When any language is considered in a broad generalisation, the structure of words pertaining to every society is used to express and communicate one’s opinion to another and it varies from society to society, and culture to culture. In such a backdrop, every nation tends to adapt one’s mother tongue to befit individual customs and their own culture.
Humans interact through a thought process from the brain, which transforms into either verbal or written forms. Language is the most powerful tool to preserve and develop palpable and tangible heritage of a society. Even animals are believed to use body language, sound and smell for communication purposes. According to modern scientists, plants too are capable of communicating through an extensive and complex network of sending red alerts of warnings against any possible outcome or plagues, so that every plant will be able at least to build a certain natural defence system for self-survival.
According to new trends within developing societies, each nation has chosen its own language as its official language, especially in multi-cultural societies. The United Nations adopts six languages, English, French, Spanish Russian, Chinese and Arabic as the ‘official languages’ used on official written documentation.
In 1956, when the late Mr. S.W.R.D Bandaranaike returned from Oxford University, UK, somewhat disappointed with the English, he was once quoted as addressing some of his colleagues thus:
“The thing I must do is to apologise to you for speaking to you in English. Owing to my long absence from my country, I am not sufficiently fluent in Sinhalese to be able to address you in Sinhala. That is a fault that can be easily remedied. What is more important is that my heart should be sound, and I can assure you my heart is Sinhalese to the core”.
True to his words, he managed to enact the Sinhala Only Bill in Parliament in 1956. However, Sinhala and Tamil languages both became official languages of the country in 1978. This meant the English language, which had been in use from colonial rule started to diminish in usage drastically, although it was used as a third language to communicate, particularly in commerce.
English is considered as an international language where the majority of businesses are carried out. In Sri Lanka those who were fluent in English prior to 1956 were considered as an elite group until the Sinhala Only Bill gave English language a sledgehammer blow, the effects of which were felt up to three to four generations in schools, government services and universities alike.
The social impact was even more serious than education. Those who could not speak English were, in a way, compelled to wear sarongs while those conversant in English while those who wore trousers were addressed as ‘gentlemen’ ( Mahattayas)
After the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike returned to ‘Ceylon’ from the UK and entered politics, he decided to shelve western outfits and adopt the traditional dress, which consists of a sarong ( Sarama in Sinhala) with a long-sleeved shirt.
This obviously blended with his craving for Sinhala. Such ” pseudo political gimmicks”, helped towards a gradual social metamorphosis of the society where people of all classes began to let tradition slip away; and men folk of all classes, and even females, started to adorn trousers!
Some politicians somehow began to emulate S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, and up to date politicians (except a handful) attend Parliament wearing this traditional white dress of outward purity and hiding behind all kinds of sins of egocentrism within!
The gap between the English and Sinhala language, which started losing ground in education became a quandary where a particular generation of youth who had to adopt to Sinhala with difficulty while those who mastered the language became unemployable in the private sector due to their lack of English knowledge. Those who were educated to University level in the Sinhala Medium excelled in Sinhala and transformed the once simple Sinhala language into a cutting-edge style with high-flown and grand sounding words’ where even the pronunciation of some words went beyond the average Sri Lankan’s head. Today, there are many such words in the Sinhala language used in official documents where it simply sounds. like ‘Greek’ to those were fluent in Sinhala three to four decades ago !
Unlike in the English language, there is a variation in written and spoken Sinhala. The beauty of any language should be to write simple and should be easily understood by the majority rather than trying to impress the world with ‘glorified’ high flown words and phrases, which tend to go above the average person’s head. It is regrettable, even today, in some of the TV channels and Radio stations how adulterated Sinhala is used where if one listens carefully it’s a mixture – Singlish – a mixture of Sinhala and English, where the whole language tends to lose its demeanour.
When two Sri Lankans happen to casually meet, will they jaw jaw in Sinhala, English or ‘ Singlish’? This is where the attitude problem crops up ! People are being conditioned to feel inferior if one is not able to carry out a dialogue in English fluently.
Even those who have studied the English language and are quite capable of conducting a dialogue in English, may feel shy to speak in English thinking they might slip up and to avoid becoming a laughing stock in public! After all, English is a foreign language, and no one should feel embarrassed even if one were to make a mistake. In such a backdrop, why should anyone be shy or feel inferior about it? This is the kind of false notion some of our Sri Lankan folk are conditioned to believe in our society, even in the 21st Century .
A common feature among Sri Lankans is when one addresses in Sinhala, the other person tends to reply in English! Maybe the person replying in English is thinking it is far below his/her dignity to reply in Sinhala! This happens in every strata of Sri Lankan society, especially with the Colombo crowd. Do they really suffer from a deep inferiority complex, one might wonder!
There are so many false values still in existence in Sri Lankan society, where people seem to think if one does not wear a tie or wear casual slippers and walks into an office, it is not a ‘done thing’! Perhaps people have been conditioned to believe that by wearing a tie and shoes makes a person above others and a gentleman! Should it be so ? There is absolutely no need to suffer, especially in the present extremely hot weather, to suffocate oneself in the blistering heat wearing long-sleeved shirts with strangulating tie knots and socks with shoes. One should wear what is comfortable and not to be judged by others.
In the cold climes, of course, it becomes a compulsion to cover oneself from head to toe, so that one will not suffer from intense cold, which could penetrate through ones clothes and into one’s bones.
Therefore, men have to wear ‘long Johns‘ (flannel underwear up to waist level ) underneath the trousers, while women wear ‘tights’ as a fashion. Then comes the trousers or skirts, tie or scarves to cover the neck area, and special rubber sole shoes or boots to avoid slipping on ice, and of course wearing gloves to prevent fingers from frostbite and extreme bracing winds during winter months.
The standard convention for human beings should be to dress decently, so that the person who adorns clothes may feel comfortable with whatever one puts on, and not to please or impress others.
picture credit: Ceylon Today Newspaper