With nearly 230 million native speakers, Bangla or Bengali is the national language of Bangladesh and an official language of India. It has numerous dialects, which show mainly phonological and lexical differences. However, Standard Bengali is used in educational and formal social settings and is understood by speakers of the various dialects.
Like other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali arose from the eastern Middle Indic languages of the Indian subcontinent. Magadhi Prakrit and Maithili, the earliest recorded spoken languages in the region and the language of the Buddha, evolved into Ardhamagadhi (Half Magadhi) in the early part of the first millennium. Ardhamagadhi, as with all of the Prakrits of North India, began to give way to what are called Apabhramsa languages just before the turn of the first millennium. The local Apabhramsa language of the eastern subcontinent, Purvi Apabhramsa or Apabhramsa Abahatta, eventually evolved into regional dialects, which in turn formed three groups: the Bihari languages, the Oriya languages, and the Bengali-Assamese languages. Historically closer to Pali, Bengali saw an increase in Sanskrit influence during the Middle Bengali (Chaitanya era), and also during the Bengal Renaissance.
Bengali was the focus, in 1951–52, of the Bengali Language Movement (Bhasha Andolon) in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Although the Bengali language was spoken by the majority of Pakistan's population, Urdu was legislated as the sole national language. On February 21, 1952, protesting students and activists were fired upon by military and police in Dhaka University and four young students and several other people were killed. Later, in 1999, UNESCO declared to celebrate every 21 February as International Mother Language Day in recognition of the deaths of the four students.
There are three phases of Bengali Literature: Old Bengali: (950 - 1350 C.E.), Middle Bengali: (1350-1800) and Modern Bengali: (1800 - ). The oldest document of Bengali literature is The Caryapada. It is a collection of 47 songs by different poets. Religious and philosophical in nature, they were written in a mystic style known as ‘Sandhya Bhasha’. Chandidas’s ‘Sri Krishna Kirtan’ represents the Bengali language of the early middle period influenced by mystic love and brotherhood. This Vaishnava influence is also visible in the development of the Bengali language. Various Vaishnava Padavalis (verses) and the tradition of writing biographies started, e.g. Chaitanyamangal of Brindabandas and Chaitanyacharitamrita of Krishnadas Kobiraj. During the later middle period, Mangal Kavyas that eulogized non-Aryan Gods - Manasa, Chandi and Dharma were written, while Krittivas Ojha translated Ramayana and Kasiramdasa translated Mahabharata into Bengali.
The modern period witnessed the development of the Bengali language as it is spoken today. Modern Bengali gradually developed through the writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Sharatchandra Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore and others. Michael Madhusudan Dutt introduced blank verse in Bengali. Jibanananda Das and Sukanta Bhattacharya were important poets in the post Rabindranath period. Some great dramatists were Dinabandhu Mitra, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Amritlal Basu, Dwijendralal Roy and Selim Al-din.
Rutgers University usually offers Bengali at the elementary and intermediate levels, although instruction has been suspended for 2009-2010, pending the creation of a new development plan.