Sylheti Language
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Sylheti Language


Sylheti in Sylheti Nagari script - example.svg
The word "Silô?i" in Sylheti Nagri script
Native toBangladesh
RegionSylhet region and Barak Valley[1]
Native speakers
10 million (2017)
L2 speakers: 1.5 million (2017)[2][3]
Sylheti Nagri
Bengali-Assamese script (Bengali alphabet)
Language codes
Sylheti speaking zone.png
Sylheti speakers within Bangladesh and Northeast India (shown in red)
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 is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language spoken by an estimated 11 million people, primarily in the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh, the Barak Valley and the Hojai district of Assam as well as in northern parts of Tripura in India.[6][2] Outside of these regions, there are substantial numbers of Sylheti speakers in Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland; as well as diaspora communities in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Middle East.

It is variously perceived as either a Bengali dialect or a language in its own right. While most linguists consider it an independent language,[7][8] for many native speakers Sylheti forms the diglossic vernacular, with standard Bengali forming the codified lect.[9] Some incorrectly consider it as a "corrupt" form of Bengali,[10] and there is a reported language shift from Sylheti to Bengali in Bangladesh, India and the diaspora.[11]


Sylheti is eponymously named after Sylhet, referring to the dialect or language spoken of that area.[12] "Sylhet" is the anglicanised spelling of the historical name, Srihatta.[13][14] According to Grierson (1903) the vernacular was called Sylhettia by the Europeans after the town of Sylhet.[15] Though the speakers at that time referred to it as Jaintiapuri, Purba Srihattiya, or Ujania with the latter meaning "the language of the upper country".[16]

Sylheti is also known as Sylhetti, Sylheti Bangla, Sileti, Siloti, Syloti, and Syloty.[17]


A Sylheti Nagri book titled Halat-un-Nabi, written in 1855 by Sadeq Ali.[18]

Sylheti belongs to the Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, that evolved from Magadhi Prakrit.[19] The lowlands around Sylhet were originally inhabited by ancient Khasi people (Austroasiatic);[20] and the earliest known Indo-Aryan settlements were made in the 6th century under Kamarupa king.[21][22]Sylhet (Srihatta) then emerged as a center of regional territorialism after the 10th century.[23] The 11th century Bhatera grants from the Srihatta kings Kesavadeva and Isanadeva were written in Sanskrit.[24][25] Another notable copper plate inscription was found in the village of Paschimbhag in Rajnagar, Moulvibazar that was issued by King Srichandra during the 10th century.[26]

The Muslim Conquest of Sylhet in 1303 extended the migratory movements of Muslim Turks, Arabs and Afghans, who settled among the native population and greatly influenced the local language.[27] Thus Sylheti derived a large number of words from Persian and Arabic,[28] which cultivated a form of Islamic culture on the dialect or language.[29] A script was developed in the region called Sylheti Nagri, which primarily focused on disseminating Islamic poetry, known as puthi.[30] Its earliest known work had been written during the 1600s, called Bhedsar by Syed Shah Husayn Alam.[31] The language of its literature was written in a Dobhashi style, a highly Persianised variant of Middle Bengali, though its phonology and some of its vocabulary was strongly influenced by Sylheti.[32][33] The script was read and taught culturally among households and was not institutionalised,[32] as the Islamic dynasties who ruled over Bengal established Persian alongside Arabic as the official languages.[34] Printed texts of the script reached its peak during the late 19th century, however its use became obsolete by around the middle of the 20th century.[35]

The earliest appearance of a documentation of Sylheti vocabulary was in the Government Report on the History and Statistics of Sylhet District by T. Walton, B.C.S. in 1857, which contained a list of peculiar words used in Sylhet.[36] Many terms that were listed here differ from modern Sylheti - highlighting its evolution. In 1868, another short glossary of local terms in various districts of the Dacca Division (which included Sylhet) were written up and compared to standard Bengali to allow ease in understanding local vernaculars.[37] There was an influence of the Assamese language on Sylheti when Sylhet was separated from Bengal and became part of the Assam Province, British India in 1874.[38] This however led to an opposition in Sylhet where demands to be reincorporated with the Bengal Province were not taken heed of by the British. Sylhetis not only felt a historical or cultural affinity with Bengal, but also linguistically.[39]Bengali literature had some influence from Sylheti, popular songwriters or poets such as Hason Raja or Shah Abdul Karim, significantly contributed to the literature.[40][41] Sylhet was reunited with Bengal following a referendum in 1947.[42]


According to Simard, Dopierala and Thaut, Sylheti is a "minoritised, politically unrecognised, and understudied language."[43] It is currently not officially recognised as a language in either Bangladesh or India.[44] Some native speakers too consider it to be an informal version of Bengali and not an independent language;[10] and there is a reported language shift to Bengali and a decrease in the number of native speakers since parents are not teaching it to their children.[11] In Bangladesh there is a diglossia where Sylheti is one among other low status regional dialects while standard Bengali, the official language, has a high status.[45] In the Barak Valley of Assam, India, where majority speak Sylheti, Bengali is also the official language.[46] Colonial study in the 19th century considered Sylheti to be a dialect of Bengali.[47][48] Sylheti shares some linguistic properties with Bengali,[49][better source needed] with a lexical similarity of 70%.[50]


