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There are about 400,000 Bengali speakers in the United Kingdom, from a total of 230 million worldwide. It is spoken by 100 million people in Bangladesh and over 70 million people in India. In Wales, Bengali-speaking pupils have been reported in schools in Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Conwy/Denbighshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Swansea/Neath Port Talbot, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan, and Wrexham local authority areas. In recent years, Cardiff has seen a rapid growth in the Bangladeshi population, which now makes up more than a quarter of all Asians in the city.


When Pakistan was formed in 1947, Urdu was decreed the only official language, despite the fact that Bengali was more widely spoken in the east. It took was only in the wake of violent demonstrations that Bengali was made an official language. East Pakistan achieved independence in 1971, changing its name to Bangladesh and adopting Bengali as the official language.


Most British Bangladeshis have their roots in Sylhet, a region in north-western Bangladesh, and speak the Sylheti dialect of Bengali which is very different from the standard language.  The Sylhet region has very old links with the UK because of the trade in jute and tea. The Bengali community in Britain dates back to the 1870s, but the peak period of immigration was the 1960s and 1970s.


Listen to Sirajul Islam talk - in Welsh - about his linguistic background and how he had to learn standard Bengali, Urdu and English to get on in life as well as his native Sylheti. He moved to Wales from Bangladesh in 1963. Having spent many years running a restaurant in Swansea, Islam is now studying for a degree in Welsh at Cardiff University.

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  • PagesDifferent Voices

    5 May 2011
    Different Voices

    Explore the history and sounds of Wales' languages from Early Medieval to the present