Bengali (Bangla) at the University of Chicago

About Bengali (aka Bangla) language

Bengali (aka Bangla) is spoken in northeastern India and Bangladesh by over 200 million speakers, and thus ranks 6th in number of native speakers in the world. It is linguistically related to Sanskrit and has had a rich history as a literary language since the close of the first millennium. The history of Bengali is marked by the diversity of the cultures that took part in its formation. It is at the crossroads of eastern, South, and Southeastern Asia, and Bengali culture was immensely enriched by those cosmopolitan encounters. Therefore learning Bengali is an invitation to learn more about Asia, specifically about South Asia’s encounter with the world.

In South Asia, Bengali literature became emblematic of Indian literature as a whole through the success of its poets and novelists. Bengali intellectuals were the first to import literary forms such as the novel and sonnet in India. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was the first non-western author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. His art and philosophy deeply influenced artists and intellectuals worldwide. Medieval Bengali literature is also one of the richest of the subcontinent. It became the medium of many religious traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) and it was in dialog with several other literary traditions (Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi…). Today Bengali literature remains a creative domain as shown by the works of poets, novelists, essayists, and scholars living in India, Bangladesh and other countries in the world. Bengali creative expression is not limited to the written word. There exists a rich and vibrant tradition of performance in Bengali, primarily theater, music, and cinema. Bengali directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, and Rituparno Ghosh have enriched the cinematic medium in no small measure while the theater of Shambhu Mitra, Sisir Kumar Bhaduri, and Utpal Dutt remain important influences to theater lovers all over India. The musical compositions of Kazi Nazrul Islam, Dwijendralal Ray, and Rabindranath Tagore and the Bengal School of Art are central features of modern India’s cultural efflorescence.

Bengali at SALC

The Bengali program at SALC has a long history of teaching and research with figures like Edward C. Dimock and Clinton B. Seely . Today the program is led by Thibaut d’Hubert and Mandira Bhaduri, in collaboration with Rochona Majumdar, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and a dynamic group of graduate students. It offers a wide array of teachings from the basic introduction to the language and its beautiful script for practical use, to the study of material from all periods. There are also Bengali language and culture events organized at the U of C to provide students with occasions to practice and learn about Bengali outside the classroom. Advanced students are also encouraged to follow and participate in the intellectual life of the Bengali speaking world and emphasis is put on composition of scholarly essays in the language.

Instructors

Lecturer Mandira Bhaduri (1st and 2nd years)

Assistant Professor Thibaut d’Hubert (3rd, 4th years and advanced)

Dipesh Chakrabarty and Rochona Majumdar offer a wide array of non-language courses that pertain to the history and culture of Bengal. Both work with texts, both literary and visual, and supervise doctoral projects on Bengal.

Courses offered

1st year Bangla (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 11:30 am. – 12:30 pm)

2nd. year Bangla (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 12:30 – 1:20 pm)

3rd and 4th year Bangla (See with the instructor)

Bengali placement exam:

Contact either Professor Thibaut d’Hubert or Lecturer Mandira Bhaduri regarding this matter.

Students’ response to the Bengali program:

“For me, the Bangla program at SALC has been incredibly intellectually engaging in a number of ways. What makes it unique is that we practice talking in a number of registers ranging from the everyday to the literary and academic. We engage with texts, audio recordings and videos which show us much more of the language than just the standard forms current today: from present-day dialects in both Bangladesh and West Bengal to works from the previous five centuries, we quite literally get to learn it all. The works with which we engage too cover much of the forms of discourse in Bengal: essays, novels, poems, songs, plays, short stories, philosophical writings, religious tracts and more. All of this is done with a grounded sense of history and context, attentive to the connections between Bengal and the greater world.”
--Ishan Chakrabarti, graduate student, SALC
“I have been a native speaker, a student and lover of Bengali Literature and language, but the Bengali programme at the University of Chicago has really made me understand the nuances, multifariousness, and beauty of the language. I have learnt how to read Bengali for the first time as it should be read, with great attention to grammar, syntax, cadence and the historical context of the text. Though we are a small group of students and teachers working together, our interests and engagement with each others' work (whether it be of the pre-modern or modern periods, or whether it be Persianized or Sanskritized Bengali) makes it a very fulfilling experience. I look forward to reading Bengali at the University of Chicago with fellow enthusiasts as long as I am here.”
--Ahona Panda, graduate student, SALC
“My experience with studying Bangla at the University of Chicago has been amazing. I was particularly happy with how much the program and the teachers are accommodating to student needs-whether you want to learn to speak modern Bangla, study 19thto early 20thcentury Bangla literature or delve into medieval Bangla, the teachers will meet your needs! I am also very happy with the availability of Bangla books in the library. Finally, the presence of modern culture from Bangladesh and West Bengal-authors, film-makers etc.-has been a real asset in learning not only the language, but Bengali culture as well.”
--Aleksandar Uskokov, graduate student, SALC
“Classes were designed to integrate students' research interests and a portion of each quarter was dedicated to developing a philological approach to reading texts from a variety of periods and genres. For instance, the Bangla program afforded me the opportunity and guidance to read pre-modern manuscripts of the Ramayana of Krittibasa. Moreover, at the advanced level, the instructor’s facility with Persian and Sanskrit, as well as their respective literary histories greatly augmented the depth of our scholarship.”
--Nabanjan Maitra, graduate student, Divinity School
“I've had a wonderful experience so far learning Bangla at U Chicago. Since I became interested in it, the Bangla faculty here have been very helpful in accommodating me in pursuing my interests. It is a delight to learn from the ever-patient and encouraging instructor, who not only insists on necessary, useful, and rigorous grammatical and nuts-and-bolts exercises in class, but also devotes time in class to delving into the rich heritage of Bangla literature. Aside from the great state of Bangla language study here, U Chicago also has a fantastic Indology apparatus which will be an important complement to anyone interested in pursuing the history, society, or literature of what is sometimes called the shob cheye mishti bhasha, the sweetest language.”
--Leopold L. Eisenlohr, M.A. student, Divinity School

Recent Bengali-related events at the U of C

FAQ

Who should I approach if I would like to do research on Bengal?

You should approach Thibaut d’Hubert, Rochona Majumdar and Dipesh Chakrabarty.

Who should I contact regarding admission process?

Please contact the Department Secretary: Alicia Czaplewski, Office: Foster Hall 212, aczaplew@uchicago.edu

Can I audit a class?

No. SALC does not permit auditors in any of the department’s language classes. Please register for the class.

What if I have a conflict on one or more of the days, can I still take the class?

In that case, contact Professor Thibaut d’Hubert for 3rd and 4th year and advanced, and Lecturer Mandira Bhaduri for 1st and 2nd year Bengali.