Grierson (1903) notes that even though Sylheti is not intelligible to other Bengalis, it was a dialect of Bengali,[51] and that it had two variations--"Western Sylheti" and "Eastern Sylheti"--and grouped them in "Eastern Bengali".[38]Chatterji (1926) too calls it a dialect of Bengali and places it in the eastern Vangiya group of Magadhi Prakrit and notes that all Bengali dialects were independent of each other and did not emanate from the literary Bengali called "sadhu bhasha".[52] Among the different dialect groups of the eastern dialects, to which Sylheti belonged, Sylheti and Chittagonian have phonetic and morphological properties that are alien to standard Bengali and other western dialects of Bengali,[53] and these differences are such that Sylheti is more distant to standard Bengali than is Assamese.[54] Recent scholarship notes that these morpho-phonological and mutual intelligibilty differences are significant enough that Sylheti could claim itself as a language on its own right.[55] Ethnologue groups Sylheti in Bengali-Assamese languages;[56] whereas Glotolog gives further subgrouping and places it in "Eastern Bengali",[57] a branch parallel to "Bengali".[58]

Language-dialect controversy

The classification of Sylheti is contentious--Chalmers (1996) suggested that it was generally identified as a dialect of Bengali though there were efforts to recognise it as a language.[59][60] Anecdotal evidence suggests that Sylhetis, who could also speak in Standard Bengali, considered the two languages to be mutually intelligible.[61][47] On the basis of the anecdotal evidence of mutual intelligibility, regionality and the fact that Sylheti is spoken by a predominantly rural community, Rasinger (2007) concludes that Sylheti could be considered a dialect of Bengali.[62] Simard, Dopierala and Thaut have pointed out that the intelligibility could be an effect of prior exposure of Sylheti speakers to Bengali,[63] and that the academic consensus is that mutual intelligibility ranges from "unintelligible" to "hardly intelligible".[64] On the basis of phonology and phonetics, lexicon, grammatical structure and a lack of mutual intelligibility, some recent linguists claim that Sylheti is not merely a dialectal variation of Bengali but a language in its own right.[55][65][66]

Phonologically Sylheti is distinguished from standard Bengali and other regional varieties by significant deaspiration and spirantization,[67] leading to major restructuring of the consonant inventory[68] and the development of tones.[69] Although Grierson had classified Sylheti as an Eastern Bengali dialect, he had identified Sylheti sharing some features with Assamese including a larger set of inflections than Bengali.[38]

Particularly in the United Kingdom, the majority of the diaspora using Sylheti as the main vernacular has led some to view it as a distinct language, due to an environment that was somewhat uninfluenced by standard Bengali.[70] During the 1980s there were unsuccessful attempts to recognise Sylheti as a language in its own right by a small group in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which lacked support from the Sylheti community itself.[71][72]

Geographical distribution

Brick Lane (in London) street sign with Bengali transliteration, it is the heart of the Bangladeshi-Sylheti community

Sylheti is the primary language of northeast Bengal (also known as the Sylhet region) which today comprises the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh and Karimganj district of Assam, India. It is also primarily spoken in the districts of Cachar and Hailakandi of Assam, which alongside Karimganj make up the Barak Valley,[73] as well as in the northern parts of Tripura and the western edge of Manipur. There is also a significant population of Sylheti speakers in the Hojai district of Assam (since before Partition), Shillong in Meghalaya,[74] and the state of Nagaland. A few numbers are also located in Kolkata, most of whom are migrants from Assam.

Outside the Indian subcontinent, the largest Sylheti diaspora communities reside in the United Kingdom and North America. In the UK, there are around 400,000 Sylheti speakers.[75] The largest concentration live in east London boroughs, such as Tower Hamlets.[76] In the United States, most are concentrated in New York City borough's such as the Bronx,[77] and there are significant numbers in Hamtramck, Michigan where they constitute the majority of Bangladeshis in the city.[78][79][80] There are also small numbers located in Toronto, Canada.[81][82] Significant Sylheti-speaking communities reside in the Middle East of which most are migrant workers,[83][84] and in many other countries throughout the world.

