‘English with a smile’- a reply to Dayan Jayatilleke
Posted on October 14th, 2013

C. Wijeyawickrema

“…Who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia.” Macaulay (1835)

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian by John Clive, Random House, 1973, p.372

Introduction

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  I met a Buddhist monk is America who was not very fluent in English at that time. One day I asked this monk, -Monk, you got a first class honors degree in Buddhism, you did a Ph.D. in Japan using the Japanese language and in debates in Japanese you defeated even Japanese students and won prizes, you know Sanskrit which is a very difficult language to learn, but why is it that learning English has become a problem for you?- He answered, -You know, when we try to learn English in Sri Lanka, when we make a mistake they laugh at us. So we got ashamed and felt humiliated.-

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Once I was working in a medical school and whenever I had difficulty in spelling an English word I had a habit of quickly going to the room next to mine and ask the young English woman, how to spell it. One day when I asked spelling for a word she told me let-â„¢s see the dictionary. Surprised, I said why you have to look in the dictionary it is your mother tongue. She said, -Wije, English is not English, it is a mixture of languages.-

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Long time ago when I was an Executive officer in the then Cement Corporation, I had a Malalasekera English-Sinhala dictionary on my table that anybody could see. The lady who was a proctor working with us as assistant legal officer asked me one day why I was keeping a dictionary with me. Later, she came to go to law classes that I was attending and told me not to tell others about it. I passed the LL.B. exam, she was still a proctor before her sudden death.

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  The most interesting thing was -ËœEnglish with Smile,- books written as textbooks to teach English that we used. When I was an undergraduate I stayed with Tamil roommates. The last was Shaktivel, a vet science student who later became senior Thondamon-â„¢s private secretary. Other Sinhala students who could not speak in English used to write on my room door -English with a Smile.- At a later date, I met one of them, who taught in a school in N-â„¢Eliya. I was travelling in an office vehicle, he told me, -Machan, Monty (Gopallawa) offered me several high posts but I did not have Kaduwa.-‚  He was Monte-â„¢s pillion rider at Peradeniya.

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Why I gave these episodes in my own life that I am developing as short essays in a book I am writing, was that Dayan Jayatilleke has tried his black-white method of resorting to Lord Maccalay-â„¢s advice given in 1835. British colonial system is still live in Sri Lanka and other former colonies because Maccaulay designed a system to create -Brown Britains in India which Nehru once said had created English-educated clerks. After guns and conspiracies established colonial power it was sustained by making natives feel humiliated as primitives needing -modernization.- English was a key instrument used in implementing this strategy. Dayan must be applying this strategy with teachers in Colombo university, because those teachers who could go to university because of the Sinhala medium recently passed a resolution requesting going back to teach in English medium. Yes, there was a time Sinhala language was taught in English! Dayan must be an uncrowned king among those university lambs. So about my essay that appeared on the Colombo Telegraph where as a side issue I dismissed Dayan-â„¢s bogus theories and proposed a way to help both Tamils and Sinhalese to live following M.C. Sansoni CJ-â„¢s advice, Dayan commented –This writer Wijewickrema obviously has a problem of confusion caused by an inadequate comprehension of the English language. He should re-read what I-â„¢ve written, carefully, and with a dictionary handy.-

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Recently, retired geography professor G. H. Peiris tried to -Ëœeducate-â„¢ about his fancy or crazy theories and I want to -Ëœeducate-â„¢ him not to use his English card against other people who do not think English nothing more than a tool, a bicycle. I am giving him examples of some essays I wrote on the subject of learning and using English to show him he is barking at the wrong tree. Dayan lives by taking the slippery path whenever he gets cornered. In the past I tried to make him answerable to his own writings but he was like a moving target. ‚ English was used as part of colonial control of masses by a handful of black-whites in the former colonies. Dayan is DJ and not Dayan Silva, because his father had an English-medium education and as a reporter had developed connections with big black-white families in Ceylon. Martin Wickremasinghe or Munidasa Kumaranatunga did not get such an opportunity. Colonial and black-white policy was not to give opportunities to those who knew both Sinhala and English well, but massage the ego of people like Dayan-â„¢s father. The difference between DS Senanayaka and Sir D. B. Jayatilleke was that the latter was an expert in both English and Sinhala so the colonial masters wanted to get rid of him.

‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  On my essay (Which and what zone of agreement) I challenge Dayan to list what I did not understand from his theories. I wish to tell Dayan that what I have suggested is the best solution to help Tamils without making the Sinhalese nervous. Dayan has the opportunity to show why nine-province colonial set up should not be replaced by a seven river basin division and why GSN units should not be re-demarcated with ecology-based boundaries.

Examples of why a working knowledge in English should be promoted with teachers who know how to teach English as a foreign language, and English should not be a qualifying barrier for university admission since so many students do not have an opportunity learn English.

Reply to a person who suggested that Ajantha Mendis should have answered questions on cricket in English (Island, August 2, 2008)

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http://www.island.lk/2008/08/02/images/left-main_10.gifopinion

‚ What is the language of cricket?

