UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day during the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032

In one month’s time, a lot of the world will celebrate multilingualism and language diversity on 21 February for UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day. This year is special because it begins UNESCO’s International Decade of Indigenous (Minority, Minoritized, Endangered) Languages 2022-2032, which marks the 30th anniversary of what can be considered the beginning of the field of Language Documentation in 1992.



Last year, on 22 February 2021, the Student’s Association of British Bangladeshis (SABB, @sabbnetwork) invited us to give a presentation on language diversity, particulary in Bangladesh (Spoiler alert: Bangladesh is not a monolingual country.), and on the Sylheti language. Here are the presentation slides:


Listen to a performance of Hasnat Anwar’s poem [boroi sur] ‘Jujube Thief’ on Youtube.

Brief history of language trends from Syheti’s numbers


INTRODUCTION
As a minoritized and under-resourced language, Sylheti(-Cachari) has been politically dismissed as a ‘dialect of Bangla/Bengali’ since British colonialization (when other languages like Assamese and Oriya/Odia were also misclassified as ‘dialects of Bangla/Bengali’). From intentional political neglect that denies Sylheti the support other languages receive, which explains the lack of resources in and for the Sylheti language (most materials today being conserved and produced by small groups in the Sylheti diaspora, outside south Asia), and social policing, which perpetuates shame for using the Sylheti language outside of home in any formal setting, the Sylheti language has changed over time, notably changing from pressure to be/sound more like standard Bangla, to construct a Sylheti in the image of the ‘dialect of Bangla/Bengali’ that those in power self-servingly claimed and still claim today that it ‘should’ be, as well as changing more recently through revitalization/reclamation efforts to undo some of the Banglafication Sylheti has been seen to endure.


NUMERALS (symbols/digits used to represent numbers)

The claim by some still today that ‘Sylheti isn’t a language because it isn’t written.’ is propaganda that ignores hundreds of years of written literature and a unique script created to write the modern Sylheti language. (Remember: The majority of the world’s approximately 7000 languages aren’t officially written, yet these spoken and signed languages are still languages.) The Siloti/Syloti Nagri script was digitized as part of a Unicode proposal in 2002, ‘Documentation in support of proposal for encoding Syloti Nagri in the BMP’, but instead of Siloti Nagri numerals it was ‘recommended that Bengali digits be used’, that is, the Eastern/Purbi Nagri digits already encoded by Unicode under the misleadingly named Bengali font (Lloyd-Williams, et al. (page 42)). This seemingly dismissed a local tradition in Sylhet, continued by the efforts of Professor Erhasuzzaman (Lloyd-Williams, et al. 2002 (page 19)). For decades from the 1970s, Professor Erhasuzzaman taught the Siloti Nagri script and kept it alive for many – it’s reported that he learned the Siloti Nagri script from a balladist named Ayub Ali of Renga, and then compiled an alphabet book and distributed its multiple editions over the decades, until his death. In this alphabet book, there is a set of numerals for the Siloti Nagri script:

এরহাসুজ্জামান [erhasujjaman]. ২০১৪ [2014]. নাগরী হিকার বই [nagri hikar boi] (Book of Nagri (script) learning). সিলেট sileT: অনুপ্রাণন onuproNon. (৫ম সংস্করণ) [focom songskoroN] (5th edition)

Despite not being digitally available in the Unicode proposal, these Siloti Nagri numerals have been embraced by the Sylheti-speaking and writing community, especially online. People create their own fonts and images using these Siloti Nagri numerals.

Posted on Facebook by Mukter Ahmed, reading [aiz 1 foush 1425 bangla, 15 disembor 2018 kirishTabdo, ruz shonibar]
2022 calendar by Surmafarorkhobor.com (posted to Facebook on 01 Dec. 2021)


SOUNDS to TRANSCRIPTION
Since letters are used to represent spoken sounds, speaking being primary and writing secondary – letters and spellings DO NOT determine how a language is spoken, the following are notes on the transcription of sounds of the Sylheti language that underlay and that are the foundation of spellings and transliterations:

  • Velar sounds: Sylheti has four velar sounds – [x], [k], [g], [ng] (~ [x], [k], [ɡ], [ŋ]), with [x] and [k] in allomorphic variation with each other.
  • Fricative and affricate sounds: (excluding velar and bilabial fricatives)
    Sylheti has the two alveolar fricative sounds – [s] and [z], which are in allomorphic variation with [c] and [j] (~ [ʧ], [ʤ]) respectively. Bangla/Bengali influenced dialects of Sylheti have lost the allomorphic variation between [z] and [j], with dominant pronunciation of [j]; however, in these same Bangla/Bengali influenced dialects of Sylheti the allomorphic variation between [s] and [c] is most often maintained.
    Sylheti has one postalveolar fricative sound – [sh] (~ [ʃ]). Sylheti has one glottal fricative sound – [h].
  • Alveolar retroflex sounds: In Sylheti dialects without the Assamese influence of neutralising retroflex sounds into dental sounds, Sylheti has four retroflex sounds – [T], [D], [N], [R] (~ [ʈ], [ɖ], [ɳ], [ɽ]), with retroflex [N] in allomorphic variation with dental [n].
  • Dental sounds: Sylheti has four dental sounds – [t], [d], [n], [l].
  • Bilabial sounds: Sylheti has four bilabial sounds – [f], [p], [b], [m] (~ [ɸ], [p], [b], [m]), with [f] and [p] in allomorphic variation with each other.
  • Vowels: Sylheti has five vowels – [a], [i], [u], [e], [o] (~ [a], [i], [ʊ], [ɛ], [ɔ]).
    (Sylheti does not have different length vowels – *[aa], [ii], [uu], [ee], [oo].)
    (Sylheti does not have any phonemic glides/semi-vowels *[y], [w] (~ [j], [w] or [ʲ], [ʷ]).)

NUMBERS & COUNTING (how the words are pronounced)
The Sylheti numbers illustrate about 100 years of language and language change. With just the first 11 numbers, there are many issues to consider. The following presentation tries to be clear, with as much inclusion of diversity as possible, with both observed pronunciation and spelling variations.

Pre-empting questions learners might have when encountering pronunciation and spelling variations, there are two major group answers:
– spelling: The issue regarding ‘one’, ‘four’, and ‘five’ would be similar. There are redundant/extra/superfluous letters, Sylheti having evolved beyond the historical Sanskritic script’s traditional alphabet, therefore multiple letters represent the same sound in historical spellings. A desire by some to have each letter represent a different sound has created newer spelling variants.
– pronunciation: The issue regarding ‘zero’, ‘seven’, and ‘ten’ would be similar. There are historical words from Sylheti’s natural evolution, which are going extinct, replaced by Bangla/Bengali cognates, as well as revitalisation/reclamation efforts trying to reverse extinction, even creating new variants.


0) ‘zero’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ০ )
Assamese শূন্য [xuinno]
Bengali শূন্য [shunno]
Hindi-Urdu शून्य [shuunya]
Sanskrit शून्य [shuunya]
Sylheti ꠡꠥꠁꠘ꠆ꠘ / ꠢꠥꠁꠘ꠆ꠘ [shuinno] / [huinno]

These aren’t two different spellings but two different words, or ways to pronounce the word, from different origins.
The digit for the number ‘zero’ that originated in south Asia uses the Sanskrit word for ‘emptiness, void’ which is [shuinno] in Sylheti. The variant [huinno] is a hypercorrection based on the false analogy with the number ‘seven’ – some people think that since it’s Bengali [shat] ‘seven’ and Sylheti [hat] ‘seven’, it ‘should be’ Bengali [shunno] and Sylheti [hu(i)nno]. However, Sylheti does not ‘come from Bengali’ – it is not the Bengali [sh] that ‘became’ Sylheti [h]. It’s the Sanskritic स / স [s] sound, like in सप्तन् [saptan] ‘seven’, that Sylheti evolved into the Sylheti ꠢ [h] sound (after Sylheti evolved away/lost/disappeared all the Sanskritic-origin ह / হ [h] sounds). In Sanskrit शून्य [shuunya], it is श / শ [sh] which Sylheti conserved as ꠡ [sh] sound.


1) ‘one’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ১ )
Assamese এক [ek]
Bengali এক [ek]
Hindi-Urdu ایک , एक [ek]
Sanskrit एक [eka]
Sylheti ꠄꠇ (ꠄꠈ alternate spelling¹) [ex]

This number has one pronunciation, two different spellings.
– The first ꠄꠇ is the historical spelling and the spelling in historical written texts. It’s similar to the spellings in other languages, see above.
– The second ꠄꠈ is more of a Bangla-influenced pronunciation-type spelling using the script’s redundant letters following Bangla’s alphabet and spellings.

Because the equivalent letters represent different sounds in Bangla, namely unvoiced, unaspirated velar stop ক [k] and unvoiced, aspirated velar stop খ [kh], some people literate in Bangla think that the Sylheti unvoiced, velar fricative [x] sound is closer to Bangla’s unvoiced, aspirated velar stop খ [kh] sound and should therefore be transliterated by the equivalent Bangla letter, Eastern Nagri খ ~ Sylheti Nagri ꠈ. This spelling is what people online may be writing, especially in efforts to make Sylheti spellings appear as different from Bangla as Sylheti sounds are different from Bangla, but this spelling won’t be found in any of the historical written texts.

