Plus - Letters to the Editor

‘Speak English Our Way’: A good idea implemented wrong

‘Speak English Our Way’ is the catchy slogan, appealing to our patriotic instincts, adopted by the Presidential Task Force in English and IT to advertise the island-wide programme to teach Spoken English, using so-called Sri Lankan English. The basic question is whether the use of the so-called Sri Lankan English is to the social good.

English in Sri Lanka has not evolved to the required stage to be declared as a standard language. It should not be traced back to the era of Robert Knox or to the invasion of the British in 1796, as has been done. It is wrong to say that it has a long history and that it is a native language of Sri Lanka. It should only be traced back to a period when there was a community of speakers of the so-called Sri Lankan English. This is of recent origin.

Giving special emphasis to a Sri Lankan way of speaking English is not needed. It is not an issue as such. Our people speak in a Sri Lankan way as a matter of course. It is unproductive to teach Spoken English in one style while expecting people to write in another.

It is an international variety of English that we should promote in the country both in speech and writing. It is with this variety that our people can have the access to books/journals in English published worldwide and to knowledge available on the Internet, and improve their educational and employment prospects.

Promoting Sri Lankan English would serve to widen the gap between the underprivileged and privileged sections of our society. The concept of Kaduwa (Sword) has emerged in a different guise; the new Kaduwa (Sword) of oppression is the so-called Sri Lankan English. The privileged classes will learn an international variety of English and will be able to maintain their higher position in society permanently. The underprivileged classes who are being taught a local variety of English will be further disadvantaged. Those who will stand to benefit, will be the elite.

The President has to be applauded for seeing the immense importance of English and initiating an island-wide scheme to promote it, but the implementation of his policy has been misconceived and has resulted in a colossal waste of government money. As a corollary, the move to introduce Spoken English as a subject at the G.C.E. (Ordinary Level) Examination is a dreadful mistake, given the indefiniteness of the standard of English to be adopted, and given that the certification of written English has proved unreliable.

I do hope the Head of the Presidential Task Force will seek disinterested and non-elitist advice – before more funds are spent on a socially disastrous implementation of a good idea.

Professor D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke, Via email

Do Ampara farmers a favour: widen Kaliodai River

The Senanayake Samudra provides water to the major part of the Eastern coast and the whole of the Ampara district. The tank is a boon to farmers and cultivators in the area. But the tank has also caused great damage and losses to land owners and farmers during a time of natural disaster, when there were heavy rains and floods.

There is no proper outlet for spill water from the Senanayake Samudra and other small irrigation tanks in the district and catchment area to flow into the sea. The main river that carries the excess water to the sea is the Kaliodai River, which is not deep or wide enough to serve as an effective outlet.

This river needs to be dredged, deepened, widened and channelled so that in times of heavy rains there are no flood waters to damage paddy fields and coconut plantations in the district.

V. Shripathmanathan, Araipattai

Why Colombo ranks among the world’s 10 worst cities

Sri Lankans should note that Colombo has the distinction of being rated as one of the 10 worst cities in the world, on a livability index.

An aerial view of Colombo: one of the 10 worst cities in the world according to the Economist

The list was compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit, after a survey of 140 countries. Colombo has hit the bottom of the list, with nine other unlivable cities, including Karachi, Dhaka, Kathmandu and Harare. The Economist Intelligence Unit is the world's leading resource for economic and business research, forecasting and analysis.

They know what they are talking about. If they haven’t done so already, the Colombo Mayor, the Environmental Authority, and the Urban Development Authority should go on a drive around the city to see how leading companies and organisations flout all laws and carry on regardless, building unauthorised structures, including factories in residential areas.

For the past 11 years I have been a frequent visitor to Colombo, staying with a friend in a quiet residential area in Colombo 8, where I enjoy the sounds of squirrels and birds early in the morning.
On my first day here last week, however, I was woken up at 2 am by the horrendous noises of an electric saw (cutting wood), an electric lathe (cutting metal), the sound of metal poles being flung down, the hammering of metal objects, and finally a radio turned on full blast. The noise-makers, carrying on with no regard for the neighbours, continued till Saturday morning and afternoon – and all other days, except Sunday.

I knew the area well from past visits, so I decided to take a walk down the cul-de-sac behind my house to find the source of the noise. I beheld an unbelievably ugly sight. The garden of a lovely old house had been used to put up a filthy, noisy factory, with only a plastic covering on top. No wonder the noise was radiating to all the houses in the area and disturbing everyone. The burning of refuse was generating a bad smell that was a possible cause of the asthma my friends’ son suffers from.

The factory makes billboards, and work goes on night and day. I doubt the owner of the factory sits around to hear the ear-splitting sounds of electric lathe, electric saw and hammering night and day. The law in Sri Lanka clearly states that no factories or workshops may be put up in a private residential area. This company flagrantly ignores the law and ruins the environment.

What do we do with people who have no social or civic sense, no sense of environmental responsibility, and no conscience?

Is it any wonder that Colombo is on the world’s 10 worst cities to live in?

Kenneth Spencer-Jones, Colombo 8

Our Independence was made possible by patriots such as E. W. Perera

Vere Wickremasuriya’s recollections (“I was there on that momentous day”– Sunday Times Plus, February 20, 2011), struck a responsive chord in me – for many reasons.

There must be very few Sri Lankans still around who can so vividly, and with such clarity, recall the official ceremonies of that first Independence Day. It was indeed an unforgettable occasion.
I recently received an e-mail from another Sri Lankan, living in the US, who was also an eyewitness to that historic moment in 1948.

Successive celebrations, however grand and spectacular, over the next 63 years do not compare even remotely with that first dramatic event, when the National Lion Flag replaced the Union Jack, and “Namo, Namo Matha” replaced “God Save The King” as our national anthem.

Hope and national pride surged in the hearts of young and old as we envisaged a brave new world for our country, free of the foreign domination we had endured for so long.

The problems that would later beset, even engulf, our country were then mercifully hidden from view.
Looking back, it is easy to play down the long, often acrimonious, struggle against the colonial rulers, starting with the catalyst of martial law declared in 1915, which stirred our then small and dormant intelligentsia to action.

The dramatic episode, where E. W. Perera had to hide the “Shoot at Sight” order of incumbent Governor Sir William Chalmers in the sole of his shoe, as he bravely set out across torpedo-infested oceans to seek redress for his jailed Buddhist compatriots, was only the beginning of a long, hard struggle with the die-hard colonial authorities, both in this country and at Whitehall.

Their efforts culminated with the granting of Independence for this country. The illustrious names mentioned represent only a sampling from a long list of now forgotten patriots from diverse races and religions who worked hard and tirelessly to free our country from the bonds of the then all powerful Empire, on which the British thought the “sun would never set.”

On a personal note, I, like your correspondent Vere Wickramasuriya, am honoured to be a close relative of the late E. W. Perera.

In fact, it is immensely heartening to hear from my publishers (S. Godage and Brothers) that the English version of my biography of E. W. Perera – “Portrait of a True Patriot of Sri Lanka” – is sold out.
If even a few people in this country are interested in reading about patriots of this calibre, there is hope for us.

Rita Perera, Via e mail

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