21 August, 2019

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The English Language

By Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan –

Prof. Charles Sarvan

The author of How English Became English (Oxford University Press, 2016), Simon Horobin, is Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford. It’s small (see picture with a pen to indicate comparative size), few in pages (about 165) but considerable in content. The sub-title is ‘A Short History of a Global Language’ but it’s more than a history because Horobin also reflects on the future of the language. Also, almost en passant, he clarifies certain terms and concepts. I’m no linguist, and this is not a review: I write as a layman to draw attention to the book; to share some thoughts and to raise a few questions. Page reference in what follows is to this text.

Horobin begins with Old English, CE 650-110, and then moves on to Middle English, 1100-1500. (Chaucer, the so-called Father of English Literature, lived from 1343-1400.) Even during the period of Early Modern English (1500-1750), English functioned as a local language: communication on a national level was in French and Latin (p. 75). The Romans occupied Britain for about four hundred years: one of their contributions was the founding of Londinium, present-day London. A far more significant contribution was the introduction of Christianity and Latin which language, together with French after the Norman Conquest of 1066, has heavily influenced English. Latin though termed a dead language is alive with some English-speakers: as the Irish poet Seamus Heaney (1939-2013; Nobel Prize winner) was dying, he managed to text a two-word message to his wife in Latin, the language he loved: Noli timere. “Don’t be afraid.” But more than the past, it’s English in the present which is of the greater interest. 

Christianity, the religion of a small group in an obscure part of the Roman Empire, became a world religion when persecution shaded into toleration and, finally, to conversion: imperial Roman territories followed suit with the Emperor Augustine sending Christian missionaries to England in 597 CE. As with the spread of Christianity, empire plays an important role in the spread of the English language. England ruled over the most extensive empire the world has known to date, and with imperial rule and colonial possession (America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) went the English language (and Christianity). L. L. Zamenhof (1859-1917) created a language, Esperanto, to foster international understanding and peace: Esperanto means “One who hopes”. That artificial language did not gain international ‘currency’ but in the English language the world now has a living Esperanto. Dr Johnson in his dictionary of 1755 defines English as belonging to England but one cannot say that English is today a world language and still claim it’s the privileged possession of a particular people. It’s unfortunate that the same word applies to a language and to a people. Indians do not speak a language known as Indian, nor Pakistanis one known as Pakistani. In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, when meeting with an Englishman, we have this reaction: “The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.” (I take up this feeling of inferiority below, in discussing accent.) And yet Irish Joyce is now recognised as one of the major figures in English literature. ‘English literature’ means ‘Literature in the English language’, and in that sense Jean Arasanayagam (her funeral takes place today: Friday, 2nd August 2019) is an English writer; more precisely a Sri Lankan English-writer.  But a Christian Burgher married to a Hindu Tamil and living in Sinhalese Buddhist Kandy; in danger of her life during anti-Tamil riots and the pogrom of 1983, identity was never “a given” to her. Selfhood was something she thought earnestly and passionately about, as her poetry makes poignantly and powerfully clear. Arasanayagam’s experience is not rare, and several writers from various parts of the world have written on the theme of exile (external or internal) and alienation. At random, Kamala Markandaya’s novel, The Nowhere Man comes to mind. Indeed, it has been said that, to varying degree, we are all foreigners and lonely, sojourning through a strange world. 

