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Give Sylheti Language its due
Thread poster: Sanjay Ray

Sanjay Ray  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 07:09
Member (2002)
English to Bengali
+ ...
Jan 24, 2007

Over the years I have often been asked on the connection between Bengali and Sylheti languages. Very often translation service buyers consider Sylheti and Bengali are the same and any Bengali translator can also do Sylheti translation. The truth is that a Sylheti translator can translate into both Bengali and Sylheti but the opposite is not always true.
Even PROZ do not have Sylheti included in its language list. Here is a language, which is spoken by over 9 million people in India, Bangladesh, UK, USA, Canada and the Middle East. According to one estimate over 90% of the Bangladeshi people in Britain speak in this language. Sylheti is quite different from standard Bengali and it has its own script.
Sylheti has a rich heritage of literature going back at least 200 years. I have made a detailed post on Sylheti language in my blog http://getdirectclient.blogspot.com/ I would like Sylheti included in the PROZ language list. I hope translators will support me.


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Hipyan Nopri  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 08:39
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Quite an Exotic Language Jan 24, 2007

Hi Ostom,

Frankly, this is the first time I hear your language. I am pretty sure our fellow translators support your suggestion. To enlist your language, just send a support ticket to the Staff.

Good Luck.


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Alan R King
Local time: 03:39
Basque to English
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Wikipedia on Sylheti Jan 24, 2007

The following is a quote from the Engliah-language Wikipedia on-line encyclopaedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylheti):

"Sylheti (native name সিলটী Silôţi; Bengali name সিলেটী Sileţi) is the language of Sylhet proper, the north-eastern region of Bangladesh and southern districts of Assam around Silchar. It is also spoken by a significant population in the other north-eastern states of India and amongst the large expatriate communities in the UK, USA, Canada and the Middle East. It is similar enough to Bengali (Bangla) to be considered a dialect of that language, but at times it is probably better seen as a separate language. Given that Sylhet was part of the ancient kingdom of Kamarupa,[1] the language has many common features with Assamese, including the existence of a larger set of fricatives than other East Indic languages. According to Grierson,[2] "The inflections also differ from those of regular Bengali, and in one or two instances assimilate to those of Assamese". Indeed it was formerly written in its own script, Sylheti Nagari, similar in style to Kaithi but with differences, though nowadays it is almost invariably written in Bengali script.

Sylheti is distinguished by a wide range of fricative sounds (which correspond to aspirated stops in closely-related languages such as Bengali), the lack of breathy voiced stops seen in many other Indic languages, word-final stress, and a relatively large set of loanwords from Arabic, Hindi and Persian. Sylheti is spoken by about 10 percent of Bangladeshis, but has affected the course of standard Bengali in the rest of the state."

When I was living in London I had some Bangladeshi friends. One of them told me there were some people from Bangladesh who "claimed" to speak another language, Sylheti. He introduced me to some of his friends and when I asked them it turned out they ALL spoke Sylheti except for this friend of mine (who spoke Bengali)! Apparently they were bilingual in Bengali and Sylheti. My friend, however, the non-Sylheti, told me that he didn't agree that Sylheti was a "real language". From this experience I drew two tentative conclusions, which I would like to share with you:

1) A lot of the people who have emigrated from Bangladesh apparently are speakers of Sylheti.

2) Non-Sylheti speakers in Bangladesh seem to have a low view of Sylheti and tend to deny its separate existence as a language.

I have presented the above facts and thoughts as a hopefully useful contribution to the discussion. Others more knowledgeable will be able to fill us in better, perhaps.


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:39
German to English
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Sounds worth distinguishing Jan 24, 2007

"Lexical similarity 70% with Bengali" according to Ethnologue at
http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=BD

I wonder what the similarity values would be for Nordic and Slavic languages (unfortunately I can't find figures on Ethnologue).