Writing system

Sylheti currently does not have a standardised writing system.[75] Historically, Sylheti Nagri was commonly used by some Muslims of the east of the Sylhet region and mostly limited to writing religious poetry.[38] This written form was identical to those written in the Dobhashi register due to both lacking the use of tatsama and using Perso-Arabic vocabulary as a replacement. As per Dobhashi custom, many Sylheti Nagri texts were paginated from right to left.[85][86] An endangered script, it has since seen a revival mostly by academics and linguists.[87] Bengali is the medium of instruction in Bangladesh,[88] some may therefore write in Sylheti using the Bengali script, however it is viewed as more formal to write in standard Bengali.[75] Although books are rarely published in the Bengali script with Sylheti transcription, the New Testament in Sylheti was published in 2014.[89]


The phoneme inventory of Sylheti differs from Standard Bengali as well Bangladeshi Standard.[90] It is characterised by a loss of breathiness and aspiration contrasts, leading to a significant reduction in its phoneme inventory and development of tones. In particular the following developments are seen:[91]

  • Both voiced and voiceless aspirated stops have become unaspirated (d -> d?; t -> t?)
  • The voiceless labials have spirantised to homorganic fricatives (p -> ?; p? -> ?)
  • The velar stops have become velar fricatives (k -> x; k? -> x)
  • The post-alveolar affricates have spirantised to alveolar fricatives (t? -> s; t -> s; d? -> z; d -> z)
  • Among the voiceless stops only the dental (t?, d?) and retroflex (?, ?) stops have remained stops.
  Front Central Back
Close i ?   u ?
Close-mid e ?    
Open-mid     ? ?
Open   a ?  
  Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palato-
Velar Glottal
Nasal m ? n ?     ? ?  
voiceless unaspirated t? ?, ? ? ?, ?  
voiced unaspirated b ?, ? d? ?, ? ? ?, ? ? ?, ?  
Fricative voiceless fricative ?~f ?, ? s ?, ?   ? ? x ?, ?  
voiced fricative   z ?, ?       ? ?
Flap   ? ?      
Approximant l ?    


Sylheti is a tonal language.[93][94][95] This is rare among the Indo-Aryan languages. There are two types of tonal contrasts in Sylheti: the emergence of high tone in the vowels following the loss of aspiration, and a level tone elsewhere.

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

Recent study shows that there is a three way tonal system in Sylheti.[96]

No. Word IPA Tone Meaning Word IPA Tone Meaning Word IPA Tone Meaning
1 ? ?á?á High goat ? ?à?à Low torn ? ? Mid grindstone
2 ? kú?á High room ? kù?à Low taunting ? k Mid stick
3 ? ?áxá High fan ? ?àxà Low empty ? x? Mid ripe

It is considered that these tones arose when aspirated consonants lost their aspiration. Sylheti continues to have a long history of coexisting with tonal Tibeto-Burman languages such as various dialects of Kokborok, Reang[clarification needed]. Even though there is no clear evidence of direct borrowing of lexical items from those languages into Sylheti, there is still a possibility that the emergence of Sylheti tones is due to external influence, as the indigenous speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages by and large use Sylheti as a common medium for interaction.


Sylheti grammar is the study of the morphology and syntax of Sylheti.[97]



When a definite article such as -gu/?a (singular) or -guin/?in (plural) is added, nouns are also inflected for number. Below are two tables which show the inflections of an animate noun, satrô (student), and an inanimate noun, ? zuta (shoe).

Noun Inflection
Animate Inanimate
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative /

the student


the students


the shoe


the shoes

Objective ?/?

(to) the student


(to) the students


(to) the shoe


(to) the shoes

Genitive ??/??

the student's


the students'


the shoe's


the shoes'

Locative - - ?/?

on/in the shoe

on/in the shoes

All of the inflected nouns above have an indefinite article preceding their case markers. There are some basic rules to keep in mind about the cases, apart from the "default" nominative.

For the genitive case, the ending may change, though never with a definite article attached. A noun (without an article) which ends in a consonant or the inherent vowel, ? ô, is inflected by adding -? -ôr to the end of the word (and deleting the inherent vowel if applicable). An example of this would be the genitive of gus "meat" being ?? gustôr "of meat" or "(the) meat's". A noun which ends in any vowel apart from the inherent vowel will just have a {{{text}}}-? -r following it, as in the genitive of fua being ? fuar "(the) boy's". The genitive ending is also applied to verbs (in their verbal noun forms), which is most commonly seen when using postpositions (for example: ?? ? hikar lagi, "for learning").

For the locative case, the marker also changes in a similar fashion to the genitive case, with consonants and the inherent vowel having their own ending, -? -ô, and all other vowels having another ending, -? -t. For example, silô?ô "in Sylhet", ?? dáxát "in Dhaka", etc.

Measure words

When counted, nouns must also be accompanied by the appropriate measure word. The noun's measure word (MW) must be used in between the numeral and the noun. Most nouns take the generic measure word gu/?a/xán, although there are many more specific measure words, such as zôn, which is only used to count humans.

