Login    Forum    Search    FAQ

Board index » Languages & Literature » Languages & Literature

Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 3 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: Language in a Multiracial Society
 Post Posted: Tue Jul 18, 2006 3:10 pm 

Joined: Mon Jun 19, 2006 3:21 pm
Posts: 50
Location: UK
Language in a Multiracial Society


In Asia ethnicities are basically identified by their mother tongue. Language is the centre of people’s culture. Language is really not only spoken or written words, and can be any form of representation like signs, body language, clothes, music and art. However our present interest is most commonly known form of communication, spoken and written words.

With regard to Asians, when British colonial rule introduced English language to them all Asian nations had an established culture of language of their own. So only a small minority of the indigenous people learned English. In the first half of the 20th century despite a considerable number of the indigenous population was English educated, vast majority of the population could communicate only in vernacular languages. It is reasonable to suggest that in Sri Lanka that trend continues.

Language is a very important entity of our life and culture. Politicians can exploit it. People’s life styles, freedom and careers could depend upon it. In a multiracial society harmonizing language can be an intractable problem.

Language in UK

In UK with regard to immigrants from Asia, language is not a serious problem for the local authorities and the state. In spite of policies like equal opportunity, UK public authorities and private sector organisations communicate with immigrant populations in English. A minimal foreign language information and communication facility is available in major Asian, Arabic and African languages. This is not a working language system. If immigrants don’t speak English it will be a long wait and frustration for them.

The number of Welsh language speakers in Wales has dwindled in the last century and Welsh language is being revived since the turn of the century. In general about 20 percent of the Welsh people speak the language. Because Welsh is taught in schools in the recent times about 30 percent of school children can speak and write Welsh. However, English is the working language in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Though, Irish is the first official language in Ireland and is spoken by about one quarter of Irish people. Because practically all Welsh people speak English, the campaign for Welsh language is not a socio-economic need or a benefit other than direct benefits of its promotion. There are no industrial, health care, sports, commercial and tourism benefits of Welsh language. It’s fundamentally a nationalistic drive.

A negative example of Welsh language usage is the confusion it adds to the road signs which are bilingual in English and Welsh. This is an unnecessary confusion for the drivers. There are many other ways the Welsh can enjoy and exalt Welsh language by sowing Welsh in the domains like literature, theatre, music, films and media.

In Scotland only inhabitants of Outer Hebrides use Scottish Gaelic.

Languages in Sri Lanka

In contrast in Asian countries like Sri Lanka vast majority of people speak only native languages. Hence, there is an imperative to teach Sinhalese and Tamil in schools and use at work and in public places. It’s a necessity for social justice and economic needs, not a cultural pride, egotism or nationalism. This is the datum that we should set for language dynamics.

For the length of 20th century the nation was developing its educational infrastructure so that almost entire nation has access to primary and secondary education. During that
process many had access to university education and to be proficient in English. In Sri Lanka and in other Asian countries before they can accelerate English language they have to ensure the literacy of whole of the population. Sri Lanka has virtually achieved this goal by reaching nearly 90 percent literacy in the country, better than many other Asian countries.

After the independence, manoeuvring of language issues became political dynamite. However, the status quo is both Sinhalese and Tamil are official languages in statute. The discord on language is twofold. One is limited use of Tamil as a working language in Sinhalese areas. That means enabling Tamils to deal in Tamil with authorities. The other is choice of medium of higher education – English medium or vernacular.

Status of Tamil as Official Language

The issue of implementing the status of Tamil as an official language is an administrative matter. In large offices dealing with public, one subject will need to be dealt by two or more officers to communicate in Sinhalese, Tamil or English. In small offices this might be practically not feasible. In busy establishments like banks and some government offices this will create a demand for human resources to satisfy the language issue. At best it is a good start if the authorities can implement that facility in the major centres dealing with public. The forms of government departments are printed in all three languages, so offices should be able to deal with these accordingly. Realising the practical difficulties and realities, Tamils living in Sinhalese areas have an onus to learn English and Sinhalese. Sinhalese in general should learn Tamil and gain some skill in Tamil language.

In Sri Lanka Sinhalese and Tamil are official languages. English is a link language. The irony is English is common working language in most government departments all over the country. Statistics from different sources suggest less than 5 percent of the population in Sri Lanka speak English. Sinhalese and Tamil are secondary working languages in the Sinhalese and Tamil regions respectively. In the one hand the government and local authorities should endeavour to facilitate the statutory obligations to the community. On the other hand Tamils should realise the practical limitations the authorities can satisfy their rights. In a court of law the rights of language will be fully honoured. In other institutions it is a pragmatic efficiency. In this situation English appears to be a compromising solution.

Although English is not acknowledged by statute as an official language, it is the most widely used language in administration, judiciary, finance, industry, leisure and tourism like. Though Tamil is an official language in statute in reality Tamil is not used in Sinhalese areas as much as to the satisfaction of Tamils. While the government has a duty to improve the conditions, there will always be practical limitations to service available in Tamil in the Sinhalese areas. That is why Tamils need to have at least minimum communication skills in Sinhalese. With respect to Tamils who work in Sinhalese areas in occupations like doctors or ticket office or shop keeper, verbal Sinhalese is essential. English might be a common denominator that might ease the problem. It’s not a certainty. In the same context especially Sinhalese serving in similar public services need to have certain level of proficiency in Tamil. That is why Sinhalese should be taught Tamil at least in the primary school. For the Tamils who wish to live and work in the North and East, Tamil alone might suffice.

