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Language galore! we are diverse

Imagine this
You can hear the tinkling glasses and the soft murmur of conversation. You are sitting around a dinner table in a party far away from home. Scholars and foreign students alike are seated all around. It is a cultural gathering, and you are representing Bangladesh. You are not sure you have all your facts right, so you're a little nervous. One of the blurry faces beside you asks, “So, you're from Bangladesh. You guys fought for your language, right?” That's an easy question, you proudly announce, “Of course, everybody has the right to speak their own tongue.”

“So you guys just speak Bangla in your country?”
“Well, no, we also speak English, and a few other languages spoken by the tribal people; maybe four or five languages in total.” You are imagining women carrying babies in baskets, and young girls wearing lungi-like skirts and dancing to a song that sounds kind of like Chinese.

Suddenly another Blurry-face leans across the table and announces “39, to be exact.”
“What?” You ask, puzzled.

“Yes my friend, your country has 39 languages, excluding all the dialects.”
You feel like laughing, because it seems silly that 39 languages can exist in so small a country. But you are slightly ashamed to do so, in case Blurry-face-2 is right.

Stop imagining
Blurry face-2 is right. Guess what? Contrary to popular belief, we are an extremely diverse nation. The 1952 Language Movement was not just a protest to be able to speak Bengali, but also to be able to speak one's own language, whatever that may be. We have 39 separate languages in Bangladesh. You know how sometimes you are stuck in a lift with two Sylheti's, and you're extremely frustrated because you're not sure whether they are fighting or not (happened to yours truly)? Yes, it's not your fault you can't understand them; it is just that they are actually speaking a different language.

98% of the people of our country can speak Bangla, but it's not that the rest of the 38 vernaculars are spoken by that mere 2%. In fact, Bangla in itself is a second language for many of us even though it is the lingua franca here. People from all the different areas of our nation have different tongues. Here is a list of all the languages we speak:

North Bengal: around this region, the most popular languages are Rajbanshi, Assamese, Kurux, Mundari, Santali, Garo, Oraon, Sadri, Hajong, and Magam.

It's interesting that Garo actually uses Latin alphabets. Makes one imagine Latin scholars travelling in carts and boats all the way to here in order to settle and make a living, doesn't it? Magam is a dialect of Garo, but it can be used as a separate language.

Assamese is very popular as well. It is spoken by a large number of people, and was termed keeping in consideration other names like Japanese and Taiwanese.

Other patois like Hajong (which is spoken in the Mymensingh district) are written in the Assamese script. So now we know it is not just that these lingoes are spoken differently, they are also written differently.

East Bengal
Sylheti (Siloti), Meitei, Bishnupriya, Kokborok (kok-language, borok- man, which literally means “Language of man”, and originated around the 1st century AD!), Khasi (spoken around Sylhet, and the Moulovibazar district), Pnar, and War.

Khasi (spoken in Assam as well as the northern regions of Bangladesh) is rich on folklore and they seem to have a story behind every mountain, bird, waterfall, flowers, animals, etc.

There is something very interesting and slightly shocking about Siloti. Now even though we know the language sounds like two people fighting (this writer will not be held responsible for this comment, since it was made by a bunch of Sylheti people themselves *cheeky smile*), it really is very ornate. It has very rich heritage and was once spoken by the people of the Kingdom of Kamarupa. It used to be written in the Sylheti Nagri script, and not Bangla! Ironically though, the government forced the script to change to Bengali in the 1970s because of the war and the political drama. So, what really happened was that the Bangladeshi government forced a 300 year old “royal” language to change its script and all protests were blocked.

South Bengal
Because of the presence of a very convenient piece of water-body, aka the Bay of Bengal, Chittagong turned in to the port city. During the colonial times, the Europeans came in to the country through here. So the South of the nation probably has the highest number of languages and with the most European influence as well. The patois are called : Arkanese, Mizo, Mru, Riang, Shendu, Tangchangya, Tippera, and Usui (all of which are active in the Chittagong Hill Tracks); Burmese, Chak, Chakma, Asho Chin, Bawn Chin, Falam Chin, Haka Chin, Khumi Chin, Rohingya and of course, Chittagonian which are the other languages of the South.

The people of Chittagong will be proud to know that Chittagonian is really a separate language, and not a crude form of Bangla. And what is even cooler is that according to the Top 100 Languages by Population by Enthologue, Chittagonian ranked in 67th in the World! There is a heavy influence of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Portugese in this lingo. Rohingya is written in the Arabic script, and the Haka Chin (of the Hill Tracks), unlike all the other languages of the country, uses the Roman script! So Arabia and Rome are like, what, so many miles away, and we here in Bangladesh have languages that use those scripts and don't even know about it! What's good is that now we know.

