The Influence of French on the Standardisation of Sri Lankan English!

French Loanwords & Adoptions in English

One of my old colleagues who left the left-wing, has been a vocal critic of the strict observation of Standard British English by the local press. He has been writing a host articles in support of deriving a practical variety of Sri Lankan English and standardising the English language used in Sri Lanka as per local standards. It is not a bad thought at all and it has already been the topic of discussion for many scholars such as Prof H A PasséProf Manique Gunasekera, Prof Siromi FernandoProf Arjuna Parakrama et al. My old colleague has just come up with an article written in English and one would quite unintentionally expect a formidable display of Sri Lankan English in its content. 

Let me begin with congratulating my old colleague for his most remarkable article. Would he like to have my comments on his groundbreaking article (perhaps an epoch-making dissertation!)? I am compelled to enlighten and entertain his most erudite intellectual entity with a few observations in accordance with our most modest scholarship. 

It has been said that Shakespeare used the English language at his own will and ultimately standardised the English language used in England in the 17th and the 18th centuries. The words he coined and the phrases he formulated have enriched the beautiful English language. On a similar note, my old colleague’s scholarly article is a laudatory testimonial of his own contribution to standardise the English language used in Sri Lanka in the 21st century. He has put forward a strong case for him to be duly laurelled as the Shakespeare of Sri Lanka

My old colleague has just proven by his article that he is not merely criticising others but providing sound alternatives as well. He has been a vocal critic of the barons in the citadel of the local press for their use of sophisticated Archaic English (Although my old colleague uses this term “Archaic English” to ridicule the English used in some English newspapers, it is really not Archaic English in strict terms they use. Archaic English is a different and distinct entity. It seems that my old colleague has misidentified the genre of English language decorated with Greek and Latin phrases as Archaic English). To complement his staunch criticism that has been incessant for many a more year, now he has come up with a decorated (if not hodgepodge) language as demonstrated in his article. One may be inclined to prejudice that his proposed language features his much cherished standardised Sri Lankan English (or Matugama English as some Brown Sahibs had previously labelled in a ridiculous manner). I am afraid, I could not agree with such claims. One should be insane to arrive at a conclusion that his English is Sri Lankan, if one investigates seriously into his vocabulary and style. His language is a very special genre of English that has been tremendously influenced by French! His alternative for Archaic English seems to be a genre English blended with French. Although there has been a vocabulary of nearly 10 000 French words shaping up the English language since the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century, nobody has ever been influenced as much as my old colleague has been! 

Many English Words Are Etymologically French

I wonder whether his high affinity to and expertise in French is due to his covert and unpublicised lengthy stay at Sorbonne as he was engaged in his doctoral  and postdoctoral research in political philosophy! Or is it due to his close follow-up of Kumar de Silva’s famous television programme in the early 90s known as Bonsoir? Over the long years, I have been fortunate to read the high class writings by great scholars who had read for their doctorates at Sorbonne, such as Prof Siri Gunasinghe, Prof Somarathne Balasooriya, Prof Sarath Amunugama, and Dr Sarath Amunugama. But I have never seen that any of them has such an obsessional affinity to ornament their English writings with French phrases as much as my old colleague has. When I consider his remarkable article, I am saddened that his language and style has simply surpassed a great alumnus of Oxford such as Dr Susil Siriwardene who read English at the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Not only Susil but also Rajiva will be thrown out by his command in English which is gilded with French phrases!  

Let me place my old colleague for a moment near a great mogul of the local press in Sri Lanka in the name of D B Dhanapala, who gifted a great collection of pen-portraits in his nectarous book “Among Those Present”. D B Dhanapala’s luminous career has been considered legendary. D B Dhanapala learnt the English alphabet at the age of 14, went on to earn his Master’s in English literature from the University of Allahabad by the age of 26, and started writing in an elite style in the nom de plume of Janus. So does my old colleague: from the backyards of Matugama via Weerawila detention camp into the bastion of web journalism, has he a heroic expedition. (May Nihalsinghe’s soul in the heavens have mercy upon me for comparing a Pygmy with his gigantic father!)

I wonder whether my old colleague has already sent a copy of his excellent article to our great journalist Lakshman Gunasekera. If my old colleague is too busy, I may forward it as a sincere support to his endeavour. Knowing the man’s solid composure, I am confident that Lucky will not be shaken by my colleague’s article. Yet, it could cause nightmares even for the well-established and talented journalists like Malinda or Champika, regarding their job securities. Because, my old colleague has divulge a clear message with his article, that there is a strong contender for the prestigious post of the editor-in-chief for any mainstream English medium newspaper! 

While appreciating and congratulating once more for my old colleague’s excellent article written in his own style, may I remain.

Bandula Kudalagama,


NB: This account has been written bona fide. The writer has no intention at all to disrupt the Jungian persona of his old colleague who left the left-wing years ago. 


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