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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 yā (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 isnt.
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