The Origin and Development of The Bengali Language

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Item Code: NAD509
Author: Suniti Kumar Chatterji
Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9788171677849
Pages: 212
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 1.27 kg
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Back of the Book

‘This admirable work’, says Sir George Grierson in his foreword, ‘which is a fine example of wide knowledge and of scholarly research, is the result of a happy combination of proficiency in facts and familiarity with theory, and exhibits a mastery of detail controlled and ordered by the sobriety of true scholarship.’ In its manuscript form, the work was ready by and obtained the highest approval of some of the most distinguished scholars in the field of Indian Linguistics in Europe, and it may be considered a landmark in the history of philological researches into Indian Languages.

It is the first systematic and detailed history of Bengali—a modern Indo—Aryan language—by an Indian scholar, and incidentally, as it is comparative in its treatment, taking into consideration the philology of other Indo—Aryan languages, it is an invaluable contribution to the scientific study of the modern Indo—Aryan language4s as a whole.

About the Author

Suniti Kumar Chatterji, M.A. (Calcutta), D. Litt. (London) was an educationist of nearly sixty years’ standing and an acknowledged authority on Linguistics. Head of the Department of Comparative Philology and Lecturer in the Departments of Sanskrit, Pali, Modern Indian Languages, English and Frence, and if Islamic History at the University of Calcutta.

He was Chairman if the West Bengal Legislative Council (1952-65), President of the International Phonetic Association in London, Professor Emeritus at the University of Calcutta and Sahitya Akademi and National Professor of India in Humanities.


It gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity of publicly wishing God-speed to Professor Chatterji’s admirable work and of recommending to all students of the modern languages of India.

There are two possible lines of investigation of this subject. In one, we can follow the example of Beames and view all the forms of speech as a whole, comparing them with each other, and thence deducing general rules. The other is to follow Trumpp, Hoernle, and Bloch, in taking one particular language as our text, examining it exhaustively, and comparing it with what is known of the others. Professor Chatterji, in taking Bengali as the basis of his work, has adopted the latter procedure and, if I may express my own opinion, the more profitable one. The ultimate object of all students must, of course, be to follow the lines so excellently laid down by Beamers, and to give a general comparative grami1ar of the Indo-Aryau languages; but used an attempt,—admirable though Beames’s work was,—cannot be really successful till each of the different languages has been separately and minutely dissected under the strictest scientific rules. The palace of comparative grammar cannot build without bricks, and the bricks are made up of the facts of each particular language.

For many reasons, Bengali, in itself, is specially deserving of careful study. With a literature going back for several centuries, and preserved with some care, it gives opportunities for the study of its history that are wanting in some other forms of Indian speech. It is a typical descendant of the great language that, under the name of Magadhi Prakrit, was the vernacular of eastern North India for many centuries. This was the official language of the great Emperor Alöka, and an allied dialect was used by the Buddha and by Mabvira, the apostle of Jainism, in their early preaching. With the shifting of political gravity at a later epoch, it became superseded as a literary form of speech by dialects current farther to the West, but as a spoken language t has developed into the modern Bengali, Orin, Bihri, and Assamese.

Hitherto the ordinary Bengali grammars have been silent about the history of the language and the origin of its forms, and in popular books published in India, the wildest theories about these have occasionally been put forth without a shadow of justification. On the other hand, Beames, Hoernie, and Bhandarkar have written much that is illuminating in regard to it, but sufficient materials were not available to any of them for dealing with the many points of phonetics, accidence, and vocabulary that present themselves on closer examination. For this reason we can heartily welcome the ripe fruits of Professor Chatterji’s labours that are to be gathered from the following pages. Endowed with a thorough familiarity with Bengali,—his native tongue,-.---he has been able to bring together an amount of material which no European could ever have hoped to collect; and he has had the further advantage of pursuing his theoretical studies under the guidance of some of the greatest European authorities on Indian philology. This work s accordingly the result of a happy combination of proficiency in facts and of familiarity with theory and exhibits a mastery of detail untilled and ordered by the sobriety of true scholarship.