“Today English is the primary language in some sixty countries” (p. 142). India has a republican constitution and a few states, including Tamil Nadu, have English as an additional official language. But who is a native-speaker of English? If I say, “Native American” I refer to a group, to an ethnicity but “native” has several denotations and the one I would choose and mean in the context of language is “natural”. A native speaker of English is one to whom English is natural. Therefore, it can be said there are many native-speakers of English in Sri Lanka. But it must be borne in mind that not all native speakers of English have an acceptable level (let alone a high degree) of native-speaker competence: as one who once lived in England and still is a British citizen; as one who has taught English in England, I know this at first-hand. So too with all languages: not every Sinhalese has native-speaker competence in Sinhala. And yet native speakers do have an intuition about their language, and so we can go to them with the SWANS (Sounds Wrong to a Native Speaker) test. As Horobin has it, a native speaker may not be able to explain the rules of grammar but, between “The yellow little book” and “The little yellow book”, she or he will not have difficulty in identifying the accepted form. As with ‘native language’, so too the phrase ‘first language’ is not necessarily meant in a biographic-chronological sense, that is, the language acquired first in life by an individual. Take for instance the case of a child being adopted and growing up in an environment totally different in geographic and cultural, social and linguistic terms. In the film ‘Lion’, a little Indian boy adopted by an Australian couple, returns as a young man; meets with his now aged mother but can’t speak with her, he having long lost his original language. An individual’s first-language is that language in which she is best able to express herself: the difference between ‘native language’ and ‘first-language’ is not hermetic. As for the phrase ‘mother tongue’, it appears that those with a serious interest in language no longer use it – even as in general practice, BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) have given way to the more neutral, and therefore inclusive, BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era). Of course, ‘Common Era’ includes the present.

Etymologically, the term diglossia means speaking two languages but in sociolinguistics it refers to a situation where two distinct varieties of the same language, a high and a low form, exist within the same speech-community. (Both Sinhalese and Tamil are characterised by diglossia.) This leads us to the five levels of language (very formal, formal, neutral, informal or casual, and vulgar or slang) and to the concept of register. Register is language in actual use, and is the result of the coming together of several different factors such as subject of discourse, social context, age of interlocutors, intention etc. The ‘control’ a person has of register is a measure of his or her command of that language. Mixing registers can lead to strange effects, intended or unintended. I recall a worker in Africa very politely informing me: “Bwana [Sir] the tap is buggered”. 

Returning to the levels of language above, it is regrettable that the response of some readers of Colombo Telegraph is downright vulgar. It appears that such responders are either unaware of or indifferent to what their vulgarity reflects on them and, much worse, on Sri Lanka. Rather than engaging seriously with the argument presented, they attack the writer personally, insulting and jeering at her or him, or in fastening upon a point minor and marginal to the main text.  Such individuals seem to take pride in their crudity, mistaking vulgarity, even obscenity, for power and wit. Unfortunately, Colombo Telegraph receives so much material that they have neither the resources nor the time to remove the vulgar or, for that matter, delete those contributions which, vulgar and vacuous, contribute nothing worthwhile, nothing at all.

It has been noted that white people consider their skin-colour as the norm (the default-setting, if one will) and the other gradations of pigmentation as inferior deviations: never mind that the ancestors of all of us are African.  So too, it seems with some in England and with what is termed RP: Received (‘generally accepted’) Pronunciation. Language schools make commercial profit by promising to inculcate this ‘superior’ accent. If in England it’s said “She doesn’t have an accent”, the lack is a positive. In other words, she speaks like “us”. A Sri Lankan who returns from England after a short stay with what is termed ‘an English accent’ and, what’s more, carefully clings to it, can be suspected of trying to be, in the words of Professor Horobin, “aloof and snobbish”.  I know Englishmen – not to mention Sri Lankans – who have studied at Oxford but who, rejecting false social status, do not cultivate the accent associated with that University. I also know several Sri Lankans who have lived in England not for years but for decades, and still speak English as they did in Sri Lanka. As Achebe notes, it’s not that the west projected superiority but that the non-Western world accepted that evaluation and internalised it. With accent, sometimes what appears to be superiority is in fact an inherent inferiority-complex. Implicit Association Tests establish that our attitudes toward things like “race”, colour and gender (we can here add accent) operate on two levels. One is our conscious attitudes, what we choose to believe; our declared values which we use to direct our behaviour deliberately. The second level is that of the unconscious which functions on immediate, automatic associations, before we have even had time to think. (In Sri Lanka, when it comes to ‘racial’ and religious beliefs and attitudes, it seems to be both conscious and unconscious.) Fifty thousand African Americans who took the Race IAT had stronger, more positive, associations with whites than with their own fellow blacks. How could they not? They live in North America, where they are surrounded every day by cultural messages linking white with the superior and the good. You don’t choose to make positive associations with the dominant group, but all around you, that group is being paired with good things. Escape becomes a conscious, ever-vigilant effort. “All speakers of English use an accent” (p. 106). As a light-hearted aside, the Guardian reported a recent survey: British men find English spoken with a French accent most “sexy” while for British women it was Italian.

