30 November, 2022

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An English Language Primer Focused On Sri Lanka: Raising Alarm Bells On Sri Lankan English

By Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan

Dr. Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan

Beginning with the Author’s Preface justifying the need for a book like this one with information and criticism, the book contains two major sections: the Grammar and the Dictionary. Though the content titles look traditional, they are dealt with a personal and regional touch.  

Using national and international examples, Hoole demonstrates how Sri Lankans deviate from International English standards in Sri Lankan English. Hoole accepts the idea and practice of mutual intelligibility in written and spoken language. At the same time, he feels odd deviants between Native English and Sri Lankanized English. Prof Sarvan, who earned his Master’s and Doctorate from the University of London, makes a simple but solid proposition about the book’s worthiness: “Professor Hoole’s book can be recommended without reservation.” His short statement indicates figuratively, “if it is Hoole, everything is cool.” He further says it is “informative and instructive” and “attractively personal, creating a closeness with the reader; lucid and simple”. He continues, “But there are literally thousands of books on the English language: do we need yet another? The answer is yes because it is unusual in view of its being  written by a Sri Lankan for Sri Lankan Tamils.” I very much  disagree with the author and Prof Sarvan. Although this book discusses Tamil equivalents in specific discussions for helpful teaching, this book is relevant to all English users, teachers and learners of Sri Lanka, irrespective of language and culture.   

Author: Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
Reviewer: Dr. Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan, University of Vavuniya
Foreword: Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan, Retired Eminent Professor of English, Germany
Publisher: Baldaeus Theological College, Konesapuri, Trincomalee. Printers: JR Industries, Uduvil,
Year of Publication: 2022. 340 pp. Rs. 1200 in Sri Lanka, ISBN 9786246077020

The content covers a long list of the usage of related but distinct pairs of words or phrases in the Sri Lankan context. However, Hoole raised his alarm bells over the language used in international newspapers like The Times of India, The New York Times, Britain Guardian and The Hindu (India). Hoole is a person who never discriminates against or spares ‘the Prince and the Pauper,’ whether language error, social error or political error. He even corrected the usage description of the word ‘disk drive’ published in the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary by the Oxford University Press. The Press responded to him, accepting his correction and appreciating him. He has attached its letter as evidence in the book. He exemplifies errors in Sri Lankan English newspapers and books.  

The book accommodates almost all the expressions discussed in the British and American English Usage Books. It covers all the six basic linguistic levels: phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic. In addition, he gives a Sri Lankanized simple explanation and example for each pair use. It starts from ‘Aeroplane –Airplane’ to ‘while and whilst’ alphabetically A to Z incorporating all the distinct pairs. He talks about the significance of the punctuation marks as well.   

Another interesting two personal aspects he has instilled in this book are the language of mathematics and Christianity. He is an excellent mathematician and expressive Anglican! He never misses quotes from these two inevitable indispensable domains of his life, universally speaking, human life. The references give more meaning and feelings to his explanations in the book.          

Let us ask one simple question here. Why is an Electronic and Computer Engineering professor interested in writing a book on English use? Prof Hoole, the author of this book, is Sri Lankan Tamil by birth and a naturalized citizen of the USA. His academic credentials were earned in Sri Lanka, UK and USA. Hoole is an Electronic and Computer Engineering professor, expert, and at the same time, consultant in social sciences. He has written several articles on social, political, lingual and educational issues for The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times, etc., abroad and The Colombo Telegraph, The Daily News, The Island, The Sunday Leader, The Sunday Observer and The Daily Mirror. In addition, he has written Textbooks published by Oxford, Cambridge, Elsevier etc. Thus, as an experienced writer, he is qualified to write a book on English Use in Sri Lanka. However, since he is not a professional academic in English linguistics nor a linguist, he has described and narrated Sri Lankan English use in simple, non-technical language, which is quickly understandable to a general as well as a student user. His book presents how language is explicitly used for communicative purposes.  

