“The private transport services ministry has made it compulsory for all buses to display name boards in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages.” (Sunday Times Online 15/03/12)

The 135 bus runs past my house on its way from Kohuwala to Kelaniya. There’s one particular bus which I see regularly with a trilingual nameboard (see photo): in English it says “Kelaniya-Kohuwala”; in Sinhala it says “Kelaniya-Kohuwala”; in Tamil it says “Muhaduhasooailu-Mudeelaruruhaduha”. This appears to be a random collection of Tamil letters, typed on a keyboard with the caps lock key on. Did no one else notice?

We’re used to seeing English signboards with spelling mistakes, but the 135 bus sign seems to take the art of the typo to a new level. Another bus on the same route appears to say “Thalana-Karahawanala”, but in such small print that it is barely legible. I have counted 4 different Tamil versions of Kohuwala, none of which are actually correct. The closest, displayed by most of the buses on the route, reads as “Kokshawala”.

Even the new nameboard outside the Kohuwala police station spells it as “Kowuwala” in Tamil (the old one, I believe, had it right). Tamil speakers tell me that they are all too accustomed to seeing such errors on public signboards. Another frequent complaint is that the Tamil script is often so much smaller than the Sinhala and English versions. At least the new blue street signs give equal prominence to all three languages.

Trilingual bus signboards are to be welcomed, but is anyone going to check that they are written correctly? Let’s hope the boardwriters are also trilingual.

  • Davidson

    ”This appears to be a random collection of Tamil letters” is much more insulting than having no names in Tamil.

    Insulting Tamils in all possible ways is the name of the game of Rajapakse regime.

    • Davidson

      Game: Sinhalise everything and then tell the world: ”we’re going trilingual”, giving an image of do-gooders:

      ‘Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country’, 20 March 2012, http://www.internationalpolicydigest.org/2012/03/20/salt-on-old-wounds-post-war-sri-lanka/?fb_ref=.T2ihTCH4Ew4.like&fb_source=home_multiline

      • Dan

        @Davidson. Why don’t you do something about the “typos” instead of yapping about it. Do you think the community will impeach your efforts. I don’t speak Tamil. Otherwise I would help.
        The government has done its bit, do you expect them to spoon-feed the rest too? Put officials to catch people who type stuff wrong in Tamil. What hilarity. Join, work together and make it happen. You’re not doing anything with your constant whining.

      • Dan

        Work with the community instead of aggravating those so called “old wounds”. We want to put them behind, achieve something better and beautiful. Not sit in the old mire like a bunch of pigs and wallow in it.

  • yapa

    Dear Michael Meyler;

    What is your objective Meyler? To create fusses out of mistakes? To find some garbage to keep the fire kindling?

    Haven’t you ever seen a single rightly written ones in Tamil letters? Only the wrong ones are there? Only the ones in Tamil are wrong? Haven’t you seen anything written incorrectly in Sinhala or in English anywhere in the country? Is it not natural to have mistakes? Do you find faults with your kid when he falls down trying to walk? Do you expect to begin walking without falling?

    Dear Meyler; if you have nothing to do don’t do it in public, do it at home.


    • justitia

      These are NOT mistakes. In order to write tamil names correctly,a tamil person should have been consulted. But this has deliberately NOT been done. This shows the contempt of the government expressed by the minister in charge of transport services,towards the tamil commuters.

      • yapa

        Davidson’s and justitia’s comments show that Meyler’s objective is achieved.


      • yapa

        “This shows the contempt of the government expressed by the minister in charge of transport services,towards the tamil commuters.”

        This more seems as a “private bus” than a “goverment one” , justitia. You will have to take a good course on “Translation and Interpretation” along with a course on “Proper Observation”. Instead of taking the latter course, either you can remove your fancy glasses or get your eyes checked.

        A series of tom foolery begins with one.


    • Nithyananthan

      Dear Mr. yapa, Greetings to you!

      Please, do not humiliate Mr. Michael Meyer so crudely and smear his good intention. His spotless record of regular contributions like ‘A-Z’ of Sri Lankan English’ on GV and other sites stands to reinforce and testify his morality and gracious intent.

      I am sad to say this to you, Sir. During my recent visit to Jaffna after a long interval, I too witnessed, from Vavunia and onwards, how horribly the Tamil Names of the places have been mutilated beyond recognition by newly invented mongrelized (Alphabets) spellings. Believably – not unbelievably, even in my home-village ‘Tellippalai’ a well known village, I was plagued by surprise to see the name of the village was badly butchered to be read as ‘Tellapalae’ on the village police station signboard and their vehicles. Almost all name boards, I can not list-out all. We can understand and excuse the private bus owners’ for their ignorance or innocence – but if it’s intentional …! Couldn’t the authorities even in Jaffna, whoever it may be, find a person who knows good Tamil?

      So, Mr. Yapa, if you are so serious and still interested please make a causal trip to Jaffna, with a Tamil or Muslim friend if you any, and conduct a field inspection tour and spot-check. It will enable you to experience personally and come to conclusion. I have diagnosed problem that caused the malfunction but unable identify disease. Disappointedly, Nithy!

      • yapa

        Dear Nithy;

        “Please, do not humiliate Mr. Michael Meyer so crudely and smear his good intention.”

        Smear……., Eh? Good intention……, Eh? A very objective and fair assessment Nithy.

        What is the consequence and the ultimate out come of his “good intention for which I smeared”? It is amply exhibited from Davidson and justitia.

        I am not humiliating, I am thumping on his back for his irresponsible foolishness or ulterior motive.