When in doubt over meaning or spelling we reach for a dictionary and its authority, but language is a democracy, in the hands of those who use it: hence the witticism, “There’s no one in charge, and the lunatics are running the asylum”. First comes language-behaviour; then linguists (more specifically, grammarians) describe usage, and parents and teachers enforce it.  This helps to explain the varieties of English in existence today: I gather the variety of English spoken in Singapore is known, and what’s more recognised, as Singlish.

What of the future of English? As the Buddha taught, the only thing permanent is temporariness. Or should we say it’s by changing that things remain (essentially) the same? Today, it’s not uncommon to meet the word “Englishes” but if these Englishes continue to develop independently, will mutual intelligibility be lost? In other words, will English cease to be our Esperanto? What may be reassuring is that  the written form of the language changes less quickly than the spoken variety. But even here, the influence of digital communication is not to be underestimated. I was surprised to receive an email message from Jaffna, from an octogenarian like me, which began “u r”, rather than “you are”. See also expressions like GR8 WRK for “Great work” and THX for ”Thanks”. Professor Horobin quotes (p. 11) the version of “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” as rendered by the Bible Society of Australia: “In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth”. (I notice with disquiet that my computer does not mark “cre8d” as being incorrect.) Nouns become verbs as in “Google it”; a mouse is associated more with computers than with cats; tweeting is not limited to birds and, as Horobin notes, surfing no longer requires a surfboard. Electronic communication is characterized by creativity and playfulness (p. 129). 

Culture, mores, ethos – call it what you will – changes and with that goes changes in language. In as much as, most unfortunately, it’s a given society at a given time that interprets and expresses religious teaching (rather than religious doctrine conditioning social and political behaviour) so it is with language and changing times.   My wife, reading Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, noted it was dedicated to “my husband Itzik” and concluded Harari was female. But Professor Harari of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, author of the widely-read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, is male. Reflecting changed moral and social attitudes, words such as “wife” and “husband” are no longer bound to biology. A note of caution: words can influence social attitudes and behaviour, particularly in the emotionally charged areas of ‘race’, religion and politics. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Bernard Shaw quipped that America and Britain are two countries separated by the same language. Since the power and influence of a language depends on the power and influence of the people who speak it, will American English replace British English? I have heard Americans say that they speak American (rather than English).  As with English and some states in India, will Spanish come to be recognised by some states of the USA as an additional official language? This leads to an aspect I have not considered: bilingualism.  There are strong Asian communities in the UK, and the children grow up fluent in one language at home and equally fluent (and accent-free) in English outside. Language is important and interesting in itself but is also a product and reflector of changing times and realities.

Of creative writers we expect not only the fabulation of character and story but the creative use of language, including neologisms and unusual, startling and apt structures and collocations. Creativity means deviation from the normal and the norms: in other words, change. And in non-creative, everyday life and use too, language is constantly being changed, and no academy, no esteemed figure can stop it. Language is a democracy and, as long as a language lives, it will change. 

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan dismisses Esperanto far to easily. I see Esperanto as a remarkable success story. It has survived wars and revolutions and economic crises and continues to attract people to learn and speak it. A couple of million people have signed up to the Duolingo Esperanto course in the last three years.

    Esperanto works. I’ve used it in about twenty countries over recent years. I recommend it to anyone, as a way of making friendly local contacts in other countries. Esperanto is useful as well as serving as a good introduction to learning other languages.

  • 5
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    This is must own must read book.Thanks Prof: Sarvan. With humility you say that you are not a Linguist but your numerous brilliant essays on this forum has always been a treat to read.

    I just need to make this comment since Bernard Shaw has been mentioned. His play Pygmalion which was later adapted as a Musical blockbuster — My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn had an interesting dialogue between Prof: Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering…..
    Higgins: English has not been spoken in America for years……….!!

