Colombo, Identity, Language

Putting cuts, part-putting and pol symbol

I have always had a fascination for Sri Lankan English. In fact, Sri Lankans use English the way the British used Ceylonese in subjugating them to their will.

Now that the good old British have left our shores handing us independence on a silver platter we took English and quite liberally infused it with our own Tamil and Sinhala interpretations.

If Americans substituted lengthy and often awkward British notices such as, “Trespassers will be prosecuted” with “Do not enter”, we went one step further and spun our own interpretations.

Oh how the compilers of OED would wince when they listen to us  using the word `put’ among others. Putting is not for those yuppies on golf courses.

There was my news editor at the Daily News who would shout out to his clerk/henchman Perumal to `put a transport to parliament’ meaning to book a vehicle for the reporters. Taking an AWOL from school is `putting a cut’. Pretending to be someone above himself is `putting parts’. Having a drink is, `putting a shot’ and recommending someone is `putting in a good word’. We do not pluck a coconut. We `break’ them from the tree and we also `break’ them instead of cracking them.

If we feel sorry for someone we say, `Sin, no’ and agreeing with someone we tend to reply, `Yes no men’.

When you want to say ‘I’ll return’ it is, ‘I’ll go and come’.

The Tamils in UK are a hardworking lot but when it comes correct pronunciation they are pretty laid back. So microwave oven becomes ‘macro’ Mcdonald’s `makinas’ and cctv ‘camera’.

If your cheque has bounced we say it has jumped! The letter ‘t’ is anathema to Tamils since it does not exist in the Tamil alphabet. Hence the stock excuse to your boss for being late is ‘because of raffic’.

In Sri Lanka you  took  a ‘pottocopy’ and pailed your English. My neighbour in Colombo bemoans her constant penury by saying ‘they are now welled-off and they won’t look at us’.

Which brings to my mind the reply of that great  R.K.Narayan of Mowgli fame who when confronted by his English head of  the village school where he taught in India as to why he could not pronounce his ‘r’ s like the English do. “Sir, you cannot decide how to pronounce ‘bough’ and ‘cough’ and you are complaining I cannot pronounce my ‘r’s”.

So let us carry on merrily with speaking English our own way just like that delicious pol sambol putting coconut, chillies, onion, karapincha, poddak lime and salt together.

Yes, we’ll speak English our way.