Travesty of our place
There is no reason why Colombo, Galle and Jaffna
cannot revert to Kolamba, Gaalla and Yahapane, except that the political
will to bring about such change is still missing
How important the proper pronunciation and spelling
can be to a nation’s identity was demonstrated by the French
Government when it prohibited the use of the British word jet or
‘jetliner’ by the French. The punishment for transgression
was imprisonment. After the law came into effect a jetliner had
to be called ‘le grande porteur’. The rest of the world
may pronounce the name of their capital city as ‘Paris,’
but to the French it will always be ‘Paree’.
To what extent a successful modern state like France
will go, in order to protect its national identity, is seen by this
example. The assertion of one’s national identity is not chauvinism.
It proceeds from the necessity to reassure oneself of one’s
sense of self respect and self esteem.
Sri Lanka still wants to continue the servile mentality
of the colonial era as seen by its toleration of the ridiculous
pronunciation of local place names by inept radio and TV announcers.
Pataha or Patana?
The latest casualty in this list is Digampataha
(also spelt as Diganpataha). This name became an unfortunate casualty
along with the 97 unarmed sailors who became victims of the suicide
bomb blast on October 16. All concerned, including armed forces
spokesmen and the audiovisual media, pronounced this name incorrectly,
as Digam-patana. The print media followed suit by spelling it as
such. However, this last casualty seems to be recovering somewhat
in the mass media, after the local population staged a mass protest
against the whole incident. Ordinary folk like this writer, know
that a ‘pataha’ is a natural pond or small lake. A ‘patana’
is a stretch of open land, covered with grasses like mana and illuk.
‘Digana’ is the name given to a long strip of flat uncultivated
land bordering a stretch of paddy fields.
The Tamil name ‘Kandi’ is still being
used almost exclusively for the Hill Capital in the heart of the
country. A concerned Mayor, Tilak Ratnayake once changed the acronym
KMC to MMC (Mahanuwara Municipal Council). Its use as such continued
to be in force even after his death, but it has again been changed
back to KMC. However, even now, letters addressed (in English) to
Mahanuwara are recognised as valid by the Postal Department, which
dutifully delivers all such letters.
The need for self-esteem
Is this servile mentality an outcome of a faulty
education policy? Good educationists see the learning process as
a form of need fulfilment. (“One man can lead a horse to the
water but fifty cannot make it drink.”) Unless that need to
learn is created in the child, all that it is taught will at best,
be useful only for the purpose of passing examinations. It fails
to be ‘internalised’. The American psychologist Maslow,
saw that a child’s needs are arranged in a hierarchy. The
need to learn comes only after the more basic needs have been satisfied.
For instance a child suffering from hunger does not have the need
to absorb what it is taught.
Therefore, some governments try to see that the
child receives a midday meal in school and also provide the material
for school uniforms. But that is not enough. A child who is not
hungry also needs recognition in the form of ‘love and affection’.
A good teacher knows how to do it, by appreciating the child’s
work and praising its good efforts. That creates some ‘self-esteem’
in the child. That in turn leads to “self-actualisation”
or creative stage, of a child’s learning process where what
is learnt becomes internalised.
Developing every child’s self esteem may
become a problem in crowded classes of today. But the state-centred
French system seems to have achieved that and produced a nation
justly proud of its own language. The lack of self esteem amongst
the products of our education system becomes all too clear in the
damage being wilfully caused to seating facilities provided in buses
and the railway.
Some far-sighted visionaries have rightly seen
the need to create self-esteem among our armed forces. They fight
better and will even sacrifice their most precious lives, when they
possess self-esteem. It is self-esteem that can prevent them from
taking the law into their own hands even under conditions of extreme
Coming back to place names, we were dismayed to
see the way that even top brass of the armed forces pronounced some
place names in the areas where fighting had taken place recently.
For instance Mavil Ara was referred to as Mavil Aru. It is the stream
issuing from Mavila or ‘Great Swamp’. The excuse may
be that it has been marked in the map as Mavil Aru by Tamil surveyors.
In Europe too we have ‘the Aar’ and in India ‘the
Ganga’ both of which simply mean ‘the River’.
Now that the name Sampur has been shown to be corrupt Tamil for
Somapura, should we continue to call it Sampur?
