Status of Languages and a Country’s National Identity
Posted on September 22nd, 2014


While speaking at the ‘Annual Hindi Day’ event held in the Indian consular office in Jaffna, the acting Indian High Commissioner (HC) S.T. Murthy has pointed out that at least 50% of the Indian population knows the Indian main language and similarly Sri Lankan Tamils also should learn Sinhala Language in order to grow the relationship.

Ironically, India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former High Commissioner A.N. Dixit were on records for invading the country’s air space and insisting on a multi-lingual system without any historical evidence or approval from the country’s citizens, merely to please their own racial elements in Southern India and to achieve their own internal and external political goals.

At a time, Sinhala children are being forced to learn Tamil by our own politicians who do not have the right vision or a backbone to ask the rest of the communities to learn Sinhala, the above statement said to have been made by an envoy of India is somewhat interesting.

Status of Languages in India

Despite the fact that there are more than 22 officially recognized languages in India at State levels, including, Hindi, English, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Panjabi, Marathi etc, Hindi and English languages are recognized as the Official languages of India. Although the number of native Hindi speakers range up to 24.5% in total Indian population, as the acting Indian HC correctly pointed out, Hindi is now spoken nearly 50% of the Indian population.  English continues to be used for some official purposes by the government of India in conjunction with Hindi, the number of English speakers within India is nearly 20%. Hindi is the only native language to be recognized as the official language of the country, since English is a foreign language. Even though English language is not included in Eighth Schedule (as it is a foreign language), it is one of the official languages of Union of India.

Although there are 61 million Tamils in India, Tamil is not an official language of India.

The Republic of India does not have a national language despite there are 30 languages are spoken by more than a million native speakers (according Census taken in 2001). A national language is a language which has some connection—de facto—with a people and perhaps by extension the territory they occupy. The term is used variously. A national language may for instance represent the national identity of a nation or country

Let us examine the national or official status of respective languages in some of the well known countries in the world.

Status of Languages in Asia

The national, or official, language in Malaysia is Malay which is the mother tongue of the majority Malay ethnic group. The main ethnic groups within Malaysia comprise the Malays, Chinese and Indians, with many other ethnic groups represented in smaller numbers, each with its own languages.Korean, also called Hangul, is the official language of both North Korea and South Korea. There are approximately a hundred languages spoken in Burma. However, Burmese spoken by two thirds of the population is the official language in Burma. Vietnamese is the national, official language of Vietnam. In Thailand, the official national language is Thai. There is no official language in Japan; however Japanese is the national language. Even though the Singapore Government recognizes four official languages, English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, only one of them is accorded the national language” status due to historical reasons. The Malay language is the national language whereas English is the main working language.

Status of English as a Language

The two largest countries (in terms of population) where English is the inherited national language are Britain and USA.

In Britain, English is the official language, despite there are 5.3 m Scottish, 3.1 m Welsh and 1.8m Irish. According to statistics, 13% of the British population is non-white people originally from Asian and African countries. French language is the official language of France. German is the language of Germany. Language of Spain is Spanish. The national language of Luxembourg, a tiny country in Europe, is Luxembourgish, while French and German are the primary official languages.

Although Australia has no mention of an official language in its Constitution, it is largely monolingual with English being the de facto national language. English is the predominant Language in New Zealand, although Maori is also considered as an official Language. There is no necessity for the majority English speaking people to learn Maori language and is not part of the medium of instruction.

Under the Canadian Constitution, the federal government has both English and French as its official languages. However, over 85% of Canadians have working knowledge of English while only 30.1% have a working knowledge of French. This is partly due to many French-speaking Canadians learning English and more immigrants choosing to learn English as their second language rather than French.

Furthermore, in other countries colonized by British, it is a second language, in others it is an official language or the language of business.

Status of Languages in Sri Lanka

It appears that Sri Lanka is among the very few countries in the world that have identified both the official and national languages.

In Sri Lanka more than 74% of the population is Sinhala and only 4.7 million (Including Tamil and Muslims) speak Tamil language as their mother tongue.  Both the Constitutions of 1972 and 1978 recognized Sinhala as the official language of the country.  Ironically, it was India who forced Sri Lanka Government of J.R Jayewardene to make Tamil as one of the official Languages while making English as the link Language providing both the official and national language status to Sinhala and Tamil.

By providing the National Language status to Tamil under the Section 19 of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, either Sinhala or Tamil shall be used in Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Authorities, medium of instructions (except higher education) while Sinhala and Tamil shall be the languages of Administration, Legislation and Courts.  As per the Section 22 of Chapter IV, Tamil shall be used as the language of administration and be used for the maintenance of public records and the transaction of all business by public institutions in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

As can be seen, the Constitution has conveniently provided the monolingual provision to the Northern Province today, since Tamil separatists have chased away almost all Sinhalese population from the province and are now protesting for any Sinhala re-settlement in the region and, hence, are expected to build a mono-ethnic state of their own.

