Owing to geographical and historical circumstances, Oriya is to some extent infected by Telugu and Marathi idioms, while the Tibeto-Burman dialects and Ahom have left their marks upon Assamese.
Phonetics.—The three forms of speech agree in sounding the vowel a like the ỏ in “hot.” When writing phonetically, this sound is represented in the present article by ỏ. The pronunciation of this frequently recurring vowel gives a tone to the general sound of the languages which at once strikes a foreigner. In Bg. and A. a final vowel preceded by a single consonant is generally not pronounced. In Bg. this is only true for nouns, a final a being freely sounded in adjectives and verbs. In O., on the other hand, a final a is always pronounced. The sound of such a final a is in all three languages the same as that of the second o in “promote”; thus, the Bg. bara is pronounced bỏŗō. In Bg. a medial a sometimes has the sound of the first o in “promote,” as, for instance, in the word ban (bon), a forest. In A. and Eastern Bg. a medial a is often sounded like the a in “ball,” and is then transliterated ả. Ā has preserved as a rule its proper sound of a in “father.” The distinction between i and ī and between u and ū is everywhere lost in pronunciation, although in tatsama words the Sanskrit spelling is followed in literature. Thus, in Bg., the Skr. vyatīta is pronounced bétítō, with the accent on the first syllable. In A. the distinction between these long and short vowels is obliterated more than elsewhere, the reason being, as in Bg., the changes of pronunciation due to the shifting back of the accent. In O., the Skr. vowel ŗ is pronounced ru. Elsewhere it is ri. In O. the vowel ē is always long, but in Bg. it may be long or short, and in A. it is always short. The syllable ya preceded by a consonant has in Bg. the sound of a short e, so that vyakti is pronounced bekti. Moreover, in the same language the letter ē is often pronounced like the a in the German Mann, a sound here phonetically represented by a; thus, dēkha is sometimes pronounced dekhō, and sometimes dảkhō or even dảkō. The syllable yā, when following a consonant, also has this ả-sound, so that the English word “bank” is written byānk in Bengali characters. Ō in O. is always long. In Bg., when it has not got the accent it is shortened to the sound of the first o in “promote,” a sound which, as we have seen, is also sometimes taken by a medial a. In A. ō approaches the sound of u, and it actually becomes u when followed by i in the next syllable. The diphthongs āī (in tatsamas, i.e. the Skr. āi) and ai (in tadbhavas) are sounded like oi in “oil” in Bg. and O., while in A. they have the sound of oi in “going.” Similarly, in Bg. and O. the diphthongs āū and au are sounded like the au in the German Haus, but in A. like au in the French jaune, or the second o in “promote.” In colloquial Bg. the two syllables āi often have the sound of ē, as in khāitē (khētē), to eat.
In Eastern Bengal k has often the sound of ch in “loch.” In A. the consonants c and ch are both pronounced like s, and j and jh become zh (i.e. the s in “pleasure”) or (when final) z. The same tendency is observable in Bg., though it is usually considered vulgar. In parts of Eastern Bengal c is pronounced like ts. O. as a rule has the proper sound of these letters, but towards the south c and ch become ts and tsh when not followed by a palatal letter. The letters ḍ and ḍh, when medial, are pronounced as a strongly burred r, and are then transliterated ŗ and ŗh respectively. In A. and Eastern Bg. there is a strong tendency to pronounce both dentals and cerebrals as semi-cerebrals, as is done by the neighbouring Tibeto-Burmans. In A. ŗ and ŗh become r and rh respectively. In Bg. and A. ṇ has universally become n, but is properly pronounced in O. Y is usually pronounced as j, unless it is a merely euphonic bridge to avoid a hiatus between two vowels, as in kariyā for kari-ā. In A. the resultant j has the usual z-sound. When y is the final element of a conjunct consonant, in Bg. (except in the south-east) it is very faintly pronounced. In compensation the preceding member of the conjunct is doubled and the preceding vowel is shortened if possible, thus vākya becomes bảkkyō. In A., while the y is usually preserved, an i is inserted before the conjunct, so that we have bāikyō. M and v when similarly situated are altogether elided in Bg., and this is also the case with v in A., in which language m under these circumstances becomes w; thus, smaraṇa becomes Bg. śśỏrỏn, A. swỏrỏn, and dvārā becomes Bg. and A. ddārā. R is generally pronounced correctly, except that when a member of a compound it is often not pronounced in colloquial Bg.; thus karma (kỏmmō). In North-eastern Bengali and in A. a medial r is commonly dropped; thus, Bg. karilām (kaïlām), A. kari (kaï). The vulgar commonly confound n and l. O. has retained the old cerebral ḷ of Pr., which has disappeared in Bg. and A. The semi-vowel v (w) becomes b in Bg. and O., but retains its proper sound when medial in A. When Bg. wishes to represent a w, it has to write ōyā; thus, for chāwā it writes chāōyā. Similarly bārō, twelve, +yāri, friendship, when compounded together to mean “a collection of twelve friends,” is pronounced bārwāri. Bg. pronounces all uncompounded sibilants as if they were ś, like the English sh in “shin.” This was already the case in Mg. Pr. (see Prakrit). O., on the contrary, pronounces all three like the dental s in “sin,” while A. sounds them like a rough h, almost like the ch in “loch.” In Eastern Bg. s becomes frankly h, and is then often dropped. The compound kṣ is everywhere treated as if it were khy, In colloquial Bg. there is a tendency to disaspiration; thus dēkha is pronounced dảkō and the Pr. hattha-, a hand, becomes hāt, not hāth. In Eastern Bg. there is a cockney tendency to drop h, so that we have ’āt, a hand, and kaïlām for kahilām, I said.
