Linguistic Survey of India – West Bengal (Part I)


The Linguistic Survey of India (LSI) is an ongoing project of the Government of India that aims to document and study how languages have changed in the country over the years. It considers shifts in society, administrative regions and the reorganisation of states based on linguistic identity. This project has been undertaken by the Language Division, Office of the Registrar General, Government of India.

Part of this project is the Linguistic Survey of India – West Bengal (Part I) which studies 13 languages spoken in West Bengal. The survey was carried out between 1994 and 2003.

The survey works on the census framework according to which ‘language’ and ‘mother tongue’ are ‘co-terminus’ or mean the same. The volume presents sketches of 13 languages: Bengali, Radhi (Burdwan, Nadia, 24 Parganas), Radhi (Howrah, Hooghly), Barendri, Jharkhandi, Rajbangsi and Nepali (Indo-Aryan family); Mundari, Koda/Kora and Lodha (Austro-Asiatic family); and Bodo, Bhotia and Toto (Tibeto-Burman family). This selection of the languages is based on regional importance, the number of speakers, and the locations where the survey was conducted.

The present-day LSI is an extension of the survey first proposed by George Abraham Grierson, an Irish linguist who documented Indian languages during the pre-Independence era and a few years of the early 20th century. This survey “complements and supplements” Grierson’s survey conducted when the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, and present-day Bangladesh were part of the same province called the Bengal Presidency.

The document is divided into 15 main chapters. The first chapter introduces the history, geography, demography and administrative divisions of the state. Chapters 2-8 contain linguistic descriptions of the languages and mother tongues from the Indo-Aryan family. Chapters 9-11 discuss the languages from the Austro-Asiatic family and the languages from the Tibeto-Burman family are discussed in Chapters 12-14. The last chapter presents a comparative lexicon of 500 terms in nine of the languages described in the survey.


  1. Bengali is an official language of West Bengal and is spoken by a majority of the people in the state Bengali – 85.27 per cent. According to the survey, there are 83,369,769 speakers of Bengali in the country of which 68,369,255 reside in West Bengal. Bengali, along with related languages like Assamese and Odia, belongs to the eastern Indo-Aryan group of languages.

  2. Radhi, a dialect of Bengali, is considered to be the closest to the standard version of the language. It is also known as ‘Radh anchal’ and is spoken in the central part of the state in Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan [now Purba ad Paschim Bardhaman], Nadia and Birbhum districts. Younger speakers of this dialect also speak Hindi and English, the survey notes.

  3. The Barendri dialect of Bengali is spoken in Malda, West Dinajpur [now Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur] and Murshidabad districts. The survey states that much of the older generation speaks only in Barendri but the younger generation also use Hindi and English.

  4. Jharkhandi, another dialect of Bengali, can also be called frontier Radhi or Sumbhodeshiyo as per differing views of various linguists. It is spoken in the Midnapore [now Purba and Paschim Medinipur], Bankura and Purulia districts of West Bengal. The vocabulary of Jharkhandi speakers in these districts includes several words from Hindi and Odia.

  5. According to the survey, Rajbangsi is spoken by the Rajbanshi community listed as a Scheduled Caste in West Bengal. People from this community (the speakers of Rajbangsi) reside in the districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, West Dinajpur, Malda and Darjeeling say the 1981 Census records. The language is considerably influenced by Tibeto-Burman languages like Rabha and Koch spoken in neighbouring regions.

  6. Nepali, an Indo-Aryan language, is spoken in different states in India including West Bengal, Sikkim and Assam. In West Bengal, speakers of Nepali number more in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts. As per 2001 Census, total speakers of Nepali in the country number 2,871,749 of which 1,022,725 live in West Bengal. The language is taught up to university level in Darjeeling and is also recognised by the legal system in the state.

  7. Mundari is named after the Munda Scheduled Tribe in West Bengal. It is also spoken in Jharkhand, Odisha and Assam. Of the overall 1,061,352 speakers of the language in India, 32,571 reside in West Bengal. It is not used as a medium of instruction in schools in the state. Mundari is written in the Bengali script, the survey adds.

  8. A non-scheduled language, Koda or Kora is spoken mainly in West Bengal. In the state its speakers number around 33,218 according to data from the 2001 Census. In 1921, the speakers of the language were around 19,690 in the country. In 2001 that number had risen to 43,030. Districts in West Bengal with the highest Koda/Kora speaking population are Medinipur [now Purba and Paschim Medinipur], Bardhaman [now Purba and Paschim Bardhaman] and Birbhum.

  9. The Lodha language belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family. The 1951 Census recorded 6,040 native speakers of this language. Ten years later, the 1961 Census recorded only five speakers. Data after that is unavailable in Census publications, the survey notes. The language is neither taught in schools nor used as a medium of instruction.

  10. Bodo is one of the 22 languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. It belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of languages and is primarily spoken in Assam, Westt Bengal, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. In West Bengal, speakers of the language number 37,654 according to the 2001 Census. Bodo is not taught in schools in the state or used as a medium if instruction.

  11. Bhotia is spoken primarily in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal by 5,636 people. Outside the state it is also spoken in Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is neither an administrative language nor is it taught in schools.

  12. Toto has been recognised as part of the Himalayan branch of the Tibeto-Burman language group. The 1901 Census recorded 170 Toto speakers. The number had risen to 383 in the 1961 Census. Speakers of the language use Toto in domestic spaces and use Nepali or Bengali in public arenas. The language is not taught in schools but has a rich oral tradition.

    Focus and Factoids by Chhavi Singh.


Language Division, Office of the Registrar General, Government of India


Language Division, Office of the Registrar General, Government of India


01 Aug, 2016