Prof Hoole has written books on social and language issues in the past. I have read two of his books. He demonstrated his good English language competence and performance in them. I believe he will be a good English teacher for those with diverse disciplinary backgrounds. It is essential in the teaching and learning processes. Modern language teaching prescribes multi-disciplinary knowledge and diversity that can enhance English language teaching and learning. The ELT experts have endorsed this reality. However, sadly in Sri Lanka, English teachers, instructors and lecturers are appointed purely based on their first or undergraduate degree in English or ELT, which is under criticism today. Prof Hoole also mentioned this Sri Lankan reality in his Preface, and he attempted to reform the recruitment and teaching service system at the university level when he was a University Grants Commission Member in Sri Lanka a few years ago, and chairman of the UGC Standing Committee on English. At the same time, he is assertive that the recruits must acquire a good command of the knowledge of the English language or become subject experts. In addition, the teachers should excel in ELT pedagogy. They should know how to teach a language structure or expression or vocabulary step by step. They need to internalize how to use and teach English in multi-cultural contexts. Hoole’s Book reinforces these three characteristics of ELT and ELL.

Indeed, subject knowledge, methodology and culture need to be integrated with the proper use of the language. Hoole has given ample examples of this approach. The book is a guide for both new and practising teachers and users. The explanations and examples are convenient and practical for its readers and users. Though this book prioritizes English writing and learning through making corrections, the content enhances speaking, reading and listening skills. The uses of affixations such as prefixes and suffixes are comprehensively addressed. The Latin prefixes and expressions are a complex area to be dealt with. He successfully describes their forms, functions and meanings. Another attractive focus is on nationalities. His exploration of the language in the areas such as pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar and discourse is so personalized, and he follows a style of his own. 

Another two areas of his vehement and passionate interest are politics and law. The interest is so visible when he discusses the language of politics, media and law. He almost becomes a discourse analyst in dealing with their language use. He identifies hidden, visible and silenced ideas, attitudes and sometimes ideologies. But, again, the importance given to the use of vocabulary is appreciable. 

Overall, the book guides in choosing the most useful vocabulary for the most appropriate context. The book gives the background and context for each pair or single expression. It selects, adapts or creates syntactic or pragmatic learning opportunities. The book elaborates on the distinction between varieties of English: British, American, Sri Lankan and Indian etc. His selection of extracts goes from the past events to the recent Trump and Biden news items. Hoole explains the key aspects or fundamental aspects of grammar effectively. He articulates its relationship with communicative purposes following the new and traditionally significant trends in language use. 

As a senior academic in English Linguistics and head of the Department of English Language Teaching at the University of Vavuniya, I do not have any reservations or hesitation in recommending this book to all who want to learn good international English and use it nationally and globally. Further, this open book, written with honesty and authenticity by a man of academic excellence and practical application, deserves its proper place in all the libraries of the schools, universities and public libraries in Sri Lanka.

The book is available at Vijith Yapa, Sarasavi and from the author at srhhoole@gmail.com. 

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Latest comments

  • 7
    2

    That I do not know English well is not secret. I am still a learner.
    Naturally, the article drew me to it like a magnet attracting iron filings.
    My comment is focused on learning, not drawing anybody’s ire.
    .
    Why is … professor interested in writing a book on English use?
    Shouldn’t it be, ‘a book on English usage’. Why? Why not?
    Use is a verb; Seldom, it is used as a noun. Usage is used only as a noun, never a verb.

    • 1
      2

      I think you have answered your question. Use is seen popular as noun. It is not rare. Please go through the ELT professional discourse in which it has become a popular technical word rather than the noun, usage. Further, in writing, diversity is welcome so in this review, both use and usage are many times applied. Please see below for the examples:

      The content covers a long list of the usage of related but distinct pairs
      the British and American English Usage Books
      He even corrected the usage description
      example for each pair use
      narrated Sri Lankan English use
      a general as well as a student user
      the proper use of the language
      dealing with their language use
      the use of vocabulary
      The uses of affixation
      trends in language use

    • 0
      0

      N
      Use is more than seldom used as a noun, for example “What is the use?”

    • 4
      0

      Dear Dr. Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan,
      .
      I have the book. I’ve just re-read Professor Sarvan’s Foreword.
      .

      This book, being sold at the subsidised rate of Rs 1,200/= is a collectors item. Sections of it are really most interesting for any Lankan, be he Tamil of not. Readers, please buy yourself a copy if you, since you already know some English and want something interesting, which you can dip into occasionally.
      .
      Professor Hoole has inherited the presigious dialect of English in Lanka from his parents, and has supplemented that with study of that healthy book by the elder Fowler brother. Using this English, Professor Hoole has written many useful articles for us all. See:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/ranil-wickremesinghes-democratic-credentials-a-test-a-challenge/
      .
      It’s on the current home page of CT.
      .
      How much is it helping the actual learners whom you teach? Please let us know how it is faring with them. It’s a very difficult job, this learning of the “living Esperanto”.
      .
      By a “Given-up Teacher of English”!

