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No, you can’t have jam yet Professor Sitrampalam!

by ratnawalli - March 21, 2014 at 10:50 am

Published in my  Column in The Nation and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 18 August 2013

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Professor S.K Sitrampalam is the former professor of history in the University of Jaffna, a vice president of ITAK (euphemistically known as the Federal Party) and a specialist in South Asian history and Archaeology. He can be relied on… To take your breath away by bizarre displays of ignorance that is hard to explain away even with the excuse; ‘nationalist historian’. Unless ‘nationalist historian’ is a polite euphemism that really means ‘unsound operative’. Here is a demonstration from his Tamils of Sri Lanka: Historical Roots of Tamil identity (2003).

“At this juncture it is pertinent to quote Geiger who studied the Sinhala language in depth. He has divided its development into three phases. They are: Sinhalese Prakrit (3rd century B.C – 4th century AD), proto–Sinhalese (4th century AD – 8th century A.D) Sinhalese proper (after 8th century A.D). Elu, is the original language from which the later Sinhalese developed. However, data from the Brahmi inscriptions show that the Elu would have been either old Tamil or a dialect of Tamil. In the light of the evidence from the Brahmi inscriptions it is now evident that the proto–Sinhalese speakers, namely the Elu speakers came into contact with Prakrit, the language of Buddhism.”

The only appropriate way to respond to this is to imagine that one is a pre-school teacher and Professor Sitrampalam a tiny tot. “Oh honey” one would say “Come here. Sit. Wait let me wipe that jam off. You want to know what Elu is? You know ‘Dharma’?  It’s Sanskrit. ‘dhamma’ is the Pali form.  Dam and daham are the Elu forms. Shall we see what the Old Sinhala or Sinhalese Prakrit form is? Here, this is the glossary of Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol. 1[i]. Page 110. It’s ‘dama’- truth, law, religion, virtue, etc. It can be seen in inscription number 923 as ‘dama-katika’- the expounder or preacher of religion. Shall we see the actual inscription? Here let me…there’s jam on your fingers. ‘Damakatika Tisa….Pusaha (Tisaha lene)’.

Shall we move on to another book[ii]? Turn to “Works and Persons in Sinhala Literary Culture” by Charles Hallisey. “Sinhala literary culture during these centuries (he means between 10th and 15th centuries AD honey. It’s in the previous paragraph) was internally diglossic, employing one “alphabet” for writing Sinhala poetry and one for Sinhala prose. The script was the same for both; the difference between the two was the number of permitted letters (aksaras), prose, having fifty seven, against thirty-six for poetry. The alphabet for poetic Sinhala (elu) prevented the use of many Sanskrit loanwords (tatsamas) because it lacked letters for the aspirated consonants of Sanskrit, although Sanskrit loanwords became as common in Sinhala prose as they later were in the literatures of other local languages else-where in South Asia. Sanskrit loanwords apparently became common in spoken Sinhala too, as well as in Sinhala Buddhist discourse: the Sanskritic dharmaya (Truth, the Buddha’s Teaching) is far more common than daham or dähäm, found in elu, whereas there is no tatsama in Sinhala from the Pali equivalent, dhamma.”

Shall we look for more Elu words then? You are not tired? Page 117, IC-I. Sanskrit and Pali bhūmi . Means land? It’s bima in Elu. It’s bumi in Old Sinhala (without the aspirate you know honey what they call ‘the mahaprana bha’ in Sinhala?)

Here this is inscription 1215. See the term “bumi dine”? And this 1226; “bumi karahaka dine”.

And the Sanskrit dīrgha is dīgha in Pali. Long, tall. Can you guess what that is in Elu? No? Look in p 111. Now tell. Digu good boy! Now what is it in Old Sinhala? Diga without the aspirate or the mahaprana.

Remember that man whose name was Cumaratunga Munidāsa? He was often called Munidas. Because of his Elu aspirations. Sanskrit dāsa or dāsya, Pali dāsa, Elu das. And in Old Sinhala it was dasa again without the long vowel.

And where in the world did you get the idea that Elu is another name for Proto-Sinhala (“it is now evident that the proto–Sinhalese speakers, namely the Elu speakers came into contact with Prakrit, the language of Buddhism”???) Who told you that? I see no citation for that. Did you think that up yourself? Honey, then you haven’t understood the basics. Go to the blackboard. Write ‘Sinhalese Prakrit (300 BC- 400 AD)’. Draw a horizontal arrow from it. After the arrow write ‘Proto-Sinhala (400 AD-800 AD)’. Another horizontal arrow from that (No! no more jam until you get this) then write ‘Sinhalese Proper (800 AD to present)’. What the arrows mean honey is that Sinhalese Prakrit evolved into Proto-Sinhala, which evolved into Sinhalese proper. See these two dolls? Imagine these two are Sinhalese Prakrit speakers. 700 years pass (I will wave this scarf to show 700 years passing) and hey presto, these two dolls are now…what? Proto-Sinhala speakers, that’s right! So how can they come into contact with Prakrit again? Through time travel? Honey where did you get your PhD? Poona? An excellent university I am sure. You want to be a credit or a discredit to them? Credit? Then pay attention without looking at the Jam cupboard.

Now darling, the second fatal error you are making is in saying “Prakrit, the language of Buddhism”. Honey, it’s the other way around. Prakrit was the language of the land, which became the language of Buddhism when it arrived around 3rd century BC.  By the time Buddhism arrived the language called Sinhalese Prakrit was already here, had been here for a few centuries knocking against the palettes of the people and changing into a language distinct from all Indo-Aryan languages of North India. Honey all this time have you been thinking that the monks brought the language here in the 3rd Century BC? Now don’t deny it. You have written; “The study of Brahmi inscriptions shows that monastic language of Prakrit gradually spread to the population over a period of centuries, a process similar to the process of Sanskritisation.” And who do you cite as your authority for this? Susantha Gunetilleke: 1980[iii]!!!. A non-specialist source. (Honey where did you get that PhD again?). Your homework today. Write the following passage from James Gair; 1981, “Sinhala, An Indo Aryan Isolate” twenty times.

“Sinhala tradition has it that the group that brought the languages with them arrived on the date of the parinibbhāna (final passing away) of the Buddha, traditionally 544-543 B.C. As a matter of fact, somewhere around that time does appear to be a reasonable date, since we have inscriptions in Old Sinhala dating from the early second or late third centuries B.C., and by that time the language had already under-gone important changes that made it distinct from any of the Indo-Aryan languages of North India.[iv]

I know it is a lot of words. But it’s for your own good. We don’t want your colleagues cutting you dead in conferences do we? Or worse, to snigger behind your back? All right, have some jam now.

(Courtesy of The Nation)

@ http://ratnawalli.blogspot.com/  and rathnawalli@gmail.com


[i] Inscriptions of Ceylon, Volume I, Early Brahmi Inscriptions, S. Paranavitana: 1970


[iii] Susantha Goonetilleke, Sinhalisation: Migration or Cultural Colonization? Lanka Guardian Vol. 3, No. I, May I, 1980, pp. 22-29, and May 15 1980, pp. 18-19


[iv] “For the present, it would appear that Sinhalese-Prakrit was considerably removed from the Indian Prakrits in the second century BCE (when the earliest Brāhmī cave records appear). This would mean that after the introduction of one or more forms of Prakrit in the island, changes had taken place over a considerable period, perhaps two or more centuries. In all probability, the origin of Sinhalese-Prakrit in the island dates back to a time before the arrival of Prakrit-speaking Buddhist monks in the third century BCE”. –(P 91, The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, K. Indrapala, 2005)


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