In Sylheti, both letters ꠇ and ꠈ are historically used to represent unvoiced velar consonants but in modern Sylheti with its unique sound system, it’s the neighbouring vowel that determines if it’s pronounced as the unvoiced, unaspirated velar stop [k] sound (pronounced next to high vowels [i, u] and when double/geminate [kk]) or the unvoiced, velar fricative [x] sound (pronounced next to low vowels [e, a, o]). (Sylheti does not have an unvoiced, aspirated velar stop [kh] sound. Sylheti does not have any aspirated consonants.)

In summary, a major difference between Bangla and Sylheti’s sound systems is:
– Bangla’s unvoiced, unaspirated velar stop [k] sound represented by the Eastern Nagri letter ক ‘k’
– Bangla’s unvoiced, aspirated velar stop [kh] sound represented by the Eastern Nagri letter খ ‘kh’, transliterated into Sylheti Nagri letter ꠈ [dusra xo] ‘second [x] sound’
– Sylheti’s unvoiced, velar fricative [x] sound represented by the Sylheti Nagri letters ꠇ [foela xo] ‘first [x] sound’ OR ꠈ [dusra xo] ‘second [x] sound’ (These sounds are realized in Sylheti as [xo, xa, xe, ox, ax, ex] OR [ki, ki, ik, uk] regardless of historical spelling or Sanskrit(ic) and Bangla pronunciations.)


2) ‘two’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ২ )
Assamese দুই [dui]
Bengali দুই [dui]
Hindi-Urdu دو‎ , दो [do]
Sanskrit द्वि [dvi]
Sylheti ꠖꠥꠁ [dui]


3) ‘three’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ৩ )
Assamese তিনি [tini]
Bengali তিন [tin]
Hindi-Urdu تین‎ , तीन [tīn]
Sanskrit त्रीणि [triiNi]
Sylheti ꠔꠤꠘ [tin]


4) ‘four’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ৪ )
Assamese চাৰি [sari]
Bengali চার [car]
Hindi-Urdu چار‎ , चार [cār]
Sanskrit चतुर् [catur]
Sylheti ꠌꠣꠁꠞ (ꠍꠣꠁꠞ alternate spelling¹) [sair]

This number has one pronunciation, two different spellings.
– The first ꠌꠣꠁꠞ is the historical spelling and the spelling in historical written texts. It’s similar to the spellings in other languages, see above.
– The second ꠍꠣꠁꠞ is more of a Bangla-influenced pronunciation-type spelling using the script’s redundant letters following Bangla’s alphabet and spellings.

Because these letters represent different sounds in Bangla, namely unvoiced, unaspirated affricate চ [c] and unvoiced, aspirated affricate ছ [ch], some people literate in Bangla think that the Sylheti Nagri letters should also represent different sounds. This spelling is what people online may be writing, especially in efforts to make Sylheti spellings appear as different from Bangla as Sylheti sounds are different from Bangla, but this spelling won’t be found in any of the historical written texts.

In Sylheti, both letters ꠌ and ꠍ are historically used to represent the unvoiced alveolar fricative [s] sound. The Sylheti [s] sound when double/geminate [cc] or when following a dental consonant [t, d, n, l] transforms into an unvoiced affricate [-c] sound. The [c] sound is never pronounced ‘alone’ in Sylheti. (Sylheti does not have aspirated consonants.)

In summary, a major difference between Bangla and Sylheti’s sound systems is:
– Bangla’s unvoiced, unaspirated affricate [c] sound represented by the Eastern Nagri letter চ ‘c’
– Bangla’s unvoiced, aspirated affricate [ch] sound represented by the Eastern Nagri letter ছ ‘ch’
– Sylheti’s unvoiced alveolar fricative [s] sound represented by the Sylheti Nagri letters ꠌ [foela so] ‘first [s] sound’ OR ꠍ [dusra so] ‘second [s] sound’ (This sound is realized in Sylheti as [s] OR [cc] OR dental consonant+[c] regardless of historical spelling or Sanskrit(ic) and Bangla pronunciations.)


5) ‘five’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ৫ )
Assamese পাঁচ [pas]
Bengali পাঁচ [pãc]
Hindi-Urdu پانچ‎ , पाँच [pā̃c]
Sanskrit पञ्चन् [pañcan]
Sylheti ꠙꠣꠌ (ꠚꠣꠍ alternate spelling¹) [fas]

This number has one pronunciation, two different spellings.
– The first ꠙꠣꠌ is the historical spelling and the spelling in historical written texts. It’s similar to the spellings in other languages, see above.
– The second ꠚꠣꠍ is more of a Bangla-influenced pronunciation-type spelling using the script’s redundant letters following Bangla’s alphabet and spellings.

