- Sri Lankan English
Sri Lankan English (SLE) is the
English languageas spoken in Sri Lanka.
The earliest English speakers in present-day Sri Lanka date back to the days of the
British Empire, the era of Royal Navydominance, and the British colonial presence in South Asia.
An SLE consultant for the "
Oxford English Dictionary" and author of "Knox's Words" notes that British readers first encountered loan words from Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) in a book published in 1681 entitled "An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies". Words from that book became used internationally: the best known is Buddha but others include betel leaf, bo tree, puja, rattan, rillow, Vedda, and wanderoo.
SLE became more indigenous in the mid-19th century. In addition to the usual terms for flora and fauna, new
idioms, referred to as Ceylonisms, emerged.
Some years after independence in 1948, English ceased being the only official language of Sri Lanka, but it remained in use across the island's ethnic groups. It evolved to incorporate more Sinhalese
vocabularyand grammatical conventions such as the use of "no?" as a tag questionat the end of a sentence.
In spite of English's long history in Sri Lanka, 21st century Sri Lankans academicians debate about the legitimacy of SLE as a separate dialect.
A significant difference between British English and Sri Lankan English usage is its use of particular tenses. Many educated Sri Lankans would use past perfect tense to talk about things that happened at a fixed time in the recent past instead of past simple. Many Sri Lankans still use words such as frock (to scold) and the question form 'to whom' which are not familiar to modern British English speakers. Another example of typical Sri Lankan English is posing questions by changing the intonation, e.g. "you are hungry?"
Grammar, idioms and usage in Sri Lankan English
Some of the usages mentioned are common in
Indian Englishas well
* Tag questions: The use of "isn't it?" and "no?" as general question tags, as in You're going, isn't it? instead of You're going, aren't you?, and He's here, no? (In spoken Sinhala 'ne?' (meaning isn't it?), is used in a similar way)
* Use of "current went" and "current came" for "The power went out" and "The power came back"
* Overuse of the words "Generally"/"Actually"/"Obviously"/"Basically" in the beginning of a sentence. e.g. "Actually I am not feeling well." (used mostly by
*Use of "Can you drop me?" and "We will drop her first" instead of "Can you drop me off?" and "We will drop her off first". (used mostly by
*Omission of the definite article: e.g. "Let's go to city" instead of "Let's go to the city", also "in hospital" (in the hospital), "to hospital" (to the hospital).
* Usage of 'Parallelly' as opposed to 'In Parallel'.
* "How are you keeping?" instead of "How are you doing?" or "How are you?".
Idioms and popular phrases
*Where do you stay? is the same as 'Where do you live?' or 'Where's your house?
*"send it across" instead of "send it over", as in "send the bill across to me" instead of "send the bill over to me". (used mostly by
*"back" replacing "ago" when talking about elapsed time, as in "I met him five years back" rather than "I met him five years ago." (Though this too is not uncommon in British English
*"pass out" is meant to graduate, as in "I passed out of the university in 1995."
*"confinement" means "pregnancy".
Titles (of respect; and informal)
*Use of the English words 'uncle' and 'aunty' as suffixes when addressing people such as distant relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, even total strangers
*Use of 'Machan' when speaking between fellow Sri Lankans (mostly among men), equivalent to "mate".
Interjections and casual references
* "Lady's Fingers" means
Okra(USA). "Brinjal" means Eggplantor Aubergine.
* "Hotel" could mean
RestaurantAs in "I ate in a road side hotel".
* "Lodge" refers to a place where you stay in temporary basis (in rooms).
* "Specs" means spectacles (as in colloquial UK English).
* Pronouncing 'Exercise' as 'Excise' by dropping the 'r' sound and 'Carpet' as 'Capat' and 'Market' as 'Makat'
* Pronouncing 'Inventory' as 'Inventri' or 'Inventry' by dropping the 'o'.
* No difference between 'raw' and 'row' (Similarly, no difference between 'saw' and 'sow' and 'so')
* Pronouncing 'Secretary' as 'Secetry' (se-ket-ri) and 'Secondary' as 'Secondry' (second-ri)
* Inability to pronounce hard "v" at beginning of a word. e.g. "WOID" for "void", "WOMIT" for "vomit"
* Pronouncing 'Ya' instead of 'Air' such as in 'Airport', thus it becomes 'Yapot' (they don't pronounce the 'r' either)
* Inversion of 'il' to sound out 'li' - example: 'flim' instead of 'film' (this is relatively rare, now a days)
* Pronouncing 'psy.chi.at.ric' as 'psy.chac.tric' or inability to properly pronounce it at all.
