I grew up, like most human beings, with many prejudices that are hard to shake off; the most unshakeable one is about what constitutes correct Bengali diction. The Bengali spoken by Kukkuripāda was unintelligible to Krittibas Ojha who, in turn, was archaic to Krishnadas Kaviraj; all decidedly not the same as it is spoken today. Dialects of adjoining districts of Bengal (and Bangladesh, Tripura and the Bong regions of Assam) can be noticeably different. The Medinipur dialect is not the same as that of Hooghly. Within Hooghly, the Arambag usages sound queer to Chinsurah ears. We are given to believe that the lingua franca today is based on the upper class Nadiya-Shantipur (নদে-শান্তিপুর) dialect, with a liberal overlay of Tagoreana of Jessore and Jorasanko fame. And there can’t be much doubt that RN Tagore could have claimed major credit for that.
It is difficult to ascertain, but there are reasons to believe, that the oral lingua franca did not accept all of his contributions. Take for example the word ম্লান; RNT used to pronounce the final vowel halfway between ।au। and ।ō।. Please hum the song এখন আকাশ ম্লান হল quietly and judge for yourself. But that was just a song, a form of composition in which the lyricist and the music-setter have the freedom to mangle the pronunciation and blame it on rhythmic and musical needs (even many so-called modern songs continue to do that)! RNT used to utter it the same way, pronouncing the final vowel midway between অ and ও, as he did for the masculine proper noun অমিত — the protagonist of his novel শেষের কবিতা. Today we prefer to omit the final vowel in both the words and many others.
As a teenager, I was once rebuked by my overpowering জ্যেঠা for saying সাথে when I meant সঙ্গে in the sense with or, by doubling the word, instantly. Every time I slipped in the verb আসলো in casual conversation, he would sternly remind me that the correct form was এলো.
—“You’re speaking Bengali now; don’t be a বাঙাল ভূত!”
My father never tutored me in those lines, but, with hindsight, I cannot recall ever hearing the বাঙাল versions from his lips. Such lessons, learnt early, die hard.
We hear a lot of people, mostly of the younger generation, anglicise the aspirated plosives (মহাপ্রাণ বর্ণ) ।ph। (ফ) and ।bha। (ভ). As a result, flower is invariably befooled. The cricketing দাদা of Bengal ends his own name with a dento-labial ।v।. There are, after all, no fools like anglicised phools! In a perverse reversal of the logic, the English article the, pronounced by touching the upper front teeth with the tip of the tongue, becomes soft dental ।da। (দা), and elsewhere oxygen becomes oxyzen and ozone ojon. I don’t mind that too much for such perversions do not mangle Bengali.
Then I have an indelible prejudice against needlessly stretched words. There are the words দায়, meaning onus or duty, and দায়বদ্ধ, meaning dutybound. Often we get to hear a strange word, দায়বদ্ধতা where দায়, without the extra syllables, should do. Our erstwhile chief minister too was over-fond of this polysyllabic non-word. Then again, we have the odious habit of sprinkling nuggets of English wisdom in Bengali conversation. For long after the partition, men originally from the East of river ধলেশ্বরী used to refer to their spouses as wife (to rhyme with tawaif, courtesan in Urdu); today most middle class Bong women refer to theirs as husband. The Bengali original for a married couple, মাগ-ভাতার, thanks to Victorian and ব্রাহ্ম prudery, had changed twice: first to স্বামী-স্ত্রী and thence, more recently, to husband-wife.
—“Where are you going?”
— “আপটু গড়িয়াহাট পর্যন্ত,” would be the pat reply in about fifty per cent of the cases. Oops, sorry! That should have been
— “শতকরা পঞ্চাশ পার্সেন্ট”.
That, of course doesn’t mean that I claim to be totally free from linguistic gaffes. But, I’d like to believe that I have fewer than most, thanks to my stern জ্যেঠা.