SOAS Library – Digital Collections

For easier and wider access, our publications, the ‘Boy who cried tiger’ storybook and the 2015 Sylheti language lessons booklet, are now available on the SOAS Digital Collections site, where you can also find open-access resources on many other languages!

Screenshot 2019-10-22 11.56.39

An up-to-date update

As a new year of study and research begins, we’ve taken account of accomplishments to date: animated and subtitled videos of Sylheti stories, Sylheti dictionary app, Sylheti lessons booklet, hosting an academic conference that was a culmination of students’ work on Sylheti, crowdfunding and an illustrated storybook in multiple scripts, etc. See slides below.

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In the near future, look for the forthcoming publication of the academic conference proceedings.

Future plans include expanding the dictionary app with more words, sound, and images, as well as editing and publishing the expanded Sylheti lessons book, time and funding permitting…

A ‘field’ trip


Last week Dr. Sheena Shah and the SOAS students in her Language support and revitalisation class visited the Surma Community Centre and talked to Sylheti language consultants Faruk, Farhana, and Nadia (along with Nadia’s six-month-old).

From a very informative Q&A session we gained insight on the intergenerational dynamics in the Sylheti community in the UK, and what it has meant for our consultants to work on the Sylheti language with us. We also got some feedback on the storybook – how it is seen as a future heirloom when in 200-300 years Sylheti will have ‘disappeared because of development’, and how it has inspired conversations about life back in Sylhet, like how the farmer in the story ‘Bundle of sticks [singlar aTa]’ should have ’12 sons and 13 grandsons in order to grow sugarcane’, back when farmers were self-sufficient and only had to purchase kerosene and cooking oil, and often not even cooking oil if they also grew mustard seed to make mustard seed oil. Sounds like an updated/expanded storybook may be in the future…

After the talk, we all stayed at the Surma Centre and had a delicious curry lunch.
Thank you Faruk, Farhana, and Nadia!

SOAS Sylheti Language Society – lessons on again!

sls_logo05Join us at:
SOAS University of London –
Russell Square (tube station) –
London WC1H 0XG

Register at

Facebook page
SOAS Sylheti Language Society

SOAS Sylheti Project:
Facebook group &
YouTube channel

For more information, contact:

For lesson dates, times and locations, check out our Facebook page.

Download our 2015 lessons booklet:
(Booklet under Creative Commons – free and open access, not to be sold.)

GOALS: To discuss the grammar of the *Sylheti language, developing lessons and teaching materials by pratice teaching to other members of the society. Members are encouraged to each eventually teach (or co-teach) at least one lesson (but attendance to just learn and experience the Sylheti language is fine). This provides the opportunity to learn the Sylheti language and gain language teaching skills.

HISTORY: After an invitation from the director of the Surma Centre, Camden, during Endangered Languages Week presentations at SOAS in 2012, the SOAS Sylheti Project was founded by Dr Candide Simard. Since 2012, SOAS linguistics students have participated in this extracurricular project to document Sylheti spoken by users of the Surma Centre. The SOAS Fieldmethods course has also worked with a Sylheti speaker to document Sylheti grammar. Besides other sub-projects, the SOAS Sylheti Project has compiled a dictionary for an app, published a storybook in Sylheti, and held an academic conference, proceedings to be published shortly.

In order to involve Sylheti-speaking SOAS students (and Sylheti-speaking Londoners), the Sylheti Language Society was created. This Language Society hopes to be a collaborative teaching and learning experience to give a different analytic forum to Sylheti to be discussed as a language, not ‘improper Bengali’ (as it’s called in most Bengali language courses where in London 6-8 out of 10 students are Sylheti origin). Teaching Sylheti is also an experience to put on a C.V. which may lead to translation/interpretation work here in the U.K.

*Sylheti is an Indo-Aryan language with Tibeto-Burman influences, spoken by a minority in north-east Bangladesh and south Assam, where it is often considered to be a mere ‘dialect’ of Bengali, or ‘slang’. However, it is a language, with 200,000-400,000 speakers in the UK, who, for lack of documentation and teaching materials among other reasons, simply call it ‘Bengali’.


International Mother Language Day

From a local event to a global scale.
In 1999 UNESCO proclaimed 21 February to be International Mother Language Day (IMLD), sometimes also called International Mother Tongue Day, to raise awareness of linguistic rights and to promote the maintenance, preservation and protection of all languages. UNESCO chose this date in recognition of what happened in East Pakistan in 1952 and is today commemorated in Bangladesh as Language Martyrs’ Day.

So for some Sylheti speakers with ties to Bangladesh, this day has double significance.

images thanks to Mukter Ahmed


And let us also remember that while we largely accept that discrimination based on such things as a person’s ethnicity, race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability or national origin is reprehensible, too often discriminaiton based on a person’s language and accent is deemed acceptable. A person’s language is as dear to their identity as all the other aspects.

Article 13 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

Nagri 'article 13'-01 - Mukter Ahmed

translated by Mukter Ahmed


And, we’ve made available a new digital version of the storybook, an ebook in only Nagri with no other scripts: storybook-Nagri_only.

Getting feedback on the storybook…

Some comments are coming in!  Please add yours.


“…its great! … love the quality of the pictures and the transcription reads very well. – a Sylheti-speaking Londoner interested in learning to read Siloti Nagri (14 Feb. 2018)


A Londoner father told us that his 24-year-old, medical student son who never learned Bengali could read the stories and enjoyed them! (20 Dec. 2017)


The Youtuber ‘She Learns’ reviews the storybook at 4:00. (11 April 2019)
“I love this book. It’s very pleasing to look at. And it’s very entertaining, very useful, especially for practicing the Nagri reading.”

Storybook distribution – Getting it out there!

Distribution of the storybook ‘fuTae sillaito bag aise, aro duiTa kicca siloTi bashae’ / ‘The Boy Who Cried Tiger, and two other stories told in the Sylheti language’ is continuing as we get to the end of our first print run. Thank you once again crowdfund supporters!

All nine public libraries in Camden, London, as well as the prestigious British Library, have copies. You should also be able to consult copies at the Camden Council offices too. Shantir Boi, off Brick Lane, has copies that you can consult. And copies will soon be in the eight libraries and Idea stores of Tower Hamlets. Some copies have made their way to ‘Mulitlingual Manchester’ at the University of Manchester. Goldsmiths University of London has also requested copies.

And as always, digital copies are available to distribute and print freely.

If you know of any interested organisations – libraries, schools, after-school programmes, please contact us at Stroybook Poster-page-001

ISBN-13 : 9780728604100 (print edition)

Reading on 20 Dec. 2017 at the British Library

On 20 Dec. 2017 during the WORKSHOP AND EXHIBITION events at the

British Library Knowledge Centre – London NW1 2DB

11am – 5pm (All activities are free)

the SOAS Sylheti Project will present with Faruk Miah a reading of one of his stories (14:50 in the Theatre Room)

Come and meet us at our exhibition stall in the Foyer 1st floor from 11am!

See other programme details below:

Foyer entry – Ground floor

  • Sign in and welcome
  • Surma centre decor
  • Exhibition Argyle School
  • British Library pop-up Bengali Film posters
  • Photo exhibition – Aimee Taylor – Kings Cross Story Palace

Foyer 1st floor – exhibition stalls

  • Surma Centre
  • Hopscotch Women’s Centre
  • LB Camden Housing
  • LB Camden Fire Safety
  • LB Camden Camden Plan
  • Poetry workshop and book stall
  • Bangladeshi food and snacks, coffee + tea and soft Drinks
  • Plasma screen – Argyle School Artwork

Dickens Room

  • British Library presentation – Project Curator for Two Centuries of Indian Print, Layli Uddin, will give a presentation on South Asia which will include two centuries of Indian print

Theatre Room

  • Welcome by Councillor Hai, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library and High Commissioner of Bangladesh His Excellency Mr. Md Nazmul Quaunine, Andrew Dsmal
  • Film Screening of Camden documentary
  • Mix It – Surma Centre Dance
  • Poetic Voices
  • Boy Who Cried Tiger – SOAS Sylheti Project presentation and story reading
  • Bangla Shur music

Note: Formal Programme of Entertainment and Speakers will begin at 13.30pm and end by 4pm

Bronte Room

  • The Art of Henna – Have a go
  • Henna
  • Face Painting
  • Art Wall – ‘We Love Our Culture’

Eliot Room

  • World-wide snacks – making and tasting
  • Spices and their meaning – in associated with Wellcome Collection
  • Weaving – Have a go

Chaucer Room – Exchange room

  • South Asian Board Games – Breaking Barriers
  • Hello Tree – ‘We speak many languages’
  • Take my Photo
  • Bollywood and traditional dance workshops
  • Sari workshop and display


Story collection to storybook: Producing community material

Please join us for a presentation about the academic side of producing our storybook, on Tuesday 28 Nov. 2017, at SOAS, Russell Square, room B102 in the Brunei Gallery building. More information here.



Story collection to storybook:
Producing community material

Andriana Koumbarou (SOAS), Marie Thaut (SOAS), Candide Simard (SOAS)

Date: 28 November 2017  Time: 3:30 PM

Finishes: 28 November 2017  Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B102

Type of Event: Seminar


The Sylheti Project is an extracurricular project to document Sylheti as it is spoken by users of the Surma Community Centre which houses the Bengali Workers’ Association. Most of the members of the SOAS Sylheti Project are Linguistics and Language Documentation and Description students at SOAS, University of London supervised by Dr Candide Simard. For the past five years, the Project has been providing invaluable fieldwork and community-involvement experience to SOAS linguistics students. Alongside other sub-projects, the SOAS Sylheti Project has compiled a dictionary for an Android app funded by the Alumni & Friends Fund, held an academic conference, the proceedings of which will be published shortly, and produced a storybook through a crowdfunding campaign.

This presentation concentrates on this latest sub-project, the making of the storybook ‘The Boy Who Cried Tiger, and two other stories as told in the Sylheti language’ [fuaTae sillaito bag aise aro duiTa kicca siloTi bashae], based on various recordings of stories told by London’s Sylheti speakers.

We discuss a range of issues we encountered in the process of transposing these stories into writing:

1) The issue of uniformization of grammar, in which it is crucial to discuss variation and how to deal with it in a manner that speakers find acceptable.

2) Issues of representation, that is, the choice of scripts and spelling which first required the evaluation of the functional load of phonological features while recognizing the cognitive needs of the speakers who are often fluent in Bengali and English and read in both Bengali and Roman scripts. We also needed to take account of socio-political issues: writing has an important symbolic value for the community in Camden, and also amongst Sylheti speakers all around the world, as indicated by the revitalisation efforts of the Siloti Nagri script.

3) Issues of culture and identity, notably in the development of the illustrations.

We will illustrate our discussion with examples from phonology, morphology and syntax, and will present the solutions that were agreed upon in the decision-making process that involved linguists and Sylheti speakers.


About the speakers

Andriana Koumbarou is a PhD student at SOAS, University of London, working on the expression of focus in Hindi with the help of a SOAS Research Studentship.

E. Marie Thaut is a MA student in the Language Description and Documentation programme at SOAS; she is Founder and President of the SOAS Sylheti Language Society.

Candide Simard is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Linguistics at SOAS.



Thank you, crowdfunding supporters!


We’re busy organising the storybook launch event, but first things, first. We’ve posted the rewards to our crowdfunding supporters, with the help of one of the stories’ authors!

If you’re one of the lucky ones, look out for your reward. And please look forward to joining us at the launch event, TBA.