Because these letters represent different sounds in Bangla, namely unvoiced, unaspirated bilabial stop প [p] and unvoiced, aspirated bilabial stop ফ [ph], some people literate in Bangla think that the Sylheti Nagri letters should also represent different sounds. This spelling is what people online may be writing, especially in efforts to make Sylheti spellings appear as different from Bangla as Sylheti sounds are different from Bangla, but this spelling won’t be found in any of the historical written texts.

In Sylheti, both letters ꠙ and ꠚ are historically used to represent the unvoiced bilabial fricative [f] sound. The Sylheti [f] sound when double/geminate [pp] or when following a bilabial consonant [m] transforms into an unvoiced bilabial stop [p] sound. (Sylheti does not have aspirated consonants. Sylheti does not have nasalized vowels.)

In summary, a major difference between Bangla and Sylheti’s sound systems is:
– Bangla’s unvoiced, unaspirated bilabial stop [p] sound represented by the Eastern Nagri letter প ‘p’
– Bangla’s unvoiced, aspirated bilabial stop [ph] sound represented by the Eastern Nagri letter ফ ‘ph’
– Sylheti’s bilabial fricative [f] sound represented by the Sylheti Nagri letters ꠙ [foela fo] ‘first [f] sound’ OR ꠚ [dusra fo] ‘second [f] sound’ (This sound is realized in Sylheti as [f] OR [pp] OR [m]+[p] regardless of historical spelling or Sanskrit(ic) and Bangla pronunciations.)


6) ‘six’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ৬ )
Assamese ছয় [soe]
Bengali ছয় [choe] / ছহি [chohi]
Hindi-Urdu چھہ‎ , छह [chah]
Sanskrit षष् [SaS]
Sylheti ꠍꠄ / ꠍꠁ [soe] / [soi]

These aren’t two different spellings but two different ways to pronounce the word.


7) ‘seven’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ৭ )
Assamese সাত [xat]
Bengali সাত [shat]
Hindi-Urdu سات , सात [saat]
Sanskrit सप्तन् [saptan]
Sylheti ꠢꠣꠔ [hat] – (Bengali ꠡꠣꠔ [shat])

Many Sylheti speakers no longer use or even recognize the Sylheti word [hat] for ‘seven’, but only say the Bengali word [shat].


8) ‘eight’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ৮ )
Assamese আঠ [ath]
Bengali আট [aT]
Hindi-Urdu آٹھ‎ , आठ [aaTh]
Sanskrit अष्ट [aSTa]
Sylheti ꠀꠐ [aT]


9) ‘nine’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ৯ )
Assamese ন [no]
Bengali নয় [noe]
Hindi-Urdu نو‎ , नौ [nau]
Sanskrit नवन् [navan]
Sylheti ꠘꠄ [noe]


10) ‘ten’
(Eastern Nagri numeral ১০ )
Assamese দহ [doh]
Bengali দশ [dosh]
Hindi-Urdu دس‎ , दस [das]
Sanskrit दश [daśa]
Sylheti ꠖ (ꠖꠧ alternate spelling²) [do] – (Bengali ꠖꠡ [dosh])

Many Sylheti speakers no longer use or even recognize the Sylheti word [do] for ‘ten’, but only say the Bengali word [dosh].


FOOTNOTES

1. Sylheti’s multiple spelling conventionS

The Sylheti language does have a written history – historical literature and historical spellings. The Sylheti language has its own sound system and its own alphabet, written to represent that sound system with a nice modern script created just for it, which balances Sylheti’s unique sound system and unique written history.
For example,
ꠇꠣꠝ , কাম [xam] ‘work’
ꠈꠣꠝ , খাম [xam] ‘envelope’
ꠇꠥꠑꠣ , কুঠা [kuTa] ‘room’
ꠈꠥꠐꠣ , খুটা [kuTa] ‘insult’
ꠌꠣꠁ , চাই [sai] ‘mite’
ꠍꠣꠁ , ছাই [sai] ‘ash, grey’
ꠖꠥꠗ , দুধ [dud] ‘milk’

These historical spellings are from Sanskritic origins, and are shared by many languages, looking almost the same in both Bangla and Hindi-Urdu.

Of course, these historical spellings can seem to not fit Sylheti because Sylheti evolved much further from Sanskrit than languages like Bangla and Hindi-Urdu. Sylheti has lots of redundant/superfluous/extra letters in Sanskritic scripts that no longer indicate modern pronunciation differences in Sylheti.

