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.