Other languages from the West and middle are Ho, Darlong and Koch.
It is always good to know stuff like this from familiar sources, instead of from all the Blurry-faces around the world. So this February, instead of just remembering all those lives which were sacrificed so that we could have the freedom of speaking our language (which we should never forget), let's also celebrate our rich cultural heritage. All those beautiful languages should be flaunted and spoken with pride, instead of being stashed in the corner of ignorance. Maybe we should have a Bangladesh Language Institution, where we are taught what we keep in our country's treasure (not literal) box. It's time we emulate what was done in 1952, and commemorate all the different languages we speak, not just our beloved Bangla.

By Nuzhat Binte Arif
Sources: www.bangladesh.com

Art with heart

En route to the Canadian International School (CIS) last Thursday, yours truly wasn't expecting to see much. An art festival by school-kids. Ho hum. What could it possibly have to offer?

Upon entering the premises, one was greeted by a colourful atmosphere comprising of stalls bordering around the open courtyard, each of which had a vibrant display of paintings, pastel-colour drawings, paper mosaic art, and so on, all rendered by the young students of the school. Contrary to what one might expect from 'mere children', these weren't random pieces either; each stall featured a certain artist or concept (like Van Gogh's Starry Night, for example) where the young artists presented their interpretation of the works. Thus we had Pablo Picasso's Three Musicians made over into a modern band, rendered in oil pastel, and other such interesting works.

Embracing a spirit of diversity, as reflected within the mixed cultures within the student population at CIS, there were stalls that displayed traditional artworks and craft objects form around the world. Alongside the artwork by the students, there were some "professional" attractions", which included a flute craftsman, a cane craftsman, rickshaw artist, a watercolour artist and flower making from Thailand. There was also a pottery demonstration where children had a go at working with clay, Oriental calligraphy and Rangoli painting demonstrated by parents. To cap it all off, the empty space at the centre of the courtyard was utilized by a troupe of students from Grade 2, who danced to the tune of Mila's Baburam Shapurey. We watched in admiration as the little dancers grooved in perfect coordination, displaying none of the stage fright that would paralyse someone twice their age.

Catching up with Sylvia Gillet, the principal, we heard the story behind CIS' first annual Arts Festival. All proceeds from the sales of the art pieces at the festival will be donated to the School of Hope (SOH), an institution for slum children located in Vatara-Badda. SOH has some180 students whose ages range from 6-14 years, and are taught a number of subjects from English, Bangla and Math for the younger students to an addition of Social Studies Science and Islamic Studies for the older kids. The children from CIS had previously visited this school to present them with a book that were written and illustrated by the Grade 3 children during Literacy Week.

Combining various aspects of art with a strong sense of social responsibility, the first Annual Art Festival at CIS was definitely a big hit.

By Sabrina F Ahmad

Slam-dunk for Slumdog

The Annual Academy Awards have been announced and Slumdog Millionaire edged all films in being the winner of the highest number of Oscars this year, grabbing eight out of ten nominations. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, despite being nominated for 13 Oscars ended up missing on all the major awards of the night, winning three 'consolation' awards.

Sean Penn won his second Best Actor award for his portrayal of Harvey Milk and Heath Ledger won a posthumous Best Supporting Award for his depiction of the Joker in the Dark Night.

Kudos to A. R. Rahman who bagged two of the coveted golden statues for Slumdog Millionaire, in the Best Song and Best Score categories.
Slumdog Millionaire: Best motion picture of the year
Sean Penn (Milk): Performance by an actor in a leading role
Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight): Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Kate Winslet (The Reader): Performance by an actress in a leading role
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona): Performance by an actress in a supporting role
WALL E: Best animated feature film of the year
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Achievement in art direction
Slumdog Millionaire, Anthony Dod Mantle: Achievement in cinematography
Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire): Achievement in directing
Man on Wire: Best documentary feature
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Greg Cannom: Achievement in makeup
Slumdog Millionaire, Chris Dickens: Achievement in film editing
Departures: Best foreign language film of the year
Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman: Original score
“Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire A.R. Rahman, Gulzar: Original song
The Dark Knight, Richard King: Achievement in sound editing
Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire): Adapted screenplay
Dustin Lance Black (Milk): Original screenplay

RS Desk



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