language—Isolation and want of culture bring about deformities, p. 12; Phonetic peculiarities and the anatomical structure of the vocal organs, p. 13; How pronunciation may at times be wholly due to the education of the ear, p. 13. Difference in pronunciation may at times be explained by climatic conditions as well as by the social life of ease or difficulty, pp. 14, 15; Racial character of speech, p. 15; Heredity and variation—Wundt's inheritable predisposition, p. 15; Primary, Secondary and Tertiary racial characters in speech, pp. 15, 16; unity or homogeneity of a race cannot be postulated on linguistic basis alone, p. 17.

[pp. 1-17.


Ancient Bengal and its Peoples.

Section I. The antiquity of the names Vanga and Bānglā

The Veda samhitās and the early Vedic literature do not mention the name Vanga—Atharva Veda mentions Anga—In the Atharva Veda Parisiṣṭa the word Vanga occurs with Magadha as a component of a compound word—The value of this silence, p. 18; Aitareya Brahmana mentions Vanga as a country of the barbarians, p. 20; Early Buddhistic literature is as silent as the Vedas; Vanga not colonised by the Aryans till 6th century B. C, p. 20; the aboriginal tribes known by their totem names, p. 21; the story of Vijaya Sinha and the colonisation of Bengal, p. 22; Early Magadhi influence in Ceylon, p. 23; Remnants of Bengali vocabulary and accent system in Sinhalese, p. 24; First Aryan settlement in Bengal, pp. 24, 25; Baudhāyana's and Vasista's limits of Āryāvarta, pp. 25-26; The unholy Vanga, p. 26; sea voyage allowed in some northern countries of the Aryans, p. 26; Researches in Farther India by Phayre and Gerini—Early colonisation of Burma by the Dravidians and then by the Aryans, p. 27; Telegu supremacy in Arakan and Chittagong in 850 B.C.—Bengali colony in Annam not later than 7th century B.C., p. 27; the leader of the Bengali adventurer Luck-lom coming from the province of Bong-long, p. 28; belonged to Nāga Vaṁsa—Bong-long the original form of Bānglā—people of Bong-long known by the name Bong—Vanga as the name of a tribe in old Hindu Literature—Anga, Vanga, Kalinga regarded by the Aryans to have been of non-Aryan origin—Kins of Bong tribe replaced by Buddhist Kṣatriyas of Magadh in Annam in second decade of 3rd century B. C, p. 28; Dravidian tradition regarding many Nāga-worshipping tribes proceeding to south from Bengal and its neighbourhood—The Marans, Cheras and Pangala Tirayers, the most important, p. 29; The Pangalas, or people of তীরবঙ্গ founded kingdom at Kanchi, p. 30; The Vangas, a sea-faring people, p. 31.

[pp. 18-31.


Ancient Bengal and its Peoples (contd.)

Section II.—The Geography of Old Bānglā and of other related tracts

Home of the non-Aryan Vangas as we find in the Mahabharata and Purāṇas—A portion of Kālaka-vana, came to be designated as Jhāḍakhaṇḍa—A portion of Jhāḍakhaṇḍa got the name Rāḍha or Lāḍha, p. 32—Temple of Vaidyanath situated in Rāḍha—Anga corresponds to Bhagalpur, Suhma to portions of Midnapur, with Tamralipti for its capital—five sons of Bali, progenitors of the allied races—Angas, Puṇḍras, Vangas, Suhmas and Kalingas.—Account of Bali Raja from a Dravidian source, p. 33—The value of the story of Behulā, p. 35—Original inhabitants of Bengal were by race and habits allied to those who are now designated as Dravidians, p. 35—The situation of Vanga as in the Raghuvaṁsa, p. 35—Banga not Eastern Bengal—Situation of Uttara Rāḍha, Dakṣin Rāḍha, Vanga and Barinda as appears from Tirumalai Inscriptions.—The significance of Tippera-Raj-Ensigns, bearing representations of pān and fish, 36. Vanga called Samataṭa in the Vṛhatsaṁhita, p. 37. Hiuen Tsiang's Topography and Geography—Kaichu-ho-khilo—Culture of Magadha prevailing all over Bengal, pp. 38-39— Assam inhabited by a Mongolian tribe, p. 39—Karṇasuvarṇa in Rāḍha, Narendra Gupta's capital, pp. 39-40—How Oriya is related to Bengali, p. 40—Utkalas mentioned in the Puranas and in the Raghuvaṁsa, p. 41—Geography of Utkala, pp. 41-42. Muḍu Kalinga became Trikalinga in the language of the Aryans Trikalinga = Telinga = Telegu, p. 42.