Measure Words
Sylheti Literal translation Meaning
Nôy-?a gho?i Nine-MW clock Nine clocks
Xôy-?a balish How many-MW pillow How many pillows
Ônex-zôn manush Many-MW person Many people
Sair-fas-zôn mash?ôr Four-five-MW teacher Four or five teachers

Measuring nouns in Sylheti without their corresponding measure words (e.g. a? mekur instead of a?-?a mekur "eight cats") would typically be considered ungrammatical. However, omitting the noun and preserving the measure word is grammatical and not uncommon to hear. For example, Xáli êx-zôn táxbô. (lit. "Only one-MW will remain.") would be understood to mean "Only one person will remain.", since zôn can only be used to count humans.


Personal pronouns

Sylheti personal pronouns are somewhat similar to English pronouns, having different words for first, second, and third person, and also for singular and plural (unlike for verbs, below). Sylheti pronouns, like their English counterparts, do differentiate for gender. Sylheti has different third-person pronouns for proximity. The first are used for someone who is nearby, and the second are for those who are a little further away. The third are usually for those who are not present. In addition, each of the second- and third-person pronouns have different forms for the familiar and polite forms; the second person also has a "very familiar" form (sometimes called "despective"). It may be noted that the "very familiar" form is used when addressing particularly close friends or family as well as for addressing subordinates, or in abusive language. In the following tables, the abbreviations used are as follows: VF=very familiar, F=familiar, and P=polite (honor); H=here, T=there, E=elsewhere (proximity), and I=inanimate.

The nominative case is used for pronouns that are the subject of the sentence, such as "I already did that" or "Will you please stop making that noise?"

Personal pronouns (nominative case)
Subject Proximity Honor Singular Plural
1 VF (mui, I) (môra, we)
F (ami, I) ? (amra, we)
2 VF (tui, you) ? (tura, you)
F ? (tumi, you) /?-? (tumra/tumi-tain, you)
P ? (afne, you) (afnara, you)
3 H F ? (e, he), (ei, she) / (igu, he/she) (era, they)
P (ein, he/she) /-? (era/ein-tain, they)
I /? (igu/ik?a, it) (iguin, these)
T F (he, he), (tai, she) ? (tara, they)
P ? (tain, he/she)

?/?-? (tara/tain-tain, they)

I /? (ôgu/ôx?a, it) (ôguin, those)
E F (he, he), (tai, she) ? (tara, they)
P ? (tain, he/she)

?/?-? (tara/tain-tain, they)

I /? (hôgu/hôx?a, it) (hôguin, those)

The objective case is used for pronouns serving as the direct or indirect objects, such as "I told him to wash the dishes" or "The teacher gave me the homework assignment". The inanimate pronouns remain the same in the objective case.

Personal pronouns (objective case)
Subject Proximity Honor Singular Plural
1 VF (môre, me) (môrare, us)
F (amare, me) (amrare, us)
2 VF (tôre, you) (turare, you)
F (tumare, you) ?/?- (tumrare/tuma-tanre, you)
P (afnare, you) / (afnarare/afnaintôre, you)
3 H F (ere, him), ? (eire, her) (erare, them)
P ? (enre, him/her) /- (erare/ein-tanre, them)
I / (igure/ik?are, it) (iguintôre, these)
T F (ere, him), ? (eire, her) (erare, them)
P ? (enre, him/her) /- (erare/ein-tanre, them)
I / (ôgure/ôx?are, it) (ôguintôre, those)
E F ?/? (here/tare, him), (taire, her) (tarare, them)
P (tanre, him/her) ?- (tain-tanre, them)
I /? (hôgu/hôx?a, it) (hôguin, those)

The possessive case is used to show possession, such as "Where is your coat?" or "Let's go to our house". In addition, sentences such as "I have a book" (? ? ) or "I need money" (? ? ) also use the possessive (the literal translation of the Bengali versions of these sentences would be "There is my book" and "There is my need for money" respectively).

Personal pronouns (possessive case)
Subject Proximity Honor Singular Plural
1 VF (môr, my) ? (môrar, our)
F ? (amar, my) (amrar, our)
2 VF (tôr, your) (turar, your)
F (tomar, your) /?-/?-? (tumar/tuma-tan/tuma-tanôr, your)
P (afnar, your) ?/ (afnarar/afnaintôr, your)
3 H F (er, his), (eir, her) ? (erar, their)
P /? (en/einôr, his/her) -? (ein-tanôr, their)
I ?/ (igur/ik?ar, its) ? (iguintôr, of these)
T F (er, his), (eir, her) ? (erar, their)
P /? (en/einôr, his/her) -? (ein-tanôr, their)
I ?/ (ogur/ox?ar, its) ? (oguintôr, of those)
E F (tar, his/her) (tader, their)
P /? (tan/tanôr, his/her) ?-? (tain-tanôr, their)
I ?/ (hôgur/hôx?ar, its) ? (hôguintôr, of those)

Indefinite and negative pronouns

Bengali has no negative pronouns (such as no one, nothing, none). These are typically represented by adding the negative particle (nae) to indefinite pronouns, which are themselves derived from their corresponding question words. Common indefinite pronouns are listed below.