How Sinhala place names have been continuously
modified to look like Tamil names (with the blessings of an unconcerned
Survey Department) can be illustrated by just one example. Everybody’s
attention was recently focussed on a place referred to as ‘Kanjikudichchi
Aru’. In fact there has been no such name (unless it has been
so altered to in the recent metric scale maps). It was marked on
the one inch-to-a mile (Pottuvil) map published in 1968, as ‘Kangikadichi
Aar’. The spelling especially that of Aru as ‘Aar’
and not Tamil ‘Aru’, shows that it is a Sinhala name.
Kangikadichi Aar as such, has even found a place in the Gazetteer
on Ceylon published by the United States Board on Geographic Names.
What had happened here was that Sinhala people
who lived in this sparsely populated area had provided the name
of this stream to the Tamil surveyor.
The Tamil for Sinhala ‘kandiya’ is
‘kangu.’ Hence the name was recorded as beginning with
‘Kangi’– half Tamil and half Sinhala. That the
actual Sinhala name was Kandi-kaedichcha Ara becomes very clear
when one looks at the survey map which shows that this is a stream
once had two bunds or ‘kandi’ built across its course,
to form the two tanks (now abandoned) also shown in the map. Today
we find that these bunds have been breached by the force of the
current when the stream was in spate, after a heavy rainy season
thus giving rise to its correct proper name. Looking for the etymology
of that name, going only by the present pronunciation of it as Kanjikudichchiaru,
will lead one only to some semantic trash! The same applies to Mutur
when it is incorrectly spelt as Muttur by the print media.
At least two other place names in the Madakalapuwa
District points to the fact that it was held by Sinhala residents
as a royal fief or ‘Biso(bandara)-gama’ during the Kandyan
Period. The present name ‘Vandara-moolai’ is the same
as ‘Bandara-gedara’ in Sinhala. ‘Gedara’
and ‘gama’ are sometimes interchangeable (e.g. in ‘malagama’
for ‘malagedara’). Hence Vandaramoolai is the same as
Bandaragama found in other parts of the island.
Another such name pronounced as ‘Kaaththaan-kudi’
is simply ‘Kaaval-kutiya’ in Sinhala, or ‘Watch
Hut’ in English.
Only ‘Ceylon’ to ‘Sri Lanka’
Other countries in this region like India and
Bangladesh have quite rightly asserted their individuality by gaining
international recognition of pre-colonial names like Chennai and
Mumbai for Madras and Bombay, as well as Kolkata for Calcutta. We
have only managed to change ‘Ceylon’ back to Sri Lanka.
There is no reason why Colombo, Galle and Jaffna cannot revert to
Kolamba, Gaalla and Yahapane, except that the political will to
bring about such change is still missing. So much for building up
a Sri Lanka national identity.A map of Sri Lanka where place names
are marked in Tamil will depict them as Kolompu, Kali and Yalppanam.
In fact, not many current place names could be
recognised in such a map printed in Tamil. However, most place names
in the Northern and Eastern Provinces have already been changed
so as to look like Tamil names. However, a country can have only
one set of officially recognised place names in order to avoid legal
issues. Whatever their other faults were, the British left behind
lists of place names for each Province with standardised spellings
for the most part. English spelling is conventional and does not
reflect the sound of the spoken word phonetically. As such these
lists (not easily found today,) do not depict the correct pronunciation
of Sinhala place names.
What the Census and Statistics Dept. has been
able to achieve since independence is to transliterate the names
in these lists back to Sinhala script, resulting in some glaring
pronunciation mistakes. Even for that list of less than 30,000 place
names, we are obliged to the United States Board on Geographic Names.
This does not speak much for a country where King Pandukabhaya demarcated
all village boundaries, and recorded them, as far back as the year
Officially recognised list
It is high time that the State in Sri Lanka study
the place names that have undergone unwarranted changes in how they
came to be pronounced after the periods of Portuguese, Dutch and
English Rule. Sinhala language and its nomenclature was precise
and meaningful. That was why even the English and Burgher lawyers
are known to have preferred to have their land deeds drawn up in
the Sinhala language.
Therefore, giving attention to the preparation
of an officially recognised list of all place names in the island,
is of paramount importance.
The Tamils can continue to pronounce the place
names in their own way if they choose to do so, but the official
spelling remains unchanged. Under British rule, the original Sinhala
names of tea, rubber (and even coconut) estates were replaced by
English ones, for the most part. But the Tamil estate workers who
came from India coined their own names for each of these estates.
The Ferguson’s Directory listed all these estate names in
English and Tamil, while most of the original Sinhala names were
allowed to be forgotten.