[pp. 31-42.


Ancient Bengal and its Peoples (concld.)

Section III.— Gauḍa, Rāḍha and Banga

The name Gauḍa is of comparatively recent origin, p. 43—Geography of Gauḍa, in the 8th century A. D., p. 43—Meaning of the word Gauḍa, p. 44—Alberuni's reference to Gauḍa. p. 44—A. K. Iyer, on the Gauḍa (Trihotrapur) origin of some Cochin Brahmins, p. 45. Political condition of Bengal from 8th-12th century A. D. during the Pāla Rājās, p. 45—Northern Bengal under the Kāmbojes, p. 46—Transfer of the capital of the Pāla Rājās from Magadha to Bengal, p. 46—Affinity between Eastern Bihari and Bengali, p. 47—Bihar under the sway of Westerners,— Bengal the real representative of old Bihar, p. 47. The Pravangas, viz., Mālas, Māhiṣikas and Mānabattikas.—The Kośala Guptas and the Bengalis, p 48—Vanga as general name of the country, p. 49—The Kayastha and the Babus, pp. 49-50. The Vaidyas, pp. 50-53. The origin of the Sena Rājās of Bengal, pp. 50-51. The Ambaṭṭans, p. 52. The invasion of the Indo-Chinese people, p. 53—Unexplained Geographical names in Bengal, p. 54.

[pp. 43-54.


The Influence of the Dravidian Speeches on Bengali

How changes in a language and deviations from the norm may be explained, p. 55—The non-Aryan influence on the Aryan speeches, p. 55—Stenkonow's remarks on the change of Aryan dentals into cerebrals, pp. 55-56. Cerebrals are never initials of genuine Dravidian words, p. 56—Bengali cerebrals are not so much cerebral as dental, p. 57—Mongolian influence, p. 58—Sir R. G. Bhandarkar's explanation criticised, p. 58—Dravidian phonetic peculiarities noticeable in the formation of Pāli and other Prākṛita words, p. 59—Bengali 'কে' from Dravidian 'কু,' p. 59—Caldwell Trumpp, Beams and Bhandarkar on the point, pp. 59-60—Stenkonow on the similarity between Etruscan and Dravidian, p. 61—Some of their common characteristics distinctly noticeable in Bengali language, p. 61—Illustrations of Early Dravidian influence, pp. 62-63—List of Dravidian words in use in Bengali, pp. 63, 67—Some essential Grammatical peculiarities of the Dravidians noticeable in Bengali, p. 67—Origin of plural forming গুলি and রা, pp. 67, 68—Position of the negative particle না betrays Dravidian influence, pp. 68-69—দেশী words which cannot be traced either to any Sanskritic origin or to any other non-Aryan origin, pp. 69-74.

[pp. 55-74.


Bengali Phonology

Bengali vowels, pp. 75-76—Pronunciation of Bengali অ, pp. 75-76—Oriya অ, p. 76—The Vedic saṁvṛta অ, pp. 76-77—Vedic অ and আ carried at times a half nasal sound, pp. 77-78—The nasal of আ, pp. 78-79—Pronunciation of আ, p. 79—Words of one letter in Bengali pronounced long as in Tamil, p. 80—Change of আ to ই, pp. 80, 81—আ changed to এ, ও, pp. 80-82—Pronunciation of ই, ঈ, pp. 82-85 —উ, ঊ, p. 85—এ, ঐ, ও, ঔ, pp. 85-89— Rabindranath's rule regarding the pronunciation of এ accepted and expanded, p. 88—Visarjaniya, pp. 89-90—The nasal sound, p. 90—য, র, ল, ব, p. 93—র, ঋ, ল and ঌ, pp. 94-96—Bengali consonants, pp. 96-105—Phonetic value of Tamil consonants, pp. 96-97—Consonants of the Aryan speech, pp. 97-98—ক, খ, গ, ঘ, p. 97—চ, ছ, জ, ঝ, p. 98—Sibilants, pp. 99-100—হ and শ, pp. 100-102—Rules relating to the occurance of non-হসন্ত final, pp. 102.