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Pritam Bhattacharyya  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 07:09
Member (2009)
English to Bengali
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Sylheti - Four reasons to include this - the historical aspect Jan 24, 2007

First of all, many thanks to proz, the colleagues who are contributing on inclusion of Sylheti. I am a native Sylheti speaker, translator and enthusiast and Founder of http://www.syhlleti.org - a documentation Portal on Sylheti language and culture.

I would like to put my argument in favour of Sylheti for the following reasons, part linguistic and part historic :

1. Sylheti, though 'having 70% lexical similarity with Bengali', in practice is not understood by almost all the speakers / writer in Bengali propre.

2. For historical reasons of migration from South Asia to UK specifically, majority speak Sylheti and as from point 1 as
above, the only interface of communication they have is Sylheti, not Bengali. This segment mostly includes women, old people and children. I have pesonal experience of this factor while studying / working among the Sylheti population in London / UK

3. There is another fact which is less known. It is generally considered that Sylheti is spoken only by people of Sylhet/Bangladesh. It is half-truth. Almost a million people in North East India (South and pockets of North Assam), East India speak SYLHETI which is having little variation with the Sylheti of Bangladesh.

4. Historically, SYLHET (the district of Bangladesh) has been a culturally syncretic zone. We have two towering religious tradition having connection here : Sree Chaitanya and Sha Jalal, spiritual leaders of first magnitude who continue to influence culture and language of Bengal ever since 13th/14th century. Sylheti proverbs and usages (Called dithan in Sylheti) reflect that syncretic interactions.


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 12:39
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Total support Jan 24, 2007

Hi,
Like Hipyan, I had never heard of this language until today either. Then again I'd never heard of a lot of the languages already listed on Proz when I joined!

It's been interesting to learn about Sylheti today and I totally support the inclusion of this language and any others out there that remain unlisted.

Best wishes,
Mark


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Lubain Masum  Identity Verified
Bangladesh
Local time: 07:39
Member (2006)
English to Bengali
+ ...
Including Sylheti into proz language list: Whose interest? Jan 24, 2007

First of all I thank Ostom for bringing an important issue and Pritom for giving reasons to include Sylheti as separate language.

However, I do not understand why Hipyan Nopri and Mark rendered immediate support for inclusion of Sylheti into proz language list, whose name they never heard before.

As a native Bengali and citizen of Bangladesh, I would like to react cautiously.

It is true that a good number of people in Bangladesh and Bangladeshis living in the UK speak in Sylheti 'dialect'.

It is indeed a matter of scholastic debate whether Sylheti is a distinct language.

All I can say from my practical experiences that no Sylheti in Bangladesh ever demanded to declare Sylheti as distinct language, because almost without exception all Sylheti living in Bangladesh can speak and understand standard Bengali. Only exception may be about Bangladeshi-origin people who were born and raised in the UK or any other country and never come to Bangladesh.

In fact, if the question of recognising Sylheti comes, other people of Bangladesh who speak various dialects like Chittagongian, Noakhalian, Barisalian and Mymensinghian should also demand to declare their dialects as separate languages because most of the logics put forward by Prittom and Osman apply to these dialects too.

I think the logic of including Sylheti into proz language list comes as it has a good market in the UK, otherwise Chakma, Marma and other languages spoken by indigenous people of Bangladesh, which are clearly distinct and whose people are demanding for long to declare them as separate languages, should come first for consideration to be included into proz language list.

Best

Lubain Masum


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:39
German to English
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More Bangladeshi languages Jan 24, 2007

Lubain Masum wrote:
In fact, if the question of recognising Sylheti comes, other people of Bangladesh who speak various dialects like Chittagongian, Noakhalian, Barisalian and Mymensinghian should also demand to declare their dialects as separate languages because most of the logics put forward by Prittom and Osman apply to these dialects too.
I think the logic of including Sylheti into proz language list comes as it has a good market in the UK, otherwise Chakma, Marma and other languages spoken by indigenous people of Bangladesh, which are clearly distinct and whose people are demanding for long to declare them as separate languages, should come first for consideration to be included into proz language list.