The acceptance of Northern and the Eastern Provinces as areas of historical habitation of Tamil speaking peoples and provision of both the official and national language status to the Tamil language, either under duress or erroneously when signing the Rajiv-JR pact, the demand for self rule have enhanced and that is why the full implementation of the 13th Amendment is one of the main demand of the TNA even today.

Prior to the signing of the 13th Amendment, there had been a belief in some quarters that the official language policy of 1956 was the root cause of the conflict. The 13th Amendment made Tamil an official language overnight as a solution but the demand for self-determination is still continuing. If official language is the root cause, the conflict would have resolved itself with the implementation of the 13th Amendment language policy.


There is only one language; the language spoken by the majority emerges as the official language of a county even if there are provisions for use of other languages at official level. Major foreign languages such as English, French, German, Spanish etc are being used by countries, once ruled by those colonial powers, either as one of the official language or the language of business.  The national language is the language of the nation, and should be accorded to the language of the people who were responsible for the civilization of that country.  Not many countries in the world use the term national’ when they categorized languages although they maintain their national identity via the official language status.

As can be seen above, countries have several spoken languages but have one predominant official language even among few designated official languages. Perhaps, Sri Lanka may the only country in the world chosen two national languages and two official languages with equal status without any historical evidence or approval from its citizens, but apparently under the duress of racial threat and foreign intervention.  Thus only Sinhala should be the given the status of National Language due to historical reasons following the stand taken by Singapore, Luxemburg, Japan, Vietnam, Burma and Malaysia,  when deciding the country’s national/official  language status.

11 Responses to “Status of Languages and a Country’s National Identity”

  1. Nanda Says:

    “At a time, Sinhala children are being forced to learn Tamil by our own politicians who do not have the right vision or a backbone …”

    Yes. These buggers must go. We need a man or woman with vision AND balls.

  2. Vis8 Says:

    Hooray!! Lankaweb is back!

  3. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    450 years of colonialism set the stage for ethnic friction during the post independence period. Do belief systems prevalent in Tamil speaking Sri Lankans from Jaffna, matter in affecting their social integration with Sinhala speaking Sri Lankans? Tamil speaking Sri Lankans from Jaffna who bring values that depart very substantially from those of the the majority of the country may always lead to the creation of social boundaries that are difficult to transcend. To pre-empt polarized ethnic enclaves ethnic integration must be promoted. By maintaining a multi-ethnic environment, the government can maintain social stability, communal harmony and religious tolerance, and keep Sri Lanka safe, secure and prosperous for all ethic groups.

    Hindi is the official language of the Indian Union (although it also recognises 15 or 16 other regional languages as official). Still, it is the native language of only about a third of all Indians. Those who don’t grow up speaking Hindi must learn it at school. Very little Hindi is spoken in the south of India, where the dominant languages are completely unrelated to those of the north.

    Urdu is the official language of Pakistan. It is also the official language of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and one of the two official languages of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

    Like Hindi, Urdu is not the native language of most Pakistanis. For only about 10% of Pakistanis, primarily those living in Karachi and other cities of the Sindh province, speak it as their mother tongue. The remaining Pakistanis grow up speaking Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi, Pashtu, Kashmiri or other languages and must learn Urdu at school. In fact, India has about ten times the number of native speakers of Urdu as Pakistan.

    But this situation is changing because the Pakistani state has so thoroughly suffused the country with Urdu. Many of today’s young Pakistanis for whose parents Urdu is not the mother tongue, have grown up speaking Urdu as though it was.

    Similarly a majority of Sri Lankan kids with Tamil speaking parents are now living in traditionally Sinhala speaking areas and growing up speaking Sinhala as well. Language will not become a subject of racist division in few years if all the Tamil speaking Sri Lankan children learn Sinhala.

    It has been the proud privilege of the Sri Lankans to live in harmony with one another. That has been the basis of Sri Lanka’s culture from the days of Asoka, 2,300 years ago. This has been repeatedly declared and practiced. Let us endeavour to rebuild the brotherhood that once existed between the Sinhala and Tamil speaking Sri Lankans. It is the only way forward to usher in peace and prosperity once more to this beautiful country of ours that has been torn apart by war and strife.

  4. Nanda Says:

    Mandarin is spoken by most Chinese now despite being not every one’s native dialect. One emperor unified all the scripts to Mandarin long time ago. Even Japanese Kanji writing can be read by Chinese.

