By Helasingha Bandara –
“I guess I should have paid more attention during Sinhala class when I was in school. Oh, well. But it would absolutely stupendous, dear Speaker, if someone in Parliament sponsors me to improve my Sinhala; both writing and pronunciation. Or we could come to terms with me reading the Budget in English, which is easier for me, next year.” – Ravi Karunanayake (Ceylon Today, 22 November 2015)
First, let us look at his claim that he cannot pronounce Sinhala words, at least some of them. This leaves him in the category of incapable, inefficient, untalented, unsuitable, incompetent people because he cannot pronounce English either, obvious isn’t it?
“Born to Tissa Anuruddha Mahanama Karunanayake and Carmaleka Karunanayake, daughter of former DIG Cyril Dissanayake. He is the eldest son in a family of two. Educated at S. Thomas’ Preparatory School, Kollupitiya up to his GCE Ordinary Level, after which he proceeded to Royal College Colombo for his Advanced Level examinations. He became a management accountant and worked for Delmege Group before heading up several directorships of new ventures in the travel industry”.
Wikipedia states that he is a Roman Catholic although his father’s name is very Buddhist. His maternal grandfather is a Dissanayaka, a typical Singhalese name. There is no mention of Ravi’s higher education at University level, local or foreign, if there is any. That leaves us with the billion Dollar question that how he cannot pronounce Sinhala words. Ravi was not born to native English speaking parents, he has not migrated to an English speaking country at a tender age, he has no education at a recognized educational institute in an English speaking country and he has not lived a considerable length of time in an English speaking country ( meaning over 20 years minimum). Linguists agree, if someone does not fulfill any of the above criteria he/she cannot speak English in the manner a native speaker would. In other words he/she will have a different pronunciation or an accent that is foreign to native speakers of English. Therefore in the context of his claim that he cannot pronounce Singhalese well he cannot pronounce English well either. I do not mean that he cannot speak English. He speaks our own brand of English. So our own brand of Singhalese would do for the reading of the budget.
People of East Asia and the Far East do not have that subservient mentality to feel that they need to pretend that they do not know their mother tongue. The Chinese President on his recent visit to the UK received a grand welcome that no Sri Lankan could ever imagine receiving from the UK. Yet even at the queen’s banquet the Chinese President spoke in Chinese and I for one did not notice that he suffered from any inferiority complex for not speaking in English. Even the Indians have learnt to respect their own languages. I have realized that all dignitaries and the celebrities visiting foreign countries have begun to speak in an Indian Language. They even believe that the place that English holds today may diminish and people have to learn Chinese or Hindi instead. Be it reality or fantasy, I respect the fact that they do not feel their languages are inferior. The disease is rampant only in our tiny country. It is a shame that some people still do not realize that the knowledge of two or more languages certainly is better than knowing one and even that not fully.
Recently I participated in a presentation in Colombo. The speaker had lived 27 years in the UK and of course had received his post graduate education in two British universities. During his presentation in Singhalese he did not use a single English word but fluent Sinhalese. At the same event another Singhalese person who had received only the local school education and lived all his life in Sri Lanka, speaking in English claimed that he is not capable of delivering his speech in Sinhalese. I did not know whether to laugh or to cry.
We cannot simply forget it when political leaders follow this sort of ludicrous trends because in an undereducated and underdeveloped society like ours millions are prepared to emulate. Please stop pretending, every one of us should be able to speak Tamil or Singhalese and additionally English. I have no doubt you will speak your mother tongue better than any other language.
The other fact is that reading the budget in your English can be easier for you, no argument mister. As a public servant you cannot ignore the fact that millions of people in our country do not understand if you do so. Therefore you should either become the Finance Minister of the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and at least Nigeria or deliver the budget speech in Singhalese with a Tamil interpreter or vice versa.