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The history of Bengali
Names and writing system
Bengali today by Viv Edwards
Bengali is spoken by some 100 million people in Bangladesh and over 70 million people in India. Although the Bengali community in the UK dates back to the 1870s, the most significant arrivals were in the 1960s and 1970s. The majority came from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh, which has long-standing links with the UK through the jute, tea and shipping industries. At home, many Bangladeshis speak Sylheti, a language closely related to Bengali. However, they have varying degrees of competence in Bengali, which is also regarded as the language of culture.
Bengali speakers are dispersed through the UK in cities such as Coventry and Bradford. By far the largest community, however, is to be found in London. In a 2000 survey of London school children, Bengali/Sylheti was the most commonly spoken language after English, used by 4.51 per cent of the school population. Speakers are concentrated in an area stretching from Westminster to Newham, with particularly high proportions in Tower Hamlets. Brick Lane, an old street that runs from Whitechapel to Bethnal Green, is sometimes affectionately referred to as 'Bangla Town'. Its large numbers of Bangladeshi restaurants and fabric shops are a popular visitor attraction. Very much smaller Bangla communities have moved from London and other big cities to smaller centres such as Gloucester.
Six weekly newspapers serve the Bengali community. Radio stations broadcasting programmes in Bengali include BBC Asian Network, Sunrise Radio in West London, Asian Sound Radio in Manchester, Me FM in Aberdeen, Radio XL in the West Midlands and Sunrise Radio in Yorkshire.