Language Facts that Amaze Newcomers, Language Learners, Translators, …and Me


alphabet treeIn 1971, Bangladesh fought its war for independence because of language. Bengalis gave their lives so that their families could use their beautiful Bangla language in school and in business. Bangla-desh means “the land of Bangla”. We even sing with joy, “ami banglay gan gai” (I sing in Bangla!)

Even so, there are forty-one languages in Bangladesh, including regional dialects and heart-languages of many ethnic groups. AOB’s Cultural Research program acknowledges that working with words, in every language, is a challenge and joy. Consider these amazing language facts:

A single word may have several meanings. How many times have you opened a dictionary and seen only one definition for a word? Almost never! Is your mother-tongue English? Consider this simple example: How many meanings can you think of for the simple word “right“? (You were right/ Make a right turn at the light.)

Reading BookSome languages have many more words than we do in English. In Bangla, there is no single word for “uncle”. After all, people want a clearer explanation. So there are different words for my mother’s brother, my mother’s sister’s husband, my father’s younger brother, and my father’s older brother, and his sister’s husband. And Muslims and Hindus have different words for all of these relationships!

Some languages don’t have words for certain things. For example, the Mro language, one of the tribal languages of Bangladesh, doesn’t have a word for “sling”, so how would they tell the story of David fighting Goliath? Mro does not have words for prophet, priest, or king either.

We say things differently in each language. Idioms can be fun, but they can confuse us if we are not mother-tongue speakers of the language. In English we say, “Hit the sack” (meaning, go to bed) and “You’re pulling my leg” (meaning, you are joking with me.) In Bangla we say, “Nothing comes and goes” (meaning, it doesn’t matter.) and “Stand” (meaning, wait here for a short while).

Many of the languages of Bangladesh have not yet been written. AOB isn’t intimidated by that fact. Story-telling groups and midwife-trainers prepare oral stories to share with people in the multiple languages of the districts in which we work. Our Media-Production team develops mother-tongue dramas and films to teach health and safety issues. Translators record their completed projects.

My Language is BanglaWe converse with non-verbal signals, too. Think of hand-motions that indicate “Come here” (In Bangladesh, we motion downward with our fingers curling toward ourselves under our hand), “Yes” (Here, we tilt our heads toward our shoulder to show agreement.) or counting (Here, we count each fingertip, joint, and knuckle of our fingers, counting 4 per finger, so on one hand we can count to twenty).

Around the world, people speak 7,000 languages. We learn languages, and in the process we better understand the culture and values of the people. So listen up – and learn well!

In conclusion, you may want to listen to Bangladesh’s patriotic song “I Sing in Bangla” on