    • 4
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      “Higgins: English has not been spoken in America for years……….!!”

      Each to his own …… to me language is just a tool of expression; substance is more important than style.

      And in the academic environment ……. I found the Americans to be more precise and efficient in the use of English to express an idea lucidly ……… than the English themselves.

      • 2
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        Prof. Charles Sarvan,

        Only now I had the time to read your article (I would’ve said “piece” but am using the “higher” language out of respect for your great erudition) in its entirety …….. and am gobsmacked by your depth of knowledge and the skill you put it across.

        Just a few observations,

        “sometimes what appears to be superiority is in fact an inherent inferiority-complex”

        How true! ……. Not just with accents. ……….. The people I’ve been able to get on well with – all over the world – are people who are secure in themselves and confident in their own abilities to carry them through ……… and not having to resort to some perceived inherent “advantage.”

        “where they are surrounded every day by cultural messages linking white with the superior and the good.”

        Would people accept a “cultural message” if there was no substance to it? ………. Would we be talking and writing in English and mimicking the whites (in our case the English) if we believe there is no substance to it?

        Would Lankan people watching Hindi programs daily on TV start mimicking the Indian accent? How do they instinctively know that’s not an accent they should mimic?

        Shouldn’t we take responsibility for a course of action that we have consciously taken? And try not to pass off the responsibility? ……. Sartre would say that’s “bad-faith.”

        “white people consider their skin-colour as the norm”

        I believe that’s only part of the story ………. The “English” consider them superior to all others; irrespective of skin color.

        My greatest admiration for the English is ……… that at this point in time of human social evolution ……. they have created for themselves the most free and “democratic” societies – in their own country and it’s outposts.

        • 2
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          continued

          Observe the societies they have created for themselves (what English have created for the English; not others) in the UK, Canada, Australia, NZ …….. and contrast that with the society we Sinhalese-Buddhists (again, please make the distinction I’m leaving others out) have created for ourselves; the Sinhalese-Buddhists.

          Don’t you think the English have cause/reason to feel superior!

          Now, you won’t catch me dead saying that to an English ……. I’ll start with how they colonised us and stole all our wealth and what scum of the earth they are …..and all that jazz …….. but …….

          • 0
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            nimal,
            .
            To me, it sounds as though you have only just “discovered” Prof. Sarvan’s articles. He writes regularly, and always exhibits these characteristics.
            .
            Humility and gentleness, despite all his erudition.
            .
            He often picks on subjects which seem far removed from our situation in Sri Lanka, but often shows how startlingly relevant they are for us.
            .
            He universalises our predicaments. There is always a moral aspect to his writing.
            .
            That’s him. I often wonder who you really are. Perhaps you sometimes write articles under your own name. If you don’t, you should.
            .
            Thappu took you on. I was relieved to see you acting with such savoir-faire.

        • 0
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          nimal fernando, Not that I make it a habit of coming after you, but I do!
          .
          Don’t tell me that you don’t feel that others who comment on CT are not your equals. To put it bluntly, you consider yourself superior. Can you see how the English have a feeling that they are superior.
          .
          I don’t know if you hate to call yourself American, but Americans will never accept if you tell them that the English are superior to them. The Americans live & breathe that claim!
          .
          I have no problem accepting the English for what they think who they are, but in no way would I grant that to the Americans.
          .
          You cry, ‘how they colonised us and stole all our wealth ‘. You poor creature. The English returned the favour in kind!
          .
          It was the Plantation industry that sustained us, until we managed to ruin it ourselves!

          • 2
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            Thappu,

            Your comments are something I can construct a rational response to ……. but need a little more time than I have right now. ……. Shall respond later.

            I try to base all my comments on what I believe is the truth …….. and truth’s a powerful weapon ……. if it comes out sounding “superior” so be it!

            There are many here who have vastly more knowledge and skills than I do …… but I can easily trip some because they lack simple honesty of thought.

            I hate to give away my trade secrets! :))

          • 0
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            Thappu,

            Let us examine the idea of “superior” by asking and trying to answer a simple question.

