Sri Lankan English (SLE, en-LK) or Ceylonese English is the English language as it is spoken in Sri Lanka. However, the classification of SLE as a separate dialect of English is controversial. English in Sri Lanka is fluently spoken by approximately 10% of the population, and widely used for official and commercial purposes. It is the native language of approximately 74,000 people.
The British colonial presence in South Asia led to the introduction of English to Sri Lanka. Since 1681, some words have been borrowed from the Sri Lankan language[clarification needed] by English. In 1948, Sri Lanka gained independence from the British Monarchy and English was no longer the only official language. In subsequent years, inequality in access to education, and national conflict have confounded the development and use of SLE, particularly in Sri Lankan literature. SLE may vary from British or American English in elements such as colloquialisms, vocabulary, syntax, pronunciation and emphasis of syllables.
Sri Lankan words in English
Sri Lankan words that were borrowed by the English and are used in the language are recorded in A Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies. Such words often relate to flora and fauna:
Colloquialisms have emerged in SLE. Some involve vocabulary. Others involve grammar (such as tense and plurals), syntax and intonation. Some may be common to Indian English.
|SLE word or phrase||English equivalent||Notes|
|bugger||person||used in informal speech, but not in the usual pejorative sense of the word: similar to 'guy' in American English.|
|"shape"||"It's alright"||Used to say someone is okay with something, mainly around urban areas|
|confinement||pregnancy||Not just the last trimester.|
|lady's fingers||okra||Not Lady finger bananas.|
|shorteats||snacks||Sometimes shortened to sorties. This is usually due to mispronunciation.|
|cover||Something that envelops something like a bag|
|pattice or pattis||a vegetable patty cake|
|stay||reside||Not, "Where are you lodging for the time being?" This usage also occurs in Scotland and in the United States.|
|batchmate||classmate||Meaning a student contemporary.|
|cousin-brother||a first male cousin||(or cousin-sister).|
|petrol shed||gas station (US)||filling station (UK) or petrol station (Aust.)|
|ragging||hazing (US)||fagging (UK)|
|"in vain"||unnecessarily||or, "a shame"|
|keep||put or place||"Keep it on the table" means "put it on the table"|
|too much||naughty, pushy, forward etc.||Expressing excess.|
|fully worth||good in value|
|get down from the [bus]||alight|
|get [them] down||invite [them] over|
|played [me] out||deceived [me]|
|ask from||ask||Meaning, ask something of a particular person.|
|put||"make"||For example, "put a complaint" means "make a complaint".|
|current||electricity or power|
|today morning||this morning|
|yesterday night||last night|
|Tele Drama||TV Series|
Words and tags may be added, subtracted, overused, or changed in order and tense in SLE.
|SLE phrase||Mechanism||Notes and examples|
|"isn't it?" and "no?"||tag added to a question||For example, "He's here, no?"|
|"He went to different different places"||Doubling adjectives for emphasis||Meaning, "He went to many different places."|
|"Don't worry about small small things."||Doubling adjectives for emphasis||Meaning, "Don't worry about inconsequential things."|
|"Different different worries."||Doubling adjectives to imply number||"Various worries."|
|"Let's go to city."||Omission of definite article||Meaning, "Let's go to the city."|
|"The driver is new. He is driving fast also."||Use of "also" instead of "and" or "both"||Meaning, "The driver is new and he drives fast."|
|"uncle", "aunty"||Added suffix||A form of address to show respect to an older person.|
|"even"||added at end of sentence||For example, "He didn't call even" meaning "he didn't even call" and not "He even, didn't call" or "Even he didn't call."|
|"only"||Changed word order||"Yesterday only they came" meaning "It was only yesterday that they came."|
|"Why they are here?"||Changed word order in questions||"Why are they here?"|
|"If you came here yesterday, you could meet her".||Changed use of tense||For example, "If you had come here yesterday, you could have met her."|
Speakers of Sri Lankan English may have varying ability in producing some sounds. Again, the sound of in "father" and in "luck"are absent in Sinhala and so are variably difficult for people from Sri Lanka to pronounce in SLE.
Metathesis occur, as they do in many languages. For instance, "exercise" may be pronounced as "ex-cise".
Some differences in pronunciation may relate to socioeconomic background and level of education. For example, a word like "note" is pronounced with a diphthong, in standard English. In SLE, it is pronounced /noːt/ with the monophthong; /oː/ and is accepted as normal in Sri Lanka. However, pronouncing a word like "hall" () as */hoːl/ is not accepted. Other words pronounced with a monophthong include: take and made.
Those unfamiliar with English may add an involuntary /i-/ prior to words like "skill" and "smell". However, this is not standard in SLE.
|Example||RP||GA||Sri Lankan English|
|"e" in "net"||[e ~ ɛ]||[ɛ]||[e]|
|"i" in "lid"||[ɪ]||[ɪ]||[i]|
|"oo" in "book"||[ʊ]||[ʊ]||[u]|
|"oo" in "boot"||[uː ~ ʉː]||[uː]|
|"o" in "ok"||[əʊ ~ əʉ]||[oʊ]||[oː]|
|Example||English||American||Sri Lankan English||Notes|
|"t" in "cat"||/t/||/t/||/ʈ/|
|"d" in "lad"||/d/||/d/||/ɖ/|
|"p" in "pull"||/pʰʊl/||/pʰʊl/||-||the same applies to "t" and "k" at the beginning of a word or stressed syllable.|
|"th" in "this"||/ð/||/ð/||/d̪/|
|"th" in "thin"||/θ/||/θ/||/t̪/|
|"sh" in "ship"||/ʃ/||/ʃ/||/ɕ-/|
|"ch" in "chin"||/tʃ/||/tʃ/||/ɕ-/|
|"s" in "vision"||/ʒ/||/ʒ/||/ɕ-/||/ʒ/ is uncommon in Sinhala.|
|"z" in "zip"||/z/||/z/||/s/||/z/ is uncommon in Sinhala.|
|"w" and "v"||/w/, /v/||/w/, /v/||/ʋ/|
The speaker of SLE may not use contractions as readily as English. For example, "What is the matter?" would be used over "What's the matter?"
Some elidedsyllables in English are pronounced in SLE. For example, "different" would be pronounced "diff-er-ent" (/ˈɖifərənʈ/). Also, some syllables normally unstressed and sounded as /ə/ may be sounded as /a(ː)/ (or, /o/, /u/, /e/ or /i/). For example, the word "camera" () may become /ˈkæməra(ː)/.
In SLE, the first syllable may be emphasised rather than the usual second or third. Examples include, "address", "cassette", "dessert", "museum", "hotel" and "gazette". One may also see differences in the allocation of primary and secondary syllable stresses.
|Example||English||American||Sri Lankan English||Notes|
|"a" in "villa"||/ˈvɪlə/||/ˈvɪlə/||/ˈʋila(ː)/|
|"w" in "welcome"||/ˈwɛlkəm/||/ˈwɛlkəm/||/ˈʋelkam/|
|"s" in "cabs"||/kæbz/||/kæbz/||/kæbs/||the "s" of at the end of plurals is pronounced with an "s" sound rather than the usual "z" sound. Other examples are, "rings", "clothes", "mangoes", "discos". The same applies to "is", "nose" and "houses".|
|"es" in "masses"||/ˈmæsɪz/||/ˈmæsɪz/||-||Where a plural ends in "es", "/-ɪz/" tends to be used. Other examples include, "wishes" and "judges".|
|"ed" in "knocked"||/nɒkt/||/nɒkt/||/nɒkɖ/||Similar change is heard with "passed", "finished", "wanted" and "landed".|
|"ed" in "landed"||/ˈlændɪd/||/ˈlændɪd/||/lænɖəɖ/||the same may apply after "t", "s", "g" and "n".|
|"et" in "pocket"||/ˈpɒkɪt/||/ˈpɒkɪt/||/ˈpɒkəʈ/||Other examples where "et" is unstressed and pronounced in this way include, "market" and "biscuit".|
|"th" in "healthy"||/ˈhɛlθi/||/ˈhɛlθi/||/ˈhelði/||Also, "wealthy".|
|"r" in "care"||/kɛə(r)/||/kɛər/||/kea(r)/||Also, "air", "fare", "pear" and so on.|
|"w" in "power"||/ˈpaʊə(r)/||/ˈpaʊə(r)/||/ˈpaʋə(r)/||Also, "tower" and "flower"|
|"w" in "twist"||/twɪst/||/twɪst/||/ʈʋisʈ/||Applies also to "quick".|
|"a" in "damage"||/ˈdæmɪdʒ/||/ˈdæmɪdʒ/||/ˈɖæmeːdʒ/||Other examples include "marriage", "manager", "village" and "college".|
|"a" in "delicate"||/ˈdɛlɪkɪt/||/ˈdɛlɪkɪt/||/ˈɖelikeːʈ/||Other examples include "accurate", "examine", "example" and "enamel".|
|"i" in "video"||/ˈvɪdiˌəʊ/||/ˈvɪdiˌoʊ/||/ˈʋiːɖiˌoː/||Other examples include "competition" and "electrician".|
- The Postcolonial Identity of Sri Lankan English by Manique Gunesekera
- A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English by Michael Meyler
External links and sources
- ^ is the language code for Sri Lankan English, as defined by ISO standards (see ISO 639-1 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-2) and Internet standards (see IETF language tag).
- ^Kirkpatrick A. and Sussex R. (ed.) "English as an International Language in Asia: Implications for Language Education: Implications for Language Education." Springer 2012 vol 1(12.1) p195. ISBN 9400745788, 9789400745780. Accessed at Google Books 30 January 2014.
- ^Ruiz-Garido M. F. et al "English for Professional and Academic Purposes." Utrecht studies in language and communication, ISSN 0927-7706 Vol 22. Rodopi 2010 p21. ISBN 9042029552, 9789042029552. Accessed at Google Books 30 January 2014.
- ^Boyle R. "Knox's words." Visidunu Publications 2004 p389. ISBN 955-9170-67-8.
- ^Jayasurya M. "Terror and Reconciliation: Sri Lankan Anglophone Literature, 1983-2009." Lexington Books 2012 p21. ISBN 0739165798, 9780739165799. Accessed at Google Books 30 January 2014.
- ^Lim L. et al (ed.) "The Politics of English: South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific." Studies in world booty language problems. John Benjamins Publishing 2013 vol 4 p74. ISBN 9027272131, 9789027272133. Accessed at Google Books 30 January 2014.
- ^"Anaconda" Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary 2008. Accessed 3 July 2008.
- ^Gunasekera, M. (2005). The Postcolonial Identity of Sri Lankan English. Colombo: Katha Publishers.
- ^Meyler, M., & Fernando, D. (2007). A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English. Colombo: Michael Meyler.
By Elmo Jayawardena –
Capt Elmo Jayawardena
Sri Lanka: Literary Essays and Sketches- By Prof Charles Sarvan – A review
Sri Lankan-created literature in the English language is limited. Of course the medium is not our mother tongue and the post- colonial years have steadily reduced the usage and decreased the numbers who read which has directly resulted in the downturn of the books published in English.
That is a clearly visible fact. It is also an accepted actuality that among the limited works that came through the publishers’ purgatory, there certainly were ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ books. Some could have easily stood on the same pedestal of fame of the renowned had they too been lucky in the winners’ lottery among the world’s literati.
But, it did not happen, sad and so true.
The undeniable ‘but’ has always been there, the story of ‘born to blush un-seen in the desert air’ in Gray’s words of mute inglorious local Miltons. Books by Sri Lankan authors published with the greatest difficulty with very limited access to international publishers and literary agents have died natural deaths and have been embalmed in some forgotten shelf at Odel’s or Vijitha Yapa’s. Net result; ‘U’ turning from Pygmy prominence to permanent obscurity in a very short period of time. That in a nutshell is a tragically factual history of Sri Lanka’s English literature and its writers.
Sarvan has kindled a fire to bring back books that mattered. From Ediriwira Sarathchandra to Jean Arasanayagam, Shyam Selvadurai to Ernest Macintyre, Romesh Gunesekara to Carl Muller plus a host of others, sons and daughters of the land who wrote brilliantly and is now reviewed by Prof Sarvan.
Then there are the essays and the sketches. I loved the one referring to the Indian plantation worker, a subject not so widely written about in Sri Lanka. Of course the 19th century Indian labour migrant went everywhere, to almost all the Asian Colonies of the Empire that shamelessly laid claims to own the world (sorry, my anger against colonialism gets the better of me.) Then they went to the darkest dungeons of the Dark Continent and even crossed the Atlantic to cut sugarcane in the vicinity of Port of Spain. The chapter on this semi-slave subject is well presented. Professor Sarvan’s take on this is valid and expressive in the best of written English where he details the insensitive human degration of the so derogatorily named estate ‘coolie’; callous exploitation, commercial at root, inhumane in its means and tragic in its consequences.’ Some alarming statistics on the subject are mentioned where Sarvan quotes Carl Muller (page 72). These are facts that are hardly known to the many who have scant knowledge of the squalid conditions these estate ‘coolies’ live in. Sarvan also adds in the same page a haunting verse from Velupillai lamenting the lot of the estate worker, his perpetual inheritance of misery from father to son to grandson which is constantly and continuously repeated, unfortunately unchanged.
The “Other Eden” by Richard de Zoysa is a worthy chapter. Those of you who are familiar with the tragic death of Richard would find Sarvan’s analysis of his poetry a transport to a time that we have almost forgotten. Reading Prof Sarvan’s take on the Zoysa poetry would make you want to read if not read, or re-read if you had read. There is meaning and controversy and a whole lot more which makes the dividing lines too thin for me to separate. A posthumous publication has a sadness attached to it, especially when the death was under such sad circumstances. The chapter is more an appreciation than a review and I think the poet certainly deserves Sarvan’s articulated analysis and the additional words written on the man himself and what he believed.
Woolf’s characters parade the pages, Silindu and his twin daughters Punchi Menika and Hinnihamy come to sing their song of the ‘Village in the Jungle’ and Sarvan makes attempts to ask why the book did not reach the heights that it should have. He parallels Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ and Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’ and compares it with the local ‘Baddegama’ and reaches a logical inference which makes it interesting reading for anyone who is familiar with contemporary literature. Shyam Selvadurai’s ‘Funny Boy’ brings in the racial twist to the reviews and it certainly is impartial literary commenting sans prejudice. Due credit is given to Minoli Salgado’s work and I too truly believe in the ‘sane and humanistic transcending that is needed to move beyond and come to terms with the ethnic differences.’ Reef of Romesh Gunasekara most certainly merits the praise and prominence Sarvan gives and the book richly deserves such. I am sure those who read Sarvan’s review of the Booker-shortlisted novel will undoubtedly go looking for ‘Reef’. They certainly should as it is such a wonderful read.
The article Buddhism, Hinduism and the Conradian Darkness clean-bowled me. I remember reading Joseph Conrad and his excellent novel of the Congo River where he himself was a Ship’s Captain. To appreciate what Sarvan has written one must have read Conrad and that too perhaps last week so that one could remember and recall to compare and understand what the good professor is trying to say. The book is out of circulation unless you are rich enough to reach for Amazon. We readers in Lanka barely make the ‘barefoot” and I do not think any book store in Sri Lanka carries ‘Heart of Darkness’ or for that matter anything to do with King Leopold’s unparalled and inhuman exploitation of the Congo. Mr Sarvan, thank you but no! That article was nice, but I read without knowing what you were trying to say as I simply do not have Conrad and Marlow at my finger tips.
Pradeep Jeganathan’s ‘The Front Row’ is the opposite. Krishna represents someone we know, the young caught in the web of racial disharmony. It is something we can relate to and understand and I certainly will find the book and read. Thanks Charles. Carl Muller’s ‘All God’s Children’ gets a review it richly deserves and the beautiful poetry on page 133 is Carl at his inimitable best. I read and re-read, just to digest and ponder.
Where do I go from here? Reading Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan’s Literary Essays and Sketches’ made me re-live some books I have read and incited a need to look for the ones I haven’t seen. His reviews certainly had that ability to ignite a curiosity. What I need to express here is that the book is more suitable for people who study the language and read English-related degrees in universities who are more familiar with the vast number of names and quotes that Sarvan expresses throughout his writing.
What is at his fingertips in the literary world, names, poems and books are mostly a Google for me, and my admittance is instant that the inadequacy is mine resulting from my callow exposure to the better halls of English. However, most of the readers who read for the pleasure of reading are my team-mates and they may find some parts of ‘Literary Essays and Sketches’ a peg higher to comprehend. Perhaps Prof Sarvan should consider a concession to us of the lower rung and shuffle a bit and deal us hands that are easy for us to comprehend. Yet, it is his choice and perhaps it may be hard for him to do so. Years of hobnobbing with the widely read and well informed scholars of English may not leave Prof Sarvan much room to manoeuvre in the narrow lanes of the ordinary. But manoeuvre he must if he needs to reach us and share his wealth and exposure of the literary world with people who are ardent appreciators of the English language and in no way educated experts of the subject.