The Bengali language is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by more than 230 million people in the world. It is said to have evolved for over 3000 years after having broken off from Sanskrit and has since become an important and influential language in the Eastern part of the Indian subcontinent.
But where do all of these millions of Bengali speakers live? Let’s take a look at where in the world Bengali is spoken.
Bengali is the national language of Bangladesh, a country in which close to 160 million Bengali speakers live. It is also the region in which the Bengali language developed from the ancient Sanskrit and Prakrita languages.
Despite Bangladesh being a diverse country in terms of religion, culture and traditions, the Bengali language is the native tongue of almost everyone. It’s one of the languages that has the longest literary traditions in the world, and the center of this literary tradition has always been in the Bengal region despite the language being spoken elsewhere too.
The whole region of Bengal used to be part of India. Today, however, the West Bengal, Assam and Tripura regions of India have important populations of Bengali speakers. In total, around 85 million people in India speak Bengali, which is the second most common language in India after Hindi. India has a total of 23 official languages, but none of them has the status of national language.
Pakistan and Bangladesh has a shared history to some extent. Even through they’re geographically quite distant, from 1947 to 1971, they were both part of the “Dominion of Pakistan” which was a new separate state created after India’s independence from the UK. For a number of years, modern day Bangladesh was called “East Pakistan”.
During this period there were a lot of movement between East and West Pakistan. While many Bengals are said to have either left Pakistan today, or have assimilated to the Pakistani culture and Urdu language, around 2 million Bengals are said to still live in in Pakistan today.
Bangladesh and The United Kingdom share a common history and there has been a Bengali presence in the UK for as long as the two countries have been in contact. With changing immigration laws in the UK in the 70’s, more Bengals started to settle in the UK, forming a community. Today there are around 800.000 people in the UK who identify as Bangladeshi.
The US has seen immigration from Bangladesh from the early 70’s. Most of the Bengali immigrants came to the US as ship-workers and settles in port-cities. In the beginning, immigration was slow, but today more than 500.000 Bengals reside in the US.
There is a sizable amount of Bengals working in the Middle East today. Almost 2,3 million live and work in Saudi Arabia and around 1 million in the United Arab Emirates.
Because the visas granted to Bengals in these countries are employment based, most Bengals only work in the Middle East temporarily. Other than Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, several Middle Eastern (Gulf) countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain each have 90.000 – 150.000 Bengali guest workers.
As you might have been able to gather from the above, there are Bengals in almost all corners of the world. Malaysia has over 500.000 Bengalis, Canada and Italy both have some 400.000, and then there are countries such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Greece, Spain and Germany which all have close to 50-100.000 Bengali speakers in their individual countries.
So no matter where you go in the world you might have the possibility to meet someone who speaks Bengali!
Would you like to learn Bengali? Then go read this article that I wrote entitled “How To Learn The Bengali Language By Yourself“.