            Would a tall man feel superior to a short man?

            When we answer that many other questions will follow



            “You cry, ‘how they colonised us and stole all our wealth ‘. You poor creature. The English returned the favour in kind!”

            It came out sounding the wrong way …… it should be “the usual jazz” ……. that’s what we Lankans always complain about the English ……. :))

            We would say to each other that they left us a wonderful country ……. but would we say the to an English?

            That’s what gals do; they never say you have done enough for them ……… trying to get you to do more and more!

            How many gals do you know Thappu? …….. Most gals will give ye a quick-fire concise-education no money can buy ……… all philosophers rolled into one.

            • 0
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              Thappu,

              Just one more thing.

              If you say I have a feeling of “superiority” …… then isn’t a corollary of that ……. some other’s insecurities have coloured their writing/minds?

              Is pure thought possible ……… aloof from one’s insecurities?

              Insecurities —–> like the perennial Lankan diatribe I threw at the English.

              • 0
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                nimal fernando, The time you took to respond was worth it. You nearly found a way to sidetrack me.
                .
                The British have a right to feel superior. One has to earn that right. At times, I myself get that feeling. This is one of those!
                .
                Superiority refers to the state of ‘being’ superior. It is different from feeling superior.
                .
                You ask, ‘Would a tall man feel superior to a short man?’ If this is a question, it could arise only from some misguided understanding of what that word means!
                .
                Let us go to your, ‘We would say to each other that they left us a wonderful country ……. but would we say the to an English?’.
                – You might think that you have thrown a googly. (After all Cricket is another gift of the English.) Not so fast. I once said that to the Englishman who interviewed me:
                Q: What is the literacy rate in your country?
                A: I do not know the exact number, but it is quite high! In fact the highest in SE Asia.
                Q: How did you achieve that?
                A: I pointed my finger at him, (as you do when you accuse someone) and said, ‘Because of you!’
                .
                Undeniably, we owe our literacy to the Britishers.
                .
                Truth never comes out, ‘superior’. Truth be told, truth is a good leveller!
                .
                Nice exchanging ideas with you.

                • 0
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                  Thappu,

                  There is truth in what you say …….. and it comes down to distinguishing objective and subjective “superiority.” ……… or even if there is such a thing ………..

                  I believe ……. in man, a “feeling of superiority” comes from his animal instincts ……. can a moral/ethical dimension be imposed upon it? I feel it’s futile.

                  Also, ………. isn’t modesty be nothing but false?

                  In almost all instances modesty ends up being not telling the truth about one feels/thinks of oneself.

                  Which is the greater fault; the immodesty of telling the truth ………. or modesty of not telling the truth? :))

                • 0
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                  “Undeniably, we owe our literacy to the Britishers.”:-
                  Literacy yes! But that does not mean that we are Educated as Well!

      • 1
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        Exactly, even grammar and language teaching books authored by Americans are more technically precise and concise than those of the British. The language is economical yet comprehensive.

        Now, here, in Sri Lanka, I think, more emphasis is given to the importance of using the English language as a means of communication rather than a social factor. Hence, hopefully, the focus on the accent of the speaker will eventually become relatively insignificant in comparison to the content. English as a school curricular subject is referred to as a link language and rightly so taking into account the nature of the two national languages Sinhala and Tamil.

  • 3
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    Plato,
    “Higgins: English has not been spoken in America for years……….”
    It seems that is not quite true. The Americans still use some 17th century words, like “mad” for angry or “I guess”for “I suppose”. If you listen to British films from even the 50’s you can see how the Queen’s language has changed.

  • 3
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    Bill Chapman writes: “I’ve used [Esperanto] in about twenty countries over recent years.
    I recommend it to anyone, as a way of making friendly local contacts in other countries.”

    This is news indeed to me – and welcome news.

    I thank Mr Bill Chapman for his input: “Live and learn”.