Good point - perhaps there are more languages in Bangladesh that are worth including. According to Ethnologue (see link above), Chittagongian looks a prime candidate (14,000,000 speakers in the country, and "Not inherently intelligible with Bengali, although considered to be a nonstandard Bengali dialect"). Statistically, Sylheti seems to come second (7,000,000 speakers). Chakma has 312,000 speakers, Marma (also known as Arakanese) has 200,000. I can't find Noakhalian, Barisalian and Mymensinghian in the list.

There are apparently over 6,900 languages in the world (according to Ethnologue/SIL). Obviously, a site like ProZ can't include them all. I suppose the criteria should be roughly as follows:
- A significant number of native speakers (probably expressed in millions, I would guess)
- A significant international role in culture, commerce or similar (leading to a reasonable demand for translation)
- A request from one or more ProZ users who claim to translate into or out of the language.

According to Ethnologue, there are slightly more native speakers of Sylheti than there are for Catalan. So if actual users of Sylheti ask for its inclusion, I would support them.

By the way, I had not heard of the language before today, either. But to me, the world of language is a constant source of surprise, and I welcome extra knowledge about the rich diversity of human language.


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xxxGabi Ancarol
Italy
Italian to Spanish
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Why! Well, why not? Jan 25, 2007

[quote]Lubain Masum wrote:

(...) However, I do not understand why Hipyan Nopri and Mark rendered immediate support for inclusion of Sylheti into proz language list, whose name they never heard before.

As a native Bengali and citizen of Bangladesh, I would like to react cautiously.

It is true that a good number of people in Bangladesh and Bangladeshis living in the UK speak in Sylheti 'dialect'.

It is indeed a matter of scholastic debate whether Sylheti is a distinct language (...)

the difference between a language and a dialect is a "political status difference"... It's NOT (or not only) a question of quantity of speakers, it's a political question that makes you think "if this is not a recognized language" then all those who speak it might be of a lower social condition than those who speak an official language".

Think it over... I don't see why Proz staff shouldn't include it.

I didn't know about Sylheti, it's the first time I hear about it, but as a linguist I was taught to respect all languages the same way, all of them are mirrors of a culture, and looking down on them means looking down on who speaks them.
Laguages are not just languages,
languages are made of people that speak them!



[Edited at 2007-01-25 00:16]

[Edited at 2007-01-25 09:23]


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Uldis Liepkalns  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 04:39
Member (2003)
English to Latvian
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It is very difficult matter Jan 25, 2007

what qualifies as a "Language". My best guess is it will not be defined in my lifetime...


In 1945 the Yiddisch linguist Max Weinreich formulated the much quoted metaphor (in Yiddisch):

"A shprakh iz a diyalekt mit an armey un a flot"

(A Language is a Dialect with an Army and a Navy)


And my suggestion for us, as a language portal, is to go by real user count/language uniqueness, not amount of tanks

Uldis

[Rediģēts plkst. 2007-01-25 00:41]


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Maria Rosich Andreu  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:39
Member (2003)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
sylheti Jan 25, 2007

Victor Dewsbery wrote:

According to Ethnologue, there are slightly more native speakers of Sylheti than there are for Catalan. So if actual users of Sylheti ask for its inclusion, I would support them.



I guess this already earns my vote!

I agree on the criteria above for inclusion of a language in this particular site. Roughly:

- consideration of overall number of speakers and whether there are professional linguists of that particular language in proz

- chance of there being a demand for their services (i.e. jobs published), which corresponds to the significant role in culture / commerce mentioned by Victor.

I personally do not know whether that is the case with Sylheti but probably more knowledgeable colleagues will shed some light on the matter.

Best,
Maria


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 21:39
English to French
+ ...
I don't see why not... Jan 29, 2007

Well, there are several languages listed in ProZ that are spoken by populations much smaller than Sylheti-speaking people - Middle English, anyone? We also have members here at the ProZ site that speak this language and probably would like to translate from/into it, but can't even declare it as a native language. We can't find these members in the directory based on their language pairs, when searching for Sylheti. In fact, if a client ever was looking for Sylheti on this site, they probably concluded that there are no translators using this language, since it's not even on the list!

