Save language, save culture

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By Sanuj Hathurusinghe

Sinhala language is spoken only in Sri Lanka. This makes Sinahla a special language that needs to be preserved but for some, Sinhala is a dying language that is spoken less and less on a global scale and therefore, will die a natural death in the near future. Sinhala might be spoken only by a minority and the number of Sinhala speakers too might be on the decline but if one needs to find reasons to save a dying language he or she should look into the past rather than to the future. 

Without the Sinhala language our cultural heritage will be completely lost. Future of Sinhala might be bleak but in the past the language thrived. Without a proper knowledge of Sinhala, it becomes nearly impossible to interpret the archaeological findings and to enjoy the golden age of Sinhala literature. The mammoth task of preserving Sinhala for future generations is mainly put on the shoulders of hardworking individuals of the Sinhala Dictionary Compilation Institute. As an entity falls under the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs, the institute has been compiling Sinhala dictionary, one letter at a time and their efforts bore fruits recently with the release of the seventh volume of Sinhala – Sinhala Dictionary. 

The latest volume containing words starting with the letter ‘ka’ was released on 21 March during an event held at the National Museum Auditorium. Principal of Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena Most Ven. Balangoda Sobitha Thera attended the event as the Chief Guest while Mahanayake of Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshitha Sect Most Ven. Thirikunamalaye Ananda Thera, State Minister of National Heritage, Performing Arts and Rural Arts Promotion Vidura Wickramanayaka, Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs Tharani Anoja Gamage, Chief Editor of Sinhala Dictionary Compilation Institute Prof. Rohini Paranavitana, and IT expert Harsha Wijewardena also attended the event. 

Commenting on the launch Prof. Paranavitana said that it was fitting that they were able to launch the latest volume of the dictionary on the 95th anniversary of Sinhala dictionary. “Compilation of Sinhala – Sinhala dictionary began 95 years ago by Abrahim Mendis Gunasekara. Since then, lot of Sinhala – Sinhala dictionaries have been released but the Sinhala Dictionary Compilation Institute started releasing volumes and editions of Sinhala – Sinhala dictionary in 1992.”

A dictionary is a book that gives an explanation to words of language either in the same language or in a different language. Needless to say that this is much harder than writing any other book and requires a lot of expert opinions. As it is believed that Sinhala language came to be with the arrival of Arahat Mahinda, the language has some deep roots in the country which makes it extra hard to track all the words and compile them into one book or a volume. 

Nevertheless, the experts in the Sinhala Dictionary Compilation Institute welcome the challenge enthusiastically and give their best to compile a dictionary with all the words in an ever-evolving language. No matter how hard it is, the compilation of this dictionary is a must if we are to preserve the Sinhala language which is a vital part of our identity and cultural heritage. “A nation cannot be built without a language. 

Time periods we consider to be golden ages in history are the times when the language or the literature also thrived. During times when language didn’t thrive foreign invitations and political turbulence were frequent in the country. Therefore, it is vital to preserve language for a nation to thrive. Compiling dictionaries is an investment. The Ministry is conducting several other activities of cultural importance but this has to be the most important one of them all since all the other activities need the language,” opined Most Ven Ananda Thera. 

“The work of the Ministry in launching the dictionary is commendable especially considering these times of financial hardship,” Most Ven. Sobitha Thera commended the editors of the institute and all the others who contributed towards the release of the latest edition of Sinhala – Sinhala library.      

(Pix by Dumindu Wanigasekara)