  • 3
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    From far away Germany, Prof. Sarvan continues to enrich Sri Lanka and her
    academic community with the depth of his learning and knowledge. Two matters
    are clear in his interventions – his love of Sri Lanka and his keen desire to
    contribute to her coming together – features of a cultured Gentleman and man of peace.

    R. Varathan

  • 0
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    I am interested in this Espranto discussion. Who stopped the spread of Espranto. Who brought it and wanted to popularize. Was it from English speaking western countries who wanted to destroy Esparanto and let English become the International langauge.
    IT is Bernard shaw who said, English is not a complete literary language which fits for thinkers, scholars like people. Indian and china has each over one billion people. SPanish also has evolved into more dialects or languages. Why only english became the international language.
    I see, every body is writing something from english literature at the beginning. they always quote english writers. Even Sri lanka now has given up talking about British history and instead talk about american every thing. It looks everything is pre planned. I know in the west people talk about conspiracy theories in every thing, .What do you think about Zionist in the back like so many other influences. Why Catholics were disadvantaged. ?

    • 0
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      Dear JD,
      .
      Your question has complexities that rule out simple answers. For the facts see the Wikipedia article. It’s good to know from Bill Chapman that there still are committed devotees.
      .
      The Tower of Babel was a myth that sought to explain why there are so many languages. Esperanto is a real story of how an adolescent Polish Jew (get off all the conspiracy theories, please) sought to have one language for the whole world. It was to “belong” to no single race, but reality began to creep in when he put it together using mainly European languages. If we resent that, then we sabotage the project! Got to start somewhere!! The enthusiasts who immediately took to it had World Citizen outlooks. When I was Zamenhoff’s age, I wrote to the BBC about the possibility of a World Government. My letter was discussed on the air, but even then Philip Noel-Baker, a strong advocate, pointed out the problems relating mainly to economics. His country has joined the European Union. It may be that we will have a Union of South Asian States. Gradually, we will move towards one World. Do you see the problems already? English dominates because of accidents of History. However, let us, in all matters club together as those who advocate Unity and Peace. You see Prof. Sarvan’s immediate enthusiasm, don’t you?
      .
      With language, the problem is mostly with how it is first acquired – typically the oral form that comes from the mother, long before the baby actually speaks. Two or three other languages can be added before age five. Let us do all that we can so that many toddlers grow like that.
      .
      Esperanto is an artificial language, and was learnt by adults who wanted a better world.

  • 2
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    Prof. Sarvan,

    Prof. Suresh Canagarajah, currently at Penn State, wrote a book some years ago on ‘Resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching.’ He also talks about ‘World Englishes,’ I believe.

    With the emergence of China and India as powerhouse economies, they are going to be assertive about the way they speak English in their countries. And many immigrants in America are able to hold fairly powerful positions despite their accents.

    Sometimes there is neither rhyme nor reason for the twists in pronunciation of English words. The British class structure was based on social clubs, and in that clubby world, pronunciation was arbitrarily changed as a means of coded communication within classes. It also served to exclude people deemed less worthy of membership in the class. I don’t know if this book brings that out — haven’t read it.

    • 3
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      Agnos

      As usual, your measured comments inspire in-depth discussion.
      That era when “you were admitted to the Club on the basis of your OxCam English accent” is far behind us. The Americans/Canadians today speak with a different accent and have little appetite for the Brit accent. Even in England I notice most Britishers looked down upon the OxCam crowd contemptuously. Personally, I am in that minority crowd of those impressed by the OxCam accent. Hollywood, I suggest, has much to do with internationalising English, has also much to do with this change. It is unlikely Esperanto will make an impact in the next many decades challenging English as the lingua franca of the world – a competition in which the elegant French language fell behind. There has been a sea change in India, where some of the most brilliant English writers of contemporary times have virtually dominated as Writers and even Speakers. Indians going for studies to North America and Britain has much to do with this – in addition to the place the language has been afforded in that vast land.

