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Lesson 7: Pronunciation of Bengali Words




Up to this point, a great majority of Bengali words can be read. Bengali script can be read without any problems. However, reading is not everything. Pronouncing Bengali words are very important. Just as difficult as it is to read and write it, Bengali pronunciation is one of the most difficult ones. If one were to phonetically transliterate Bengali words using Devanagari script, there would not be enough letters to describe the sounds. This is why non-Bengali speakers will have trouble in their Bengali diction. This chapter is focused solely on some sounds which are unique to Bengali that are not found in Devanagari or Sanskrit. These are taken in bullet points.


-         The letter “kṣa” is pronounced as “kkha” as if “ka” and “kha” mixed. For example, "kṣane” is pronounced as “khawney

-         Any consonant mixed with “ya” (ya with short “a” vowel only) sounds like the first consonant is doubled. For example, “ramya” is pronounced as “rawmmo

-         Any consonant mixed with “” (ya with long “ā” vowel only) sounds like the “a” (ζ) in “apple.” For example, nityānanda is pronounced as nittζnawndo.

-         The letter “e” can be pronounced as “ay” in “may” (without the “ee” sound at the end), ayee sound (with the “ee” at the end), “a” as in “apple”, or “e” as in “sell.” It all depends on the word. For example, “ek” is pronounced as “ack

-         The letter jρa is pronounced “gya

-         Most consonants mixed with “ma” or “ba” will most likely have the sound of “ma” or “ba” disappears. The word “smaraṇa” is pronounced as “shawrono.” The word “sbāmī” sounds like “shamee.” This is why the half-letter of “r” might require the following consonant to have a double form. Therefore, kīrtana has to be spelled “kīrttana.” The word “dharma” has to be spelled “dharmma" in order to present a possible mispronounced “dhara

-         The short vowel “a” sounds like “aw” or “o.” The word “kara” sounds like “kawro.” Only a person who can speak Bengali will be able to tell when to make the “aw” sound and when to make the “o” sound.

-         The sound “w” is unique to Bengali speakers. No other part of India can really produce this sound properly. The letter “w” is a mix between the vowel “o” and “ya.” For example, “rakhawālā” is written as “rakhaoyāla.” The word “pakhawāja” is spelled “pakhaoyāja.” Remember that “ya” will be pronounced in “aa” in these circumstances.

-         If there are two words with the first word ending in “a” and the second word beginning with “a”, then the end of the first word will tie with the second word “a” with a English y sound. For example, the words “saba abatāra” is pronounced as “shawboyawbotaaro

-         Depending on the word, if the word ends with “a”, the sound of “a” may be dropped. For example, the word “sukha” can be pronounced “shookh.” It sounds like there is a virama present, even though there isn’t.


This is just an introduction of Bengali pronunciation. For good practice, consistently listen to Bengali singers singing in the genuine Bengali accent. If need be, practice Sanskrit songs in the Bengali accent and sing in the accent in order to develop it and practice it naturally.

UPDATED: June 16, 2009