Daily News Online

Thursday, 25 August 2011






Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Language bungling!

There is much discussion today on the accurate use of the English language in Sri Lanka while the inaccuracy glares at you in the most unexpected places, say in what are called Academic venues. Recently I just stared at a large flashy board displaying.

“Historical places on Nothern Sri Lanka.” I itched to correct the preposition and the spelling but just sat there. Why get heated up over a small issue like a mishap in a second language that when for centuries some of our very significant historical places have been desecrated and destroyed so cruelly as demonstrated by the presentation?

But the issues are totally different. Accuracy of anything has to be targeted at any cost. Those responsible for the display/publicity boards should personally scrutinize them before the boards are exposed to public view. Otherwise you kill the king.

Very funny. That is the direct translation of Raja Maranawa, a usage okay during the colonial period when the king of England was our king, never mind that he lived a 1000 miles away. Further more queens than kings continue to rule England. Reign of Queen Victoria was one of the longest. The queens once they come in have no intention of getting down the throne. For some time after the capture of Kandy there was an emotive hankering after a king of their own , a king to be seen, to be heard or to be bossed by as testified by this folk verse addressed out of all living beings to ants whom according to popular belief have a monarch in their little empire.

Well.It is a mad and sad world alright making even writers like me astray on to other topics when I had initially intended to write on the bungling of the English language.

Actually the idea occurred to me when in conversation with a young girl, a bit messy in mind. She would visit me now and then and give me domestic news though I never asked for them .And she uses English “to gain practice.” Quite good.

Recently she informed that her elder sister has stopped going to office. That surprised me for when every body young is trying to get into the job market here she , a pretty damsel was fleeing from it. Why, I asked bemused.

“Auntie, people are making up stories as my sister comes home late” “You mean people relate to her stories on the way home?”

“No. Everywhere. You know Katandara Hadanawa.”

Ah, I said as realization dawned on me, “you mean gossiping.” “That is right. They have made many words already.”

“Ah. Panda Hadala?”

I think you have heard of the White boss of a firm who waited till a girl employed by him return for she had alighted from the car sayimg, “ I will go and come”.

The culture difference made the man wait impatiently,In Sinhala society it is considered inauspicious to say “ I will go” which could mean “Never to return”.The White man did not know this subtle nuance of language usage and he waited and waited.

Some call these Ceylonisms but these language bunglings occur in any colonial country where the subject race picked up a foreign language and polished it or not according to circumstances.Some proved exceptions to this rule like the Burmese butler (I hope I got the job correct for I read this book long ago), a character occurring in one of Orwell’s books. The butler speaks better English than his White master.Secret he consults a dictionary!

Many do not. Even those in our neighbouring sub -continent of India do not. All over Delhi streets , against large buildings , boards are displayed asking visitors to enter from the Back side. It is better than having a board that instructs “Enter from the Rear.”Visitors have to make bee line to the nearest bookshop and refer Dick to find the meaning of Rear. Perhaps they will be forced buy the dictionary by the irate shop owner who demands that if the book is used it has to be bought.

And to conclude, two passengers on an air plane about to take off from the Katunayaka air port are beginning to know each other. After all it is a long way to their destination, The Sri Lankan passenger has just got in while the other passenger has got in from God knows where but being elder had begun a tale of woes including his sicknesses. “I am ailing from arthiritis” he announces. “Oh!”says my countryman in response,” I am Marasinghe from Gampaha in Sri Lanka” Ceylonisms? Language bungling? No.Just a comic piece in the theatre of human interaction via language. But that is no excuse for inaccuracy. Striving for excellence should be the target.



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