      • 2
        0

        Thanks for your comment. Yes, It can be a reference book for usage or appropriate use of one expression over the other. In the classroom, we can discuss the differences functionally and semantically. In addition, the grammar section is available. as I have told you, when we teach grammar, we can use this book as supplementary.

        • 3
          0

          Yes, exactly, Jeyaseelan.
          .
          It is so difficult to get meaningful discussions going in a classroom. In situations such as must constantly be cropping up in your classrooms, wouldn’t it be quite practical for you to have a “class-set” of about twenty copies of the book, which could be distributed for just the lesson, and for you to get discussion going for items in the dictionary Section which stretches from pages 14 to 341, most of the book, in fact?
          .
          Numerous examples of confusion are quite funny, and I’m sure that they could lead to lots of good-humoured discussion.
          .
          Helping overcome student inhibitions is an extremely important part of language teaching, and I’m sure that once teachers realise that Professor Hoole (not being a professional language teacher himself) wouldn’t mind some jokes being poked at his own assertions, the book could be very useful indeed.
          .
          Panini Edirisinhe

  • 0
    1

    Hoole bugger machan writing a book on Sri Lankan English machan.
    Does his pater bugger no machan.
    Anney sin noh

    • 2
      0

      I can’t understand why there is so much nit-picking regarding Sri Lankan English usage.
      I am currently watching a Scottish sitcom, Still Game, (BBC, no less), where the accents are so thick that it is impossible to follow without subtitles. If that’s good enough for the BBC, what are we griping about (or aboot, as the Scots say) ?

  • 3
    0

    Language, particularly English, is vital to a productive life.
    Should we insist on being ‘perfect’ in our knowledge of the language. No.
    However, a good understanding of English goes a long way to strengthen our lives.
    .
    I shouldn’t pass an opinion on the book I haven’t read. However, my path to ‘knowing’ English tells me, ‘You learn it only when the necessity is there’. We live in such a lazy world, we eat only when we are hungry!

  • 2
    0

    Dear old codger,
    .
    I won’t even try to answer your question!
    .
    I’m sure that Dr. Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan, would be better able to provide you with some information, but will you be able to understand it all, is the question!
    .
    I never got beyond my First Degree in English, and my course at Peradeniya focussed mainly on Literature.
    .
    The work of people like this is pretty abstract stuff:
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_de_Saussure
    .
    It was quite innocently that I thought that I’d give you this link to the most general possible Wikipedia entry:
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics
    .
    This is the honest truth! Glancing down that, I found this:
    .
    “The earliest activities in the description of language have been attributed to the 6th-century-BC Indian grammarian Pāṇini[78][79] who wrote a formal description of the Sanskrit language in his Aṣṭādhyāyī.[80][81] Today, modern-day theories on grammar employ many of the principles that were laid down then.[82]”
    .
    A common misunderstanding about people having qualifications in Linguistics is that they will all know many languages. Not the case. I have dared say even this much because I don’t boast any special qualifications in Linguistics!
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

  • 2
    0

    Where accents are concerned, there probably is greater variety within Britain than anywhere else in the world.
    .
    This will indicate to you the two people who have studied this aspect of English for a long time:
    .
    https://www.routledge.com/International-English-A-Guide-to-Varieties-of-English-Around-the-World/Trudgill-Hannah/p/book/9781138233690
    .
    When I was an undergraduate I did study what they had written on varieties of English in Britain. Since I’ve never been there, what more can I say? However, it is probably true to say that most Brits have their own dialect, but are able to switch to something that may be called Standard British English. I attended my first formal speech class when I was about thirty three years old with Wendy Whatmore because some parents insisted that I should teach something called “Elocution”. She soon realised that I knew my onions and I completed the first of three levels of Teacher Diplomas from Trinity College, London – ATCL in record time. The Fellowship Diploma would be considered the equivalent of an Honours Degree.
    .
    At Peradeniya there were plenty of others who had done much more of it, but they never acknowledged it, because Professor Thiru Kandiah was so dead against it!

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