* 'Cover' to mean any envelope or a bag. For example, "Put the documents in a cover and post it", and "Put the gift in a cover".
* 'Today morning' (afternoon, evening, etc.) instead of 'this morning.' ("I met with him today morning."). Similarly, 'yesterday night' instead of 'last night'.
* 'Pattice' is used for a singular vegetable /Corn patty or plural Corn patties.(even among educated classes)
*The word "stay" used for "live" or reside at": "Where do you stay?" meaning not "Where are you temporarily lodging" but "Where is your residence?" (though this is normal in Standard Scottish English)
* 'saloon' instead of salon, as in "I will visit the hair saloon."
* 'Crail' instead of 'Curl'
* Intensifying adjectives by doubling them. This is a common feature of most Indian languages. For example: "We went to different-different places in the city in search of a good hotel", "Don't worry about small-small things" to mean very insignificant issues.
* Word order following who, what, where, when, why, or how. In standard American and British English, the following are correct"Where are you going?""Tell me where you are going"In Indian/Sri Lankan English, however, a speaker will tend to choose one or the other word order pattern and apply it universally, thus:"Where are you going?" and "Tell me where are you going.", or"Where you are going?" and "Tell me where you are going."
Words unique to or originating in Sri Lankan/Indian English (in formal usage)
* 'Batchmate' or 'batch-mate' to mean college buddy.
* 'Funeral house' which is a literal translation of a sinhala word which refers to the event of the funeral taking place in a regular household (as opposed to a
funeral parlouror funeral home)
* 'Pass-out' means graduate from college/University
* Chatni or Chutney (borrowed from Indian English)
* Cousin-brother (male first cousin) & cousin-sister (female first cousin);
* 'Lakh' (one hundred thousand)
* 'Ragging' for
* 'Gone for a six', to mean something got ruined. (may have origins linked to game of
* 'Shorteats' for snacks (in small Sri Lankan restaurants Shorteats sometimes morphed in to 'Sorties')
* 'String Hoppers' (a typical Sri Lankan/South Indian food)
* 'Dickie' for
trunk(US)/ car boot(UK).
Anaconda[ [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anaconda anaconda. (2008). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-07-03.] ] and serendipityare claimed to be words with Sri Lanka connections though they are not loan words. Another distinctive feature of Sri Lankan English is the uniqueness of its pronunciation. Most of the people belonging to the middle class and the upper middle class still speak with British RP as their model as a result of the colonial influences while there is an up coming group of English users, for whom English is the second language. They invented Sri Lankan English, with the influence of their mother tongue. However there are many educated people who still believe that Sri Lankans should speak standard British English.
Speakers of Sri Lankan English are often incapable of producing certain sounds such as IPA|/ou/, IPA|/ei/ and the two different pronunciations of the sound IPA|/th/ and use the same sound for both IPA|/v/ and IPA|/w/ as they do not bite their lower lip for IPA|/v/ or round their lips for IPA|/w/.
There are certain nouns added to English by Sri Lankans and therefore an Englishman coming to Sri Lanka for the first time would not know what Shorteats (snacks) and string hoppers (a typical Sri Lankan food) mean. If you read a daily newspaper, you may find a number of typical Sri Lankan Usages, which may not be accepted in standard British English: such as 'lots of equipments', 'information system', 'education minister'
Indian English literature
Regional accents of English speakers
Regional differences and dialects in Indian English
External links and sources
* [http://www.mirisgala.net/Sri_Lankan_English_Main.html Dictionary of Sri Lankan English]
* [http://www.oed.com/newsletters/2005-09/sri-lankan.html A brief history of Sri Lankan English] from the
Oxford English Dictionarywebsite
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/14346 An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies] , from
* [http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2004/08/15/fea21.html A review of "Knox's Words"] , from the Sri Lankan newspaper "
* [http://www.ondaatje.com/reviews/KnoxsWords.htm Another review of "Knox's Words"] , from a fellow author's personal website
* [http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/02/03/fea15.html Our British heritage] , another "Sunday Observer" article
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