In a work of this kind, necessarily offering conclusions here and there on points which in the present state of our linguistic knowledge cannot be decided with absolute certainty, it is not to be expected that all scholars will agree with every statement contained in it; and, as regards myself, 1 must confess that be has not convinced me that I am wrong in one or two matters in which he has lucidly expressed his disagreement. But, unless we searchers after knowledge sometimes differed, learning would not progress, and there would be the less chance of arriving at the ultimate truth. I therefore welcome his criticisms, and if his arguments, on further consideration, prove that he is right, I shall be among the first to congratulate him. These points are, however, of minor importance, and in no way affect the main thesis of his book, — to give a clear and accurate account of the origins and growth of the Bengali language In this respect, every one who reads it will admit that the author has succeeded and that his volume is a fine example of wide knowledge, and of scholarly research.


In 1921 the University of London accepted my thesis on ‘the Origin and Development of the Bengali Language’ for the degree of ‘Doctor of Literature.’ The present work is substantially the same thesis, but it has been entirely re-written and in some portions rearranged, and has also been considerably augmented by the inclusion of some new matter.

The idea of systematically investigating the history of my mother- tongue first struck me over twelve years ago when I was at col1ee in my native town of Calcutta reading for the Master of Arts examination in English with Old and Middle English and History of the English Language and a little Germanic Philology as my special subjects. The modern methods of linguistic investigation which I saw applied to English filled me with admiration and enthusiasm; and as the problem of Indo European is equally connected with my own speech, my interests naturally began to turn wistfully in that direction. From Morris and Skeat, Sweet and Wright, and Jespersen and the rest, and from Klopfenstein and Brug. mann,—naasters of Indo-Aryan philology like Uhlenbeck and Wackernagel, Whitney and Piscbel, Beames and Bhandarkar, Hoernie and Grierson and others were naturally approached and studied for guidance and light: and I began also to look round myself, to observe facts in the words as written and as actually spoken. A few years of haphazard reading and observation, and taking notes, and stumbling no in this way, while working as Assistant Professor and Lecturer in English and in Comparative Philology in the University of Calcutta; and then in 1916 I presented as a three years’ research programmer for the Premehand Roychand Studentship of the Calcutta University a scheme for ‘an Essay towards an Historical sand Comparative Grammar of the Bengali Language,’ with a specimen of my work embodied in a twist on ‘the Sounds of Modern Bengali’ as a preliminary to the investigation of Bengali Phonology. My programme and my thesis were approved by the adjudicators, the late Principal Rmndra Sundara TrivMi and Mahmahpdhyya Pançlit Haraprasda Astri, M.A., C,I.E. For the University Jubilee Research Prize for the following year the subject was announced as ‘Comparative Philology with special reference to the Bengali Dialects,’ and this allowed me an opportunity to put into shap my notes on the dialects of Bengali, while winning me the prize. The three years’ work as Prernehand Roychand student consisted of a monograph on the Persian element in Bengali, a study of the Bengali verb and verb-roots, and a study of the language of the 01(1 Bengali Cary poems, combined with further notes on Bengali Phonetics.

In is I was selected for a Government of India linguistic scholarship for the scientific study of Sanskrit in Europe. My three years’ stay in Europe, during 19191922, at the Universities of London and Paris, his naturally enough been of the greatest value for me in my work. It enabled me to come in touch in London with scholars like Dr. L. D. Barnett, with whom I read Prakrit, and who supervised my work in London; Dr. F. W. Thomas, who as lecturer in Comparative Philology at University College guided me in my study of 1ndoEuropean Philology; Professor Daniel Jones, under whom I studied Phonetics, who was not only my tick-guru . But also a warm friend and helper; besides Sir F. 1)unison loss, Director of the School of Oriental Studies, and most sympathetic of men, and Professor LI. W. Chambers (of University College), and Messrs. E. II. 0. Grattan and Robin Flower (also of Inversed College), whose classes respectively in Persian, Old English, Gothic and Old Irish I attended; and in Paris, I had the privilege of sitting at the feet no a master like Professor Antoine Millet for different branches of Indo-European languishes, and of studying Sanskrit and other Indo-Aryan philology under Professor Jules Bloch, besides meeting other eminent scholars like Professors Sylvain Levi, Paul Pelliot and Jean Przyluski. While I was in England Sir George Grierson took a personal interest in my work, an interest which manifested itself in many ways and which he in his kindness and his love of science still retains. This has benefited me to the greatest degree imaginable; and the fellowship of common studies with this doyen of Indo-Aryan Linguistics which it has been my very great fortune to enjoy, has been, along with my coming in similar personal touch with Professor Jules Bloch, an inspiration in my studies and my labours; and I may say the same of my coming to know Professor Meillet, the invent and the teacher. To all these gentlemen I have to convey my most grateful thanks for all their kindnesses and for all that I have received from them as their pupil.

