Ever wondered where in the world Bengali is spoken?
Over 230 million people worldwide speak the Bengali language, an Indo-Aryan language that is native to the Bengal region. One of the languages with the largest number of speakers on the Indian subcontinent, Bengali (also called Bangla), can trace its 1300 year old origin back to Sanskrit.
In this article, we’ll look at countries and regions where Bengali is spoken.
Where Bengali is spoken
The majority of Bengali speakers live in Bangladesh, where Bengali is spoken natively by over 150 million people. This is the home of Bengali where it has official status and its birthplace.
NOTE: Bengali is an ethnicity, while Bangladeshi is a nationality.
Bengali vs Bangladeshi: A person from Bangladesh is Bangladeshi, while a Bengali is generally someone who speaks Bengali/Bangla.
Bengali is spoken natively by over 98% of the population. The country is diglossic, meaning most people speak both a Standard Bengali (the lingua franca of Bangladesh) and a local dialect.
There is a large number of Bengali speakers in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi. It’s estimated that this population is over 2 million.
For several decades in the 1900’s, Bangladesh was under Pakistani control, so there has been a significant influx of Bengali speakers to Pakistan since. While Bengali is not an official language of Pakistan, it is a recognized secondary language in Karachi.
Bengali is the second most common language in India and is one of 23 official languages.
It’s estimated that over 85 million people in India speak Bengali.
Over 2 million Bengali speakers live and work in Saudi Arabia, and well over a million live in Gulf states like the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait.
These workers constitute the largest contingent of Bengali speakers outside the Indian subcontinent, though their residency is temporary since they cannot obtain citizenship in Arab countries.
Like India, Bangladesh has a recent colonial history with Great Britain.
Similar to the Indian and Pakistani populations in Britain, there is a large Bengali-speaking population that numbers over 800,000.
The United States has seen enormous growth in its Bengali-speaking population over recent decades.
It’s estimated that there are over half a million Bengali speakers currently residing in the US.
Other parts of the world
Due to mass migration and economic opportunities abroad coupled with problems in Bangladesh incentivizing emigration, there are Bengali speakers all over the world.
You can find sizeable populations all over Europe, Australia, Canada and South-East Asia.