Multilingual name boards


Anne Abesekera, writing in The Island of September 9 lamented that even railway sign boards had been "Sinhalaized", and gave the example of changing "Omanthai" to ‘Omantha’. In her reply in The Island of Sept. 15 to my letter in The Island of Sept. 10, she says:

"I grant Mr. Bodhi Dhanapala’s assertion that the new name-board at Omanthai is given in all three languages (Sinhala, Tamil and English). The significant change is  that the long-established Tamil name of Omanthai has now been given as Omantha in both Sinhala and English. I spoke with two old Jaffna residents who unhesitatingly declare that within living memory - up to the end of the war - the name was given as Omanthai in whatever language"

Ms. Abesekera wants to go back to what it is within living memory up to the end of the war. Is she talking of WW II, when all sign boards were only English or the Eelam war which ended in 2009? Even today, except for the railway sign board, almost all the sign boards in Omantha are written ONLY in the Tamil form, as shown in the attached picture. Is such a sign board acceptable to a multi-lingual nation?

During the Nazi era, the European city Aix-la-Chapelle was exclusively named Aachen.

Many other such city names were written exclusively in one language. Are we going to say that we should revert to the exclusive German form as it is within living memory, up to the end of the war, after talking to three German residents from Aachen?

Then there may be others, like the British civil servant Denham, who preferred to call it "Omant", an anglicized form used in the early 20th C.

As for the destination boards in buses, Anne A has to look at "CTB" buses and not private buses. I saw them with my own eyes last year when I was in Colombo, but did not have any reason to take a picture. Hopefully, I should be able to send her a picture soon.

Regarding Batakotte, Anne A says that it is a distortion of Vaddukkoddai. Unfortunately, "vaddu" has no valid contextual meaning here in Tamil. The Sinhala form Batakotte simply means the Fort (Kotte) of soldiers (Bhata), i. e. a garrison town. The Tamil historians Rasanayagam, Gnanapragarsar, and Karthegesu Indrapala have themselves pointed out that most place names in the Jaffna peninsula are of Sinhala origin. A modern discussion can be found in the detailed website maintained by Prof. Dharmawardana ( In any case, what most Sri Lankans are interested in ensuring that all traditions, be they Tamil or Sinhala, are respected. So, let it be Batakotte in Sinhala, and Vaddukkoddai in Tamil.

Ms Abesekera’s touches on a more important matter—official languages. "Directives from the Health Ministry or the Education Ministry come only in Sinhala, so that Tamil, Muslim and Burgher doctors and teachers, (many of whom speak Sinhala well enough, are unable to read it), have to ask their Sinhala colleagues to translate for them".

So the question is why we do not have more officers competent to work in Tamil?

Indeed, during the last thirty years, when Tamil officers were threatened to leave the state service by terrorists. It was necessary for the separatists to be able to go about claiming that the Tamil language had been denied its due place in Sri Lanka.

Bodhi Dhanapala

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