Bengali/Sounds

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Bengali has twelve vowel letters, 32 consonant sounds, and some diacritics.

Vowels[edit]

These are the twelve vowels in Bengali:

Vowel Transliteration IPA English pronunciation Conjunct
ô /ɔ/ o of pot
sometimes law, all
none
a /a/ father, calm
i /i/ kin ি
i /i/1 keen
u /u/ full
u /u/1 fool
ri /ri/ redo
li /li/2 leeway
e /e/ short: pet, long: bay, other: can
oi /oj/ pronounce ও and ই together
o /o/ law, all, caught
ou /ow/ pronounce ও and উ together

Vowels are referred to by their sound and are suffixed by '-kar' when referring to a conjunct. However, ই and উ also have prefix 'hrôshsho', and ঈ and ঊ suffix 'dirgho'.

^1 In theory they should be lengthened /iː/ and /uː/, but in spoken Bangla this is not the case.

^2 This letter is obsolete: now the character for it represents the number 9.

Always keep in mind that the English pronunciations are only approximations. You must try to use the IPA whenever possible.

These vowel letters were initially adopted from the Devanagari script that is used to write Sanskrit and Hindi. Although ঋ is a vowel in Sanskrit, it is pronounced in Bengali as /ri/, a consonant-vowel combination.

ঐ and ঔ are used to denote two diphthongs, although there are many more diphthongs in use in Bengali. There is no symbol for the vowel sound â (like the a in English bat) in the basic inventory of Bengali script, so the ligature অ্যা is used instead.

Moreover, depending on context, the graphs অ and এ can sound like o and â, respectively.

Diphthongs[edit]

The Bangla alphabet has only two single vowels representing diphthongs (ঐ and ঔ). But in actual practiced Bangla, there are more diphthongs that are written by putting the vowels together or attaching them to the consonant য় ("ya"; pronouned /yɔ/ and called the "semi-vowel অ"). Here are the ones that will fit in one syllable:

  • /ij/:
  • /iw/:
  • /ej/:
  • /ee̯/:
  • /ew/:
  • /eo̯/:
  • /æe̯/:
  • /æo̯/:
  • /aj/:
  • /ae̯/:
  • /aw/:
  • /ao̯/:
  • /ɒe̯/:
  • /ɒo̯/:
  • /oj/:
  • /oe̯/:
  • /oo̯/:
  • /ow/:
  • /uj/:

Consonants[edit]

Of the consonants in Bengali, ten are aspirated—that is, they sound as if an 'H' was appended to it. /z/ only occurs only in foreign words.

Consonants are referred to by their sound followed by ô (ক = kô), with some exceptions, namely:

  • জ = borgio jô
  • ড় = đôe shunno ŗô
  • ঢ় = đhôe shunno ŗô
  • ণ = murdhonno nô
  • ন = donto nô
  • য = ôntostho jô
  • য় = ôntostho ô
  • শ = talobbo shô
  • ষ = murdhonno shô
  • স = donto shô
Consonant Transcription IPA English pronunciation With vowel
k /k/ cat কা কি কী কু কূ কৃ কৢ কে কৈ কো কৌ
kh /kʰ/ chemist খা খি খী খু খূ খৃ খৢ খে খৈ খো খৌ
g /g/ goal গা গি গী গু গূ গৃ গৢ গে গৈ গো গৌ
gh /gʰ/ ghost ঘা ঘি ঘী ঘু ঘূ ঘৃ ঘৢ ঘে ঘৈ ঘো ঘৌ
ng /ŋ/ singer ঙা ঙি ঙী ঙু ঙূ ঙৃ ঙৢ ঙে ঙৈ ঙো ঙৌ
ch /tʃ/ check চা চি চী চু চূ চৃ চৢ চে চৈ চো চৌ
chh /tʃʰ/ ch + h together ছা ছি ছী ছু ছূ ছৃ ছৢ ছে ছৈ ছো ছৌ
j /dʒ/ jest জা জি জী জু জূ জৃ জৢ জে জৈ জো জৌ
jh /dʒʰ/ j + h together ঝা ঝি ঝী ঝু ঝূ ঝৃ ঝৢ ঝে ঝৈ ঝো ঝৌ
n /n/ night ঞা ঞি ঞী ঞু ঞূ ঞৃ ঞৢ ঞে ঞৈ ঞো ঞৌ
ţ /ʈ/ tax টা টি টী টু টূ টৃ টৢ টে টৈ টো টৌ
ţh /ʈʰ/ Thailand ঠা ঠি ঠী ঠু ঠূ ঠৃ ঠৢ ঠে ঠৈ ঠো ঠৌ
đ /ɖ/ damp ডা ডি ডী ডু ডূ ডৃ ডৢ ডে ডৈ ডো ডৌ
ড় ŗ /ɾ/3 Spanish 'r' ড়া ড়ি ড়ী ড়ু ড়ূ ড়ৃ ড়ৢ ড়ে ড়ৈ ড়ো ড়ৌ
đh /ɖʰ/ đ + h together ঢা ঢি ঢী ঢু ঢূ ঢৃ ঢৢ ঢে ঢৈ ঢো ঢৌ
ঢ় ŗh /ɾʰ/3 ŗ + h together ঢ়া ঢ়ি ঢ়ী ঢ়ু ঢ়ূ ঢ়ৃ ঢ়ৢ ঢ়ে ঢ়ৈ ঢ়ো ঢ়ৌ
n /n/ night ণা ণি ণী ণু ণূ ণৃ ণৢ ণে ণৈ ণো ণৌ
t /t̪/ somewhat like thin তা তি তী তু তূ তৃ তৢ তে তৈ তো তৌ
th /t̪ʰ/ t + h together থা থি থী থু থূ থৃ থৢ থে থৈ থো থৌ
d /d̪/ somewhat like the দা দি দী দু দূ দৃ দৢ দে দৈ দো দৌ
dh /d̪ʰ/ d + h together ধা ধি ধী ধু ধূ ধৃ ধৢ ধে ধৈ ধো ধৌ
n /n/ night না নি নী নু নূ নৃ নৢ নে নৈ নো নৌ
p /p/ pint পা পি পী পু পূ পৃ পৢ পে পৈ পো পৌ
ph, f /pʰ/, /f/ p + h, or fence ফা ফি ফী ফু ফূ ফৃ ফৢ ফে ফৈ ফো ফৌ
b /b/ bear বা বি বী বু বূ বৃ বৢ বে বৈ বো বৌ
bh /bʰ/ Bhutan ভা ভি ভী ভু ভূ ভৃ ভৢ ভে ভৈ ভো ভৌ
m /m/ mountain মা মি মী মু মূ মৃ মৢ মে মৈ মো মৌ
j /dʒ/ jest যা যি যী যু যূ যৃ যৢ যে যৈ যো যৌ
য় e, ø /e/, n/a 4 য়া য়ি য়ী য়ু য়ূ য়ৃ য়ৢ য়ে য়ৈ য়ো য়ৌ
r /r/ road রা রি রী রু রূ রৃ রৢ রে রৈ রো রৌ
l /l/ load লা লি লী লু লূ লৃ লৢ লে লৈ লো লৌ
5 শা শি শী শু শূ শৃ শৢ শে শৈ শো শৌ
sh /ʃ/ shell ষা ষি ষী ষু ষূ ষৃ ষৢ ষে ষৈ ষো ষৌ
5 সা সি সী সু সূ সৃ সৢ সে সৈ সো সৌ
h /h/ home হা হি হী হু হূ হৃ হৢ হে হৈ হো হৌ

^3 ড় and ঢ় usually sound like র in spoken Bangla. It is still important to recognize the difference.

^4 Usually this does not have a sound between vowels. Very often this will be transliterated with a 'y'; never pronounce this as in yard unless preceded by an ই or ঈ.

^5 In most cases, শ represents /ʃ/ while স represents /s/. We will inform you when this is different.

Modifiers and others[edit]

Modifier and other graphemes in Bengali
Symbol with [kɔ] (ক) Name Function Transliteration IPA
ক্ hôshonto
"hôshônt"
Suppresses the inherent vowel [ɔ] k /k/
কৎ khônđo tô
"khonḍ tô"
Final unaspirated dental [t̪] (ত) kôt /kɔt̪/
কং ônushshôr Final velar nasal kông /kɔŋ/
কঃ bishôrgo
  1. pronounced as syllable-final voiceless breath, as in উঃ
  2. isn't pronounced, but geminates the following consonant, as in দুঃসময়
  3. isn't pronounced at all, as in দুঃস্থ

-

  1. [uh]
  2. [d̪uʃːomɔj]
  3. [d̪ustʰo]
কঁ chôndrobindu
"moon-dot"
Vowel nasalization kôñ /kɔ̃/

-h and ং -ng are also often used as abbreviation marks in Bengali, with ং -ng used when the next sound following the abbreviation would be a nasal sound, and ঃ -h otherwise. For example ডঃ ḍôh stands for ডক্টর ḍôkṭor "doctor" and নং nông stands for নম্বর nômbor "number". Some abbreviations have no marking at all, as in ঢাবি ḍhabi for ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় Ḍhaka Bishshobiddalôe "Dhaka University". The full stop can also be used when writing out English letters as initials, such as ই.ইউ. i iu "E.U.".

The jôphôla is sometimes used as a diacritic to indicate non-Bengali vowels of various kinds in transliterated foreign words. For example, the schwa is indicated by a jôphôla, the French u and the German umlaut ü as উ্য, the German umlaut ö as ও্য or এ্য, etc.

The apostrophe, known in Bengali as ঊর্ধ্বকমা urdhokôma "upper comma", is sometimes used to distinguish between homographs, as in পাটা paţa "plank" and পা'টা paţa "the leg". Sometimes a hyphen is used for the same purpose (as in পা-টা, an alternative of পা'টা).

Conjuncts[edit]

We will get into Conjunct Consonants in the next chapter.