Question word Indefinite pronoun Indefinite negative pronoun
/?/? (xe/xegu/kigu, who) (xeu, someone) (xeu nae, no one)
// (xar/xegur/kigur, whose) ?/ (xeur/xeurôr, someone's) ?/ (xeur/xeurôr nae, no one's)
? (kare, to whom) / (xeure/xeurôre, to someone) / (xeure/xeurôre nae, to someone)
(kun, which) ?/? (kunu/kunô, any) (kunugu nae, none)
? (kita, what) ?/ (kisu/kunta, some/something) / (kichchu/kunta nae, nothing)

Relative pronouns

The relative pronoun (ze) and its different variants, as shown below, are commonly employed in complex sentences. The relative pronouns for animate objects change for number and honor, but those for inanimate objects stay the same.

Animate relative pronouns
Nominative (who) Genitive (whose) Objective (to whom)
Singular (VF/F) ?
Singular (P) ?
Plural (VF/F) ?
Plural (P) ?-? ?- ?-
Inanimate relative pronouns
Nominative/Objective (which) Genitive (of which) Locative (in which)


Adjectives do not inflect for case, gender, or number in Sylheti and are placed before the noun they modify.

Some adjectives form their opposites by prefixing ?- (before consonants) or - (before vowels) or -, for example, the opposite of (shômbôb, "possible") is (ôshômbôb, impossible"), the opposite of (matra, speaker") is ? (nimatra, quite").

Demonstrative adjectives - this and that - correspond to ? and respectively, with the definite article attached to the following noun. Thus, this book would translate to ? ?, while those books would translate to ?.

Comparatives and superlatives

Sylheti adjectives form their comparative forms with (arô, "more"), and their superlative forms with ? (shôb táki, "than all"). Comparisons are formed by using genitive form of the object of comparison, followed by the postposition ?// (táki/tóne/se, "than") or the postposition (laxan, "like") and then by (arô, "more") or (xôm, "less"). The word for "more" is optional, but the word for "less" is required, so in its absence "more" is inferred. Adjectives can be additionally modified by using //? (bakka/bout/ônex, "much") or ? ? (ônex beshi, "much more"), which are especially useful for comparing quantities.

Sylheti Literal Translation Meaning
? ? Karim of Rahim than tall Karim is taller than Rahim
? ? ? Karim of Rahim than more tall Karim is taller than Rahim
? ? Karim of Rahim than less tall Karim is shorter than Rahim
? Karim of Rahim like tall Karim is as tall as Rahim
? ? ? Karim of Rahim than much tall Karim is much taller than Rahim


Sylheti verbs are highly inflected and are regular with only few exceptions. They consist of a stem and an ending; they are traditionally listed in Sylheti dictionaries in their "verbal noun" form, which is usually formed by adding -a to the stem: for instance, (xôra, to do) is formed from the stem . The stem can end in either a vowel or a consonant. Verbs are conjugated for tense and person by changing the endings, which are largely the same for all verbs. However, the stem vowel can often change as part of the phenomenon known as "vowel harmony", whereby one vowel can be influenced by other vowels in the word to sound more harmonious. An example would be the verb "to write", with stem lex- (lexô, you all write) but also ? (lekí, we write). If verbs are classified by stem vowel and if the stem ends in a consonant or vowel, there are nine basic classes in which most verbs can be placed; all verbs in a class will follow the same pattern. A prototype verb from each of these classes will be used to demonstrate conjugation for that class; bold will be used to indicate mutation of the stem vowel. Additionally, there are irregular verbs, such as ? (zaoa, to go) that change the first consonant in their stem in certain conjugations.

Like many other Indo-Aryan languages (such as Bengali or Assamese), nouns can be turned into verbs by combining them with select auxiliary verbs. In Sylheti, the most common such auxiliary verb is (xôra, to do); thus, verbs such as joke are formed by combining the noun form of joke () with to do () to create . When conjugating such verbs the noun part of such a verb is left untouched, so in the previous example, only would be inflected or conjugated (e.g.: "I will make a joke" becomes ?; see more on tenses below). Other auxiliary verbs include ? and ?, but the verb enjoys significant usage because it can be combined with foreign verbs to form a native version of the verb, even if a direct translation exists. Most often this is done with English verbs: for example, "to vote" is often referred to as ? (bú? deoa, where bú? is the transliteration of "vote").


Sylheti is considered a zero copula language in some aspects.

  • In the simple present tense there is no verb connecting the subject to the predicative (the "zero verb" copula). There is one notable exception, however, which is when the predicative takes on the existential, locative, or possessive aspects; for such purposes, the incomplete verb - (as) is used, which is conjugated according to the rules given below.
  • In the past tense, the incomplete verb - is always used as the copula, regardless of the nature of the predicative.
  • For the future tense and non-finite structures, the copula is supplied by the verb ' (ówa), with the only exception being the possessive predicative for which the verb ? (táxa, "to remain") is utilized.