        His good intention in ‘A-Z’ of Sri Lankan English’ does not justify his any other bad intentions, if there is any. He should not add cow dung to his pot of milk.

        I don’t approve any deliberate and ill intentioned attempts on distorting Tamil or Sinhala or English names. However, it is not the topic here and that reason does not justify I or you can approve of branding or indicating mistakes or unintentional things as deliberate mischief.

        It is either irresponsibility or ignorance or some other ulterior motive.

        I have no capacity to look at it any other alternative way, do your conscience and rational mind suggest you otherwise, Nithy?

        We must learn to call spoon a spoon, not a spade for any reason. As an engineer, I think you know the value of “precision”. A miscalculation of 0.00000001 might destroy your dream bridge built across the river merging two banks. Please pay more your attention to your calculations, Nithy.


      • Dan

        I think it’s a very just problem to point out.

  • Alex Fernando

    As with all things in Sri Lanka failures are rarely about the ability to do it correctly but rather the will to do so. The govt is quite adept at running around Africa with eloquent spin about reconciliation, but it is only matched by the obtuse obstruction of reform by the mono-ethnic military and civil service on the ground. All quite intentional by Gothabaya and Mahinda … well the world is watching now.

  • sabbe laban


    You have to be happy at least this “racist Sinhalese” government is making an effort to be tri-lingual. In famously bi-lingual Canada I’ve yet to see a bi-lingual display of destination on buses.

    Though, some naive admireres of yours fail to see, I can very well see that “smirk of a British guy” on the local culture, veiled behind “British humour” in the articles you write to GV, though it’s no big deal for us!

    Further, when the British colonial masters were ruling Ceylon they gave “English” names like Satan(which became Sathan Hami), Demon, Baboon(Babun Appu)to our children, which their fathers embraced with admiration! Maybe a kind of British humour too!

  • kadphises

    If this is a rogue private bus, the first thing that springs to mind is what is the regulator doing? After all there is a whole ministry dedicated to Private buses only. Is there not a mechanism to check or standardise the signs on buses that ply the roads? Is there not a mechanism to field complaints about private buses? If not what is the VVVVVIP Minister doing to justify his hefty maintenance in luxury vehicles, backup vehicles, armed bodyguards, foreign trips? Are we getting our money’s worth?

    One might remember a time prior to 1983 when all signs on buses and streets were written accurately in Tamil. There Tamil cabinet ministers with genuine powers unlike the puppets of today. The heads of the civil service, secrataries to Prime Ministers, Presidents and the treasury were routinely Tamil. It was normal for Tamil school leavers to join the forces as officer cadets (there were several in my year). There were even chiefs of the Army, Navy and Police who were Tamil. It took just one incident taken unilatteraly by one man to change all that. – the bomb that blew up the 13 Soldiers.

    What would the course of the country have been had that bomb not gone off? What would the course of the country have been if the Borella hooligans had not started the riot or if the Police and Army had the ability and will to contain it before it got out of control.

    And on a lighter note, Sri Lankans will be amused to note this example of a similar howler in the uk..


    • Alex Fernando

      Sri Lanka’s history of anti-tamil riots have been happening long before 1983 and before the LTTE existed – some of the commentators on this site seem to enjoy revisionist history as much as the Rajapakses 🙂

      • kadphises

        Granted Alex Fernando.. There has been anti-Tamil violence prior to 1983 (but thats not what I was talking about in my previous post). Prior to 1983 for the Sinhalese too there existed the provocation that that Tamils wished to help themselves to a vastly disproportionate portion of Sri Lankan resources. Of course the Tamils didnt have the numbers and power to do to the Sinhalese what the Sinhalese did to them. But when they gained that power they freely visited the same kind of violence not just on the Sinhalese but also the Moslems who they claim to represent as fellow Tamil-speaking peoples. So one doesnt have to revise history to note that no one has covered themselves in Glory in Sri Lanka’s 60 years of independence.

        But 1983 imho was a warteshed moment for the conflict. Reversing its consequences are proving to be near impossible.

  • Wallflower

    This sure seems a teething problem and not at all intentional, the bus operator did some fooling around with Tamil letters to get over a regulation. These things do happen with the Sinhala letters too, and if anyone is interested in seeing a sign board which says “Walla matha wahana newatheema thahanung” put up by the Mahaweli Authority I shall certainly oblige.

  • wijayapala

    Question: how many private bus companies in the world use three languages on their vehicles? Or, in how many countries are they required to do so?

  • No Frames

    The above signboard is not a property of the state. Private buses are supplied with “stick” on destination boards with all three languages, that are stuck on the left lower corner or the top center panel of the front windscreen.

    Ex. http://www.busesworldwide.org/material/galleries/1633.jpg

    Tamil letters are printed small because the the same name in Tamil in quite long. When you optimize the space, Sinhalese and English names will comparatively look bigger.

  • melaniya karvtn

    We have ministers and secretaries trying to converse in english with
    native english speakers,without any proficiency which causes huge
    embarassment to national interest.All our leaders are watching, doing
    nothing to correct the situation because they don’t feel it.My point
    here is that you should know your capacity and act accordingly.For some,nothing is important than displaying to a stupid gallery.They are trying to display they are in good command of this language.We have a
    tendency not to accept weaknesses,mistakes or shortcomings because there always is a stupid lot to accommodate them.Missing or adding one or two letters could be a bit digestable but the whole construct, can
    lead to humiliation done by mistake or on purpose.

  • Roshan

    looks like someone got lazy and used google translation….