Sinhala adages in English


By Vajaya Jayasuriya

‘Hit and Run – anna penna – komei ratei law and order?’ This is the type of colloquial jargon we often encounter being used by particularly those having a smattering of English. Although this might appear as a melange of strange expressions, according to applied linguistic principles of teaching and learning of languages, this kind of talk can even be called ‘inter-language’ of a learner gradually picking up a new language.

Learners of a second language or even a foreign language (with a background or without one such as media and a speaking community) learn to speak by making numerous errors in the target language also mixed with terms of his mother tongue as well, as illustrated with a statement at the outset. The opposite of this phenomenon is a kind of English with a sprinkling of Sri Lanka (Sinhala) colloquial terms that Prof. Manique Gunesekera christens ‘Sri Lanka English’ in her classic and epoch-making book, "The postcolonial Identity of Sri Lankan English’. In the final section of this book she confers on us a comprehensive catalogue of colloquialisms of Sinhala widely used by Sri Lankan speakers of English. Even expressions like "Kadu Faculty’ used by monolingual undergrads in the university are recorded; ‘English is referred to as "Kaduwa daanava’ meaning ‘putting or using the sword’. This term indicates the power associated with English, as in elevating the English department to a ‘faculty’ (ibid: p.218)

Sinhala idioms and colloquial expression compiled in this collection are highly impressive ones loaded with local flavor adding intense entertainment to interpersonal interaction. ‘Bandapu bere gahapan’ (beat the drum that you have belted at your waist) is equivalent to the English idiom ‘You have made your bed and now lie on it, ‘which means’ ‘You must accept the result of your own actions (Advanced Learners Dictionary: 2010:p121) ‘Eating drinking people’ (from Sinhala ‘kana bona minissu’ (people who enjoy the pleasures of eating etc.); "Kavada Kaapu Cakeda?’ (They have no pleasures like eating cakes); ‘Nava gilunath band chuun’ (Even if the ship sinks the band will go on) representing the resilience of the Sri Lankans, that nothing can yet them down) the foregoing are just a few of the local colloquial expressions recorded in this book numbering 576 altogether!


This kind of colloquial expressions afford brevity and beauty to the spoken language so that both the hearer and the user of them can enjoy the light hearted banter shrouded in them – ‘shrouded’ here being the fitting term as they involve some secret meaning known only to the initiated and thus discovering them too brings about joy to the ‘novices’. This category of ‘novices’ ironically, may include masters of English with a big repertoire of terms at their disposal, yet new to these due to social factors alienating them from the particular rustic crowd who use them mostly.

‘Udella’ (the hoe or mammoty) the latter being now almost defunct) means in the colloquial jargon a hinderance to the progress of something ‘potha’ (book) is used to mean a trick’ and ‘poth kaaraya’ (writer or seller of books) meaning ‘trickster’; ‘Enei’ (nail) means a stumbling block or even such a person; ‘Wala’ Cpit) is a difficult situation. These are very often used in speech by Sri Lankans irrespective of status to express ideas briefly and yet with a load of meaning providing entertainment as well.

‘Elipaththe puusa’ is another Sinhala idiom meaning ‘the one who waits on the doorstep without really entering something’ wavering without faking a decision.

‘Ena ena athata gaha uluwassa’ is an adage invented by rustics seeking fresh grounds in expression. The meaning is ‘Let’s fix the door frame according to changing situations’. When plans have to be altered due to eventualisties in an absurd manner this is used.

‘Giya luula maha ekalu’ (The eel that slipped your hands and escaped is the biggest one). When one fails to grab a chance of something treat one yearns for this expression is used ‘Gange vetenna perala bonnada’ (There is no filteredwater to drink when you fall into the river). An ideal phrase to use when someone faces an inevitable situation of suffering. (Even the Lord Buddha was once compelled to eat a very law quality of vice while staying in some difficult area).

"Gangata Kepu Ini’ (like fence posts cut into the river) is an enterprise with little tangible profit. (People often use it when a child theyhad educated with a lot of pains join another family by marriage neglecting his parents.

‘Gahata Poththa Wage’ (as close to each other as the bark is to the tree trunk) is used when we want to explain the intimacy of two people etc. They are very good friends – always together like gahata poththa’

‘Hodda wattiye daala’ (Pouring a curry onto a tray) is to expose a secret with an invidious intention. This is a proverb mostly used by villagers to illustrate a situation where some private information about somebody becomes widely known to all and sundry eq. Everything is out! Hodda wattiye daala’.

"Horata Kalin Kehelkena veta penala’ (The bunch of plantains jumping over the fence before the thief). This refers to an unexpected revelation of a surreptitious act before the one who committed it himself confesses to it. Just as a stolen item falls off the thief’s pocket or a secret is inadvertently betrayed by someone’s very words.

‘Peeli penala’ (or peela penala) (derailed) is used when someone of he moment.

‘Kmmala balla vagei’ (like the dog in the smithy). This involves a phenomenon witnessed by villagers where the dog living in a smithy never fears lightening and thunder as it is long accustomed to the flash of sparks from he anvil when the blacksmith beats the red hot irons. (Dog in the manger’ is restricted to English having a different meaning and has no Sinhala equivalent)

‘Miti Thenin Wathura Bahinava’ (Water flows down the lowest place) is used when the lesser mortals or the nonentities are treated badly by others.

‘Pirunu Kalei Diya Nosele’ is a Sinhala proverb meaning that the vessel which is full with a liquid does not make a noise when shaken. The idea is that it is those with little knowledge that talk too much, while the well informed keep silent.

‘Revlai Kendai’ (To drink porridge saving themonstache). This refers t a common practice among villagers to drink porridge for breakfast. When those with a monstache sip this thick delicacy drops of it with grains of rice are naturally left at the edge of hairs creating a funny look. So people find themselves in a quandary whether to drink or not. Hence the saying to mean both are needed. This idiom applies to a situation where two contrasting alternatives are equally indispensable to the speaker. ‘I’m pressed between the two… reulai kendai’ one can say for example, if one gets a chance to go abroad while a promotion in his post is imminent.

‘Veradi gahatai ketuwe’ (pecked at the wrong tree) involves the fate of a bird (eg woodpecker) who once pecked at the trunk of a plantain tree and got his beak stuck in it. When someone gets into trouble trying to do something daunting this adage is ideal. ‘Being a habitual fast driver he crashed into the gate of the police station. Veradi Gahatai Ketuwe!

The foregoing colloquial adages can very powerful and meaningful be used in English speech particularly in informal exchanges.

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