The following table demonstrates the rules above with some examples.

English Sylheti Notes
I am happy ? No verb used to denote the copula
There is time - used to connect to an existential predicative
I am at home - used to connect to a locative predicative
We were happy ? In the past tense, - is used as the copula
I will be at home In the future tense, ? is used as the copula
He will have a car ? ? ? In the future tense, ? is used to connect to a possessive predicative


There are three sentence negators employed in Sylheti:

  • The zero verb copula is negated using the incomplete negator ?-, which is conjugated as (1), (2), (3).
  • Existential sentences that use the verb - are negated with (nai), which does not need to be conjugated.
  • All other verbs (with the exceptions of the ones listed above) are negated using the universal negative particle (nae). is typically placed after the finite verb (see examples below), but can also be placed at the end of the sentence, which negates the whole sentence. can be used in all tenses except two: the present perfect and the past perfect.
  • Verbs in the present perfect and the past perfect tenses are negated using the suffix - (na) which can also refer to "no" in yes-no questions.
Negating verbs
English Sylheti Notes
I am not happy ? Incomplete negator ?- conjugated for first-person
We don't have a car ? used to negate -, which is completely replaced
I don't work is used to negate all other finite verbs
I didn't help him ? ?


Verbs are inflected for person and honour, but not for number. There are five forms: first person, second person (very familiar), second person (familiar), third person (familiar), and second/third person (polite). The same sample subject pronouns will be used for all the example conjugation paradigms: mui (), ami (), tui (), tumi (?), he (), tai () and afne (?). These have the following plurals respectively: môra (), amra (?), tura (?), tumra ()/tumi-tain (?-?), tara (?)/tain-tain (?-?) and afnara ().


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.

Bengali Assamese Sylheti IPA Meaning
/?áxa/ Dhaka
?kjôn l?k

Ezôn lük
?xzôn manush
/exz?n manu?/ A person
Ekjôn purush

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

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

, ?
Manôwzati, Manuhôr zati

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

/mia/ Assamese people


/a?guil/ Finger, toe

/ai/ Ring

? ?, ? ?
Zuit püra, Zuit xeka

/aguinfu?a/ Baked, grilled
Pakhi, Chiriya
Sorai, Pokhi
, ?
Fakya, Forinda
/?akia/, /rinda/ Bird
, ?
Pôre, Bade
Pisot, Porot
, ?
Fôre, Bade
/e/, /bad?e/ Later
, , ,
Shôkôl, Shômôsto, Shômôsto, Shôb, Tamam
?, ,
Xôkôlü; Xôb; Sôb
, , ,
Hôxôl, Hôkkôl, Shôb, Tamam
/x?l/, /kk?l/, /b/ All
?, ?, ?, ?
Shara, Pura, Go?a, Astô

, ?, ?
Asta, Fura, Gu?a
/ast?a/, /?ura/, /gu?a/ Whole

Shat bil

Xat bil

Hat bil
/?at? bil/ Seven wetlands


/?at?xa/ Citrus macroptera fruit



/sili/ Sylheti
? ?
Bhalo kôre khan.

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

/b?u/ Wife
, ,
Shami, Bôr, Jamai
, ,
Giriyêk, Pôti, Swami
Hai, Zamai
/zamai/ Husband
Jamai, Damad

/damand/ Son-in-law


/ú?/ Father-in-law

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


Hôirô, Lai
/i/, /lai/ Mustard


/?ial/ Fox, Jackal
Bi?al, Bilai
Mekuri, Birali
Mekur, Bilai
/meku?/, /bilai/ Cat

Xukôti, 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 ageo rogi mara gelô
? ? ?'

Daktor ohar agotei rügi mori gól

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

Bakka din dexsi na.
/bakka d?in d?exsi na/ Long time, no see.
? ?
Apni ki bhalo achhen?
Apuni bhale asênê?
? ? ?
Afne bala asôin ni?
/a?ne bála asoin ni/ Are you fine/good?

Ami tomake bhalobashi.

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

Môi pahôri goisü.

Ami faûri lisi.
/ami ?ai lisi/ I have forgotten.
? ?
Alu goshter jhol?a amar bhalo laglo.
Mangxôr tôrkarikhôn mür khub bhal lagise.
? ? ?
Alu gustôr salôn?a amar bala laglo.
/gust sal?n?a ama? bakka bála lagse/ I liked the potato meat curry.

Shilcôr kondike?

Xilsôr künphale?
Hilcôr kunbae/kunbaidi/kunmuka?
/?il?t kunbae, kunbaed?i, kunmuká/ Which way to Silchar?

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?
Shesh, Khotom


/?e?/ End, finish

Comparison with standard Bengali

A phrase in:

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

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.

Another example: megh in Standard Bengali means cloud .

/ megh in Sylheti means rain.
In Pali megha means both rain and cloud.