Maslow’s theory of motivation suggests people are motivated by their needs of physiology, safety, belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation. On that premise Tamils living and working in Sinhalese areas have an onus to learn Sinhalese as a measure to satisfy all the above needs. Both Tamils and Sinhalese have to learn English and a host of other subjects and skills to satisfy above needs to a more gainful end. Thence we arrive at the point of civics, the rights and responsibilities of citizens. On the one hand solution is philosophical and on the other it’s a compromise between the state and citizen.


In the current stage of educational dynamics, Sri Lanka should look towards choice of medium of higher education. The schools, parents and pupils should have the choice of higher education in English, Sinhalese or Tamil. This may entail unravelling some of the language trends encouraged in the last few decades. Because studying in English medium at university entrance level, whether it is called ‘A level’ or something else is a better foundation to study in English medium in the University. Similarly for the Tamils living in Sinhalese areas the choice of general education in Tamil or Sinhalese should be available with compulsory learning of Tamil language up to secondary level.

Now in the 21st century Sri Lanka has developed education at university in all 3 mediums, English, Sinhalese and Tamil. Its efficacy may be subject to controversy. However, socio-economics, preferences, values, incentives and impacts of globalisation, motivate students and parents to follow higher education in English medium. The university education system should facilitate this opportunity as a realistic choice. This is not to abandon the national languages. Sri Lankan society has developed its educational tools in Sinhalese and Tamil which it didn’t have for the whole spectrum of science, medicine and engineering half a century ago. Continuation of higher education of science and engineering in Sinhalese and Tamil for the whole nation is not astute. In an era of globalisation and economic migration Sri Lankans must strive to be proficient in English to meet the needs of different market sectors.

While we facilitate the predilections of privileged minorities we must ensure the social justice and provision of basic needs of the underprivileged minorities. Hence higher education in Sinhalese and Tamil media should be facilitated to those who wish to follow that path.

Enrichment of Language

While language is the centre of culture, not everyone has to be a devotee of a language. One can use a language to get by, survive, for business, work, and public speaking or for higher level of activities like literature, media pursuits and academics.

Some of the meanings of the term civilise include refine, educated, developed. The words civilise and culture are affinitive. The meanings of culture include intellectual developments, refinements and civilisation. Enrichment of language is not synonymous with taking over ownership of language with nationalistic fervour. Nationalism excludes humanity and diversity and is not harmonious with the concepts of civilised or cultured. Besides, nationalism projects other adverse socio-economic impacts.

Pluralistic groups in the society utilise language for different purposes. Different nations like Britain, Wales have different values of language. For a vast majority of inhabitants of Sri Lanka, language is a means of communication in daily activities like business, work and travel. Small minority might work for the language. Others use the language to work for them.


The means of reconciliation of language problem in Sri Lanka is two pronged. One is the government providing an essential level of service in all three languages, Sinhalese, Tamil and English. For that, the will and heart of the administration is necessary. The other is motivation of communities to develop language skills by education. People must relinquish irrelevant, impeding, egoistic cultural pride of language and should be motivated by benefits of being conversant in languages used in the country that including universal language of English. Globalisation in mind English should be given due place in higher education. We must ensure the basic needs of underprivileged minorities. Nationalistic euphoria of language is not an enrichment of pluralistic society. Sri Lanka must sustain efficacy of vernacular languages.

 Post subject: Mistranslated Welsh Road Sign
 Post Posted: Wed Nov 26, 2008 6:27 pm 

Joined: Mon Jun 19, 2006 3:21 pm
Posts: 50
Location: UK
Welsh Road Sign

:arrow: :roll: :!:
The English is clear enough to lorry drivers - but the Welsh reads "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."

 Post subject: Second language a must for public servants
 Post Posted: Wed Nov 26, 2008 10:19 pm 

Joined: Mon Jun 19, 2006 3:21 pm
Posts: 50
Location: UK

Second language a must for public servants
by L. S. A. Wedaarachchi


All new recruits of the public service must pass the second language
efficiency test within five years for job confirmation.

Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Minister Dew Gunasekera
said that under the bilingulisation of the public service policy adopted
last year, public servants must have a working knowledge of Sinhala and

He said that the task of bilingulisation of the public service is expected
to be completed within five years.

A modern state-of-the-art Institute of Language Training will be set up
shortly in Agalawatta.

A series of language training programs including residential programs for
language trainers, translators and interpreters will be conducted at the
Language Training Institute, he said.

He said that a crash program to teach languages for public servants is
being implemented. This program comprises in-house training at the Bhasa
Mandiraya at Rajagiriya and special training sessions are being held at the
Departments, he said.

He said that 5,000 Sinhala medium public servants sat for the Tamil
efficiency tests and 1,775 Tamil medium government servants in the North
and the Eastern provinces sat for Sinhala efficiency tests in March last

Commissioner, Department of Official Languages, S. Gunasena said that the
results of the All-Island Language Proficiency Test (AILPT) held last March
will be released in the second week of next month.

He said that the 2008 AILPT test will be held in September this year and
the details will be published in the national newspapers within a few

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 3 posts ] 

Board index » Languages & Literature » Languages & Literature

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum

Search for:
Jump to: