[lg policy] Sri Lanka: Status of Languages and a Country=?utf-8?Q?=E2=80=99s_?=National Identity

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 23 14:05:22 UTC 2014

Status of Languages and a Country’s National Identity
Posted on September 22nd, 2014 *Akurugoda*

While speaking at the ‘Annual Hindi Day’ event held in the Indian consular
office in Jaffna, the acting Indian High Commissioner (HC) S.T. Murthy has
pointed out that at least 50% of the Indian population knows the Indian
main language and similarly Sri Lankan Tamils also should learn Sinhala
Language in order to grow the relationship.

Ironically, India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former High
Commissioner A.N. Dixit were on records for invading the country’s air
space and insisting on a multi-lingual system without any historical
evidence or approval from the country’s citizens, merely to please their
own racial elements in Southern India and to achieve their own internal and
external political goals.

At a time, Sinhala children are being forced to learn Tamil by our own
politicians who do not have the right vision or a backbone to ask the rest
of the communities to learn Sinhala, the above statement said to have been
made by an envoy of India is somewhat interesting.

*Status of Languages in India*

Despite the fact that there are more than 22 officially recognized
languages in India at State levels, including, Hindi, English, Bengali,
Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Panjabi, Marathi etc, Hindi
and English languages are recognized as the Official languages of India.
Although the number of native Hindi speakers range up to 24.5% in total
Indian population, as the acting Indian HC correctly pointed out, Hindi is
now spoken nearly 50% of the Indian population.  English continues to be
used for some official purposes by the government of India in conjunction
with Hindi, the number of English speakers within India is nearly 20%.
Hindi is the only native language to be recognized as the official language
of the country, since English is a foreign language. Even though English
language is not included in Eighth Schedule (as it is a foreign language),
it is one of the official languages of Union of India.

Although there are 61 million Tamils in India, Tamil is not an official
language of India.

The Republic of India does not have a national language despite there are
30 languages are spoken by more than a million native speakers (according
Census taken in 2001). A *national language* is a language which has some
connection—*de facto*—with a people and perhaps by extension the territory
they occupy. The term is used variously. A national language may for
instance represent the national identity of a nation or country

Let us examine the national or official status of respective languages in
some of the well known countries in the world.

*Status of Languages in Asia*

The national, or official, language in Malaysia is Malay which is the
mother tongue of the majority Malay ethnic group. The main ethnic groups
within Malaysia comprise the Malays, Chinese and Indians, with many other
ethnic groups represented in smaller numbers, each with its own
languages.Korean, also called Hangul, is the official language of both
North Korea and South Korea. There are approximately a hundred languages
spoken in Burma. However, Burmese spoken by two thirds of the population is
the official language in Burma. Vietnamese is the national, official
language of Vietnam. In Thailand, the official national language is
*Thai. *There
is no official language in Japan; however Japanese is the national
language. Even though the Singapore Government recognizes four official
languages, English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, only one of them is accorded
the national language” status due to historical reasons. The Malay language
is the national language whereas English is the main working language.

*Status of English as a Language*

The two largest countries (in terms of population) where English is the
inherited national language are Britain and USA.

In Britain, English is the official language, despite there are 5.3 m
Scottish, 3.1 m Welsh and 1.8m Irish. According to statistics, 13% of the
British population is non-white people originally from Asian and African
countries. French language is the official language of France. German is
the language of Germany. Language of Spain is Spanish. The national
language of Luxembourg, a tiny country in Europe, is Luxembourgish, while
French and German are the primary official languages.

Although Australia has no mention of an official language in its
Constitution, it is largely monolingual with English being the *de facto*
national language. English is the predominant Language in New Zealand,
although Maori is also considered as an official Language. There is no
necessity for the majority English speaking people to learn Maori language
and is not part of the medium of instruction.

Under the Canadian Constitution, the federal government has both English
and French as its official languages. However, over 85% of Canadians have
working knowledge of English while only 30.1% have a working knowledge of
French. This is partly due to many French-speaking Canadians learning
English and more immigrants choosing to learn English as their second
language rather than French.

Furthermore, in other countries colonized by British, it is a second
language, in others it is an official language or the language of business.

*Status of Languages in Sri Lanka*

It appears that Sri Lanka is among the very few countries in the world that
have identified both the official and national languages.

In Sri Lanka more than 74% of the population is Sinhala and only 4.7
million (Including Tamil and Muslims) speak Tamil language as their mother
tongue.  Both the Constitutions of 1972 and 1978 recognized Sinhala as the
official language of the country.  Ironically, it was India who forced Sri
Lanka Government of J.R Jayewardene to make Tamil as one of the official
Languages while making English as the link Language providing both the
official and national language status to Sinhala and Tamil.

By providing the National Language status to Tamil under the Section 19 of
Chapter IV of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, either Sinhala or Tamil shall
be used in Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Authorities, medium of
instructions (except higher education) while Sinhala and Tamil shall be the
languages of Administration, Legislation and Courts.  As per the Section 22
of Chapter IV, Tamil shall be used as the language of administration and be
used for the maintenance of public records and the transaction of all
business by public institutions in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

As can be seen, the Constitution has conveniently provided the monolingual
provision to the Northern Province today, since Tamil separatists have
chased away almost all Sinhalese population from the province and are now
protesting for any Sinhala re-settlement in the region and, hence, are
expected to build a mono-ethnic state of their own.

The acceptance of Northern and the Eastern Provinces as areas of historical
habitation of Tamil speaking peoples and provision of both the official and
national language status to the Tamil language, either under duress or
erroneously when signing the Rajiv-JR pact, the demand for self rule have
enhanced and that is why the full implementation of the 13th Amendment is
one of the main demand of the TNA even today.

Prior to the signing of the 13th Amendment, there had been a belief in some
quarters that the official language policy of 1956 was the root cause of
the conflict. The 13th Amendment made Tamil an official language overnight
as a solution but the demand for self-determination is still continuing. If
official language is the root cause, the conflict would have resolved
itself with the implementation of the 13th Amendment language policy.


There is only one language; the language spoken by the majority emerges as
the official language of a county even if there are provisions for use of
other languages at official level. Major foreign languages such as English,
French, German, Spanish etc are being used by countries, once ruled by
those colonial powers, either as one of the official language or the
language of business.  The national language is the language of the nation,
and should be accorded to the language of the people who were responsible
for the civilization of that country.  Not many countries in the world use
the term national’ when they categorized languages although they maintain
their national identity via the official language status.

As can be seen above, countries have several spoken languages but have one
predominant official language even among few designated official languages.
Perhaps, Sri Lanka may the only country in the world chosen two national
languages and two official languages with equal status without any
historical evidence or approval from its citizens, but apparently under the
duress of racial threat and foreign intervention.  Thus only Sinhala should
be the given the status of National Language due to historical reasons
following the stand taken by Singapore, Luxemburg, Japan, Vietnam, Burma
and Malaysia,  when deciding the country’s national/official  language


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