      Sadly for Sri Lanka, the Sinhala majority threw the baby with the bath water. Everyone in the island, that built an excellent tradition of English, lost. I was amazed at the quality of English of the younger generation of the Tamil diaspora in the UK, Canada, USA, Australia-NZ – who have economically gained by their new found proficiency. The ways of the world will provide prominence to different languages during different times – Greek, Latin and English. Russia failed in their attempt in the 20th century. Will Mandarin
      become the 2nd most sought after language in modern times? I believe, there is indeed a connection between political-economic success and a global language.

      R. Varathan

  • 1
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    One good news is Minister Akila Viraj has cut a deal with US embassy to get volunteer teachers.
    Yet this is only popcorn for elephant hunger. From the time Britain left, now for 70 years, English has been neglected by Sinhala Only Buddhists’ education department. If one look at on the otherwise, Hezbollah has been using about 800 Arabic teachers from Egypt. Let’s put a blind calculation. If 2M Muslims population needs 800 Arabic teachers, 20 M Lankan needs 8,000 English teachers. What is the need for Arabic and what is the need for English?

    I think Education department should approach the matter in a different angle. Instead of getting 80 teachers from US, get from US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa a bunch (200) Teachers training specialist. Set up training center in all major towns (,at least 10). Try to train 2000 English teachers an year for 10 years. Guarantee them job. Take off their passport so that they would not go to West and apply asylum saying that they were helping Tamils from Army so they became refugees in Lankawe. The in 15 years Lankawe will have enough English graduates.

    • 1
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      Standard of English has been on the decline from 70s, ever since Minister of Education Badiyudin Mahmud (no relation of the present Minister Rishad Badiyudin who came with possession of all his belongings in a tissue bag and now a multi billionaire) appointed guys who did not know anything beyond the alphabets as “English teachers”. No wonder readers in the English language shrank alarmingly and the circulation of English language newspapers plummeted. If the folly of the past could be rectified, one of the methods is to obtain the services of Teachers from the Universities in UK or the Fulbright Teachers Exchange program. I am stating this as one who benefited from such foreign teachers in my school days.

  • 1
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    In my opinion, for a Sri Lankan to live in the UK or Europe and talk English with an English accent (with non-Sri Lankans) is okay.

    But for a Sri Lankan to live in Sri Lanka, and talk with fellow Sri Lankans with an English accent points to something that calls for psychological analysis and understanding.

    Why does he wish to distance himself from his own?
    Eurocentric notions of superiority?
    But if one accent is deemed superior, doesn’t it mean the other is inferior?
    But if the accent is inferior, then those who speak with that “inferior” accent are inferior etc.

    Such an individual seems to have an inferioritiy complex which manifests itself as superiority.

  • 1
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    Sagittarius.
    Thank God; It is only an opinion and not the gospel truth!

  • 0
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    Dear Mallaiyuran and Juliano Jemma,
    .
    Although Prof. Sarvan modestly describes himself as a layman, he is a highly disciplined Professor of English (Literature more than Linguistics) who writes carefully, and provides us here with wonderful insights into the nature of language. He may well be the first to admit that he feels rather lost in the chaos that is Sri Lanka today.
    .
    You are rightly dis-satisfied with the present situation that we are in, and there is some substance in your complaints. However, I don’t think that you solutions are realistic, and in any case, they are just disjointed observations. Mally, it takes a good deal of hard work to get all our facts right if they are to be aplicable to the entire country. There already must be about 20,000 English teachers in the country – the reasons for our malaise may broadly be said to be administrative shortcomings, stemming from the politicisation of almost all that we have here. Importing teachers (or computer-tablets) won’t solve the problems faced by our children. And don’t you see that confiscating passports is not a way forward? It is true that most of those who know English migrate, and that we, Sinhalese have been running the country disastrously.
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    Juliano, I don’t think it ever got so bad that those recruited as English teachers knew only the alphabet. I’m sure that you must have benefitted from a foreign teacher, but I would urge you both to look at this article that has just appeared:
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    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/how-we-came-to-this-pass-iii/
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    I did not even know of the existence of Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan, which is only proof of my ignorance. He is clearly a very distinguished man who has done much valuable work. I’ve skimmed the Internet. In this article he answers exactly the questions that you ask, and he’s substantiated it all very well. I wish I were capable of writing all that!

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