you Zafar Sobhan for snatching the words from my mouth in
your last article [June 25 'Shopno (not swapna) Dekhbo
Boley']. We have something more in common than just the
coincidence of possessing the same surname: I share your indignant
views about the sorry state of Bangla transliteration. Thank
you for being a discerning 'Bongo-shontan' (NOT Banga-santan)
and making the case for our mangled mother tongue in her printed
version. For years I have been fighting this cause to no avail.
Whenever in my writings I insisted on spelling a Bangla word
to represent what it sounds like in normal speech, say, ‘bhodro'
for decent, ‘shaastho' for health or ‘sriti'
for memory, some editorial pen, schooled in the conventional
methods, immediately changed it to the alien or Hindi sounding
‘bahdra,' ‘swasthya,' and ‘smriti'!
rules of English transliteration of Bangla have always irritated
me. I realised just how counter-productive this could be when
I was teaching my sons their mother tongue here in Italy and
picked up a Bangla-for-Foreigners type of book. I promptly
trashed it in disgust for it sounded like Maiythali-resurrected-for
Beginners! I mean, easy to pronounce and simple Bangla words
had been complicated beyond recognition, turning, for example,
the word for 'good' into ‘bhala,' 'speech'
into ‘katha', 'story' into ‘galpa'
and 'thank you' into ‘dhanyabad.' I decided
that if this subversive book fell into the hands of my impressionable
boys this would not be ‘bhala khabar' at all.
such teach-yourself-books, many foreign enthusiast friends
and acquaintances of ours learnt to speak gibberish, which
I have had to help them unlearn. One gentleman very proudly
complimented me in his newly acquired language as being a
‘shundar mey-yay'. "No, no," I clicked
my tongue impatiently. He thought I was being over-modest.
"No really," he insisted. "No silly, I meant
‘may', without the 'yay', as in April-May."
"But the book said ‘may-yay'," he
looked annoyed but rolled the phrase ‘shundar may'
for practice. I didn't dare correct the adjective; compliments
don't grow on trees and Ekushey February is far off.
generally undeterred, I do go around correcting the mispronunciations
of innocent foreigners who learn by reading our faulty books.
When I tell the victims of self-learning that banana is not
‘kala' not even ‘kola' as in
coca-cola but 'call-a' as in call-a-friend, and that the word
‘basundhara' is pronounced ‘boshoondhora'
and not 'bay-sun-dhara' or ‘Ananya' is ‘Onnonna'
or the river Padma is ‘Podda', they
are rightly miffed for being violently misled, and I hang
down my head as if it were my fault. I ask myself why we persist
in complicating the way our language is viewed, read, learnt
and pronounced in English? Are we, perhaps, part of a conspiracy
to keep Bangla from spreading?
Urdu and Hindi are alive and well and blossoming among non-native
speakers because what is written represents what is pronounced
and not contradictory as in Bangla. My boys who, unlike their
parents, don't speak a word of Urdu or Hindi, could still
read aloud and pronounce correctly any Hindi film title (albeit
without comprehension) but were baffled when reading the title
of the Bangla CD called ‘Chokh bhese jaay jaley'
of a singer called Mahmudduzzaman Babu which I bought for
them because it contains one of my favourite songs ‘Banglaye
gaan gayeei'. "’Jal' is net, right?"
my heir apparent hazarded. The second in line to the throne
mumbled, "So his eyes are doing what in the net?"
It takes me a moment to realise that what is evident to me
is not so clear to my princelings, so I rewrite the title
''Chokh bheshey jaaye jawley' and immediately their
expressions clear up "Water!" they groan. "
That's easy: 'My Eyes flood with tears'!" Mine too--
at our insistence on making our language so needlessly difficult.
you noticed my use of ‘aw' instead of ‘o'
for 'water.' I agree that it is hard enough to change the
conventions of spelling water as ‘jal' to ‘jol'
without further fine tuning, but foreign speakers could easily
misinterpret the 'o' sound as ‘jole' rather
than ‘jawl' And this confusing of the open
and close 'o' sounds can cause terrible sounding Bangla.
I first noticed this from the time I listened to a recording
of Lata singing Bangla modern songs and Asha Bhosle singing
Tagore. In the latter case, I had no problem with her singing
style since I am open to a natural and non-Shantiniketoni
style, but my nerves were jarred by the confusion of ‘owe's
and ‘aw's by both the sisters destroying the
beauty of the music. I blame whoever provided the singers
with a written text of the songs, probably using the English
'o' indiscriminately for both the open and closed sounds.
In English we have the ‘o' of 'not' which is
the closed sound in the Bangla word for sickness or ‘Awshookh';
and the open ‘o' in English that normally needs
an ‘e' after the adjacent consonant as in 'note'
which is in the Bangla word for rights or ‘odhikar'.
Using an ‘o' for both sounds can be misleading
especially when the same word incorporates both sounds as
in the word dream or ‘shopno.' Those who know
Bangla can discriminate between the two types of 'o' but a
non-bangla speaker like Asha Bosle would not, thus mangling
the song ‘Shawp-ney aamar money holo' to ‘Shope-ney
amar money holo'. Some other words of this kind that
Asha and Lata stumbled over were: ‘rojoni' ‘choron'
'jogot' 'ridoyo' 'gogon' which should be transliterated,
perhaps as rawjoni, chawron, jawgot, ridawyo, gawgon
I am not
qualified to prescribe anything but am merely mapping the
danger zones of Bangla pronunciation where transliteration
needs special attention and am suggesting solutions that have
worked for me and the non-Bangla speakers I have tried to
help. I learnt Bangla at home from my mother who was also
a talented but homespun singer of Robindro-shongit
(stay thy editorial hands ye who would change that to Rabindra-sangit!)
and in my enthusiasm to learn the songs I would transliterate
my favourites into Roman English. In the process I found my
own system which best carried the actual sounds of spoken
Bangla into English, which even my Urdu speaking friends could
pronounce the words as well as I.
Recently I helped my Bengali-Indian singer friend when she
was doing a CD recording of Tagore's songs for an Italian
producer. She needed to have the songs transliterated and
translated into Italian from her competent English translations,
and I was going to help an Italian to do that. The day I looked
at the transliteration that she provided and found myself
in certain unfamiliar songs unable even from the context to
surmise whether a word like ‘amar' was the
possessive ‘mine' or the ‘awmor'
of eternal, whether ‘shakal' refered to the
‘shokal' of morning or ‘shokol'
as in 'everyone', I begged her to discard the old-fashioned
system, and we re-wrote the songs in simple Roman English.
Although the final version sported diacrtical phonetic marks
and retained many mistakes, it was a vast improvement and
easy for Italians to follow.
experience, transliterating Bangla into Italian was no problem
since we by-passed the self created obstacles of Bangla into
English rules that mindlessly follow the written spelling.
The Italians pronounce Bangla beautifully; I am convinced
any foreigner could pronounce Bangla flawlessly if we just
simplified our approach. ‘Shopno' or ‘Shawpno',
as long as we say farewell to the nightmare of ‘swapna',
we can dream of a representative, shawhoj, shoondor
(R) thedailystar.net 2004