I think these are reason enough.

Of course, I don't think the list should consist of every language spoken, but we could have a guideline that specifies that we don't include languages spoken by less than X people UNLESS a member or user works in that language and would like to see it added.

As for the debate on whether Sylheti is a language or just a dialect of Bengali, well, we can't prove that it is a language, but we can't prove the contrary either. I think it's best to leave Sylheti speakers the benefit of the doubt. I find it suspicious that people would even try to disapprove of Sylheti being considered a language - to me, if really there are so many Bengali speakers who are not willing to admit it, it may be because it is a separate language after all and maybe Bengali speakers are afraid of the next logical question: which one came first, Bengali or Sylheti?


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:39
German to English
+ ...
Number of speakers / number of ProZ users Jan 29, 2007

The ProZ language list includes a lot of languages that I have never heard of. I consider this a good thing - a lot of minor languages which do not have full recognition at a national level do, in fact, deserve support from sites like ProZ.
I was curious about the criteria for the inclusion of these languages in ProZ, so I did a couple of checks on Ethnologue and in the ProZ directory to see how they compare with Sylheti:

Susu: Just over a million speakers (Ethnologue)
No translators from Susu to English (ProZ directory).

Siksika: not listed on Ethnologue, no Siksika-ENG translators

Sandawe: 40,000 speakers, no Sandawe-ENG translators on ProZ (not even any Sandawe-Swahili translators, although Ethnologue claims that most Sandawe speakers have at least some command of Swahili as a second language).

The list probably goes on and on and on.

Has any Sylheti speaker put in a support ticket to the ProZ staff asking for inclusion? I think you have a very strong case.

On a secondary note, it seems to me that the list of languages included (and excluded!) on ProZ is rather arbitrary and unsystematic.


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Sanjay Ray  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 07:09
Member (2002)
English to Bengali
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Sylheti meets all the requirements Jan 29, 2007

"consideration of overall number of speakers and whether there are professional linguists of that particular language in proz"

There are more than 9 million speakers in the world

"chance of there being a demand for their services (i.e. jobs published), which corresponds to the significant role in culture / commerce mentioned by Victor."

There is a demand in UK and Europe. Agencies in UK receive enquiries for Sylheti and they do not know where to look into as PROZ do not have Sylheti in its list.


I think Sylheti deserves a place.

[Edited at 2007-01-29 11:40]


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Sylheti
Local time: 02:39
English
Sylheti is a language Feb 11, 2007

As a British Sylheti with experience of translating at court, I would strongly support the inclusion of Sylheti on this service. It will be of help to Sylheti customers seeking translating help on this website.

The UK Immigration Appellate Authority insists that Bengali translators in court be able to speak Sylheti in translating for appellants and witnesses. In fact, the Judges will usually enquire whether an appellant or witness speaks Sylheti before requesting a translator from the pool.

Most Sylhetis, including many of those living in Bangladesh, simply don't understand or find it difficult to speak the Dhakaiya Bangla used in the media. In the UK we have our own Sylheti media like ChannelS and the Sylheter Dakh newspaper. In Tower Hamlets (a Sylheti dominated area of East London), the Council insists that Bengali teachers be able to speak Sylheti and our mother tongue is in practice recognised as a separate language for service provision purposes throughout the UK. The current British High Commissioner to Dhaka is Anwar Chowdhury, a Sylheti speaker.

Sylheti is indeed a language similar to Dhakaiya Bangla (imposed by the Dhaka-based government on the rest of the country in 1971) but also different as it includes words loaned from Arabic, Hindi and Persian. Sylhet was the birthplace of Bengali Islam and the meeting point of several cultures. However, this does not mean that Sylhetis are disloyal to Bangladesh.

There has always been a struggle to gain more recognition for the Sylheti language. This site should include Sylheti as a separate language because most Sylhetis perceive it as such and it is genuinely helpful to Sylheti speakers.

[Edited at 2007-02-11 01:44]


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