Umbrage at common usage: Raajaasana and Throne
Posted on January 7th, 2020

BODHI DHANAPALA

Dr. Usvatte-Aratchi is very upset by an alleged reference to a throne speech, or ‘Raajaasana kathaava’ by a senior Buddhist monk, referring to the presidential address. He also states, “In the same newscast, there was a former Governor of the Central Bank saying that the Central Bank lost money in a bond scandal.” The ex-editor of the ‘Samskruthi’ labels such usage as ‘gobbledygook’ that ordinary people do not understand.

I think the ordinary people completely understand what is being said because both English and Sinhala are living languages where, as the famous grammarians and English scholar I. A. Richards has pointed out, the meaning in a message is understood from usage and not what a purist thinks is “appropriate” or according to assumed conventions. Similarly, when the brain recognizes an image, only 12% of it is made up of the information coming from the outside – the rest of it is MADE UP from material provided by the brain itself. The TV is full of dots and pixels – but we choose not to see them.

Although ordinary people understand what is being said, Dr. Usvatte-Aratchi belongs to that class of very learned people, some of whom are so clear minded on even the most unclear question, and ready to dispense advice.

Take the word ‘Raajaasana Kathaava’, where the word ‘Raajjya’ comes from the Sanskrit ‘Raashta’, referring to a kingdom. The same word occurs in the name ‘Aratchi’, where the letter A has been added to “Raashta”, as was common in many ancient Indic languages where the letter “R” is softened by the addition of a vowel (so we have “rahath” — “Arhath”, or “Lanka” becoming “Ilankai” in Dravidian languages). So Dr. Usvatte-Aratchi’s very name indicates how antiquated structures meaningfully remain in usage, even if explicitly speaking, the person so named is neither an Aratchi nor controlling a land area named “Usvatte” But no one is confused.

In Sinhala, the word ‘throne’ is translated as ‘Sinhaasanaya’, and NEVER ‘Rajaasanaya’. Perhaps, the ex-editor of Samskruthi can give us an instance of the word ‘rajaasanaya’ used for the throne in any classical Sinhala text.

So, there is no explicit etymological reason to translate ‘Raajasana kathaava’ to “throne speech’, except that before Sri Lanka became a republic, the ‘Raajaasana Kathava’, delivered by the Governor General was correctly designated as a ‘throne speech’. But today ‘Raajaasana Kathaava’ does not imply a king or a throne, anymore than the name “Aratchi” implies that we have a king and everyone referred to as “Aratchi” is a king’s appointee; nor does the usage become mere “gobbledygook” because we don’t have a king.

Today, ‘Raajaasana kathaava’, can be translated into English as “address from the seat of the Raajjya”, or address from the “chair representing the state”. It is because Dr. Usvatte-Aratchi, educated during a time when English was the language of instruction, thinks in English and finds the most natural English translation of ‘Raajaasana Kathaava’ that is consistent with his mental conditioning.

But, most of us, educated in the Sinhala medium, with a smattering of Pali and Sanskrit acquired from our having been educated via village Pirivena Sunday School classes, find no difficulty in understanding the word ‘Raajaasana’ without having to think of a king. I daresay that the Macaulayan attitude of the Friday Forum members would be to feel that the present head of the ‘Raajjya’is not quite the Caesar that THEY WANTED. So, there is perhaps an implicit discomfort in ‘putting this man up on the throne’, even semantically?

I remember that Dr. Usvatte-Aratchi objected to the commonly accepted usages like ‘Bond scam’, ‘Maha banku mankollaya’, etc., in a previous article. He would ask where the “highway” on which the robbery occurred was. Surely, the ‘highway’ was the intricate path of raising money by selling bonds, via selected investment houses. Other writers have weighed in to explain what the author of ‘Sidath Sangara’ said many centuries ago – that one should follow common usage. Knowing and understanding common usage is a part of one’s education

BODHI DHANAPALA

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