You could completely ignore the second set of historical letters and only use the first set, so that it’s context, not historical spellings, that visually differentiates the meaning of a word:
– with the first [foela xo] letter ꠇ , ক
ꠇꠣꠝ , কাম [xam] ‘work’ ; ‘envelope’ (no need for the second [dusra xo] letter ꠈ , খ)
ꠇꠥꠐꠣ , কুটা [kuTa] ‘room’ ; ‘insult’ (no need for the second [dusra xo] letter ꠈ , খ)
– with the first [foela so] letter ꠌ , চ
ꠌꠣꠁ , চাই [sai] ‘mite’ ; ‘ash, grey’ (no need for the second [dusra so] letter ꠍ , ছ)
– with the first [foela do] letter ꠖ , দ
ꠖꠥꠖ , দুদ [dud] ‘milk’ (no need for the second [dusra do] letter ꠗ , ধ)

Or you could completely ignore the first set of historical letters and only use the second set, so that it’s context, not historical spellings, that visually differentiates the meaning of a word:
– with the second [dusra xo] letter ꠈ , খ
ꠈꠣꠝ , খাম [xam] ‘work’ ; ‘envelope’ (no need for the first [foela xo] letter ꠇ , ক)
ꠈꠥꠐꠣ , খুটা [kuTa] ‘room’ ; ‘insult’ (no need for the first [foela xo] letter ꠇ , ক)
– with the second [dusra so] letter ꠍ , ছ
ꠍꠣꠁ , ছাই [sai] ‘mite’ ; ‘ash, grey’ (no need for the first [foela so] letter ꠌ , চ)
– with the second [dusra do] letter ꠗ , ধ
ꠗꠥꠗ , ধুধ [dud] ‘milk’ (no need for the first [foela do] letter ꠖ , দ)

But being systematic like this isn’t what most people do.

Bangla is the dominant language in the region and many Sylheti speakers are literate in Bangla, so they impose Bangla phonetics/sounds from Bangla spellings on Sylheti.

Since in Bangla, the pairs of letters ক and খ, চ and ছ, দ and ধ represent different sounds IN BANGLA, many people literate in Bangla impose this difference on Sylheti, like
ꠈꠣꠝ , খাম [xam] ‘work’ ; ‘envelope’
ꠇꠥꠐꠣ , কুটা [kuTa] ‘room’ ; ‘insult’
ꠍꠣꠁ , ছাই [sai] ‘mite’ ; ‘ash, grey’
ꠖꠥꠖ , দুদ [dud] ‘milk’

Some people paradoxically think that the above Bangla phonetics-inspired spellings are ‘better’ or ‘more Sylheti’ because they often don’t look like historical spellings, that is, they look less like Bangla spellings which are historic. This is an anti- Bangla/Bengali trend some are following – to make Sylheti appear as different from Bangla/Bengali as possible, defining Sylheti negatively, erasing Sylheti history and Sylheti’s alphabet.

This can be considered unfair to Sylheti and Sylheti’s history.

ꠖꠥꠖ , দুদ [dud] ‘milk’ is not ‘more Sylheti’ because Sylheti’s historical spelling ꠖꠥꠗ , দুধ [dud] ‘milk’ looks like Bangla’s spelling. (It’s the same spelling in Hindi-Urdu too. Bangla is not inferior to Hindi-Urdu because both languages have the same historical spelling for ‘milk’. Sylheti is not inferior to Bangla because both languages have the same historical spelling for ‘milk’.)

In fact, the spelling ꠖꠥꠖ , দুদ [dud] ‘milk’ in Sylheti is the opposite of being ‘more Sylheti’. It is the result of imposing Bangla phonetics, Bangla’s alphabet on Sylheti spellings.

ꠈꠣꠝ , খাম [xam] ‘work’ ; ‘envelope’ in Sylheti is the spelling result of imposing Bangla phonetics, Bangla’s alphabet on Sylheti spellings.

This happens because many Sylheti speakers are literate in the dominant language Bangla and transpose/impose Bangla’s alphabet on Sylheti. But Sylheti does have its own alphabet, its own history.

In Sylheti, it’s ꠍꠤꠟꠐꠤ , ছিলটি [siloTi], but when you impose the Bangla alphabet of Bangla sounds it’s সিলটী – the স letter from Sanskrit not even having an equivalent letter in the Siloti Nagri script (having evolved into Sylheti [h])…

The spelling খাম [xam] ‘work’ in Sylheti is like the spelling সিলটি [siloTi] in Sylheti. Both are the result of imposing Bangla’s alphabet of Bangla sounds on Sylheti spelling. This doesn’t make Sylheti an ‘independent’ language. It makes Sylheti’s newer spellings dependent on Bangla phonetics and Bangla literacy.