    Why this kolveri for 1 million Tamils ? Why are they so special that they must plat bombs everywhere because of 1 Sri letter in Sinhala ( in fact in Malayali it is the same letter ?)

  5. SA Kumar Says:


    Malayali it is the same letter ? so you know now where Sinhala Sri come from ?

    Nanda last 2,500 years We both live together & will live for another 2,500 or more….

    Live & let’s live until Eelam war V !!!

    So Why this kolveri , kolavri machan !

  6. SA Kumar Says:

    everywhere because of 1 Sri letter in Sinhala ?
    why not put Thamil Sri together (almost similar (up, middle, bottom lines) sign).

    saying in Thamil, Tamilan vidda Kandan & chinhalavn Kuda kandan !
    so We both kandan have no alternative to live together . that is our Karma(m).

  7. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Sri Lanka is unique in that Sinhalese not only formed in Sri Lanka out of Pali but her written history is both in Pali and Sinhalese. The Mahavamsa, Culavamsa, Dipavamsa, Rajagilya, and the Bodhivamsa are either in Pali or Sinhalese. They are the collective written language and heritage of the island nation Sri Lanka.

    When Sri Lanka became Buddhist in the 3rd century B.C. it was also customary that where ever her capital was situated the national holy relic of the tooth of Buddha also resides at that location. That tradition was broken under the colonial age. Tamil culture and people were relegated to a small section of the island (the Jaffna peninsula) where they had a kingdom for about 2 centuries (11th to 13th) after that Tamil culture came under Sinhalese rule. When the Jaffna library burned down so was destroyed Jaffna Tamil literature to a good deal. this would not have happened if the Tamils did not create a crisis that led to a terrorist group trained by India, the Tamil Tigers.

    India must keep in mind her policy of solving issues be they domestic or foreign is to either break up nations (as in the formation of Bangladesh) annexing others as in the nation of Sikkim or forming new state governments. Since the Indian division of states in the 1960’s along linguistic lines, India has solved many of her problems by creating ever more state governments. the last being Telengana out of Andhra Pradesh which was formed as a home for Telugu people in the first place.

    India then has used that method on Sri Lanka but failed for she did not recognize the unity of Sri Lanka forged by being an island nation, with one language and one religion that dominated her history and united her people. India and Pakistan’s long dispute over the region called Kashmir should become a focal point of Sinhalese Nationalism in addressing the Tamil Diaspora. If they are still pursuing a doctrine of Elam then after the Scottish referendum it is most important to support and give voice to the Kashmiri Muslim people so they can become independent of the powers of India, Pakistan and now China.

    An independent Kashmir would emerge almost as large as the United Kingdom and share borders with Russia, China, India, and Pakistan. She would also control the rivers of the Ganges and the Indus among other rivers that flow from her to her giant neighbors. An independent Kashmir would be one of the most strategically important nations in South Asia and beyond.

  8. SA Kumar Says:

    When the Jaffna library burned down so was destroyed Jaffna Tamil literature to a good deal! not agreed .
    where they had a kingdom for about 2 centuries (11th to 13th) after that Tamil culture came under Sinhalese rule.
    So why can we get our kingdom back from Sinhalese rulers?

    My chinhala Sakotharaya We only ask Thamil Eelam but You already gave us Saiva Thamil Eelam(NP) & Muslim Thamil Eelam (EP) soon Indian Thamil Thamil Eelam in Upcountry.

    Why this Kolavri, Kolaveri mate ???

  9. Dilrook Says:

    Sri Lanka’s national identity is the Sinhala language, associated culture and history, and, Theravada Buddhism.

    Tamil is the “national” identity of Tamil Nadu and Islam is the identity of the Middle East. Sri Lanka cannot claim their national identities as Lankan. Until the national flag was officially changed in 1972 to include Indian Stripes, Lankan/Ceylonese flag was the lion, sword and Bo leaves.

    This nation’s national identity has been compromised.

  10. Nanda Says:

    “This nation’s national identity has been compromised.”

    Greedy leaders are pimps selling own mother and buying material and getting fatter.
    We need someone with backbone urgently.

  11. Christie Says:

    The problem started with our great savior of the Sinhalese; SWRD Bandaranayke. He was financed and his policies set in place by Indian interests. There were no permanent Tamil or other Indian regime established in the island continuously. Elara who reigned in part and a short period was defeated and the country has been always under the Sinhalese regimes.
    Most of the Tamils and Indian of today are the colonists who came under the cover of the British guns.
    SWRD destroyed the Sinhalese unity for financial gains and his personal ego.

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