Let's go back to
It is said that
language means 'expression of thought or emotion by means of words,
spoken or written'. It embraces sign language too.
In 1876, English
became the language of the maritime provinces of Ceylon when the
British conquered it from the Dutch. With the signing of the Kandyan
Convention on March 2, 1815, the Kandyan Provinces, too, came under
the political suzerainty of the British. Thereupon, English for
all intents and purposes became the language of records of Ceylon,
as it was then known. In those by-gone days, the English-educated
Sinhalese felt so proud to proclaim that they despised the 'language
of the natives'. Even a person who had a scant knowledge of English
would boast of his 'profound knowledge of English'.
In 1914, a
Sinhala plaintiff gave evidence in English in his case. The English
Judge found him unable either to 'understand questions put to him
in English or was he able to express his ideas intelligently in
that language'. So the Judge wanted him to give evidence in Sinhala,
his mother tongue but the plaintiff felt that it was below his honour
to give evidence in Sinhala and so he refused. Upon his refusal,
the judge dismissed the case. On appeal, then Supreme Court made
order mandating the plaintiff to give evidence in Sinhala lest dismissal
would be deemed to be affirmed. It was the fashion of the day for
the English-educated Ceylonese to speak 'English only'.
It is strange
as fiction that the pioneers to exhort the Sinhalese to speak Sinhala
were not the Sinhalese. The first was an Englishman, F.L. Woodward,
Principal of Mahinda College, Galle. He proclaimed, "if you
cannot read the very language in which your nationality is enshrined,
or speak the tongue which reflects its underlying life, you become
at once a pariah. You will not be acknowledged as belonging to your
The other person
was a Tamil, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, who said, "If you
do not speak your language on public platforms, in railway carriages
and in drawing rooms you will not stand up for your national institutions,
then I say none of you deserves to be called Sinhalese. The nation
will be ruined and we must await with trembling knees the early
destruction of the Sinhalese language".
In 1939, W.
Dahanayake, as Mayor of Galle, was the first to conduct the proceedings
in Sinhala. In 1944 in the State Council, Dahanayake said, throw
out English from the pedestal it occupies today and place thereon
our Sinhalese and Tamil languages and we shall soon be a free race'.
So after a
decade and two years, Sinhala Only Act was passed replacing English
with Sinhala. However, the father of that Act, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
did not make his children pundits in 'Sinhala only' but made them
to receive English education. Politics is deceit and that is the
politics of Sri Lanka.
Today in terms
of our Constitution, English is a 'link language' though it is not
defined. The political unity of Sri Lanka is paradoxically the result
of the British rule. Greek once did unite Europe. So did Latin when
Europe was torn by differences in all respects. In the same manner,
English will be a vehicle to bring a common bond of spirit to bind
all the races in Sri Lanka. It has rooted very deep in all the branches
of Sri Lanka. English has become a necessity to many of us for our
livelihood, for commercial and professional purposes, whether, accountants,
doctors, engineers, lawyers or any other professionals. The inevitable
damage consequent to abandoning it would be great. The needs of
modern progressive life compel the retention of the study of English.
We have fair
knowledge of English. It is unwise to throw away the asset that
we have acquired on the grounds of commerce and employment by the
use of English for the past two centuries. As a result of historical
causes, English has attained the best medium for many purposes and
it should not be driven away by wishful thinking. It has nothing
to do with our status of sovereignty and integrity of the country.
English has no foreign character. It is no more foreign than our
legal, parliamentary and administrative bodies, all of which have
firmly been adopted and confirmed for the use of the future of Sri
Lanka. There is no shame to know an international language that
has the greatest vogue and usefulness at the present age.
force of nationalism may be, the past history of education cannot
be ignored in shaping our future destiny. We should not pursue the
mirage of prejudice, which will lead to frustration, disaffection
and disintegration. If it is so, soon we will face a dearth of able
men and good citizens with migration to other countries. We would
not take risk for an illusory form of nationalism inconsistent with
modern conditions and needs. Why should we throw away what we have?
Are we paying any tax to any person to use English? Is it not a
valuable asset? Does it not earn very high foreign exchange value?
English is far more value than all that the exports that could earn
foreign exchange to Sri Lanka.
foreword. It cannot be forced back to its past as the river never
runs back. English has become an essential part and will continue
to be an essential part of the progress of Sri Lanka. Without English,
we cannot keep up with world currents of modern culture and civilization.
It is a window of knowledge. There is no valid reason why we should
ever give up English. By taking away English, we are axing the very
root of our unity and progress and it will bring discord, disharmony
and disunity to multi-ethnic Sri Lanka.
The false patriotism
of Sinhala Only will make us loose the most valuable asset, English.
The best form of patriotism is to have a clear-cut policy, while
not allowing us to be overtaken by sentiment, ignoring the dire
consequences of our acts affecting the whole country and the still
The unity and
smooth running of life in Sri Lanka depend on how best we make use
of the English language. It is fallacious to mix up feelings of
reverence or pride of classical love to interfere with a question
of the use of English.
stigma of foreign-ness should be wiped out from English, which should
be treated like a foster-mother. She will certainly bring racial
amity, glory and riches to Sri Lanka.
The process of globalization mandates the necessity to study English.
The function of our mother tongues, Sinhala and Tamil will be different
from that of English. One cannot do what the other could do. More
attention should be given to the teaching of English language. The
medium of instruction in international schools is English but in
government schools, English is confined to just one subject. This
system of education would create two separate classes, both in political
aspirations as well as value-orientation. The Government should
take steps to bridge the gap otherwise this division would project
an unhealthy society.