Bengal, the land of cultural potpourri has again hit the headlines, this time for its enviable treasure trove of languages. An interesting finding by the People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) shows that Bengal beats other states by the sheer number of scripts used in the state. The survey, which was carried out by scholars, writers and activists, in partnership with members of different communities, showed that 38 languages are spoken by people of various communities in the state.
“As many as nine different scripts exist here (Bengal) and efforts are on to develop several others," said PLSI chairman G N Devy.
Apart from Bengali, the main language, the other scripts used in Bengal are Urdu, Nepali, Ol Chicki (Santhal), Kol Ho, Barangh Kshiti, Lepcha, Sadri and Limbu.
In the last quarter of the 18th century, Kolkata grew into the first major centre of commercial and government printing. The early advent of printing, according to Devy, is one of the reasons that show why Bengal is the forerunner in the total number of scripts.
Indranil Acharya of Vidyasagar University, who coordinated the survey in Bengal, said: "Here, a script is an identity of a language community. Lack of government recognition of these languages had triggered a movement. Scripts were an outcome of that."
"A script gives language respectability. Moreover, in Bengal, linguistic minorities suffered less atrocities compared to other states. Ol Chicki script for the Santhali language was developed by Pandit Raghunath Murmu of Odisha in 1925. So it is not that all the scripts were developed in Bengal," said Sankar Singha, Acharya's colleague in Vidyasagar University.
Tamnay Bhattacharya of Centre for Advanced Studies in Linguistics added: "Bengal, interestingly, has representation of all four language family of India. If Bengali represents that Indo-Aryan family, Oraon belongs to Drividian family. Lepcha, on the other hand, belongs to Tibeto-Burma family while Santhali originates from Austro-Asiatic family. With such a diversity of languages in a small state like Bengal, the diversity of scripts is not entirely out of place."
The confluence of different communities, which is also a result of migration during the British rule, enriched the linguistic pool of the state. The survey shows that Bengal’s culture is a myriad mix of traditions and ethnicities, and the heritage is here to stay; this is undoubtedly a reason to rejoice.