Bandula Abeyewardene-â„¢s (BA) much hesitant response (Island, 7/23/2008) to Daya Ranasinghe-â„¢s (DR) reaction to BA-â„¢s view on the need to teach English to cricketers, provided more evidence of the colonial mentality of BA. English like any other language is a tool like a computer or a typewriter and nothing more.

Who is a black-white? The black-white phenomenon is found in former colonies, which is a state of mind. This was why Carlo Fonseka had to engage in a series of debates in the recent past in trying to define who is a black-white. Whether one knows English (in the former French or Spanish colonies those two languages) or whether one lives abroad has no direct connection with it. Recently, I saw a poem written by DR on a female soldier on guard duty and the reading it gives one goose bumps of pride and patriotism. A black-white cannot pen such poems. We know the poems by the Tibetan monk S. Mahinda who was more Sinhala than the native Sinhalese.

In Mexico, a black-white is called a coconut-”brown outside, white inside. One of the tests one can use in this regard, if he or she is visiting Anuradhapura from Colombo, is whether he or she gets goose bumps or a chill running through the spinal chord (the awesome feeling) at the first sight of the Ruwanvali Maha Seya or standing on the bund of the Tissa Vawa. Just think of the mental state of some Marxists who called the King Dutugamunu, a fool for erecting the Ruwanvali, but take trips to see the pyramids in Egypt!

As a tuition master in English, BA has every tight to promote English classes. But his mental status is summarised by his word “embarrassment.” Princess Diana had to take tuition to learn how to speak English. The current U.S. President has trouble in speaking English despite a Yale education. SWRD had a silver tongue, but could not read or write in Sinhala. In USA, 40% of college students need remedial education in reading and writing. Humans have to communicate and unlike animals they have developed languages. Why is it that in Sri Lanka not knowing English is an embarrassment?

In British colonies, English was the language of the ruler and those who acted as translators became powerful and privileged. The colonial master needed more people able to work in English and a class of people evolved who learned English and embraced Christianity, the religion of the master.

Lord McCaulay, in the 1840s in India, formulated an education policy to create a class of Indians who were brown in colour, but English in thinking and behaviour. More than Lord Nelson or Cecil Rhodes, it was McCaulay who helped the continuation of colonialism after giving the former colonies “independence”. We have a class in Colombo,who are remote-controlled from London or Paris.

When language is power, it is more than a communication tool. At the time of independence, only 5% of people in Ceylon knew English. This group mostly living in Colombo or in big cities continued the white rule with minimum of changes, spatially or structurally, in the colonial open economy, exporting rubber and graphite and importing pencils and erasers. The attempt to change this policy began only after 1956, which BA brands as a mess and a sin. Poor people had no means to learn English.

Only rarely, people learn languages for the fun of it. They learn it, if it benefits them. Taxi drivers and Colombo Ayahs or lads at tourist sites use it. Thus, in those days people learned how to sign a document in English because otherwise there had to be a witness to his or her non-English signature. Today people learn Japanese or Hindi for the market value of it. In USA, parents force their children to learn Chinese, Russian, Hindi or Japanese and not German or French as was done in the past. Nurses going to USA needs English as patients they meet cannot speak Sinhala. That is why Tamil doctors in Colombo should know Sinhala not because of discrimination, but to earn money. If Ajantha Mendis wants to learn English or Hindi, it will be his decision and not others. Herein lies the mental status problem of BA. He should not be the person to decide or suggest it. I have no doubt that Mendis tried to learn English at school, but could not due to lack of competent teachers or not being able to afford private tuition-¦-¦

C. Wijeyawickrema, USA

‚ 8/22/2008

opinionisland

Cricket is language-blind

I thank Gamini Gunawardane for his article on the evolution of Sinhala Cricket (Island, 8/15/2008). If Ajantha had to pass an English language test before he was allowed to play cricket, he would have missed the bus, and with teams of English-speaking cricketers, Sri Lanka would not have won a place in world cricket. I see a personal connection here because I was able to become a college professor and a director of research in the USA because of the language-blind university entrance exam in 1960-61. In fact, I did not take even Sinhala as one of the four subjects!

Because of Gamini-â„¢s reply and because of Bandula Abeyewardene-â„¢s (BA) total misunderstanding of my response (Island, 8/2), my task is reduced to answering a few, below the belt personal and private issues raised by BA.

Because of his inability to understand the message in my letter, BA has now made another mistake by placing patriotism and fluency in English on a collision path (Island, 8/9). I see no direct connection between the two except that I know that some people stress the fact that when two Tamils meet or when Indians meet each other, they always speak in Tamil or Hindi respectively, but when two Sinhalyas meet, they tend to use English. I do not worry about such habits. SWRD who helped the Sinhala people had a third grade student-â„¢s ability in reading and writing in Sinhala.

I was only challenging BA-â„¢s idea that “a Sinhala cricketer who might become a cricket hero at a future date could avoid the -Ëœembarrassment-â„¢ of not being able to speak in English if cricketer-training includes tutoring in English. I did not oppose English or people learning it as a second language. The gist of my letter was to tell people not to take the raft (English) on to your shoulders after using it to cross the river. Learning English or any language for that matter is like learning how to swim or how to ride a bicycle. We do not carry the bicycle on our backs when we walk.

