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সিলটী Silôţi
Spoken in Primarily spoken in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh, and the Indian districts of: Barak Valley, Silchar, Hailakandi, Karimganj and Tripura.
Including the Bangladeshi diaspora communities in Britain and the United States
Total speakers 10,300,000
Ranking 78
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Sylheti Nagari, Bengali script
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 inc
ISO 639-3 syl

Sylheti (native name সিলটী Silôţi; Bengali name সিলেটী Sileţi) is the language of Sylhet, which is also known as the Surma Valley and is located in the north-eastern region of Bangladesh, and also spoken in parts of the North-East Indian states of Assam (the Barak valley) and Tripura (the North Tripura district). It is also spoken by a significant population in the other north-eastern states of India and amongst the large expatriate communities in the United Kingdom, United States, and countries of the Gulf States.

Sylheti is often either considered a dialect of Bengali and an Assamese dialect due to many similarities between the languages, and also often considered a separate language due to significant differences between them all and lack of mutual intelligibility. 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.[3]



The Sylheti language is written in the Sylheti Nagri script, which is not widely known.[4] Sylhet has a rich heritage of literature in the Sylheti Nagri script going back at least 200 years. [5] The Sylheti Nagri script includes 5 independent vowels, 5 dependent vowels attached to a consonant letter and 27 consonants. The Sylheti Nagri alphabet differs from the Bengali alphabet as it was derived from the Kaithi script of Bihar.[5] The writing system's main use was to record religious poetry, described as a rich language and easy to learn. During the 1971 Liberation War, the writing system came to a halt, when all Sylheti Nagari printing presses were destroyed. After Bangladesh gained independence, the government of the newly formed Bangladesh discouraged its use in favour of the Bengali alphabet. Efforts to establish Sylheti as a modern language were vigorously opposed by political and cultural forces allied to successive Bangladeshi governments.[6]

Campaigns started to rise during the 1970-80s to recognise Sylheti as a language on its own right. The recognition campaign for Sylheti also took place in London, in the area of Spitalfields, East End of London during the 1980s. During the mid 1970s when the first mother-tongue classes was established for Bangladeshis by a non-Sylheti, Nurul Islam, the classes were given in Bengali rather than Sylheti which triggered the campaign by Sylhetis. One of the main organisation was the Bangladeshis' Educational Needs in Tower Hamlets (BENTH). However this organisation collapesed in 1985 and ended the pro-Sylheti campaign in the borough. Sylheti still however remained dominant and the domestic language within the community. This fact is being recognised by Tower Hamlets Council in the provision of local services in the community. [7]

Geographical distribution

World map of the Sylheti speaking people

Sylheti is the language of the Surma River valley region bordering what are today the nations of Bangladesh and India and spoken throughout Sylhet Division in Bangladesh (comprising the districts of Sylhet, Habiganj, Maulvi Bazar and Sunamganj). It is also spoken across the border in the Barak Valley region of Assam in India, in districts such as Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi all located to the east from Sylhet. There are over 10,000,000 [8] speakers of the language throughout the globe, including 8,000,000 speakers in Bangladesh.

Outside Bangladesh or India, the largest country in which Sylheti is spoken widely is in the United Kingdom, based on studies, over 95 percent of the British Bangladeshi community speak Sylheti [9] mostly concentrated in the East London boroughs, and a few in Oldham and many other cities. Many of these Sylhetis arrived in the UK since the 1960-70s.[10] Today many services provided for the Bengali community in the UK are translated in Sylheti for better understanding, for example in the Royal London Hospital, translation services (ie. talking sign) are given in Sylheti.[11] There are also a large amounts of Bangladeshi Americans who speak Sylheti, however it is not much recognized considering that the Sylheti speakers in the United States are spread around the vast large country. There are many Bengalis that speak Sylheti in Hamtramck, Michigan and anywhere around that area.


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, Persian, Bengali and Assamese. Sylheti is spoken by about 10 percent of Bangladeshis, but has affected the course of standard Bengali in the rest of the state. A lot of people now consider Sylheti as its own language rather than a dialect of Bengali and Assamese.

  • A very characteristic feature of Sylheti spoken language is the correspondence of the sound [h] to the sounds [s] or [ʃ] ("sh") in many standard Bengali words e.g. shakun (vulture); shakal (everyone).


  1. ^ Edward Gait, History of Assam, p274
  2. ^ George Grierson, Language Survey of India, Vol II, Pt 1, p224
  3. ^ "Sylheti Literature". Sylheti Translation And Research. Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  4. ^ Syloti Nagri alphabet
  5. ^ a b Sylheti Literature
  6. ^ Anne J. Kershen (2005). Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields, 1660-2000. Routledge. page. 147
  7. ^ Anne J. Kershen (2005). Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields, 1660-2000. Routledge. pages. 148-150
  8. ^ Sylheti
  9. ^ Gardner K (1995) International migration and the rural context in Sylhet. New Community 18: 579–590
  10. ^ Hampshire School
  11. ^ Talking Sign Sylheti not Bangla Video.

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