The linguistic landscape of Bogra (Bangladesh), by Md. Sadequle Islam

Bangladeshis, just like some other communities around the world, sacrificed their lives for the right to speak their mother language: Bangla. On 21st February, 1952, some brave souls of this land including Rafiq, Shafiq, Barkat, Salam, Jabbar and Shafiur sacrificed their life to protect Bangla and prevent Urdu from being the state language of East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh), where a vast majority of people spoke Bangla. This unique incident was later recognized by UNESCO and they declared 21st February as the International Mother Language Day.

Picture 1. Celebration of 21 February at Language Movement Martyrs’ Monument.

In Bangladesh, people always have strong love for Bangla – the fifth spoken language in the world; we Bangladeshis take much pride in our mother tongue. While the national language of Bangladesh is Bangla, English is unofficially considered to be the second language, mainly for colonial reasons. English is mostly used at Educational institutions and at some corporate offices. According to the Bangla Bhasha Procholon Ain (Bengali Language Implementation Act 1987), all proceedings at government offices and courts in Bangladesh must be in Bangla. Communication with foreign missions, however, can be made in other languages. Later, on February 16, 2014, The High Court of Bangladesh ruled that all signboards, number plates of vehicles and the names of mass media should be written in Bangla everywhere.     
I tried to figure out the linguistic landscape of Bogra district of Bangladesh. Bogra is often known as the “Capital of Northern Bangladesh” for its commercial importance and tourist attractions. Here in Bogra, most of the signboards of government offices are written in Bangla including the office of Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Superintendent of Police, office of the City Corporation, Office of the Civil Surgeon etc.So, the languages of the signboards of government offices reflect the Bengali Language Implementation Act of 1987 and the rule of February 16, 2014.

Picture 2. Governement offices.

On the other hand, Banks and Financial Institutions use both Bangla and English on their sign boards. Most of the Educational Institutions’ names are written in Bangla whereas a very few schools’ (where the medium of instruction is English) names are written in English. It may be pointed out that most of the roadside shops’ nameplates are monolingual (written in Bangla), the signboards of the highest standard hotels are written only in English (monolingual) whereas the signboards of medium standard hotels are seen to be bilingual.

The outlets of International franchises like KFC and DHL write their names in Bangla on the signboards along with English. Another interesting observation is the bilingual signboards of Mosques and Religious education institutions (Madrasha). These signboards are written in both Bangla and Arabic. Since Arabic is the language of Al- Quran, the Holy book of Muslims, Arabic is considered as a sacred language and as  a result of that most of the buildings and signboards of Mosques and Madrashas are bilingual, where, beside Bangla names, Arabic verses are also written on the signboards and buildings. The street signs are written both in English and Bangla. Not only in Bogra, but also in most of the cities and towns of Bangladesh, commercial and political posters and billboards can be seen on public places such as walls, electric pillars, fences, etc. The languages of political posters sticking on walls are mostly Bangla whereas the languages of commercial posters, festoons and billboards are bilingual (Bangla and English).

Names of most of the houses (except the high rising buildings which are constructed by the developer companies) are written in Bangla. Even the names of fashion houses and boutique shops are written in Bangla. One of the owners of a house in Malotinagar, Mr. Rashed was asked about the reason of using Bangla on the nameplate of his home and he replied, “Our Bangladeshi brothers sacrificed their lives for the sake of Bangla in 1952, so why should I use other language on my residence’s name plate?…. I love Bangla… Bangla is amazing, Bangla is beautiful.” It shows that the Bangladeshi people by heart love their mother language and which has been portrayed through the linguistic landscape of the country!!

Md. Sadequle Islam, October 2020

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