Some people are against historical Sylheti spellings that ‘seem’ Bangla but Sylheti is also descended from Sanskrit(ic) and has every right to claim Sanskrit origin. Bangla doesn’t have more right than Sylheti.
~~~
In a similar process of imposing Bangla phonetics/sounds from Bangla spellings on Sylheti, for some speakers with English as their dominant language, they may impose English phonetics/sounds from English spellings on Sylheti, including capitalization of letters, capital letters not existing in Brahmic scripts. Like,
– ‘Silotee’ where the English ‘i’ and ‘ee’ spellings represent the sounds of the English alphabet [ɪ] and [i], like in the words ‘bit’ and ‘beet’.
– ‘Nahgree’ where the English ‘ah’ spelling represents the sound of the English alphabet [a] (not [æ], nor [e]), like ‘Ah!’ (not like ‘apple’, nor ‘ate’).
– ‘akh’ where the English ‘a’ spelling represents the sound of the English alphabet [e], like ‘ate’.
– etc.
~~~
Imposing the alphabets from other languages, like Bengali/Bangla and English, on Sylheti spellings can lead to some confusion, but are perfectly understandable by Sylheti speakers also literate in these other dominant languages and know their spelling conventions, especially if the readers already know the Sylheti language. While it may take some more initial effort to learn the Sylheti alphabet independent of Bangla/Bengali and English alphabets, both being languages that receive much more support and do not lack resources like the Sylheti language does, there is an advantage of more universal literacy in the Sylheti language by using an independent Sylheti alphabet, whether based on historical spellings or based on systematically eliminating one set of redundant/extra/superfluous historical letters, in whichever script it’s written in. (Any language can be written in any script!)

An argument to keep all letters and all spelling variants is that it gives writers a larger repertoire to represent how they speak, how they see their accent, in their diverse spellings. This would make reading a little slower but it allows for greater inclusion of diversity and intersectional representation in written language production.

Given the vast number of people who study historical linguistics of south Asian languages, not including historical spellings (somewhere, along with other spelling variants) in Sylheti might cause some scholars to dismiss Sylheti, ironically, as being ‘uneducated’…)


2. New ‘o’ diacritic/dependent letter

Whether it was to clarify spellings of words with pronunciations not typical of Sylheti’s preferred closed syllable structure ((C)V(V)C), that is, Sylheti prefers words not ending in vowels, and specifically not ending in a [o] vowel, or if it was to facilitate machine-assisted transliteration from Sylheti written in the Eastern/Purbi Nagri script to the Siloti Nagri script, the Lloyd-Williams, et al.’s 2002 Unicode proposal does include this newly invented letter that isn’t found in historical texts. Lloyd-Williams, et al. do not provide any explanation for their creation and inclusion of this new letter, whereas they did explain why they did not include Professor Erhasuzzaman’s numerals. In the Eastern/Purbi Nagri script, the diacritic/dependent ‘o’ letter ো exists. However, historically, only the Siloti Nagri full/independent letter ꠅ for ‘o’ exists, which is equivalent to both letters অ and ও in the Eastern/Purbi Nagri script.

N.B. In addition to the of numerals in Professor Erhasuzzaman’s multiple editions of his alphabet book, he also invented a short series of letters that were not included in the Unicode proposal either.

These invented letters, which he called [boRo] ‘big’, seemingly represent Arabic letters, for Arabic sounds that Muslim speakers with Arabic language training may use in their speech to pronounce Sylheti words borrowed from Arabic. These are similar to the letters with dot diacritics in the Devanagari script. These letters could be considered more a part of Islamic studies, than a part of the Sylheti language.

In IPA – Perso-Arabic – Devanagari scripts:
[ ʕ ] – ع – __ – ‘big’ অ [o]
[ ħ ] – ح – __ – ‘big’ হ [h]
[ ɣ ] – غ – ग़ – ‘big’ গ [g]
[ q ] – ق – क़ – ‘big’ ক [k]
[ x ] – خ – ख़
[ f ] – ف – फ़
[ ʒ ] – ژ – झ़
[ z ] – ز – ज़ (In Persian and Urdu, the letters ذ and ض also represent the [z] sound. Only in Arabic do these letters represent different sounds.)

Sylheti language(-learning) resources

Here are some online resources to complement your Sylheti language learning.

