In an interview with The Business Standard, Hasan Azizul Huq discusses the changing nature of Bangla language, its strength and its relationship with people from different classes.
Hasan Azizul Huq is one of the most prolific writers of contemporary Bangla literature. His short stories and novels depict the life struggle of people of this land, from a socio-historical context. His major works include Atmaja o Ekti Karabi Gaach (1967), Jeeban Ghase Agun (1973) etc. He has received almost all the major literary awards of Bangladesh including Bangla Academy Award (1970) and Ekushey Padak (1999).
TBS: The colloquial Bangla language evolves with time. How do you see this?
Hasan: It is very natural that language changes. Even formal languages will change. There is no doubt about that. The change in formal language means that the social structure has been changing. Production and distribution systems are also changing in society. Language adopts with the changes.
When I get to study people and their societies, I find that every human being is different from others, although, there are similarities in their fundamental behaviour. Similarly, it happens to dialects as well.
There is a common notion that Bangla language of Kolkata is formal. This is wrong.
Across the Nadia region, people used to talk a little differently. Over the years, that language spread to the west side of the Bhagirathi, and then to Kolkata.
Kolkata had its own dialect. After all, Kolkata was formed with three villages. The quality was not so good. Gradually, the language changed.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar wrote in a Sanskrit-rich Bangla. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay also wrote his novels using more Sanskrit words. On the other hand, Munshis [scribe] of William Carey authored books in colloquial language, which was actually a distortion of dialects.
Pramatha Chowdhury did the most crucial job. He shortened the formal language. He edited Sabujpatra magazine which promoted the transformation of colloquial oral form to a written one. His efforts influenced Rabindranath Tagore also.
Language is an ever-changing thing. It keeps a link with the past as well as the future.
TBS: Why do dialects vary from region to region?
Hasan: No one can tell the actual reason. Broadly, language changes due to the environment, characteristics of land, its use, agriculture, crop production and marketing of the main products of the area.
For example, paddy is the main crop of Burdwan area of West Bengal where I was born. People of the East Burdwan region talk in a similar tone. But there are varieties in dialects. Dialects of Katwa, Mongalkote and Asansol are also different.
Initially, languages change in oral use. Our tongue and lip do not work in a similar way. Someone cannot spot 'Dantannya' or 'La' and distort the words using the alphabets.
In Burdwan, Muslims talk differently from the Hindus. Interestingly, my family, also known as Mullah family, had a sharp difference in language than other Muslim families.
I have seen in Britain that there was a difference in the English accent among people of London and outsiders. When I went to further north, I found a different English accent in Scotland.
Just as human beings differ from one to another, their pronunciation also does not match, even if they have similarities. Some may speak in the Tripura style, some like Kushtia and others will speak in the Rangpur style.
There are also various dialects in Bangladesh. The dialect of Barisal is different from Khulna. Again, people in Phultala, 14-km north of Khulna city, speak differently. So do the people of Jessore.
Even in Rajshahi, people speak in different styles like Maldah, Kushtia and Chapainawabganj.
This constant change of language is linked to economics. For example, there was no banking system before. Once a banking system developed, people found a place to save money. Initially, the banking language was different. But over time, it was incorporated into the spoken language.
TBS: In your writings, the middle-class do not appear to use a lot of dialect. Does the language of the middle-class have less variety?
Hasan: No. Rather, the middle-class people speaks in a more diverse way. If you look a little lower, the diversity in the languages of the lower-middle class is even greater. Interestingly, the middle-class people of Bogura do not speak like the middle-class people in Rangpur.
There is evidence of this in some written literature. The language of Rangpur and Kurigram districts can be found in the writings of Syed Shamsul Haque. The language of Dhaka can be found in the poetry of Al Mahmud and the language of Narsingdi can be found in Shamsur Rahman's poems. The evidence is so subtle that many cannot identify them.
TBS: How is communication technology impacting the evolution of language?
Hasan: Media, especially the broadcast media, changes language. Language is a collective thing through which everyone can communicate. It is also personal. Individual use of language makes a difference.
TBS: What do you think about standard language?
Hasan: The purpose of standard language is to reach everyone. There should be a common form of language. Otherwise, education in schools, colleges and universities will be hampered.
A standard language is not actually the pure one or the language of the elites. It contains a mixture of formal, colloquial and dialects.
Notably, it is difficult to determine the standard of a language. For this, standard languages vary from region to region.
TBS: Can a standard language be determined in Bangladesh?
Hasan: No. It is impossible. The Bangla Academy tried to set the grammar for standard language and dialects but failed. This is like holding water in your palm. It always slips out through your fingers. Language cannot be standardised.
Often, people speak in a mixed form of Bangla, English and Hindi. The practice cannot be controlled by the state machinery. Because language is a social thing and at the same time, it is personal.