Nation Special

                The ‘other’ English               

Michael Meyler, a Britisher resident and teaching English in Sri Lanka for over a decade, has compiled a ‘dictionary’ of ‘Sri Lankan English’ unique to Sri Lanka. Even though Sri Lankans who speak English as a first language, consider its usage as being correct, it is definitely not Standard English.

By Vindya Amaranayake
The existence of a Sri Lankan variety of English is a disputed fact. Although there are a considerable number of Sri Lankans who use English as their first language, the establishment of Sri Lankan English as a separate variety has not been realised so far. On the other hand, even a slight deviation from the Standard norm, is perceived by many as a desecration of the language.
In such a context, the recent launch of A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English compiled by Michael Meyler, catches the interest of many.

“There are many who believe that the Standard English is the only correct usage of English. Any deviation in the form of a variety is considered incorrect. It is the same with the Sri Lankan variety,” Meyler said in a brief interview with The Nation.
This dictionary is a compilation of words and expressions, slight grammar differences and pronunciation that could be termed as salient features of Sri Lankan English.

“I used three main sources to gather data for this compilation: Sri Lankan newspapers, TV and radio commercials and through simply overhearing,” Meyler said.

Although there are many who have been conducting research on this subject, their studies are confined to academic circles, especially, due to their focus on theory, rather than practical application.

Meyler’s attempt is simpler and has a specific target audience: “This work is intended for learners and teachers of English in Sri Lanka. It is also meant for Sri Lankan and foreign linguists interested in the increasingly popular field of international varieties of English.”

English used in different parts of the world, especially, in post colonial times, have evolved into different varieties by absorbing certain elements of the vernaculars. There are Indian, South African and Jamaican varieties, which have been established as being separate from the Standard norm, for quite some time.

“I’m surprised that no one has taken up this task until now. Ideally, it should have done by a Sri Lankan,” Meyler pointed out. He, however, added that being a British it gave him an outsider’s perspective into the differences in the usage.
“Being British, I could pick on certain differences in the pronunciation and use of grammar. These may not be major differences, yet uncommon to the Standard usage,” he explained.

Those who speak English as their first language in Sri Lanka, are quite few. The majority are second language users, and their standards are quite low: “There is a growing divide between these two extremes. Yet, if the majority expect to study and seek employment in Sri Lanka, it is essential that they learn to speak the Sri Lankan variety,” Meyler said.

He added that this work could prove useful to school children, who are in the process of learning the English language, to know the difference between Standard English and Sri Lankan English.

An English language teacher in Sri Lanka for nearly 12 years, his experience with Sri Lankan students and their English usage has given him ample opportunity to gauge the status of English in Sri Lanka.

The dictionary comprises approximately 2,500 examples of words. Supported with illustrations and examples, the presentation of facts is quite simple. The introductory remarks and the brief explanation on the perceivable differences in the Sri Lankan variety, is written clearly and simply.

Some of the most striking examples highlighted in the dictionary are as follows:
‘Ancestral home,’ ‘anicut,’ ‘arecanet,’ ‘bed sheet,’ ‘bed tea,’ ‘bio-data,’ ‘pharmacy,’ ‘plantain,’ ‘playground,’ ‘record bar,’ ‘ribbon cake,’ rice mill,’ ruggerite,’ ‘saffron,’ ‘schooling,’ ‘scrape,’ ‘servant,’ settle down,’ ‘shock.’

Some of these words are entirely new to the Standard English lexicon. A word such as ‘ruggerite’ is specifically Sri Lankan. On the other hand, to use a term such as ‘servant’ would be considered politically incorrect in the Standard form.
In most instances, the words that already exist in Standard English maybe used in different contexts to denote contrasting concepts.

The book comprises many such examples, which justifies the existence of a separate variety of English in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, Meyler says that there are sub varieties within Sri Lankan English, as different vernaculars such as Sinhala, Tamil and Malay have rendered their own flavour to the English language.

A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English is a timely work. According to Meyler, the response so far has been very positive. “I am surprised and very happy for the response I have received so far, from academics and media,” he said.


    Prof. Mohan Munasinghe meets Ban Ki-moon                                                                                                               

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Vice Chairman, Prof. Mohan Munasinghe greets United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at the IPCC Plenary in Valencia on November 17, 2007. Ki-moon congratulated the IPCC on winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and successfully completing the Fourth Assessment Report which provides the most authoritative review of climate change. Earlier, Prof. Munasinghe gave a keynote speech on ‘Climate Change and Sustainable Development,’ summarising the IPCC results at a special session of the UN General Assembly in New York. He is also Chairman of the Munasinghe Institute for Development (MIND), Colombo


How can we spot let alone stop a suicide bomber?

By Shenali Waduge
There are many who grumble over the present security check points where passengers and passers by are often subject to searches and requested to forward some form of identity. Have they ever thought how it must be like for the men and women of the Armed Forces and police who conduct the security checks through sun and rain? How close they are to death by a potential suicide bomber who is likely to set the bomb off no sooner she feels that she has been suspected? How many of us empathize with our armed forces?

The 90s found the LTTE targeting civilians in a bid to hit the economy and tourism as a result. Thereafter, their emphasis was more toward hitting their enemy – the leaders, the armed forces and heads. The Nugegoda bombing could have then been averted had the bomb disposal squads attended to the parcel instead of the constable who unfortunately met his death in examining the parcel found by the NO LIMIT staff.

This incident however tragic does call for some sensible action on the part of the public too - a big NO to crowding round any suspicious looking object just to satisfy one’s curiosity.

The repercussions are likely to be fatal and you are not likely to live to tell the tale. The Government in turn must immediately set up national programs and through informational networks in collaboration with the private TV and radio channels advise the public including students what to do in case they identified a potential suicide bomber or a suspicious parcel.

It would require tremendous nerve to know how to act in a situation where one suspects a potential suicide bomber. Even a whisper to someone next to you may invite the suicide bomber to take action.

Yet, allowing her to proceed is likely to create a worse scenario in that she would be heading for her preferred target. The reality is that no one has any formula to spot or even stop a suicide bomber. She is a human bomb prepared to die while causing death and mayhem to scores of others – it may be any of us on the street.
Lately the salwar has become their choice of dress, it is easy to conceal the bomb, but these murderous elements will soon think of another form of attire.

Another option that the government should consider is relocating the offices of potential targets. Minister Douglas Devananda’s office is very close to Isipathana College. You can imagine the chaos it would have caused if the bomb had taken place during school opening or closing hours. It was extremely wise of the Education Minister to declare holiday for schools in the Western Province. With humanitarian agencies keeping to their diplomatic proclamations against the bombing, if any such incident had at all resulted in an attack on the Tamils down South it would have certainly made headlines and the entire world would have come down on the government.

However, these 18 or so innocent lives have just had to make do with the usual diplomatic statements saying that the Sri Lankan government ‘suspects’ the LTTE for the incident.

With the X’mas season round the corner, the public need to be quickly educated on handling such sensitive situations and the need for extra vigilance to avert any calamity that these murderers are planning to do.