Sylheti Language
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Sylheti Language


Sylheti nagari.png
The word Silô?i ('Sylheti') in Sylheti Nagari script
Native toBangladesh and India
RegionSylhet Division (Bangladesh)
Barak Valley and Hojai (Assam, India)
Unakoti and North Tripura (Tripura, India)
Shillong (Meghalaya, India)
Jiribam (Manipur, India)
Native speakers
11 million (2007)[1]
Sylheti Nagari, Bengali script[2]
Language codes
Sylheti speaking zone.png
Sylheti speakers within South Asia
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Sylheti (Sylheti: Silô?i) is an Indo-Aryan language primarily spoken in the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh and Barak Valley of the Indian state of Assam. There is also a substantial number of Sylheti speakers in the Indian states of Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur, and Nagaland.[4] It also has a large diaspora in the United Kingdom, the United States and the Middle East.


Socially and politically the status of Sylheti is disputed with some considering it to be a Bengali dialect, while others viewing it as a related yet separate language. There are significant differences in grammar and pronunciation as well as a somewhat one-directional intelligibility between Sylheti and Bengali, with Bengali speakers being less likely to understand the Sylheti language. Most Sylhetis are at least bilingual to some degree, as Standard Bengali is taught at all levels of education in Bangladesh.[5] Sylhet was part of the ancient kingdom of Kamarupa,[6] and Sylheti shares many common features with Assamese, including a larger set of classifiers and a larger set of fricatives than other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages. In a now out-dated survey of languages based on written samples of collected texts that was edited outside of India, George Abraham Grierson,[7] concludes that "[Sylheti's] inflections also differ from those of regular Bengali, and in one or two instances assimilate to those of Assamese," and he groups three dialects of Sylheti (from Western Sylhet, Eastern Sylhet, and Cachar) along with the Bengali dialect of Dacca in an Eastern Bengali group.[8] Considering the unique linguistic properties such as phoneme inventory, allophony, and inflectional morphology in particular and lexicon in general, Sylheti is regarded as a separate language (Grierson 1928, Chatterjee 1939, Gordon 2005). The Sylheti language was formerly written using its own script, Sylheti Nagari, which, although largely replaced with the Eastern Nagari script in recent times, is beginning to experience a revival in use.

It has been claimed (without providing statistical data and degrees of variation tolerance) that Sylheti shares 70% to 80% of its lexicon with Standard Bengali, despite pronunciation differences, which is a common situation between many related languages, given pronunciation differences.[4][9]

Writing system

Syloti Nagri Unicode block was added to the Unicode standard in March 2005 with the release of version 4.1.[10]Sylheti Nagri is also recognised by ISO 15924, Codes for the representation of names of scripts with the Code: Sylo, No: 316 and Name: Syloti Nagri.

Geographical distribution

The Sylheti language is native to the Greater Sylhet region, which comprises the present-day Sylhet Division of Bangladesh as well as the 3 districts of the Barak Valley of Assam in India.

Besides the native region it is also spoken by the Sylhetis living in North Tripura and the Meghalaya region. A significant amount of Sylheti migration to the United Kingdom and the United States from the 20th century has made Sylheti one of the most spoken languages of the Bangladeshi diaspora.


Front page of a Nagari book titled Halat-un-Nabi, written in the mid-19th century by Sadeq Ali of Daulatpur, Longla, Moulvibazar.

The region of Sylhet became a part of the Muslim Bengal in 1303 during the Conquest of Sylhet led by Shamsuddin Firoz Shah. The high influx of Middle Eastern and Central Asian settlers led to an influence from Arabic and Persian on Sylheti. When the British arrived in 1765, Sylhet became a part of Assam leading to some Assamese influence on Sylheti. In the 19th century, the British tea-planters in the area referred to the vernacular spoken in Surma and Barak Valleys as Sylheti. Local names included Ujaniyo (northern tongue i.e. a northern form of Bengali) and Srihottiyo (Srihattan).[8] In Assam, the language is still referred to as Sylheti.

In 1868, a short glossary of Sylheti terms were written up and compared to standard Bengali to allow ease in understanding the dialect. This is most likely the earliest appearance of a Sylheti dictionary. Many terms listed here differ from modern Sylheti - highlighting the dialect's evolution.[11]

In the 20th century, Shibprosanna Lahiry wrote a book called Sylheti Bhasatattver Bhumika (A background of the Sylheti language).[12]

The language was primarily written in the Eastern Nagari script however an alternative script was also founded in the Sylhet region known as Sylheti Nagari. During the British colonial period, Moulvi Abdul Karim spent several years in London learning the printing trade. After returning home in the 1870a, he designed a woodblock type for Sylheti Nagari and founded the Islamia Press in Sylhet town.

The British Bangladeshis living in England were mainly of Sylheti origin, and they started a campaign during the mid-1970s to mid-1980s to recognise Sylheti as a language in its own right. During the mid-1970s, when the first mother-tongue classes were established for Bangladeshis by community activists, the classes were given in standard Bengali rather than the Sylheti dialect which triggered the campaign. During the 1980s, a recognition campaign for Sylheti took place in the area of Spitalfields in the East End of London. One of the main organisations was the Bangladeshis' Educational Needs in Tower Hamlets (BENTH). However this organisation collapsed in 1985 and with its demise, the pro-Sylheti campaign in the borough lost impetus. Nonetheless, Sylheti remains very widespread as a domestic language in working-class as well as upper-class Sylheti households in the United Kingdom.[13]

On 18 October 2015, the SOAS Sylheti Project's Chocolate and Bicycles team launched a bilingual dictionary titled Sylheti Dictionary, translating from English to Sylheti and vice versa.[14]

Sylheti variation from Standard Bengali

There is also a written form of Sylheti which was used to write Puthis and was identical to puthis written in Dobhashi Bengali due to both lacking the use of tatsama and using Perso-Arabic vocabulary as a replacement. Similar to Dobhashi, those written in Sylheti Nagri were paginated from right to left.[15][16]

Vocabulary look

A phrase in:

  • Standard Bengali: ? ? ? æk desher gali arek desher buli.
  • Sylheti: ? ? ? ? / ? ?, ? ex deshôr gail arôx deshôr mat.

which literally means "one land's obscenity is another land's language", and can be roughly translated to convey that a similar word in one language can mean something very different in another. For example:

megh in Standard Bengali means cloud .

/ megh in Sylheti means rain.
In Pali megha means both rain and cloud.
In Sylheti cloud is called //khalni. Also referred as / haz, / ashmani haz (decor of the sky). or badol/?.
In Standard Bengali rain is called brishti.

na?a in Standard Bengali means to stir, to move or to shout.

In Sylheti, to stir is called ? la?a and to shout is na?a.

kômbôl in Standard Bengali means blanket.

In Sylheti, blanket is called / razai.
?/ xômbôl in Sylheti means buttock and in Bengali it means blanket.

Grammar comparisons

The following is a sample text in Sylheti, of the Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations:
Sylheti in Sylheti Nagari script

? ?: ? ? ' ? ? ? ? ? ?

Sylheti in Bengali script

? ?: ? ? '? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Sylheti in Phonetic Romanization

Dara ex: Hôxôl manu? azadi babe hôman izzôt ar hôx lôia fôeda ôe. Tarar bibex ar axôl ase. Er lagi hôxlôr usit exzône arôxzônôr lôge biradôrir môn lôia asôrôn xôra.

Sylheti in IPA

/d?a?a ex | x?l manu? ?ad?ínbábe man id:?t? a? x l?ia f?e?d?a e? ? t?a?a? bibex a? ax?l asé ? e? lagi xl usit? exz?ne ar?xz?n l?ge biradi? m?n l?ia asn xa ?/

Bengali in Bengali script

? ?: ? ? ? ; ? ?

Bengali in Phonetic Romanization

Dhara æk: ?ômôsto manu? ?adhinbhabe ?ôman môrjada æbông odhikar niye jônmôgrôhôn kôre. Tãder bibek æbông buddhi achhe; ?utôrang ?ôkôleri æke ôpôrer prôti bhratrittô?ulôbh mônobhab niye achôrôn kôra uchit.

Bengali in IPA

/dara ?k | m?st?o manu? ?adinb?abe man mdad?a ?b odika? nije dnm?g?n ke ? t?ãd?e? bibek ?b bud?di ate ? ?uta? k?le?i ?ke ?pe? pr?t?i batit?:ul?b? m?nob?ab nije atn ka utit? ?/

Below are the grammar similarities and differences appearing in a word to word comparison:
Sylheti word-to-word gloss

All humans' born happen free and dignity plus rights with. Their conscious, intelligent and judgement-clever staying bearing a-person another-person's with spiritual brotherhood conduct stays.

Bengali word-to-word gloss

All human free-manner-in equal dignity and right taken birth-take do. Their reason and intelligence exist; therefore everyone-indeed one another's towards brotherhood-ly attitude taken conduct do should.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Sylheti is distinguished by its tonal characteristics and a wide range of fricative consonants corresponding to aspirated consonants in closely related languages and dialects such as Bengali; a lack of the breathy voiced stops; word-final stress; and a relatively large set of loanwords from Assamese, Standard Bengali and other Bengali dialects. Sylheti has affected the course of Standard Bengali in the rest of the state.

  Front Central Back
Close i ?   u ?
Close-mid e ?    
Open-mid     ? ?
Open   a ?  
  Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palato-
Velar Glottal
Nasal m ? n ?     ? ?  
voiceless unaspirated p ?, ? t? ?, ? ? ?, ? t ?, ? k ?, ?  
voiced unaspirated b ?, ? d? ?, ? ? ?, ? d ?, ? ? ?, ?  
Fricative voiceless fricative ?~f ?, ? s ?, ?   ? ? x ?, ? ? ?
voiced fricative   z ?, ?        
Flap   ? ? ? ?      
Approximant w l ?   j    


Sylheti is a tonal language. The Indo-Aryan languages are not generally recognised for tone, although at least one other Indo-Aryan language (Punjabi) is tonal. There are two types of tonal contrasts in Sylheti: the emergence of high tone in the vowels following the loss of aspiration, and a low tone elsewhere.[17]

  • at () 'intestine'
  • át (') 'hand'
  • xali (?) 'ink'
  • xáli (?) 'empty'
  • gu?a (?) 'powder'
  • gú?a (?) 'horse'
  • suri (?) 'theft'
  • súri (?) 'knife'
  • zal () 'net, web'
  • zál () 'pungent'
  • ?ik () 'tick'
  • ?ík () 'correct'
  • ?al () 'branch'
  • ?ál () 'shield'
  • tal () 'palmyra, rhythm'
  • tál () 'plate'
  • dan () 'donation'
  • dán () 'paddy'
  • ful () 'bridge'
  • fúl () 'flower'
  • bala (?) 'bangle'
  • bála (?) 'good, welfare'
  • bat () 'arthritis'
  • bát () 'rice'

Sylheti continues to have a long history of coexisting with other Tibeto-Burman languages such as various dialects of Kokborok, Reang which are tonal in nature. Even though there is no clear evidence of direct borrowing of lexical items from those tonal languages into Sylheti, there is still a possibility that the emergence of Sylheti tones is due to an areal feature as the indigenous speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages by and large use Sylheti as a common medium for interaction.


A notable characteristic of spoken Sylheti is the correspondence of the /x/ and /?/, pronounced as a voiceless velar fricative to the /k/ or /k?/ of Bengali and voiceless glottal fricative to the /x/ of Assamese respectively.

Standard Bengali Assamese Sylheti IPA Transcription Meaning in English

Bhori süa
/x?d?mbusi/ Touching the feet (A way showing respect)
/?áxa/ Dhaka
?kjôn l?k

Ezon lük
?xzôn manush
/exz?n manu?/ A person

/exz?n/ Someone
Ekjôn purush

Ezon manuh
Exta beta
/ex?a be?a/ A man

/ki/ Informal of Whereof
Kônna, Meye
Zi, Süali
, , ?
Xôinna, Zi, Furi
/xoinna/, /zí/, /?u?i/ Daughter

, ?
Manowzati, Manuhor zati

Mainshor zat
/main zat?/ Mankind
?, ?
Ôshômiya, Ôhômiya

/mia/ Assamese people


/a?guil/ Finger, toe

/ai/ Ring

? ?, ? ?
Zuit püra, Zuit xeka

/aguinfu?a/ Baked, grilled
Khorgodhor, Sükordhora

/tlua?d?a?/ Swordsman
Pakhi, Chiriya
Sorai, Pokhi
, ?
Fakia, Forinda
/?aki/, /?akia/ Bird
, , ,
Bhalobasha, Prem, Piriti, Môhôbbôt
, ?, ,
Morom, Bhalpüwa, Prem, Piriti
Firiti, Môhôbbôt
Firiti Love

pisot, porot
Bade, Fôre
/e/, /bad?e/ Later
, , ,
Shôkôl, Shômôsto, Shôb, Tamam
?, ,
Xokolü; Xob; Sob
, , ,
Hôxôl, Hôkkôl, Shôb, Tamam
/x?l/, /kk?l/, /b/ All
?, ?
Shara, Pura

, ?
Asta, Hara
/?a?a/ Whole

Shat bil

Xat bil

Hat bil
/?at? bil/ Seven wetlands


/?at?xa/ Citrus macroptera fruit



/?at?ba?/ Seven-times (Sylheti term for lots of time)



/sili/ Sylheti
?, ?
Shoubhaggô, Khushnosib
/ku?n?sib/ Good luck
? ?
Bhalo kôre khan.