See also


  1. ^ Niharranjan Ray (January 1980). Bangalir Itihas (in Bengali). 2.
  2. ^ a b Sylheti at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
  3. ^ "Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Around the World". Visual Capitalist. 15 February 2020. Retrieved 2020.
  4. ^ See Classification for more details
  5. ^ See Writing system for more details
  6. ^ "Sylheti is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by about 11 million people in India and Bangladesh (Hammarström et al., 2017). Sylheti is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language, primarily spoken in the Sylhet division of Bangladesh, and in Barak valley, in Assam of the India and in the northern parts of the state of Tripura in India."(Mahanta & Gope 2018:81)
  7. ^ "Along the linguistic continuum of eastern Indic languages, Sylheti occupies an ambiguous position, where it is considered a distinct language by many and also as a dialect of Bengali or Bangla by some others." (Mahanta & Gope 2018:81)
  8. ^ "At the geographical extremes, Chittagonian, Sylheti, Mal Paharia, and Rohingya are so unintelligible to speakers of other dialects that they are almost universally considered by linguists to be separate languages on their own." (Khan 2018)
  9. ^ "In Bangladesh, Sylheti functions as a diglossic "Low" variety and Bengali, the official language of Bangladesh, as the "High" variety. Bengali is the language of official administration and education in Bangladesh, and Sylheti is normative in informal contexts in Sylhet." (Lawson & Sachdev 2004:50)
  10. ^ a b "Sylheti is often dismissed as 'slang' or as a corrupted version of Bengali, even by some of its own speakers, for whom it is not a language in its own right." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:4)
  11. ^ a b "There is reported language shift in the Sylheti-speaking regions of Bangladesh and India, as well as in the diaspora with Bengali replacing Sylheti, as some parents do not speak Sylheti to their children, reducing the number of future Sylheti speakers." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:5)
  12. ^ Anne Kershen (2004). Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1666-2000. pp.145. Routledge. Retrieved on 10 September 2020.
  13. ^ Pranab Chatterjee (2010). A Story of Ambivalent Modernization in Bangladesh and West Bengal: The Rise and Fall of Bengali Elitism in South Asia. pp.127. Peter Lang. Retrieved on 10 September 2020.
  14. ^ "Srihatta, on the Surma-Meghna river system, was once part of the ancient kingdom of Kamarupa and is now located within Bangladesh. Its modern Anglisized name is Sylhet." Rila Mukherjee (2011). Pelagic Passageways: The Northern Bay of Bengal Before Colonialism. pp.140. Primus Books. Retrieved on 10 September 2020.
  15. ^ "Sylhet Town, which is the headquarters of the District, being within six miles of the Jaintiapur Faiganaj lies within the area in which this dialect is spoken, and hence this form of speech is called Sylhettia by Europeans. For this reason, it is often wrongly said that the language of the whole Sylhet District is uniform, and the term Sylhettia is incorrectly applied to the dialect of the west of the District, as well as to that of the North-East. The term 'Sylhettia 'properly means the language of the town, and not of the District, of Sylhet." (Grierson 1903:221)
  16. ^ "As already stated, the dialect spoken in Sylhet Town and in the North and North-East of the District is that which Europeans called Sylhettia. Sylheti speakers did not use this title. They called it Jaintiapuri, Purba Srihattiya, or Ujania. The latter means the language of the upper country.(Grierson 1903:224)
  17. ^ William Farwley (2003). International Encyclopedia of Linguistics: 4-Volume Set. pp.483. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved on 9 September 2020.
  18. ^ Bhuiya, Md. Abdul Musabbir (2000). Jalalabadi Nagri: A Unique Script & Literature of Sylheti Bangla. Badarpur, Assam: National Publishers.
  19. ^ South Asian folklore: an encyclopedia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, By Peter J. Claus, Sarah Diamond, Margaret Ann Mills, Routledge, 2003, p. 203
  20. ^ (Ludden 2003:5081)
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  22. ^ Chatterjee, Suhas (1998). Indian Civilization and Culture. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd. p. 432.
  23. ^ " Sylhet town (Srihatta) became a major centre of lowland territorialism after the 10th century CE" (Ludden 2003:5081)
  24. ^ Rakhal Das Banerji (2003). Origin of the Bengali Script. pp.6.
  25. ^ Gupta, Prof Dr K M (1927-1928). Hirananda Krishna Sastri (ed.). "49. The Bhatera Copper-plate Inscription of Govinda-Kesavadeva (C. 1049 A.D.)". Epigraphia Indica. Sylhet. XIX: 277-286.
  26. ^ Paschimbhag Copperplate: History engraved The Daily Star. 2 August 2020. Retrieved on 16 September 2020.
  27. ^ Bangladesh Itihas Samiti (1999). Sylhet: History and Heritage. pp.598.
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  29. ^ S. N. H. Rizvi (1970). East Pakistan District Gazetteers: Sylhet. pp.303. East Pakistan Government Press. Retrieved on 9 September 2020.
  30. ^ Surinder Singh (2008). Popular Literature and Pre-modern Societies in South Asia. pp.32. Pearson Education India. Retrieved on 9 September 2020.
  31. ^ "Bhéds?r, 1st Edition"Bhéds?r, 1st Edition"". Endangered Archives Programme.
