Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 23 June 2013





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Government Gazette

The glory of languages

Language is the most glorified symbol of literacy. The facility has been given to most living creatures. How a language is presented differs. It enables them to express their thoughts in writing or through gestures of the body. The expression of thoughts ranged from the prehistoric cave inscriptions deciphered by scholars to the modern day languages, not the hilarious language used in SMS messages with all types of short words interlocked with numerals.

Countries have their own official languages. When England, France and Spain invaded countries, English, French and Spanish became the official languages in the colonies. However, many languages are spoken in one country, because of tribal or ethnic divisions. The Irish, Scottish and English in England; Tamil, Sinhala and the indigenous dialect of the Veddhas in Sri Lanka are examples. There is a slight difference between the up-country and low-country dialect of Sinhala. Swahili is the common language in East Africa. The script uses English letters.

Thousands of languages are spoken in Africa. Hindi and English are the languages used in official correspondence in India. English is a compulsory subject in all their examinations.

Language is the stepping stone to a country's success and an individual is future. It has to be understood. Its grammar, vocabulary and feelings play a vital role.

English is spoken by a large number of people. It is the language used in all international communications. Incidentally, English has been the dominant language in the Commonwealth for centuries.

Tower of Babel

According to the Old Testament of the Bible, the people of Babel had begun to construct a tower to reach God. The arrogant people of Babel had wanted to be with God, to be like him. Suddenly those working on the tower, began to speak in different languages. Confusion broke out.

Flared tempers and lots of babbling erupted. That was the end of project “Tower of Babel”. So, without translators, the whole world would be one Tower of Babel.

Language is the fountain in a multifaceted, cascading thoughts of man. Great epics, poems, literary mastepieces, books on medicine and science have been written on papyrus Ola leaves and later printed on paper thanks to Caxton and the Chinese.

The thoughts of man have been written first in their own language and later translated by others into many different languages. It is here that translators help us.

Theirs is an unenviable role. They have translated ancient Vedas and the teachings of great teachers who strived to show us the way to live righteously.

Their immortal words have been translated into thousands of languages including Braille, the international language of the visually handicapped.

English has its own share of malapropisms and Johnsonian expressions. Of all these, the most soothing language is used by babies. Their language is pleasing to the ear. The choice of words in any language makes, people laugh, cry, mellow down or flare up tempers. Translators should be conversant with two or more languages and also the subject matter.

The use of any language is the speaker's prerogative. Mark Anthony's speech by the side of the slain Julius Caesar made, the citizens of Rome to go on the rampage. The hunter becomes the hunted. It is the language that makes a speaker or writer popular. Of course, the listener or reader should be conversant in their particular language. The language used by an author or speaker can make the listener or the reader to address his mind to the core of the subject.


Charles Dickens takes us to Bastille in France in 1789. Immortal classics have been written by authors in their own language. Translators of the Tripitaka, Upanishads, the Holy Bible and the Holy Koran will be remembered with affection and prayer for their stupendous task in bringing out the doctrine of great religious teachers.

The men of letters who translated such books into more than 3,000 languages without changing the meaning deserve praise.

The intelligent use of a language can make warring parties to think twice. Winston Churchill's speech, “We will fight you in the beaches and the backyards” saved England. He had covered the microphone and quipped. “We can fight the Germans with only empty beer bottles'. His rhetoric caused the enemy forces to think twice.

Chairman Mao Tse Tungm said, “Learn from each other”. This is possible only by listening, writing and reading. They are integral components of any language. Once a note was sent by the subject clerk to the then British head of a department. “Sir, as per your instructions, I got the teak logs pulled thought an elephant'.

The affable chief had minuted ‘Good work, Abey, but I pity the elephant!”. Sir John Kotalawala and (Caldecott had been at Nuwara Eliya during the April season.

They had gone to the stables and had seen a beautiful Arab stallion. Then the Governor's wife had asked their escort – the Rate Mahaththaya (RM) what beautiful specimen, does it have a long pedigree?” - RM had gone red in the face. He looked down and said, “Not always Madam”.

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