1) the Youtube channel She Learns
2) the Youtube channel PhotonLearning has some older wordlists in Sylheti
3) the Youtube channel Twinklesangel1234 has five videos of mini dialogues
4) on Youtube Banglaview TV has newscasts in Sylheti – look for সিলেটী ভাষায় রাইতকুর খবর = ‘nightly news in Sylheti language’
5) on Youtube search for ‘Sylheti natok’ or ‘Sylethi natok’ or ‘Sylhety natok’ for local/village dramas and comedies
6) some poems (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) etc. and story telling (7)
7) prank phone sketches (1) (2) (3) etc.
8) some artists are subtitling their music videos, using various transcription systems (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) etc.
9) the Youtube channel MASLAHA that produces local London community videos, including in Sylheti

10) the site Sylheti Language Preservation with resources
11) the site Let’s Learn Sylheti with the Youtube channel Let’s Learn Sylheti
12) some literature resources at Sylheti Translation and Resources (STAR)
— with may more literature resources with the British Library’s digitized collection EAP071 (however, not all of the works written with the Siloti Nagri script in the BL’s collection are in the Sylheti language)
13) growing number of stories in Sylheti at Storyweaver.org.in
14) amateur news written in Siloti Nagri at surmafarorkhobor.com
— and if you already know Sylheti and want to learn to write in the Siloti Nagri script, see SurmaFarorKhobor’s ꠀꠅ ꠘꠣꠉꠞꠤ ꠢꠤꠇꠤ [ao nagri hiki]
15) the Wikitravel Sylheti phrasebook (originally written for Indians literate in Devanagri script)
16) recorded phrases in Sylheti on the platform for Indian languages – Languages Home

And lots of other music!

Are there any other resourses that should be added to the list?

(Sylheti has lots of dialectal variation and a rich vocabulary. Most Sylheti speakers are multilingual so there can be lots of code-mixing/code-switching. And Sylheti has been affected by Bangla which socially and politically dominates so that many Sylheti words are disappearing, replaced by Bangla words. In short, there can be lots of variation in how one person speaks compared to another.)

The Politics of Language Online

The latest Global Digital Futures podcast:
https://www.soascodingclub.com/soas-radio-episode-17-language-online
Listen on Apple Podcasts: 
https://apple.co/2YI8y3S

Chipo Mapondera from the SOAS Coding Club’s Global Digital Futures podcast talked with Marie Thaut, Researcher and Project Manager of the Sylheti Project at SOAS. They discussed The Politics of Language Online and considered the issues with language diversity on the internet and in technology. They also get into why it is vital to protect endangered languages, and language documentation and revitalisation in the digital age. 
@SOASCodingClub #GlobalDigitalFutures

https://www.soas.ac.uk/news/newsitem149149.html

Looking for something to read in Sylheti?

Sylheti has a tradition of literature, although mostly forgotten today, but the revitalization of the Siloti Nagri script means that people are looking for something to practice reading!

Are you a Sylheti speaker? How are you at translation? Would you like to contribute, not only stories, but also data to put the Sylheti language on the digital/machine-translation menus? Would you like to learn to write in the Siloti Nagri script?

Screenshot 2020-05-21 01.50.56

There’s a site for that!
Storyweaver is collecting stories/translations in as many languages as possible, so that not only the few major languages around the world can have a recognized (digital) presence.

See the stories already translated into Sylheti!

Screenshot 2019-12-23 21.34.04 - Copy

And if you do translate a story into Sylheti, in any script – Roman (English), Purbi Nagri (Bengali-Assamese), etc. we can help you put it in the Siloti Nagri script. Contact sylhetiproject@soas.ac.uk with your story translation!

There are stories in many languages to translate. It’d be a great activity to do with grandparents!

InCommon collaboration

In November 2019, InCommon, an organisation that ‘bring[s] people together, young and old, to find out what they have in common’ invited us to assist with their sessions held at Mosque Tower retirement housing, the home of elderly Bangladeshi women, during the visits from pupils from the local Kobi Nazrul primary school. The Bangladeshi elders were Sylheti speakers, some with very little English, while the school children spoke English as their dominant language, despite most being of Bangladeshi heritage, plus a few children from other backgrounds.

 

We helped to adapt InCommon’s intergenerational programmes material by making a Sylheti translation (written in Roman script with some Eastern Nagri script (but unfortunately there were technical problems with the Siloti/Syloti Nagri script and it couldn’t be rendered)) to help communication during the session between this group of elders and pupils.

 

Thank you InCommon for the opportunity to collaborate with you and build awareness of the Sylheti language!

 

 

Sylheti language in music

With its lexical tone, and absence of historical aspiration, Sylheti has a distinct sound, unlike Bangla, that lends Sylheti music a unique rhythmicality (stress, intonation, and rhythm). Check it out!
Do you have any favorites?

 

🎼  Redz and AshBoii seem to be pretty popular at the moment

Sylheti Fua – by Redz, featuring AshBoii (<– This video with lyrics!)