The work, while it was being prepared in London in 192O-l91, had the advantage of being looked over in its first draft (except in some sections relating to the verb) by Dr. Barnett: and I am very grateful to him for much helpful advice in suggesting improvements in arrangement and in the general treatment, as well as for some references. After it was approved by the University of London, Sir George Ryerson, in spite of his very heavy and urgent scientific work, honored my book, in MS., by a careful perusal, and his criticisms and suggestions he embodied in several pages of notes. Professor Jules Bloch also did the same thing. These notes I constantly kept beside me in re-writing my thesis. Everywhere I have, profited by their criticisms, and in most eases I have accepted their suggestions. I have also received some references and one or two suggestions from my friends in Calcutta while finally preparing the work for the press, and these have been acknowledged in their proper places. I have to mention here specially the names of Professor Hem Chandra Rychaudhuri, my old college friend and colleague in the University, and of Professor Satyendranath Basu of the University of Dacca, for some suggestions in the earlier part of the work.

In preparing the present work, the plan adopted by Professor Jiloch in his ‘Formation de I Langue marathon’ has given me the clearest notions about what a book on the origin and development of a modern Indo-Aryan language should contain: and Professor Bloch’s work, which Sir George Grierson has described as ‘without any doubt the most important book dealing with the Modern Indian languages that has appeared since the publication of Hoernie’s Grammar of the Gaudian Languages in 1880,’ has, in the clarity of its exposition and in the width of its erudition as well as in the sureness of its judgment, offered me the best model that I could have. But in my own book, as I find, I had to discuss many points, some of them side-issues, especially in the Introduction, which should be but merely touched upon in a work of a professedly linguistic character, not being immediately a propos for history of language and perhaps, I had to be fuller in detail; and at times, repetition became unavoidable. That was due partly to the fact that an appreciation of the racial, historical and cultural background was thought to be helpful in following the linguistic development; and the reason of the repetition is that the work of re-writing and printing my book went hand-in-hand (so that I had no opportunity of surveying the present work as a whole before the printing of it was finished), and that the same phenomenon had to be viewed from different aspects, and a repetition of- a fact or an argument was felt to be necessary where a mere reference was not enough. I hope, however, that the general unity of the work has not suffered thereby. I have tried my best not to be dogmatic, and although I had to speculate and hypothesize at times to explain facts, I hope I have not let loose my fancy to roam freely, unchecked by the restraints of science, in my book no great points have been raised, no remarkable theories advanced : and fortunately there is hardly any scope for that. I have simply tried to apply the methods of Corn operative Philology, as accepted by the present- day masters of the science, in working out the history of Bengali. A number of things have come into my notice as one of the first workers in the field along what may be called scientific lines, at least among Bengali speakers: and these would strike any other observer. Many of the views expressed may ultimately prove to be wrong, with the accession of new facts—as, for instance, from the systematic study of the dialects of Bengali and of the cognate speeches. The work here submitted, however, is the outcome of sincere labour in a subject for which I have the greatest love, and it is here presented as an Essay towards an Historical and Comparative rammer of Bengali, and as a contribution towards the scientific study of the Modern Aryan languages of India.


Foreword by Sir George A. Grierson, K.C.I.E. v—vii
Author’s Prefacexi—xx
Phonetic Transcriptionxxviii—xxxiv
Appendix A to Introduction150—169
Appendix B170—178
Appendix C179—188
Appendix D189—22.3
Appendix E224—235
Appendix to Morphology1053—1056
Additions and Corrections1057—1078
Index of Bengali Words1079—1179
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