Kirt Mausert
Mon Apr 19 13:20:13 +0000 2021

A native speaker of Chittagonian writes :

“...over 80 per cent of both languages is similar. Yet there are many differences like accent and use of many terms by #Rohingya people are remarkably different from that of Chittagonian people.” 1/15

Chittagonian and Rohingya exist on a continuum, and are both internally variegated, with hyperlocal varieties specific to major towns, and gendered forms as well. Buthidaung and Maungdaw speakers of Rohingya for instance are recognizably distinct to speakers of each. 2/15

Neither #Rohingya or Chittagonian are fully mutually intelligible to Standard Bangla, which, unlike the former, is not a tonal language. Rohingya has also preserved ergativity, a grammatical pattern Standard Bangla has shed. 3/15

It is misleading to refer to #Rohingya as a dialect “of” Bangla: they share common roots, yes, but like Rakhine, which is not merely a dialect “of” Standard Burmese, Rohingya has developed quite independently of Bangla for many centuries, at least. 4/15

Life in the camps has begun to influence how #Rohingya express themselves, and many youth have adopted certain Bangla lexemes from Bangladeshi aid workers, and have begun calibrating their speech of those in positions of authority over the day to day lives of refugees. 5/15

In my research in the camps, it became apparent that there is a pervasive belief amongst Bangla speakers that #Rohingya is a non-standard and lower class variety of Bangla, and many Bangladeshis assume they are understood more widely than they actually are. 6/15

This erroneous belief even led camp officials to put up signboards in Bengali, which #Rohingya overwhelmingly do not read. Burmese is the most common language of secular literacy, though Koranic Arabic is of course widely read, mainly by men with a religious education. 7/15

There are, contrary to a patently false Reuters report (that was quietly corrected without any indication of the correction), several #Rohingya scripts independently developed for the language. None are based on Bengali. 8/15

The Chakma, a Buddhist minority of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, speak a dialect so closely related to #Rohingya that a friend recently sent me a Facebook video of Chakma speakers and told me she could understand them fully, but recognized their dialect as markedly distinct. 9/15

Historians, amateur (@DerekTonkinUK ) and otherwise, have presented an oversimplified picture of language and social relations across the Arakan Littoral, extensive of Chittagong and Sittwe, supposing most #Rohingya are simply speakers of Chittagonian. Wrong. 10/15

It is important to bear in mind the obvious fact that dialects and languages (“dialects with a navy”) are not simply determinative of ethnic identity, much less personhood, and even supposedly monolingual speakers have a command of many varieties of “the same” language. 11/15

#Rohingya has a history of its own, born of its centuries rooted in Arakan both East and West of the Naf river, an arbitrary political boundary that has never reflected the social and cultural continuity of the Littoral. It is a unique language with its own ISO code, even. 12/15

Burmese bigots insist #Rohingya are “Bengali,” ignorant of these plain facts. Many Bangla speakers consider Rohingya a rough, folksy version of Bangla. And while most native Chittagonian speakers can recognize the difference, they rarely learn Rohingya. 13/15

Under such conditions of asymmetrical power relations and prejudice, it is little surprise #Rohingya speech forms have begun to change to reflect social relations shaping their lives in Bangladesh’s refugee camps. Educated Bangladeshi Rakhine also speak Bangla, after all. 14/15

There are many #Rohingya settled in Bangladesh who learn either Bangla, hiring tutors, the local Chittagonian, or both. This verbal masking becomes an essential part of moving relatively freely through Bangladeshi society, where they often fear being exposed as Rohingya. 15/15

Mon Apr 19 13:20:34 +0000 2021