THE LANGUAGE DEBATE
WHY IT PAYS TO MIND YOUR LINGO!
Priyan Rajapaksa calls for an English dialect that is effectively simple
“Is the blackboard black or white?” quizzed my English teacher, in Grade 6. In 1966, that was the type of English we learnt at a school, in Colombo. This ‘black or white’ question, etched in my mind, resurfaces when I hear people in Colombo moan about the standard of English in the country.
Language has been a divisive and evil force for Sri Lankans. For me, English has lost its significance – ironically, after migrating to an English-speaking country. Everyone speaks it, so it’s not a social weapon. ‘English as she is spoke’ in New Zealand is as varied as the 200-plus ethnic groups of the nation. It would not pass Colombo’s test, but is sufficient in New Zealand.
Living in an English-speaking country, and married to a Japanese national, my view of language has been transmuted. We speak English, Japanese and Sinhala at home. Language is merely a communication tool. We do not use language as a weapon at home, and I wonder why the kaduwa is still used to stunt the aspirations of native Sri Lankans.
We may joke about the Japanese pronunciation of ‘flied lice.’ The fact is, if the letter ‘R’ is not learnt by the age of six, it is very difficult to pronounce. One finds seven of the 26 English letters absent in the Japanese and Sinhala alphabets. So before you deride someone for saying ‘bus-is-stop’ or ‘talipone,’ think again – the words may not be in line with the native alphabet.
Those of us whose first words were amma or umma will continue to think in our mother tongue, and articulate those thoughts in English, which will remain a second language. The need of the hour is an English dialect that acts as a simple – but effective – communication tool, along with a change of mindsets in Colombo.
It’s disturbing to read about regular protests and baton charging of unemployed graduates. Due to the accident of being born to city parents who knew English, I was able to transform from being a university arts degree reject into an articled (accounts) clerk in about four weeks.
Surely, these misled youth deserve a similar chance?
Comments that graduates’ attitude is the issue grate on one’s nerves. They swallowed the bait – tied to the line by educationists, cast by foolish parents and strung out by self-serving academics – that a degree would ensure employment. Upon graduation, when they realise that this is simply untrue, it is only natural to fight and buck like a shark in its death throes. Graduation and employment are not linked, in the modern world.
Graduate unemployment is a time bomb that is too important to be left to politicians and their administrators to defuse. Their fossilised minds think of employment only in terms of scribes and file pushers, although the world has turned digital. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike’s approach to language – with stick in one hand, sans carrot in the other (as it held a pipe) – did not appeal to Tamil speakers. Berating graduates for not knowing a foreign language is no different. Is Colombo now waving sticks sans carrots at village youth who proverbially saved our bacon?
Similar youth from the villages were transformed from village lads into the only army in the world to defeat the undefeatable. And all it took was resources and committed management. Thousands of village youth gave up their today, so we could have our tomorrow.
If resources could be found to rehabilitate LTTE cadres, it’s imperative to retrain misled youth… before they unite under ‘Wijeweera II.’ The cost of retraining would be high, but that of not training will be higher – another revolution. The urban unemployed are the most volatile.
In rugby terms, captains have to play with the available talent. In Richie McCaw style, getting to the breakdown and turning the ball over transformed a threat into an opportunity. Does the private sector have the mettle to play at ‘number seven,’ to retrain partially trained minds to become outsourcing professionals?
Employment is a dead duck, so I advocate training youth to be self-employed, professional outsourcing contractors with the ability to work for the highest bidder, depending on their capabilities. Many graduates own a smartphone. Outsourcing is only a second-hand computer, broadband connection and training away. Cloud software is free.
To put my money where my (big) mouth is, I have trained five outsourcing staff members with one meeting and remote contact, over the years. To train more would be a pleasure.