Did UNESCO Declare Bengali The Sweetest Language In The World? (They Didn't.. But It Might Still Be)
- Mille Larsen •5 mins read
Bengali is the language of over 230 million speakers in Bangladesh and North Eastern India in the region of West Bengal.
It's a language that's very dear to its speakers, especially since they had to fight in order to gain the right to speak it, a right that the Bengali people won when they gained their independence from Pakistan in 1971.
This same event inspired the creation of the "International Mother Language Day" by the UNESCO.
Add to that the Bangladeshis have a multi-millennium old tradition of writing poetry and literature which has affected and enriched the world.
Check out this great book with some of the best Bengali short-stories ever written.
Some call Bengali "the sweetest language in the world", and there are many reasons that it might be. The main source for this title, however, is faulty.
In 2010, rumors circulated on social media that UNESCO (again) had carried out a vote in order to decide which world language was to be considered the sweetest. Allegedly, Bengali took the prize, followed by Spanish and Dutch as the second and third sweetest languages.
Yet, no official declaration, press release or or even a tweet was published by UNESCO. The whole story was a a hoax!
This didn't stop the media, however. To this day, when you perform a simple Google search looking for information on the story, you'll find plenty of newspaper websites, blogs, and forums speaking of the event and announcing the news of the millennia-old Bengali language's sweet new status.
The results that call for fake news or that declare the story a hoax are not to be found among the top results. Among the more notable sources to report on the non-event is the Times Of India as well as many others.
But nothing from UNESCO.org
So.. Isn't Bangla The Sweetest Language Then?
So we've established that there never was a UNESCO vote for finding the sweetest language in the world. That means that Bengali never won that title.
In reality, carrying out such a vote would probably not be a very easy thing to do.
- What factors come into play when deciding what langue is "sweet" and which one isn't?
- Who decides which language will win? Someone who knows all world languages intimately and who is able to compare? (That guy should be famous!)
- Or will ordinary people like you and me vote? (Guess what? I'm going to vote for my native language!)
"Language sweetness" is hard to define and even more troublesome to measure. Add to that, that it's something that even world renowned linguists seem to... Never talk about.
It actually does not appear to be a "thing".
"But the other articles I read proposed a lot of reasons why Bengali was the sweetest language!"
Yes, I've read them too. Various articles forum answers and news papers speak of Bengali being a sweet language because of its simple soft pronunciation because of its tender terms of endearment its charming sounds its history of literature and poetry and how Bengali is especially sweet to Bangladeshis because it's their mother tongue that they were denied while a part of Pakistan.
What do you think?
I think that the beauty of the "sound" of a language is highly subjective.
Bengali might not have the "harsh" German "ch" or the guttural Arabic "ع". But while some consider these rough and unpleasant, others think they're the sweetest sound in any language! (I kinda like them).
Then for the terms of endearment. There's an expression in Bengali saying that "The Boat Of Affection Can Ascend Mountains" (ভালবাসার নৌকা পাহাড় বইয়ে যায়।) - and what a beautifully sweet saying it is! But is it sweeter than expressions in any other language? (Go read my article about Algerian Love Phrases).
And then there's the sounds and exclamations you make in Bengali. One Quora answer mentioned the sound "isshh' that Bangla women make when embarrassed and blushing. And everyone can understand how such linguistic quirks can be charming.
But listen to the background sound of this video of Sea Otters holding hands. Some Japanese tourists are going crazy!
And there's no denying the Bengali language's rich and profound history of creating beautiful and rich poetry. But are those poems measurably sweeter than Russian, Thai or Swahili poems?
Bengali: The World's Sweetest Language.. To Bangladeshis
Being denied to speak the language in which your parents spoke to you as a child is gruesome, and seeking refuge in that language can be one of the sweeter moments in life. There is no doubt about it.
Loosing your language is like loosing part of your identity. But it also isolates you from your personal history and your ancestors.
It's been proven time and again that immigrant children who speak the native language of their parents at a high level do better in the host countries, even though you'd imagine that only the host language would be important. (I've written an article about how the children of immigrants should be taught their mother tongues).
Most countries have a strong, emotional connection to their mother tongues, and it would probably be difficult finding a nation that doesn't consider their language sweet.
Bengali is an example of that. It's not the way it sounds, its expressions, the history of the language or anything else along those lines that make Bengali a sweet language.
Bengali was never voted "the sweetest language" by UNESCO, that's a myth.
It's Bangla people themselves, and how they feel about the language.
If you're interested in the Bengali language, go read my article "How To Learn Bengali By Yourself".