science in Bangla
I am not a linguist but I couldn't help
noticing a few things about Bengali language.
Let's take a simple sentence: 'I love you'.
In Bengali, we say 'Ami tomake bhalobashi';
(believe it or not it is quite acceptable
to write Bengali like this in e-mails and
in Internet activities. We could have an
elegant solutions like writing Unicode compliant
real Bengali, but as usual we are slightly
behind our schedule in the cyber world --
so, using Latin characters to write Bengali
is common practice these days.) Any way,
'Ami Tomake Bhalobashi' has three words
and from elementary mathematics we know
that the three words can be arranged in
factorial 3 ways, which is 3x2x1=6. The
possible permutations are: Ami Tomake Bhalobashi,
Ami Bhalobashi Tomake, Tomake Ami Bhalobashi,
Tomake Bhalobashi Ami, Bhalobashi Ami Tomake,
Bhalobashi Tomake Ami.
found it very interesting that every single
permutation is acceptable in Bengali, one
combination is probably more acceptable
than the other (if you find a particular
combination a bit unusual just read it like
a poem!) but none are wrong. I can not compare
it with other languages from a linguist's
point of view, but I do know that English
is not so flexible.
other five combinations beside 'I love you'
(I you love, Love I you, Love you I, You
I love, You Love I) are not acceptable in
English language. I have a hunch every Bengali
male tried to write a poem in his lifetime
because of our language, it's exceedingly
forgiving and it is unbelievably flexible
which makes it a perfect language for writing
poem. (This poses the next obvious question
-- why only Bengali males but I am going
to discuss the language aspect and I do
not want to get into a gender issue here!)
let me take a similar example from a science
textbook (Physics by Robert Resnick and
David Halliday -- the one I read in my undergraduate
years at Dhaka University). Let me randomly
pick a sentence: 'We can show that there
are two kinds of charge by rubbing a glass
rod with silk and hanging it from a long
thread as in fig. 26-1'. I am positive that
the meaning of the sentence is obvious to
almost everyone, even to a non-science individual.
The sentence is constructed in such a way
that we get the information in correct order.
First it says (1) there are two types of
charges, then (2) the experiment one can
do to figure it out this and then (3) reference
to a figure in case the description of the
experiment is not good enough to understand.
I would like to give you the same information
in Bengali. One obvious way is to translate
the sentence in Bengali and very quickly
I discover that it is not that simple. If
I want to restrict it to one sentence then
the best translation I can do is following:
'Ekta kacher dandake silk diye ghoshe 26-1
chhobite dekhano upaye ekta lomba shuta
diye jhuliye rekhe amra dekhate pari je
charge du rokomer'. You can try but I have
a hunch you will not do much better then
this. The sentence is okay, but the sequence
of information is messed up -- I gave the
information in the wrong order.
I want to do it right and keep the sentence
simple then I have to break it into three
separate sentences, like: (1) Amra dekhate
pari je charge du rokomer. (2) Ekta kacher
dandake silk diye ghoshe ekta lomba shuta
diye jhuliye rekhe sheta dekhano jai. (3)
26-1 nombor chhobite sheta dekhano hoyechhe.
Now the language is simple and lucid --
but I had to sacrifice volume the text is
was not aware of this problem before. Every
now and then I read science text books written
in Bengali and always felt uncomfortable
looking at the language -- it is never simple,
never direct -- I found the language always
a bit convoluted. I thought the science
writers didn't have a good grasp of the
language. A couple of years ago I started
writing a Physics book in Bengali for secondary
school students and right away I understood
the problem. I realised Bengali is a beautiful
language for writing poetry but a difficult
language for writing science. I do not know
how or why this happens but it is true.
guess is we have not used Bengali to write
science books and the language is not ready
yet for explaining science in a concise
way. So every time we try to explain science
in Bengali, the language of the book becomes
a bit complicated and convoluted. I do not
think we have any simple solution for this
problem. The one and only solution is difficult
and time consuming. We have to keep writing
science books using Bengali and very slowly
our language will become science-ready.
have a very different problem in science
writing altogether. In the field of science
and technology we are not at the contributing
end, we are always at the receiving end.
So the terminology used in science and technology
are not in Bengali. It is important that
we learn science (or for that matter anything
important) in our mother tongue -- but it
is not important to make sure that the terms
used science is translated in Bengali. A
physics student will use the term charge
all his life, then why does he have to call
it bibhob when he is studying it in school?
