Presidential initiative for a trilingual Sri Lanka: The Trilingual Master Plan

Sunimal Fernando, Advisor to the President, Sunday Island, 9 Janaury 2011

 President Rajapaksa reaches out to Muralitharan’s son and wife … during Test match in Galle, Murali’s last outing in this realm

I refer to the article appearing on Page 4 of the Sunday Island of January 2 entitled ‘The Trilingual Master Plan and Monolingual National Anthem Muddle’ in which the author states that “The trilingual project appears to be the brainchild of Presidential Advisor Sunimal Fernando,” a fact that is incorrect. H E the President announced his vision of a Trilingual Sri Lanka way back in February 2009 when he stated as follows: “When marching forward into the future as a single people, it is my view that the Sinhala and Tamil speaking people should engage with one another in each other’s language. I therefore visualize for the future a bi-lingual Sri Lankan society. Individual programes in this direction are already being implemented in the Ministries of Public Administration and Education with the facilitation of the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration. However, I shall be directing my officials in the near future, to take steps to prepare a Comprehensive National Master Plan with disaggregated Action Plans for realizing a bi-lingual public service and a bi-lingual nation within a specified but realistic time frame.

With the assistance of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, we will drive this programme with dedication and commitment till the desired results are achieved. English, on the other hand, will be our language to reach out to the world and access the global pool of knowledge and technology.

As the national initiative on English gathers momentum and achieves desired results, I visualize, in fact, a tri-lingual Sri Lankan society in the long run. Our Government’s policy framework, Mahinda Chintana, clearly lays down our policy on language. The strong link between language and culture is recognized and respected. To the people of my country, Sinhala and Tamil are not mere tools of communication. They encapsulate our values and world-views, give expression to our inner feelings and define our cultural categories. They embody the soul of our people. They confer to us our distinct identity. Therefore, the Presidential Task Force on English and IT will ensure that the national initiative should be designed in such a way that English is delivered purely as a ‘Life Skill’ that is desired for its utility value, as a vital tool of communication with the outside world of knowledge, and a skill that is required for employment.

We will ensure that there will be a complete break with the past, where in our country English was rolled out as a vehicle for creating disaffection towards our national cultures, national ethos and national identity, for alienating our people from their roots and for creating social and cultural divisions among them”. (from the speech made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the ceremonial launch of ‘2009 – Year of English and Information Technology’ at the Presidential Secretariat on 14th February 2009).

Nearly an year and a half later, in 2010, His Excellency requested me to coordinate the preparation of a Draft Ten Year National Strategic Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka in which task I am now engaged with the support of an Advisory Committee of 23 persons appointed by the President including several Professors and Retired Professors of Sinhala, Tamil and English among others. I assume both the President and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga tasked me with this responsibility because of the experience I had gained in coordinating with a fair degree of success at national level His Excellency’s other Language Planning Initiative ‘ English as a Life Skill’ which I continue to do with the support of a Presidential Task Force.

In August 2010 we also conducted a comprehensive Socio-linguistic Survey of Sri Lanka through which we collected primary data at national level on Language Proficiency, Language Use, Language Maintenance, Language Shift, Language Identity, Language Convergence and Language Attitude, as a basis for Language Planning. The analytical report in 2 volumes is available to the media on request.

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Filed under cultural transmission, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations

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