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A linguistic cross-pollination : Influence of foreign culture on the Bengali language



Let’s start when Bangla was still in its nascent stage of development; though an offshoot of Sanskrit, a pure Aryan language, Bangla started culminating the foreign influences with Dravidian and Kol, the two non-Aryan languages that’s evident from not only the vocabulary but from the construction of sentences as well.

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A common trait of the non-Aryan languages is the usage of onomatopoeic and repetitive words apart from the conjunctive verbs used to denote action. All those have found places in the common Bengali dialect; however, the primary influence that held is definitely Sanskrit, for which, Bengali poets like Jaydev, Umapatidhara, Bharatchandra and Govardhan Acharya are given special credits. These scholars continued composing their literary works in Sanskrit, helping reinforcing the language Bangla with a plethora of Sanskrit words that were long forgotten by the mass. And the legacy still continues.



The 13th century Bengal witnessed the establishment of Muslim rule; as a result, Arabic, Persian and Turkish were started been given paramount importance. The three been court languages, Bangla started picking up Persian words by galore; a similar influence was noticed during the 16th century Portuguese invasion, followed by the influences from the Dutch, French and English vocabulary in the 17th century.

However, there’s one thing that went unmentioned; though the native Bengali tongue did retain the actual pronunciation for certain words, the majority were molded as per the rounded phonetics Bangla is (in)famous for; on certain cases, the meanings were changed altogether or were being used along with the Bengali equivalent. Examples include:


i)                    Cartouche (French)=> Kartooj i.e. cartridge

ii)                  Hartan (Dutch) => Horton i.e. Spade

iii)                 General (English) => Jnaadreyl i.e. A high army official or a strong person.

iv)                Pao (Portuguese) => Pnauruti i.e. Bread (where ruti is bread in Bangla)


But if we need to give credits to a foreign language for influencing Bangla the most, it shall be English beyond any doubts. This is just because of the prolonged British colonization, though the 17th and 18th centuries witnessed an effective use of Bangla prose by the Christian missionaries.


A great and complex phenomenon, the colonization was also responsible for including the variations within the common norms of use in the linguistic resources of Bangla; it changed considerably the codes, dialects and styles giving rise to a hierarchical relationship between the two variants within the speech community. Diglossia, as it is commonly termed, shows till today (e.g. Time ki holo? i.e. What’s the time or different different places to denote multiple locations, the Bengali equivalent being alaada alaada jaayga). However, there’s no doubt regarding the fact that the linguistic cross-pollination granted Bangla a relatively stable status fit for the modern world, and though formal education and written forms use authentic, unadulterated Bangla in a profuse manner, using the same for ordinary conversation and incorporating the relation to the overall ideology would have proven a real juggernaut in today’s fast paced world. Glory to the hybridization, till it doesn’t make us forget Bangla in its purest form.

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