Why does the student call a resistor rodh
when he has to forget this word and relearn
resistor for his college and university
education? What is the rationale behind
believe that we should expose our students
to the real scientific and technical terms
and not to complicated and artificial Bengali
sounding words. If in the process we can
incorporate a few thousand new real scientific
and technological words in our language
-- I think we make our language a few thousand
words richer. It doesn't restrict us in
any way -- if a brilliant scientist discovers
something new and gives it a Bengali name
it will become a scientific word. Since
most our college and universities are in
English and all the terms used in those
books are in English we should make it an
effort to teach our school students the
have one last observation about science
and Bengali -- that is the Bengali numerals.
You can not do science without crunching
numbers and we always do it using English
numerals. Everyone needs to use calculators
and the numbers are in English numerals.
Since we use both Bengali and English interchangeably
in our documents for various reasons --
we tend to use Bengali and English numbers
as well. I can give examples where I faced
very serious problems where I could not
figure out if the number is 40 in Bengali
or 80 in English, or 27 in Bengali or 29
a couple of frustrating encounters I have
started following a convention, in all my
writings of science or mathematics -- even
in Bengali text I use English numerals.
I do not think I am showing disrespect to
my mother tongue -- I do it because I do
not have any other choice. It is not practical
to do it in any other way anymore. I think
this problem should be addressed by our
academicians, linguists and intellectuals
as soon as possible. I have noticed everyone
else has started doing it, so why don't
we make it official for the students?
education system is in a mess right now,
at some point we have to straighten it out
-- I do not know when that is gong to happen.
I hope everyone realises that the only way
we can learn basic science (or anything
important for that matter) is in our mother
tongue. We are very lucky that we have such
a powerful language -- we may need to use
it for science more often so that it can
also become science-ready. If a student
has a very good understanding of science
and mathematics, if he knows all the terms
in English, if he is comfortable with the
English numerals -- and if he really learns
English for 12 years as we do, it will be
a trivial task to switch the medium of instruction
to English at the university level. Unfortunately
there are too many ifs-are we ready to tackle
all the ifs?
The author is head of the department,
Computer Science and Engineering, Shahjalal
University of Science and Technology, Sylhet.
nation: No success, no pride
Chairman, Bishwo Shahitto Kendro talks to
Kaushik Sankar Das of The
The Daily Star
(TDS): Has observing Ekushey become more
of a ritual than anything else?
Abdullah Abu Sayeed
(AAS): When the movement for a national
language began, we as a nation had a big
dream. It wasn't just a dream, it was a
case of patriotism, emergence of a sense
of being Bangali and it continued without
any hindrance till independence in 1971.
Bangladesh was born through the dream we
had envisaged in 1952. But naturally the
dream was shattered after independence.
What we need to do now is to enrich the
language. It's not a dream any more, it's
now something real because we have become
the rightful owner of Bangla.
But unfortunately we have
lost the power to implement anything in
life. We can dream, we can get energised,
we can plan a whole lot of things, but sadly
we can't translate them into reality. And
that's what happened with Bangla. We have
festivals, but festival is the culmination
of a plan or programme. Unfortunately we
don't have any plans for the future. We
don't remember Ekushey all through the year
and that's probably why we try to repay
the debts by observing the day with great
fanfare. A nation can't progress like this,
but it reflects the state of our society.
TDS: But Bangla was made
the official language soon after independence,
wasn't that a step in the right direction?
AAS: Yes, it was. At least
now Bangla is being used extensively in
all official, formal or informal programmes.
But there is a flipside to it too. To increase
the practice of Bangla at all levels, we
kind of said goodbye to English. We lost
contact with a culture, a tradition. As
a result we lost our ability to be broadminded,
to think big. Then over the years, we lost
interest in everything in general, not just
Bangla; mainly because the standard of our
education deteriorated alarmingly.
TDS: What about the textbooks
in schools and colleges?
AAS: What about them? With
the deterioration of our basic education
standard, our Bangla became weak as well.
Topping it with materialistic approach towards
life simply crippled our thinking process.
What happened was that we kind of overlooked
the positive outcome of such attitude and
highlighted the negative aspects. The present
time will remembered as a period when we,
the Bangalees amassed huge wealth -- honestly
or dishonestly; but in return, we destroyed
our culture, our tradition, anything that
we can be proud of. Thus we became a fragile
nation. But surviving through bad times
would give us strength to look forward to
TDS: Bangalees have always
been known as avid readers, voracious at
that. Why did the habit change?
AAS: When we got independence
from the British in 1947, we, as a nation
that lacked wealth, education, did not have
any culture of reading books amongst ourselves.
