A day important for the Sinhala Language

68th death anniversary of Cumaratunga Munidasa fell on March 02, 201


K. A. I. Kalyanaratne
Manager, Training & Publications
Postgraduate Institute of Management

Isn’t the time ripe for a serious discourse on establishing a Standard Written Sinhala to arrest further deterioration of the mother tongue of the Sinhala nation: A similar exercise was undertaken forty-four years ago (in 1968) and the result was the compilation of the Standard Sinhala Committee Report.

(සම්මත සිංහල කමිටු වාර්තාව)

* The Standard Sinhala Committee Report of 1968

* While weighing the consequences of the interplay of the above circumstances on the fate of the Sinhala language it would seem proper to consider specifically the year 2012 as noteworthy for many reasons. Although the late I.M.R.A.Iriyagolla, minister of education and cultural affairs, in the pre-1970 era, was considered by many as a politically controversial figure, mainly due to the revolutionary measures he took particularly in the field of the country’s education, his love for the Sinhala language was undoubtedly signified by his appointment of a committee comprising scholars of repute, to study the prevailing status of the language, and more specifically the written parlance.

* The reason was, as explained by him in the introduction to the Standard Sinhala Committee Report, the pathetic situation the language had befallen, and the confusion that existed among the learned, as well as teachers and students, as to the effective ways in which the Sinhala language was to be used. In fact, those who foresaw the danger the Sinhala language would be faced with, if no preventive measures were taken to bring forth a standard language that comprised clear and proper word choice, word order, punctuation and spelling.


* The reason was, as explained by him in the introduction to the Standard Sinhala Committee Report, the pathetic situation the language had befallen, and the confusion that existed among the learned, as well as teachers and students, as to the effective ways in which the Sinhala language was to be used. In fact, those who foresaw the danger the Sinhala language would be faced with if no preventive measures were taken to bring forth a standard language that comprised clear and proper word choice, word order, punctuation and spelling.


* The highest seats of learning including the universities and pirivenas were either oblivious to the prevailing situation or indifferent to the confusion that had existed even among the literati, on the usage of the language. It needs to be said that there were cliques and groups that advocated their individual interpretations regarding issues on the correct usage of the Sinhala language, including rules of grammar, word-morphology, syntax, word-separation, and punctuation.

* Iriyagolla’s efforts to regularize and elevate the standards of the language

* To bring about a similarity one could imagine how a vessel would behave on turbulent waters if it remained without a directing instrument, even for a short time. The consensus among those who had the interest of the Sinhala language at heart felt that the usage was drifting rudderless. Minister Iriyagolla’s intervention, was, therefore, timely, as the said report brought about the desired clarity to the otherwise clumsy and cluttered usage that prevailed.


* However, the adoption of the recommendations of that report and the Sinhala readers prepared to be used in schools, from the primary (first reader) to the ordinary-level class (tenth reader), with a view to arresting the rot, was only short-lived. Drastic reforms were necessary to elevate the debased standards of the language. But, it is pathetic to say that the noble efforts of a few who were keen to uplift the language, and thereby elevate the nation’s ability to communicate well, was a doomed attempt.


* The authorities in power at the time failed to examine objectively the efforts of minister Iriyagolla. The Standard Sinhala Committee Report was an extended arm of the language texts that had been already in use to teach Sinhala grammar and composition in schools. Dassanayake’s කුමාර රචනය , R. Tennekoon’s හොඳ සිංහලය, Jayasekara Abeyruwan’s ජ්‍යෙෂ්ට සිංහ,h , Munidasa Shubhawickrama’s සිංහල භාෂාව හා ව්‍යාකරණය , A.V.Gunaratne’s හෙළ වහර had the identical rules on grammar and composition. These were taught in our schools, and our teachers endorsed their contents. The only specialties in the Standard Sinhala Committee Report were the introduction of a few pure Sinhala words like සෝකුරු බැස්‌ම and තියු පිරිනැමිය යුතු in its introduction, and the usage of . But this chapter was to be considered as optional. It concludes by saying that words written even without ඈ කාරය are considered as those adopted by erudite

(ජේක ව්‍යවහාරය)

* Special resolution moved by the Standard Sinhala Committee

* The keenness with which the committee endeavoured to produce this report is seen by the special resolution they moved and adopted unanimously at the conclusion of its deliberations.


* ‘The committee highly commends the honourable minister for taking the initiative to get a set of standard Sinhala rules published and fill a lacuna that had existed in the Sinhala language. In order to adopt and implement fully the recommendations made, the Standard Sinhala Committee proposes that a Directorate with suitable skills and regulatory competencies be set up with the objective of (i) providing advice to relevant personnel, and (ii) teaching Sinhala systematically, scientifically and appropriately’.