[pp. 75-105.


Some Factors relating to Phonology and Accent

Section 1.—A Comparative Study of Accent.

Meaning of Akṣara, p. 106—Accent in Vedic and Classical Sanskrit, p. 106—Sentence accent in Vedic, pp. 106-107—উদাত্ত, অনুদাত্ত and স্বরিৎ, p. 107—Change of meaning by change of accent, pp. 107-109—Vedic accent in metrical composition, p. 109—Accentual peculiarities in the vocative case, p. 110—Pronunciation of the word অগ্নি in the Veda, pp. 110-111—Survival of Vedic accent in Pali and Prakrit, p. 111—Jacobi's criticism, p. 111—Emphasis on phrases in Sanskrit, p. 112—Accent system in Oriya, p. 113—Marked peculiarities of the Accent system in Bengali, p. 114—Central and East and West Bengal pronunciation, 114—Dravidian influence, 115.

[pp. 106-116.


Phonology and Accent (contd.)

Section 2.—Bengali Metrical System.

Bengali Metrical system based on syllables and not on letters—Metrical system of early Vaisnava Poets is artificial, p. 117—Character of Bengali syllables, p. 118—পয়ার metre based on 14 syllables and not 14 letters, p. 118—Illustrations of Bengali metrical system, p. 118—How from indigenous songs literary verses originated, p. 120—The opinion is wrong that হসন্ত words do not practically exist in old Bengali, p. 120—Madhusudan and Hemchandra's versification, p. 121—Evolution of our Metrical system, p. 121—Sanskrit metres of late origin, p. 121. Their Bengali prototypes, pp. 121-126—Hindi and Oriya modes of reciting poetry, p. 126.

[pp. 117-27.


Phonology and Accent (concld.)

Section 3.—Accent traced in Sandhi and Compound Formation.

Vedic and Sanskrit Sandhi, p. 128. Sandhi in Pāli, p. 129. Bengali Sandhi system, p. 130. Samāsa, p. 133. Adverbial compounds অব্যয়ীভাব, p. 133. Determinative or তৎপুরুষ,—(1) কর্ত্তা-প্রধান, (2) কর্ম্ম-প্রধান, (3) করণ-প্রধান, (4) উদ্যেশ্য-বাচক, (5) অপাদান-বাচক, (6) সম্বন্ধ-বাচক, (7) স্থান-কাল বাচক, pp. 134-5. Descriptive or কর্ম্মধারয়, p. 135. দ্বিগু—বহুব্রীহি—দ্বন্দ্ব, p. 135. Duplicated words of nine classes, pp. 136-39. Appendices to Lectures VI to IX.

Appendix I.—A study of some Onomatopoetic Desi words, pp. 140-3.

Appendix II.—The Phenomenon of Sandhi, pp. 144-55.

[pp. 128-55.


How Chāndasa is related to Later Aryan Speeches.

Relation between Vedic, Sanskrit and Vernaculars, p. 156. Keane, on the spread of Aryan speech amongst non-Aryan peoples, p. 157. The linguistic strata in the Vedas, p. 158. Personal Pronoun in the Vedic, p. 159. Their various stems, p. 159. Lost forms of Pronouns, p. 163. The literary character of the pre-Vedic language, p. 164. The Chāndasa language, a very rich and well developed literary speech, p. 164. It was a living language, p. 165. The phenomenon of phonetic decay or 'Apabhraṇśa' in Chāndasa, p. 166. Loss of initial conjunct mutes, p. 166. Losses in words denoting Numerals, p. 167. Vedic mantras preserved as a hieratic speech, p. 169. The term 'laukika' for Sanskrit, p. 170. The term 'Sanskṛta,' p. 173. Provincial dialect at the time of Patanjali, p. 174. That the Prākṛta dialects are derived from Sanskrit is an erroneous proposition, p. 175. Variety of past forms in Sanskrit, p. 175. Pronunciation, p. 177. Dual, p. 178. Why later Prākṛtas were more Sanskritic, p. 179. Prākṛta forms Sanskritized, pp. 181-85. Vernacular words traceable to the Vedic, pp. 185-87. Appendix.—Pseudo-Sanskrit words drawn from Prākṛts, pp. 189-91.