May be a small privileged middle class community
was inclined to reading novels and articles.
Even now it's the same. When we began our
mobile library project in various areas
of big cities, we had expected, or at least
hoped that middle-aged parents, retired
persons would become members. But surprisingly
it was the opposite. Then I realised that
there was no widespread reading culture
in our country, majority never had reading
habit. They had never known the joy and
pleasure of learning something new through
reading, becoming more knowledgeable. But
the present generation will be different.
TDS: But how many of them are out there?
AAS: You will be amazed
to know the kind of response we get from
our book reading project at Bishwo Shahitto
Kendro. There are hundreds of thousands
of members of our mobile library; we could
have had more members provided we had more
resources. It is completely a wrong notion
that people don't read anymore. We never
attempted to take books, as a commodity,
to people's doorsteps, the way we have done
with a, say, soap. At the same time, we
should also remember that its a small group
of people who like to read. You can't expect
every Tom, Dick and Harry to be book fanatics.
One has to possess a reflective mind to
be able to grasp what's there inside a hardback.
But there is demand, otherwise
how would you explain even the dailies,
these days, bringing out special editions
for Eid. It proves that Bangalees still
have this knack for reading, all we have
to do is tap that interest properly and
bring about a big change in terms of reading.
TDS: How would you explain
the changes in written Bangla. For example,
the language we read in newspapers these
days is more colloquial.
AAS: It is probably the
demand of the readers, a reader will always
find it easier to read something that's
close to the spoken language.
TDS: But does the language
get demeaned in the process?
AAS: Well, any language is demeaned while
used for commercial purposes. A newspaper
has to reach a wider population, the more
readers it can attract, the more it will
sell. Therefore, newspaper might not worry
about the standard of the language. And
subsequently, the standard of our language
has also gone down.
TDS:Can we not prevent it?
AAS: The only way to prevent
it is preparing the institutions in a way
that it would be the bearer of standard.
Today, our educational institutions hardly
have any standard. A student learns the
basics from school, it does the ground work
for him or her to grow up into a good, intelligent
human being. But if the school itself lacks
the spirit and intention, then what's the
point? We need at least 500 schools at this
moment where education will take precedence
over everything. Students will gain knowledge,
become more aware. So if there are 2000
students in one school, we will have one
million students who will work to keep the
TDS: Why do we have this
tendency of using names from a foreign language
for, say an apartment block or a shop?
AAS: It is a simple case
of inferiority complex. If something is
named in English, we immediately feel that
it must be of higher standard. There are
plenty of names in Bangla which can easily
be used, but we always had this partiality
towards anything white -- be it skin or
beards or dresses. We don't trust anything
that is ours. This is another fallout of
all those schools in our country where everything
is being taught in English. Instead of building
up this generation as well-versed in English
language, these schools, in reality, are
actually building them up as foreigners.
They have no exposure, no links with Bangla
culture, Bangla literature. It's not their
fault -- they have to be taught about our
heritage, our culture, our literature. Unfortunately
they are growing up with an illusion that
our country has no cultural background,
no literary heritage that we can be proud
of. What good would they be of, if they
don't know the history of their own tradition?
TDS: But if other Asian
countries like Thailand, Japan etc can prosper
by using their own language, culture, tradition,
why can't we?
AAS: Exactly. The history,
tradition of Bangla language is richer than
Thai or Japanese. We can describe anything
in Bangla, there are very few languages
in the world which can boast of such a thing.
was a middle class Bangali community, predominantly
Muslim, from 1930s who took active part
in liberation movement, language movement,
fought for the independence of Bangladesh
in early seventies. They had ideals, were
well read to some extent and honest. But
since the late seventies, they began to
disappear from the society and the dishonest
people who wanted to earn as much money
as possible in the shortest possible time
by any means, took control. And those people
lacking sensibilities and refinement are
still as dominant as ever. The crass materialism
has taken over collective, positive thinking.
The result is that we don't have any success
to be proud of as a nation.
reflections on the day
On the National Days those of us involved
in various cultural media are called upon
to write on the significance of culture
related to the days in question. When asked
to dwell upon the specificity of these days
I feel a little nervous. Because a discussion
on the same subject year after year is bound
to become repetitive and, unless extraordinary
in quality, very boring. However, a significant
National Day like the 21st February centers
on culture and language being a very important
component of culture it is only natural
that discussions will continue to go on.
my mind, if we go beyond the political importance
of 21st February and endeavour to focus
on the core values and ideals as a component
of the overall national aspiration for Bangladesh'
independence, then we would be looking at
a greater, more meaningful and more significant
dimension of this day in our national life.
