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8th March 1998

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Why Vimukthi matters

By M Mahasenan

Photography needs lots of patience. Child photography needs more than that. Wildlife photography, well we will leave that alone. Photographing animals is in itself a tiring task, let alone wildlife photography.

The take offVimukthi U. Weeratunga seems to be a master of capturing wildlife on the celluloid frames. His recent exhibition at the Art Gallery titled "Wonders of nature" brought perhaps all of Sri Lanka's natural reserves, their beauty and the inhabitants under one roof. Coming out of the exhibition I felt like I was returning from a wildlife expedition. Well, I didn't feel like leaving the exhibition in the first place.

There were 74 pictures on display altogether. To be truthful there were pictures and there were photographs. They were nice and captivating, except that quite a number of them showed a tendency to capture cliches to the strict sense of the word, like the panoramic Knuckles range or the silhouetted Dusk and the misty morning or the Parade.. Yes, they are beautiful, beautiful enough to decorate a lounge or a crudely posh sitting room.

Taking snaps is one thing and taking creative frames of appealing, well balanced composition is another.

"What I want to emphasize is (sic) this is what we are losing, these are the invaluable gifts of nature that are being destroyed," Vimukthi said when I spoke to him at the exhibition.

"I don't want anything about myself written, I would prefer if you concentrate on this aspect," said this unassuming wildlife enthusiast. Like photojournalism, natural history photography too involves the thing called luck. You will lose a life time's opportunity in a split second.

To record the animals and their habits itself is demanding. Reaching perfection-I am not referring to natural scenery or panoramic vistas but capturing animals in their natural habitat is extremely difficult.

Achieving artistic quality in composition in wildlife photography means that the photographer has spent perhaps all his time with a never relenting concentration in the wilderness, because things happen in a split second in that world. If you miss it,. that would be the end of it. But it pays to wait and catch that moment.

For Vimukthi the Portrait seemed to have paid. When I saw the frame I thought to myself "hey, it looks like a portrait." And it was titled Portrait.

It is the evocation of the character of the doe that draws you near, it's the eyes, and it's the simplicity of composition.

So is the photo titled Balaporuttuwen .Another outstanding picture would perhaps be the Grip. A tree frog on a twig. Again it is the simplicity of the composition that makes it powerful. Because these frames have more than just a depiction of 'animals in their natural habitat.'

In these we get some glimpses of Vimukthi's creative aptitude in addition to his technical perfection, his skill and his ingenuity.

It's the man behind the camera that matters so they say. Vimukthi really does matter a lot. But the question whether he is an artist still remains.

The 54th death anniversary of Munidasa Cumaratunga and Sinhala Language Day fell on March 2

Cumaratunga as a language planner

By Sahdasomi Coperahewa

Language is fundamental to the identity of each community and intimately bound up with the community's distinctive culture and way of life. Decade by decade, generation by generation a living language responds to new needs and demands of the people.

As a medium of communication language is considered as societally functioning 'resource' which should be put to maximum utilization. Today there are instances, where language has been systematized and planned for specific purposes.

In practice language planning has two aspects, corpus planning and status planning - Corpus planning refers to activities such as coining new terms, reforming spelling, and writing new grammars, dictionaries etc. Status planning involves the creation and implementation of an official policy about how the language and linguistic varieties of a country are to be used.

In the context of Sinhalese society, there emerged an outstanding scholar Munidasa Cumaratunga (1887-1944) who can be considered as an individual language planner in the renovation of Sinhala language during the colonial rule. The son of an Ayurvedic physician, he was born at Dickwella, in the Matara District in July 23rd 1887 and had his primary education in oriental languages in a pirivena, and English education at St.Thomas' College Matara. Then he entered the Govt. Teacher Training College in Colombo and passed out as a teacher, later being promoted to the post of School Inspector.

In this period, the Swabhasha movement originated as a protest against the privileges maintained by the small and exclusive English educated elite and the dearth of opportunities available to the .swabhasha educated. The Sinhala Maha Sabha, which was formed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1934, provided a forum for the swabhasha educated elite, such as school teachers, traders, etc. By this time Cumaratunga was a member of this organization and devoted his time to various literary and nationalistic activities.

Cumaratunga's contribution towards language planning can be considered in two aspects. Firstly, in 'corpus planning; he introduced various structural changes to Sinhala, particularly in vocabulary, style and grammar. Secondly in 'status planning', he made a struggle on behalf of the position of Sinhala in government activity. In this context Cumaratunga ranks high as an individual language planner.

When we consider the career of Cumaratunga, he was one of the earliest scholars to question the validity of Sinhala usage in vogue during the early decades of the 20th century. He firmly believed that the Sinhala language was "corrupted" by some scholars and further emphasized the necessity of linguistic renovation. In 1936 Cumaratunga stated:

"Sinhalese is becoming a most uncivilized language....Within a community of civilized people what becomes civilized first is their language."

Cumaratunga started his literary career by preparing commentaries and editing number of Sinhala classical texts. While writing a preface to one classical text he observed:

"Language is like water. Learned men are like filters. Impurities from outside get mixed up with water. But before being taken for drinking the impurities are strained and discarded.

"In language too, coarse and uncivilized usages mingle. Scholars examine and discard them."

He rejected ungrammatical works, and stressed that a language should be "cultured, grammatical and forceful." With regard to the corpus planning, Cumaratunga identified the inadequacy of the existing grammar in Sinhala. He also criticized prevalent grammatical norms, and exposed the limitations of the 13th century Sinhalese grammar, Sidat Sangarava to understand and teach Sinhala usage.

The grammatical works of Cumaratunga, mainly 'Vyakarana Vivaranaya' and 'Kriya Vivaranaya' paved the path to a new approach to understand Sinhala grammatical theory and tradition . He also prepared a large number of school text books and student guides to practice Sinhala prose, and verse. As a literary figure, he wrote a substantial volume of creative literature, for children and youth. According to Prof.K.N.O.Dharmadasa " he realized the importance of working through the school system in language planning strategy."

From 1934-1936, Cumaratunga revived one of the earliest newspapers in Sinhala ''Lakmini Pahana' and in 1939, he started a magazine called 'Subasa' (Good Language) and 'Helio' for the upliftment of the Sinhala language. Under the editorship of Cumaratunga, ''Lakmini Pahana' succeeded in maintaining its own identity by the utilization of a distinctive language style for newspapers. In this period Cumaratunga invoked the pure Sinhala (Hela) idiom, free of Pali and Sanskrit

The most significant event of Cumaratunga's career was, the founding of Hela Hauvla (Pure Sinhala Fraternity) in 1941. As a language planner Cumaratunga believed that in order to uplift a nation, the primary step that should be taken was the development of its language. In the inaugural meeting of ''Hela Hauvla' Cumaratunga said, "If a certain language is underdeveloped the land in which that language operates is also underdeveloped". (Subasa, 1941) According to Cumaratunga revival of Sinhala was a tool in the struggle for independence.

In this context we can recognize Cumaratunga's thoughts on language planning. According to Sociolinguists, language planning refers to a set of deliberate activities systematically designed to organize and develop the language resources of the community. Language codification and modernization together make up the activity of language development. In the process of codification that language is to be developed to meet the demands placed upon it as a medium of communication language.

The language modernization is involved in two processes: (I) the expansion of the lexicon and (2) the development of new styles and forms of discourse. When a language is extended for new functions and topics, its resources expand in order to meet the new demands.

As an individual language planner Cumaratunga held the view, that before a language could attain official status and as a medium of communication, it should be idiomatic, grammatical and systematically correct. Therefore he pointed out the importance of language cultivation, which refers to the treatment of problems related to matters of correctness, efficiency, style and terminology.

Cumaratunga's contribution towards the development of vocabulary is significant. When language planners choose to coin a new term, they face two alternatives: (a) to build the term from indigenous sources or (b) or borrow a word from a foreign language. He gave much preference to coining new terms from indigenous sources rather than coining from Sanskrit, Pali and English loan words. He outlined some principles for the coining of new Sinhala terms and coined a large number of new terms for various communicative needs. Most of Cumaratunga's technical terms were based on 'Hela' roots, and therefore failed to gain the acceptance of the Sinhala speech community and contemporary writers.

Language status planning refers to deliberate efforts to influence the allocation of functions among a community's language. Cumaratunga believed that a language must develop before its functional utilization. In status planning Cumaratunga was directly involved in the swabhasha movement to make Sinhala an official language. During the decades follwing the 1930s and 40s the swabhasha movement gained considerable political support and two resolutions were passed at the State Council to replace English with swabhasha.

In this time Cumaratunga through his editorials of Lakmini Pahana and Subasa, generated a nationalist self-consciousness and nationalist aspirations in the Sinhalese society. He also took some practical steps to use Sinhala in official activity,eg.sending telegrams in Sinhala, filling postal orders in Sinhala etc. Cumaratunga stressed the importance of Sinhala as the medium for debate in State Council. According to Prof. Dharmadasa's observations, "it was Cumaratunga who linked the vernacular language interests with the challenge to the political leadership."

Unlike so many other contemporary scholars Cumaratunga had a large number of disciples and followers. The language loyalists of that time, drawn into the 'Hela' movement actively participated in its activities.

He adopted a 'Hela Triple Gem' namely basa, resa, desa (Language, Nation, Country) and stressed the importance of language, as a symbol of national identity of the Sinhalese people. Finally it should be noted that 'Hela movement was able to exert an impact on various language planning activities related to Sinhala, even after the demise of its charismatic leader Munidasa Cumaratunga in 1944.

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