[pp. 156-91.


Pāli and other old Prākṛtas

Prākṛta defined, p. 192. Prākṛta the language of the common people, p. 193. Pali defined, p. 193. Pāli, an early Māgadhi Prākṛta, p. 193. The character of Pāli, p. 196. Pāli, a literary speech, p. 197. The Gāthā language, a curious mixture of Sanskrit and Apabhraṇśa, p. 199. Artificial literary Prākṛta the language of the old Prākṛta works, p. 199. The language of the Aśoka inscriptions not artificial, p. 199. Old Magadhi Prākṛta or Pāli and Bengali, p. 200. Similarity of Accent system, p. 201. Survival in Vocabulary, p. 201. Morphological comparison between Pali and Bengali, p. 206. Origin of a class of long-winded Samāsa compounds, p. 207. Jaina Prākṛta, p. 207. A link between Pāli and Modern Vernaculars, p. 207. Study of Jaina Prāktṛa essential for the history of Bengal, p. 208. Points of agreement between Jaina Prākṛta and Bengali, p. 210. Peculiarity of Bengali names, p. 213.

[pp. 192-213.


The Literary Prākṛtas

Prākṛta speeches of the dramas were not spoken Vernaculars, p. 214. Some examples from Ganḍa Bahō Kavya and Setubandha, p. 215. Words that have not undergone any decay in Bengali from remotest antiquity, p. 216. Māgadhi, Sauraseni and Mahārāstri Prākṛtas, p. 216. Some anomalies in the survivals of Mahārāstri and Sauraseni forms. Mahārāstri as the name for the standard Prākṛta, p. 217. The real significance of the name indicates culture centre, p. 220. Standard Prākṛta, a language fabricated by reducing Sanskrit to Prākṛta forms, p. 221. The significance of various dialect names for different classes of Dramatis personæ, p. 223. The language of Gāthā Saptaśati, p. 223. The Prākṛta Paingala, p. 225. Aryan Vernacular as well deveolped literary languages before 14th century, p. 225. Metrical peculiarities of these Vernaculars, p. 226. Verses in Prākṛta written when modern vernaculars were current, p. 227. Proto-Bengali verses, pp. 228-32. Mixed character of the language of some Prākṛta verses, p. 229. Literary languages Vs. Vernacular speeches, pp. 233-34.

[pp. 214-34.


P. 2, L. 33 for spaeks read speaks.

P. 32, L. 18 ,, Avāranga read Ayaranga (Ācāranga)

P. 68, L. 25 „ দ্বীয় „ দীয়

„   „ 26 „ তদীয় „ ত্বদীয়

Addition.—Of words listed in pp. 71—74 the following have been traced by me to known origins:—(1) আলি (Dravidian), (2) কুড়ি (Mongolian—see Lecture XIII), (3) ঠেং (from জঙ্ঘা, see Lecture XIII), (4) ভিড়ান (from বেষ্টন), (5) ভুল (from বিহ্বল, see Lecture XIII), (6) মাগি (Dravidian, see Lecture XIII), and (7) হাট্ (from সংঘট্ট, see Lecture XIII).

P. 72, L. 26, the words eel to should go over to column 2 before words 'keep fish.'

P. 83, L. 14—also at other places—for metathysis read metathesis.

P. 131, last line, for বৃসা-কপি read বৃষাকপি.

P. 169, L. 7, for hiyeratic read hieratic and other places.

P. 175, L. 26, for time read tense.

P. 176, L. 20, for heterogenuous read heterogeneous.

P. 177, L. 10, for বভুব read বভূব.

P. 178, L. 9, for recent read accent.

P. 179, L. 18, for mainteinance read maintenance.

For p. 343 read p. 243.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in 1920, before the cutoff of January 1, 1929.

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