Why this day alone? Each of the important
days in the annals of our long drawn movement
to establish the identity of our nationhood
goes far beyond being just a date on the
page of the calendar.
back to the 21st of February, can its contribution
to our culture, and therefore national identity,
be overemphasised? It is time we tried to
focus our thoughts on how language and culture
could play a much greater role in our national
life. This seems even more important to
me when I think about our posterity and
shudder to find that progressively they
are becoming aimless individuals devoid
of a national identity.
years in the life of a nation is not long.
But if we have been marking time for thirty
three years and have not progressed an inch
then even after three hundred years we may
become 333 and we would still be caught
me to concentrate on my own subject of Theatre.
To the best of my knowledge only one quality
play was written that is directly related
to the Martyrs Day. The play is "KABOR"(The
Grave) written by one of our martyred intellectuals
Munier Chowdhury. A few more could be found
related to Bangladesh's war of Independence
that could stand the test of time. Some
might think that this is our misfortune
or inadequacy. I would beg to differ with
a nation can fight on the question of its
language, on the question of its economy,
on the question of its freedom and identity
that nation is matured enough to be empowered
by these events to create works of art which
do not have to be relevant to mere dates
on the pages of the calendar. Our limitation
in converting the spirit of our struggle
to beyond specificity may make our culture
stunted and unfortunately, irrelevant to
the people of the world. This I say at the
risk of being considered a pessimist but
so be it.
us look beyond the boundaries of our country.
SamuelBeckett, the famous playwright poet
of England wrote in French a play called
" Waiting for Godot". This was
inspired by the feeling of emptiness and
that of helplessness in post Second World
War Europe. This play did not speak about
the glorious victory of the allied forces
in the war but has gone on to become one
of the finest works of art in postwar Europe.
Indeed the genre of the Theatre of the Absurd,
that this play has been described as, is
a creation of the Second World War.
Theatre of the Absurd, as we know, has been
playing such an important role in the world
of Theatre today that it is impossible for
anybody to ignore it. How about Jean Paul
Sartre's " Men without Shadows"
and " No Exit"? These are considered
very important post war plays and also exponent
of Sartre's philosophy of Existentialism.
In 1956, eleven years after the Second World
War. John Osborne, a twenty three year old
playwright from Great Britain wrote a play
called "Look back in Anger". This
became such an important play that the period
after this, English theatre is referred
to as "Anger and after". Mention
of all these is meant to strengthen my conviction
that a generation of creative artists when
freed and are not intimidated by wars and
destruction can take their art to an enviable
height. They do not necessarily have to
dwell upon events.
remember having watched on the terrestrial
national television channel of India a special
cultural show celebrating their Republic
Day a couple of years ago. The experience
was extra-ordinary. Parveen Sultana the
famous classical singer of India sang two
songs in this National Hook-Up. One was
a "Khayal" and the other a "Bhajan".
Behind her at the top of the three-tier
stage the famous Indian painter Maqbool
Fida Hussain was busy painting his thoughts
on the Indian Independence in tune with
the music of Ms.Sultana. In fore stage a
famous Indian dancer rendered a classical
dance number composed on the rhythm and
the lyrics of Parveen Sultana's songs. Mind
you, this was the Republic Day function
being held in New Delhi and how gloriously
the organizers of the function projected
the achievement of Indian art through the
display of the best they have in painting,
music and dance.
we must not be constrained by limiting ourselves
only to the description of history in our
artistic endeavors but go beyond it. It
is not desirable for the artist to restrict
his imagination but to give it a free flow
and unhindered expression to create something
larger than life. We must not forget the
fact that the people of Bangladesh, through
their untiring struggles have been able
to establish a new world for themselves
and for the future generation. This new
world must give birth to newer ideas.
the last thirty years those of us in Theatre,
have only been able to start a process of
regular staging of plays. Our National Days
inspire us to rediscover ourselves.
the Martyrs Day and, more significantly,
the International Mother Language Day, we
must take our creative thinking to beyond
Bangladesh. If one of us can write a novel
in a language other than Bengali and is
able to attract the attention of the world
that adds to the spirit and success of the
21st of February. The success, evidently,
would be attributed to creativity intrinsic
to the Language Movement or the War of Liberation.
Let it be the resolve of my fellow artistes
of Bangladesh today.
The author is a theatre personality.