The above remarks show that O. has, on the whole, preserved the original sounds of the various letters better than Bg. or A.
Declension.—The distinction of gender has disappeared from all three languages. Sex is distinguished either by the use of qualifying terms, such as “male” or “female,” or by the employment of different words, as in the case of our “bull” and “cow.” The plural number is almost always denoted by the addition of some word meaning “many” or “collection” to the singular, although we sometimes find a true plural used in the case of nouns denoting human beings. Case was originally indicated by postpositions (see Indo-Aryan Languages), but in many instances these have been joined to the noun, so that they form one word with it. The following is the full declension of the singular of the word ghōŗā, a horse, in the three languages:—
ghōŗāte or ghōrāy
In Bg. and A. a noun often takes ē (e) in the nominative singular, when it is the subject of a transitive verb; thus Bg. bēdeē (from bēd) balē, the Veda says. In Bg. the nominative plural may, in the case of human beings, be formed by adding ā to the genitive singular; thus, santān, a son; gen. sing., santānēr; nom. plur., santānēra. The same is the case with the pronouns; thus āmār, of me; āmarā, we; tāhār, his; tāhārā, they. In Bihari (q.v.) the pronouns follow the same rule, and, as is explained under that head, the nominative plural is really an oblique form of the genitive. With this exception, the plural in all our three languages is either the same as the singular, or (when the idea of plurality has to be emphasized) is formed by the addition of nouns of multitude, such as gaṇ in Bg., māna in O., or bilāk in A.
We shall see that pronominal suffixes are freely used in all three languages in the conjugation of verbs. In the Outer languages of the north-west of India (for the list of these, see Indo-Aryan Languages) pronominal suffixes are also commonly added to nouns to signify possession. In most of the languages of the Eastern Group such pronominal suffixes added to nouns have fallen into disuse, but in A. they are still commonly employed with nouns of relationship; thus, bāp, a father; bopāi, my father; bāper, your father; bāpek, his father. Their retention in A. is no doubt due to the example of the neighbouring Tibeto-Burman languages, in which such pronominal prefixes are a common feature.
In all three languages the adjective does not change for gender, for number or for case.
The personal pronouns have at the present day lost their old nominatives, and have new nominatives formed from the oblique base. In the first and second persons the singulars have fallen into disuse in polite conversation, and the plurals are used honorifically for the singular, as in the case of the English “you” for “thou.” For the plural, new plurals are formed from the new singular (old plural) bases. In A., however, the old singular of the first person is retained, and the old plural plays its proper function. The Bg. pronouns are, mui (old), I; āmi (modern), I; tui (old), thou; tumi (modern), thou; sē, tini, he; ē, ini, this; ō, uni, that; jē, jini, who; kē, who?; ki, what?; kōn, what (adjective)?; kēha, anyone; kichu, anything; kōna, any. Most of the forms in the other languages closely follow these. The words in O. for “I” and “thou” are ambhē and tumbhē respectively. All these pronouns have plurals and oblique forms to which the case suffixes are added. These must be learnt from the grammars.
Conjugation.—It is in the conjugation of the verb that colloquial Bg. differs most from the literary dialect. There is no distinction in any of the three languages between singular and plural. Most of the old singular forms have survived in a non-honorific sense, but they are rarely employed in polite language except in the third person. The old plural forms are generally employed for the singular also. The usual base for the verb substantive, when employed as an auxiliary, is ach, be, derived from the Skr. ŗcchati. O., however, forms its past from the base tha (Skr. sthita-), and in South-western Bengal the base ţha, derived from the same original, is used for both present and past time. Only two of the old Skr.-Pr. tenses have survived in the finite verb, the simple present and the imperative. Thus, Bg. kari, I do; kar, do thou. The past is formed by adding pronominal suffixes to the old past participle in il (Skr. -illa-, a pleonastic suffix, see Prakrit), and the future by adding them to the old future participle in b (Skr. -tavya-, Pr. -avva-). Thus, Bg. karil-ām, done + by-me, I did; karib-a, it-is-to-be-done + by-me, I shall do. In Bg. there are two modern participles, a present (kar-itē)
- In Mg. Pr. every r becomes l. For an explanation of the apparent non-observance of this rule in languages of the Eastern Group, see Bihari.