Shundori Furi Goh – by Redz, featuring AshBoii (<– This video with lyrics!)
— and such a banger that it’s already inspired a parody:
Londoni Furi Goh – by Kabul, featuring Im’dad

Roshoraj – by Redz, featuring Ashboii

Ekbar Daraw Bondhu – by Redz, featuring AshBoii & Sony Achiba

Ami Bangali / আমি বাঙালী – by Redz, featuring AUS

 

🎼  Sylheti rap

Amra Hokkol Sylheti – by Fokir Lal Miah (with many different videos)
— based on the more traditional Amra hokkol Syloti – by …
— and many regional spin-offs, like
Amra hokkol londoni (we are all londoni’s) – by …
আমরা হক্কল বিশ্বনাথি / Amra Hokkol Bishwanathi – by …
Aamra Hokkol Balaganji – by B-Boys
Amra Hokkol Beanibazari – by Prithom Chowdhury Anik
Amra Hokkol Goalabazari / আমরা হক্কল গোয়ালাবাজারি – by Arex Vai

Sylhety Thaba – by C-Let Sr101

Sylhety Beyain – by RA Mamun, featuring Rani Ali

Sylhety Explosion – by Pollob Bai

Proud Sylhety – by Pollob Vai, featuring Md Juwels & Sacz Shorif

আমরা সিলেটি / Amra Sylheti – by Rebel Delwar

দ্বিতীয় অধ্যায় (Ditiyo Oddhay) – by Faheem, B Monk & C-let

(old-school) Buccho ni Ba Baai – by Lal Miah

 

🎼  Sylheti rap from Assam

Natok – by Arin Dez

Koshto – by Arin Dez

Taratari – by Arin Dez

 

🎼  international Sylheti rap collaboration

Worldwide Sylheti Cypher 2k17 – by Partho Bhai, Arin Dez, Fahim Chowdhury, Ovi, C-Let

 

🎼  Sylheti hip-hop

Gari – by Iksy (A folk song with a modern New York twist)

Injoy – by Iksy (with a remix)

Bangla Medley – by Nish (on the London scene)

Mon Juraiya – by Bilal Shahid

Burkhawali Meye – by Kayo BT

Mon Churi (মন চুরি) – by Shabz

Tumar Nesha – by Arin Dez, featuring Fleep (from Assam!)

Tumi Korso Fagol – by Arin Dez

Fori / ফরী – by S N D S U H E L

Shundori Go – by Sacz Shorif, featuring Hasib Shah

 

🎼  traditional melody mixed with metal rock sound

Amra Sylheti Fua – by Afjol Hossen

 

🎼  with a more traditional style

মুই ভালা নায় [mui bala nae] – by Dr. Zahir Ochinpuri

ধুন্দুর মুন্দুর সিলটী গান [dundur mundur silhoTi gan] – by Dr. Zahir Ochinpuri

Shundori Foori – by Fuad Almuqtadir

Sylheti Bhaisab – by M. K. Anam & Abdus Salique (<– This video with translated lyrics!)

 

🎼  younger singers

Amra Hokkol Sylheti / আমরা হক্কল ছিলটি – sung by Anamika Anu / অনামিকা অনু

ও ফুড়ি কউ আমারে ভালা ফাউনি [o fuRi xo amare bala fao ni] – by Ghuri / ঘুড়ি

 

🎼  nicely articulated Eid song

Sylheti Eid Song / মজার সুরে আঞ্চলিক গান – sung by Junaid Azhari

 

and so many Hason Raza ‘covers’ …

and of course all the damail (1) (2) songs, sung and danced in circles mainly by women at weddings!

 

 

Sylheti language session at SOAS’ Languages Outreach 2019

At the end of the academic year 2019, a group of pupils from two GCSE classes studying Bengali came to SOAS, and we were invited to present about the language plurality in ‘Bengal’, a region that has seen many diverse historical kingdoms and nations with various names, along with an overview on Sylheti language.

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In addition to a Bengali/Bangla language session presented to the pupils by a SOAS Bengali teacher, we presented the pupils and their teachers with an original poem ‘Jujube Thief’ [boroi sur] composed by Hasnat Anwar. We presented the poem in transcription, using Roman script and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), as well as in the Siloti/Syloti Nagri script and the Purbi (Bengali-Assamese) script.

boroi_sur-Hasnat_Anwar-in_3_scripts_and_translation-0001-modified

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Hasnat Anwar’s poem is performed in a Youtube video!

 

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soas-logo-treeWe thank SOAS’ Languages OutreachWidening Participation and Routes into Languages, for this opportunity to build awareness of the Sylheti language.

They have recognized our efforts before, promoting one of our first animated videos.