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Sunday, 8 March 2009





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Government Gazette

World coinage and purity of language

The 65 th death anniversary of Cumaratunga Munidasa fell on March 2:

This essay deals with unplanned, shortsighted, incompetent handling of word-coinage that marred the Sinhala language. It cannot be considered as more meaningful and timely than when our literati commemorate an extraordinary personality Munidasa Cumaratunga who revived the Sinhala nation through his untiring industry aimed at uplifting the Sinhala language, community and the country. His 65th death anniversary fell on March 2.

The users of the Sinhala language had been conscious of formulating a methodology that could serve the formation of words, and enriching the language, without diluting its intelligibility and marring its inimitable qualities. A language is closely interwoven with the thought-process of its users. More particularly a language that has developed through the ages to commit its people's subtle nuances to writing, should, for certain, develop a methodology to coin words to help convey specific feelings and emotions, as well as, formal expressions, based on new discoveries and experiences.

Ingenuity in word-coinage

Buddhism with its deep philosophical concepts, and advances made in engineering and irrigation technology, sculpture and architecture, and medical science that existed at the time, demanded a rich vocabulary to express ideas with profound clarity. Our native physicians are fully aware of the efficacy of the medicinal plant ~~ r/~N ~ r'.

. This plant is used for making medicines for breakages and fractures. It is a climbing plant, edible when tender, having four-winged stems. Our ancients named this plant basing on the three words used in their parlance (~N+~+r)

. This is a plant of the soil, expressed through words of the soil.

Dependence on native lexicons

The Sinhala language in its stages of development had the fortune of possessing quite a number of lexicons. One such lexicon is `Ruwanmal Nighantuwa' of the Kotte period. Prof. Vinnie Vitharana in his glossary of geographical terms adopted 'nvl' from this lexicon to render into Sinhala the geographical term (the calm wind belt bordering the equator). The term coined was 'nvl Yh' , based on the verbal root 'nv' What the Composite Glossary of Geographical Technical Terms (Department of Official languages, 1962) had provided for this phenomenon had been '"hzhK yx' doldrem theeraya

Computer terminology

The issue of rendering words into Sinhala reached its culmination with the publication of the Glossary of Technical Terms in Computer Science (A Publications of the Department of Education, 1991). Scholars proficient in both Sinhala and the computer science challenged the suitability of the renderings found in this glossary. The glossary renders `Disk' as '~Yx'. If this is the way technical terms are rendered, one need not have a high-powered committee for the task. The main criticisms against this glossary could be summarised as.

(a) Inconsistency in the coinage of words

(b) Inability to provide the different shades of meanings related to computers

(c) Inability to provide Sinhala terms based on Sinhala verbal roots

This glossary only adds adjectives to the common term 'r[jYx' without visualising the flexibility needed to use the term in different contexts. It is silent on such terms as computable, computant, computational, computative, computator, compute, computerisation and computerise.

Cumaratunga-concept of word-coinage

Late scholar Cumaratunga Munidasa expressed, in the Subasa journal his concept of coining of technical terms, in the following manner.:

"The language is the most valuable possession of a nation. It should fully portray the character of the nation. Just because immensely coarse and rough words are found in Sanskrit or Wanga or Hindi, it is unbecoming of the nation to borrow such coarse and rough words in the same manner, without taking into consideration the character of both the Sinhala people and their langauge. It is necessary to deeply study whether we possess or not words that are quite akin to us." (Volume 2, Issue No. 22, of 24th March, 1941).

Kalasoori D.V. Richard de Silva, presenting a paper on 'Coining of Technical Terms' (Silver Jubilee of the Hela Hawula, 1966) spelt out the three ways we should follow in any attempt to coin words, viz.

1.Coining of words taking cognisance of both the sound and the meaning of the foreign word. Examples: '"y"nN{' for radio; 'Yf{' for committee. 2. Coining of words taking cognisance of the meaning of the foreign word. Examples: 'rj rl' for post-card; 'r r{{' for foot-board.

3. `Sinhalising' the borrowed word by enabling it to be declined (if it is a noun) or conjugated (if it is a verb). Examples: 'tY{' for bank; '"zx' for lorry.

study of morphology

It would thus explain that any attempt made to render borrowed words into a language should, as an initial activity study the morphology of that language. Only such a study would highlight the word-formations of a language. Unlike most modern Western languages, Eastern languages have their unique word-formations. It is such features that maintain the character of each such language. Hence, attempts made sans such a study would result in coining words that will remain forever as foreign-bodies. They lack compatibility, synergy and symmetry.

The Sinhala language could be described as a veritable palimpsest, revealing the nation's history, its technological advances, and vastness of its civilisation, richness of this literature and exhaustiveness of its vocabulary. Hence, to ignore such a repertoire of a nation's wealth is, in fact, a heinous crime.


A study of the langauge and the attempts made to render new knowledge into Sinhala reveal that for the last several years the process had led to deforming the character of the nation's most valued possession. More often than not it has been a steady process of `sanskritisation' of the langauge.

This process has also been adopted in rendering technical terms into Tamil. Those engaged had sought refuge in Sanskrit verb-roots to render borrowed knowledge into the Tamil language. A memorandum of the 'Committee of educationist to the Government of Madras', in 1941, on the coining of technical terms states thus:

"Though a common terminology may be possible in Northern India where Hindustani and Sanskrit have mingled together very much and local languages have been greatly modified by them, such a terminology would be unsuited to the Tamil area where Tamils have preserved the purity of their langauge. Words coined must have Tamil roots and suffixes to make them intelligible to the Tamils."

The Departments of Swabhasha (1956) and Official Languages (1962) were established to execute the Official Languages Act. However, that hurried execution has severely marred the beauty of the language.

The executors had not been able to identify the salient characteristics of the language, and visualise how an unplanned exercise would affect its future.The Sinhala language possesses the desired efficacy, strength, flexibility, and an exhaustive vocabulary to meet the demands of this nature. Hence, Sinhala should not be made vassalage of Sanskrit or any other langauge, for that matter.


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