C. Wijeyawickrema
USA

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Essay relating to CJ Sarath Silva-â„¢s proposal to make English mandatory for law school admission:

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Empowering law students with an English language tool
by C. Wijeyawickrema,
B.A (Hons.), LL.B., M.A., Ph.D.

http://www.island.lk/2008/03/19/midweek3.html

‚ Courts of law and social engineering

island2.gifComments made recently by the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka on the subject of teaching English to law students (Daily Mirror, March 12, 2008), prompted me to read again an essay that I wrote seven years ago titled, “Gurulugomi to the Rescue: the re-Enthronement of the English Language” (Island, April 13, 2001). It also reminded me what one of my wife-â„¢s relatives, a self-made goda perakadoruwa by vocation, told me some time back. He said, “Lawyers and judges now-a-days cannot speak in English,” and my quick reply was, “do you think in Japan, Germany, Russia, Cuba, or Israel lawyers work in English?”

‚ An essay written 13 years ago as reply to C. A. Chandraprema promoting English

Features


‚ http://www.island.lk/2001/04/13/featur01.html

‚ Gurulugomi to the Rescue: the re-Enthronement of the English Language

“…Who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia.” Macaulay (1835)

Macaulay:The Shaping of the Historian by John Clive, Random House, 1973, p.372

By C. Wijeyawickrema

Mr. Chandraprema’s (CAC) paper titled “In the footsteps of Gurulugomi..” (The Island, January 29), is an example of the sixteen dreams that puzzled the king Pasenadi Kosol. In order to understand the genesis of CAC’s paper I asked myself a question, “Why was CAC picked up by an NGO to speak on this topic?” Several subsequent writings of CAC throw some helpful light in this regard. CAC was in the past an active socialist and had also served on the Chamber of Commerce (N.M., Leslie and Colvin did the same thing). He maintains that the Sinhalayas are lazy (the Robert Knox complex). He thinks that Sri Lanka should copy the “hire and fire” labour laws from the U.S. (he should ask Ralph Nader, the third-party candidate at the last U.S. presidential election on this matter). He implies that the JVP was a murderous clan because its members do not speak English, although he now accepts that Richard de Zoysa was behind the JVP killings of bus drivers. Apparently, the NGO did good homework.

‚ A reply to Dayan Jayatilleke on the13th Amendment

http://www.island.lk/2009/07/01/midweek1.html -Sinhala Bushism- and the 13 Amendment

‚ C. Wijeyawickrema

[email protected]

 

4 Responses to “‘English with a smile’- a reply to Dayan Jayatilleke”

  1. AnuD Says:

    Here foreign leaders come and they talk in their language and the translator translates. Chinese people migrate. They do business and talk only in chinese.

    Only the Sinhala us with the colonial mindset believe that without English knowledge we are of some inferior quality.

    No one tries to get rid of that mindset from the society.

    Anyway, english speaking countries know only one language. Most migrants here can speak more than one language. Some speak a few to several languages.

  2. SA Kumar Says:

    C. Wijeyawickrema ! well said
    agreed with nine-province colonial set up should not be replaced by a seven river basin division and why GSN units should not be re-demarcated with ecology-based boundaries.

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    When Dayan CANNOT face a challenge he brings in this type of IRRELEVENT BS against the person who challenged him.

    CW, you don’t have to prove your English skills. It is WELL KNOWN!!

    By English skills DJ means the SKILL TO ARSELICK THE WEST, not English linguistic skills.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Regarding size of country and language :

    Sri Lanka is a small country with some 500 yrs of Colonial rule. Small countries are easily conquered unlike large countries, say, India or China, which can easily retain their identities and languages. Size-wise, Sri Lanka is akin to ONE small state in India.

    Furthermore, imitating the Conquerers (British in this case), either by language and/or religion brought a sense of SECURITY to the imitators. It enabled communication to happen between the conquered and the conquerers. It brought education, jobs, business opportunities and favors from the conquerers. In other words, Upward Social Mobility happened for those who learnt English and/or converted to Christianity. It is that simple. These are hard facts to challenge.

    Caste (Tamil) & Class (Sinhela) structures were/are barriers in Lanka. These barriers appear erased with the learning of English. Social acceptance happens with access to the world of the computer.

    Both Sinhela & Tamil are not world languages. English is a world language. Thus, anyone with a knowledge of good English stands to score.

    People who THINK in English are truly ‘converted’ to the western ways. There is no going back. Such people, if they cannot empathize with the local people, ought to emigrate. In Sri Lanka and India, overly feelings of superiority or ego just for knowing good English will be laughed at. Hence, ‘Kaduwa’ – language as a weapon to feel superior and act so too. Feelings of such superiority will be met with being isolated and jeered at.

    But knowing good spoken and written Sinhela as well as fairly good spoken and written English is the ZENITH we ought to aim for. English as a good second language is what I would vote for. However, Sri Lankans ought to know by now that it is NOT necessary to change one’s religion to learn to speak and write fair English.

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