* Confusion confounded

* However, the same dons and the same seats of learning that agitated against Iriyagolla’s attempts and the Standard Sinhala Report are dead silent on the corrupt words and phrases that have subsequently crept into the language. The authorities in power are some of the worse culprits in the use of these debased forms. For them there are no nasalized words. For මඟ නැඟුම රට නැඟුම ගම නැඟුම and දිවි ගම නැඟුම they use මඟ නැඟුම රට නැඟුම ගම නැඟුම and දිවි ගම නැඟුම Endless and inappropriate use of තුළ is another pathetic development. For වේදිකාවේ වේදිකාවෙහි they go on using වේදිකාව තුළ as if they are performing either underneath or inside the stage. These are hilarious usages which have now crept into almost every sphere of activity. Other than a few scholars who still have a love for the language, and who have been repeatedly reminding the society on the evil of these devilish usages the highest seats of learning and the pirivenas are observing dead-silence.


* Playing politics and safeguarding the language from the canker that would make the nation’s base rot, are distinctly opposing forces. The argument that language is a living phenomenon, and therefore, cannot be prevented from undergoing change, is true to the extent that the change would not deform the basic edifices on which it had developed. It is also important to note that the pace of change would differ from language to language mainly depending on their structural peculiarities and the phases of their development.


* In this backdrop the recent speech of His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse, delivered on Sunday, December 04, 2011, at the annual prize-giving of the Mahinda College, Galle, has been very heartening to those who aspire to maintain a clutter-free mother tongue, the very epitome of a creative nation.


* The Divayina newspaper of Monday, December 05, 2011, reporting His Excellency’s speech quoted that,

* "Mastering the mother tongue is the forerunner of all new creations. If there had been any new creations in the world they had been through one’s mother tongue. Nothing new can be created if one is unable to express himself in his mother-tongue."

* It reveals that the President is well aware of all the major evils that afflict the country, and more specifically of the situation that prevails in regard to the status of the mother tongue. It was a forceful utterance especially told to the country’s youth, cautioning them that amidst all the other endeavours to enhance their skills and competencies, they should not neglect learning their mother-tongue, an endeavour that would make the nation creative and innovative.


* These words of wisdom would sound similar to the prophetic saying of Cumaratunga Munidasa. The triple gem of the Helas, (තෙ රුවන namely,බස රැස දෙස), introduced by Cumaratunga commences with language, as his logic was that sans the Sinhala language one can neither think of the nation  රැස nor the country (දෙස). A nation refers to a community of people who share a common language. In the කුමර පැදි(Subasa, volume 1), Cumaratunga says:

උගන්නැ සිය බස
මත් වැන්නැ එහි රසයෙන්
දකින්නෙහි මහඟු බව
කියා දෙන්නැ අනුනටත්

Learn your mother tongue

get attracted by its taste.

Behold its preciousness.

Teach it to the others as well.

අකුරට දැන් වන්නැ දාස
අකුරු ෙõ යෑ ඔබට දාස
ඉටු වෙයි ඔබ හැම අදාස
පැමිණෙයි සැප දාස දාස

Be a slave to letters

Letters will become slaves to you.

All your aspirations will be fulfilled.

Prosperity will come in abundance.

There’s no doubt that ‘by letters’ he referred to learning, and more specifically learning of letters, that is, one’s language.


Central Sinhala Directorate similar to the Indian model

Having foreseen the fate of the Hindi language, if allowed to be handled by incompetent and irresponsible people, the government of India set up the Central Hindi Directorate in 1960, under the Human Resource Ministry, and the unit was made responsible for regulating the Hindi language. In fact, this is the centre that is responsible for promotion of Standard Hindi. It also regulates the use of Devanagari script and Hindi spelling in India. To be more specific, the central Objective of this directorate is to ensure the future of the Hindi language by protecting its character, form and its style. Its functions, inter alia, are:

1. Financial assistance for publication in Hindi.

2. Scheme of publication – Dictionaries, vocabulary functions.

3. Scheme of Award of prizes to Hindi authors.

4. Services and programs to develop and promote Hindi – to mainly to give guidance to Neo-Hindi writers.

5. Professional competence of teachers.

6. Study of language competencies of students, including work relating to the designing of tests.

7. Grants to voluntary organizations for promotion and development of the language.

This account was brought forward to show how India has ensured the future of the Hindi language. Our country already possesses several ministries and departments responsible for education and culture. But it is felt that to properly regulate, guide and direct the affairs of the Sinhala language with a view to ensuring its character, form, style and its personality, and enrich its diction and phraseology, as well as evolve a methodology to coin new words, while safeguarding the basic morphology of the language, establishing a central directorate empowered with an appropriate regulatory framework would seem to be a must vis a vis the current plight the Sinhala language is faced with.

The writer, therefore, urges that before getting the things out of hand the government needs to seriously consider appointing a committee of competent and responsible personnel to introduce the desired standards in the usage of Sinhala, as well as setting up a Central Language Directorate to adopt and implement, among other responsibilities, the recommendations and guidelines that would be provided by such an authoritative committee.

It is heartening that His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse himself has spearheaded the move to create a creative nation by emphasizing the importance of mastering the mother tongue. It would now be the responsibility of those in authority to take this initiative forward. As signaled by Cumaratunga Munidasa death of the Sinhala language would be the death of the Sinhala nation.

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