Bhalkoi khaük.
? /?
Bala xôri/tike xaukka.
/bála xi xaukka/, /bála ?ike xaukka/ Bon appetit
, ,
Stri, Pôtni, Bou
Stri, Ghôini, Pôtni

/b?u/ Wife
, ,
Shami, Bôr, Pôti
?, ,
Swami, Giri, Pôti

/zamai/ Husband



/daman/ Son-in-law


/ú?/ Father-in-law

/i/ Mother-in-law
/?ala/ Brother-in-law
/?ali/ Sister-in-law
/?ika/ Learn

/i?o/ Mustard


/?ial/ Fox, Jackal

Mekuri, birali
Mékur, Bilai
/meku?/, /bilai/ Cat

Xukoti, Xukan mas
Hu?ki, Hukôin
/?u?ki/, /?ukoin/ Sundried Fish

Apnar nam ki?

Apünar nam ki?

Afnar nam kita?
/a?na? nam kit?a/ What's your name?
? ? ? ? ?
Daktar ashar purbe rogi mara gelo
? ? ?'

Daktor ohar agotei rügi mori gól

? ? ?
Daxtôr awar ageu bemari môri gelo.
/?axt awa? ageu bema?i mi gelo/ Before the doctor came, the patient had died.
Bôhudin dekhini.
? ?
Bohudin dekha nai.

Bakka din dexsi na.
/bakka d?in d?exsi na/ Long time, no see.
? ?
Apni ki bhalo Achen?
Apuni bhale asê nê?
? ? ?
Afne bala asôin ni?
/a?ne bála asoin ni/ How are you?

Ami tomake bhalobashi.

Moi tümak bhal paü.
? ?
Ami tumare bala fai.
/ami t?umare bála ?ai/ I love you.
Ami bhule giechi.

Môi pahôri goisü.

Ami faûri lisi.
/ami ?ai lisi/ I have forgotten.
? ? ?
Mangsher jhol?a amar khub bhalo legeche.
Mangxor torkarikhon mür khub bhal lagise.
? ?
Gustôr salôm?a amar kub bala lagse.
/gust sal?m?a ama? kúb bála lagse/ I liked the meat curry.

Shilcôr kondike?
Xilsor kün fale/pine?
Hilcôr kun bae/baidi/muka?
/?il?t kun bae, baid?i, muká/ Which way to Silchar?
? ?
Shôucagar kothay?
? ?'
Xousaloy kót?
?ai kunxano/kunano/xano/kiano/xoi/kuai?
/?ai kunxano, kunano, xano, kiano, xoi, kuai/ Where is the toilet?

E?a ki?


Eitü ki?


Igu/Ik?a/I?a kita?

/igu, ik?a, i?a kit?a/ What is this?

She?a ki?

Xeitü ki?


Higu/Hik?a/Hi?a kita?

/?igu, ?ik?a, ?i?a kit?a/ What is that?



/?e?/ End, finish

See also


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ "Sylheti". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sylheti". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ a b "Sylheti". Ethnologue.
  5. ^ Sebastian M. Rasinger (2007). Bengali-English in East London: A Study in Urban Multilingualism. pp.F 26-27. Retrieved on 2 May 2017.
  6. ^ Edward Gait, History of Assam, p. 274
  7. ^ George Grierson, Language Survey of India, Vol II, Pt 1, p224
  8. ^ a b Grierson, George A. (1903). Linguistic Survey of India. Volume V, Part 1, Indo-Aryan family. Eastern group. Specimens of the Bengali and Assamese languages. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India.
  9. ^ Chalmers (1996)
  10. ^ "Syloti Nagri in Unicode" (PDF). Retrieved 2020.
  11. ^ E M Lewis (1868). "Sylhet District". Principal Heads of the History and Statistics of the Dacca Division. Calcutta: Calcutta Central Press Company. pp. 323-325.
  12. ^ Mohammad Daniul Huq; Aminur Rahman. "Bangla Literature". Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  13. ^ Anne J. Kershen (2005). Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields, 1660-2000. Routledge. pp. 148-150. ISBN 978-0-7146-5525-3.
  14. ^ "Sylheti Dictionary - Apps on Google Play". Google Play. Chocolate and Bicycles.
  15. ^ "Sylheti Nagri - Banglapedia".
  16. ^ d'Hubert, Thibaut (May 2014). In the Shade of the Golden Palace: Alaol and Middle Bengali Poetics in Arakan. ISBN 9780190860356.
  17. ^ Gope, Amalesh; Mahanta, Shakun (May 2014). "Lexical Tones in Sylheti". ResearchGate.

External links

Sylheti phrasebook travel guide from Wikivoyage

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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