The history of a people through the history of its language

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The “Bèdes” are a community of nomads from the Indian subcontinent who do not have a permanent establishment and move from place to place.

In Bangladesh, the Bede community follow the customs of their nomadic society and live collectively in boats on rivers and canals, or in temporary shelters on the plain along the banks of the river, leading an undignified life as an alienated community. of the dominant society.

Also, this community is scattered in various parts of Bangladesh, mainly in Savar in Dhaka, Kaliganj in Jhenaidah, Munshiganj, Sunamganj, Joydevpur in Gazipur, Mirsarai in Chattogram, Cumilla and Sonagazi in Feni.

According to a Department of Social Welfare survey, 99% of the Bede population is Muslim and a similar percentage of them are illiterate.

Their nomadic way of life has made the Bede community almost remote from the mainstream of society, underprivileged, poverty stricken, with little or no access to services as well as privileges as citizens. They are often subject to human rights violations, as well as discrimination.

Significantly, the Bede people have their own unique mother tongue, “Thar”, which has remained elusive as it has no written form and is only used among them.

As a result, author Habibur Rahman, an avid social researcher, thoroughly examined the community life of the Bede people and wrote a well-researched book titled “Thar: The Language of the Bede People”, in which he vividly describes living what he saw, each of its 11 chapters focusing on a distinct aspect of the Thar language and its grammar.

Habibur Rahman gave birth to a rare historical record in Bangladesh.

It defines the language and its characteristics, its origins and variations, the ethnic identity of the Bede people, the application of Noam Chomsky’s theory to the Thar language, syntax, phonological analysis and transformation, verbal changes , phonetics and phonetic analysis, morphology, thousands of the basic words of the Thar language, its tenses, modes, genders, sentence structure, syntax, synonyms, antonyms, etc.

He characterized this book on the Thar as a comprehensive book by presenting numerous examples of the forms and transformations of social, economic, cultural and environmental terms in the lexicon of the Thar language.

It demonstrated that Thar is the mother tongue of a few, but that its lexicon and future history depend on its continued existence alongside other languages.

Moreover, Rahman not only portrayed the distinctly endangered “Thar” language of the Bede people, but also followed established and accepted conventions from a modern scientific linguistic perspective with a sense of curiosity.

It familiarized the reader with the underlying structure of the language and made the complex concepts of linguistics easily understandable for a lay audience. Moreover, this book is an important and unique addition to linguistic research. Basic research on the language of a marginalized community is indeed rare.

Rahman’s loving and affectionate engagement with fieldwork in the Bede community and his careful and insightful research lend depth and analysis to the book, which absorbs a reader page after page.

This book can shed light on various aspects of nomadic life, especially the cultural aspects of the Bede community. Therefore, the study of this endangered language can be a good alternative to archaeological excavations, as the language is a reflection of the current life of a community.

I must also commend the author’s dedication to telling readers about the struggle of daily life in the Bede community. They face poverty and vulnerability, struggle to earn a living, but still have no regrets.

These are the tales that the author wanted to share with his readers to help them understand the sorrows and joys of the Bede people. The Bede are often seen simply as snake charmers, vendors of native medicine, or performers putting on monkey shows and magic shows, but Rahman helps the reader see them as full human beings.

I confess that before reading this book, I had little interest in the life of the Bede community and was unaware that they had a matrilineal society and even a separate mother tongue of which they felt proud.

This book not only introduced the reader to the language of the Bedes, but it also bridged the gap between them and the distinct social fabric of the Bedes.

The writer analyzed the language of “Thar” and tried to find its meaning in Bengali, a difficult task indeed. I appreciate his effort to make this book an in-depth and participatory research work.

Rahman first chose the area of ​​research, then collected enough data and analyzed all the elements, then compiled everything he found in his book to paint an authentic picture of Bede community life.

He collected the words of the “Thar” language from his cordial and friendly association with the members of this community. His love and respect for these people helped him gain the trust of the community and understand their language.

The author believes that although the unique Thar language is spoken exclusively by people from a small community, it should be preserved.

Readers of the book will experience a bit of the power of the Thar words, which ring the love and sorrow of Bede’s men, women and children, often ignored by mainstream society.

Readers will discover the depth and power of Rahman’s analysis, as well as his dedication and love for the Bede, on every page of this book.

Future researchers will surely find this book a rich reference. Therefore, the Thar language and the book of Rahman must be preserved under the patronage of the government, read and researched in educational institutions in the country as well as abroad.

Additionally, Rahman’s book should be translated into English in order to reach a wider international audience.


Habib Rahman. ISBN: 9789846345070 Published by Panjaree Publications Ltd. February 2022

Serajul Islam Quadir is the former bureau chief of Reuters and currently the editor of the American Chamber’s Journal.

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