  32. ^ a b Thibaut d'Hubert, Alexandre Papas (2018). J?m? in Regional Contexts: The Reception of ?Abd al-Ra?m?n J?m?'s Works in the Islamicate World, ca. 9th/15th-14th/20th Century. pp.667. BRILL. Retrieved on 9 September 2020.
  33. ^ Thibaut d'Hubert, ed. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. (2014), "Dobh?sh?", in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE (Brill Online). Retrieved on 9 September 2020.
  34. ^ Ekmeleddin ?hsano?lu (2003). Culture and Learning in Islam. pp.115. UNESCO. Retrieved on 9 September 2020.
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  36. ^ (Grierson 1903:224)
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ a b c d "The Cachar version in p.234 may be taken as illustrating the typical Eastern Sylhet dialect also." George Grierson. Language Survey of India - Vol. V Pt 1.
  39. ^ Tanweer Fazal (2013). Minority Nationalisms in South Asia. Routledge. pp. 54-55. ISBN 978-1-317-96647-0.
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  43. ^ "Sylheti is a minoritised, politically unrecognised, and understudied Eastern Indo-Aryan language with approximately 11 million speakers worldwide, with high speaker concentrations in the Surma and Barak river basins in north-eastern Bangladesh and south Assam, India, and in several diasporic communities around the world (especially UK, USA, and Middle East)." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:1)
  44. ^ "It is not officially recognised in Bangladesh, where it is simply referred to as a dialect of Bengali by the government (Faquire 2012); it has, equally, no legal status in India." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:4)
  45. ^ Hamid, Shahela (2011). Language Use and Identity: The Sylheti Bangladeshis in Leeds. pp. 26-28. ISBN 9783039115594.
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  47. ^ a b "Chalmers and Miah (1996) describe Sylheti as a distinct language that is 'mutually unintelligible to a Standard Bengali speaker' (p. 6), but anecdotal evidence from members of the London-Bengali community suggests that the differences are relatively small (Rasinger, 2007)" (McCarthy, Evans & Mahon 2013:346)
  48. ^ Ruxandra Comanaru and Jo d'Ardenne.Translation and cognitive testing of the harmonised personal well-being questions. April 2008. Office for National Statistics
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  51. ^ "The language spoken by the inhabitants of Eastern Sylhet is not intelligible to the natives of Central or Northern Bengal. It is, nevertheless, Bengali. There are some peculiarities of pronunciation which tend to render it unintelligible to strangers. The inflections also differ from those of regular Bengali, and in one or two instances assimilate to those of Assamese." (Grierson 1903:224)
  52. ^ "Dialects are independent of literary speech: as such East Bengali dialects, North Bengali dialects (with which Assamese is to be associated) and West Bengali dialects are not only independent of one another, but also they are not, as it is popularly believed in Bengal, derived from literary Bengali, the "sadhu-bhasha", which is a composite speech on an early West Bengali basis."(Chatterji 1926:108)
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  54. ^ "The Bengali dialects of the extreme east and south-east (Sylhet, Chittagong) are certainly more removed from Standard Bengali than is Assamese." (Chatterji 1926:8)
  55. ^ a b "... because of significant morpho-phonological differences and a lack of mutual intelligibility, a strong argument can be made in favour of Sylheti claiming the status of a language in its own right." (Sen 2020:43)
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  60. ^ (Chung 2019:99)
  61. ^ "Bengalis interviewed in the course of this study reported that the differences between Standard Bengali and Sylheti are relatively small...We have to consider though that these statements were made by people who originate from Sylhet and who speak both the local vernacular Sylheti and Standard Bengali." (Rasinger 2007:26-27)
  62. ^ "Intelligibility of Standard Bengali by Sylhetis, the geographically clearly clearly defined use of Sylheti and its usage by a predominantly rural population indicate that Sylhati may indeed be a dialect of Bengali." (Rasinger 2007:27)
  63. ^ "The claim of mutual intelligibility by some speakers of both Sylheti and Bengali may be more an effect of the speakers' exposure to both languages; speakers of Sylheti who have never learned Bengali often report that they do not understand it to any functional degree." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:5)
  64. ^ "[T]he academic consensus on mutual intelligibility between Sylheti and Bengali ranges from 'unintelligible' to 'hardly intelligible' (Chalmers 1996)." (Simard, Dopierala & Thaut 2020:4-5)
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  66. ^ "Considering the unique linguistic properties such as phoneme inventory, allophony, and inflectional morphology in particular and lexicon in general, Sylheti is often regarded as a separate language (Grierson 1928, Chatterjee 1939, Gordon 2005).(Gope & Mahanta 2014:10)
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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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