Focus on books:
Understanding the aspects of Sinhala letter
BOOKS: Though quite a number of books and learned articles
have been written on the subject of grammar, linguistics, and other
related subject areas pertaining to the structures of words and letters
in Sinhala language, most of them have been confined to learned
individuals connected with those fields over the years, especially those
who claimed themselves as erudites of grammatical rules and tools in
etymology, phonetics, linguistics and graphology.
Though we are constant users of words, phrases and terms in various
manifold verbal patterns over mass media and other channels of
communication to address our own companions or recipients, we little
know the intrinsic meanings therein and the developments taken over the
years as to how we use demarcating them into groups and the ways and
means of understanding some of the latent rhetoric linked with the
As such I presume the subject area called linguistics from its
original patterns paved the way to many more categories such as socio
linguistics psycholinguistics. It is the duty of the linguists to help
the scholars to obtain knowledge as to how the uses came to be, and the
changing aspects connected with them.
Professor J. B. Disanayaka has been engaged in this venture over the
last four decades or more as a teacher of linguistics at the university
levels and trained as a researcher in the most modern techniques at home
and abroad dedicating his lifetime to this study with a holistic view on
the uses as connected in the fields of folklore uses and other aligned
areas perhaps untouched by other scholars.
His intention is to clarify scientifically how the Sinhala letter
evolved and is placed in its modern context undergoing the changes over
The latest addition to the repertoire of books written by him on this
subject is titled Sinhala Akshara Vicaraya [which he titles in English
as Sinhala Graphology, 2006, Sumitha Publication].
This is an attempt in ten chapters split into small units for the
sake of better and clear understanding with examples to outline the
areas such as the origin of language, development of a language,
etymological and structural aspects of words, the types of letters, the
evolution of an alphabet in comparison with other linguistic groups the
special terminologies denoted to letters as they change from time to
time and the changing aspects of words depending on the situations,
events, experiences and patterns and the resultant uses and the
formations of new letters and how they came to be written.
All these are taken into consideration with special reference to the
use of Sinhala letter and the formation of verbal patterns via this
evolution. He makes the reader feel at the outset that the subject is
not at all a high-flown pedantic exercise though some have tried to make
it look so, indicating it as a specialised area in darkness confined to
He raises some of the common issues pertaining to the use of the
words and phrases and examines them in this background and tries to
respond to such issues as to the origin of the Sinhala language
examining the verbal patterns over the centuries to address whether it
has any connection to Indian languages or stemming out of an Indian
language or solely originated in the Sri Lankan soil by the pre-Vijaya
generation of settlers.
For this, he makes use of the various available sources, such as rock
edicts and inscriptions, and earliest textual writings. His mainstay of
opinion seems to be the liberal acceptance of the change of linguistic
patterns from time to time, as a neutral phenomenon giving vent to many
new words and mixed verbal patterns, which cannot be made to look a
purified from its original stance.
Thus the term ‘living language’ [jivabhashava] is introduced more
meaningfully to the modern day reader. In this venture he compares the
various ways and means of the change of other languages in their
respective social conditions in a historical perspective. Thus the
changes that took place in Latin and Roman context are traced side by
side with those of the Indian context.
He categorises some words into groups as used in Pali, Vanga
[Bengali], Oriya and Sinhala, and examines subjectwise how this
phenomenon takes place. For example, he takes the term Suriyo [sun] in
Pali, Surjo in Vanga, Surjiya in Oriya, Suriya or Hiru in Sinhala.
In this manner he subdivides words into linguistic groups connecting
them to nature [svabhadhramaya] parts of the body [sariranga] animal
world [satva lokaya] human world [manushya lokaya] plants [vraksha lata]
colours [varna] indicating that the development of a letter depends on
the cross cultural aspects as well.
As the lineage of the Sinhala letter is of Indian origin, it is
inevitable that it has this inter cultural aspect of affiliation which
inevitably becomes a significant factor in this study.
He also makes use to the full, some of the views held over the years
as to the use of the mixture of Pali and Sanskrit words in Sinhala
language as against the pure Hela terms, making references to the
pioneer findings of scholars such as Geiger [A grammar of the Sinhalese
language] and Paranavitana [Early Brahmi Inscriptions].
He focuses attention on the uses of words and the changing nuances of
the same as they come to be used by special groups of people in
professions and social categories.
This book too gives new insights to such areas as morphology [pada
vicharaya] syntax [vakya vicharaya] semantics [artha vicharaya] a
subject which is becoming more popular in the field of mass
communication as linked to the use of language and semiotics [sagnavedaya]
and the modern use of words and letters for the computer era.
Perhaps some other scholars of allied areas could take over from
Disanayaka some of these aspects as intensive research areas in creative
communication meanings in literature, a study which is now stagnant with
pseudo-modernistic trends misunderstood by the trend setters especially
via newspapers and minor iconoclastic groups called ‘kandayam’.
Disanayaka takes the reader into a classification of the Sinhala
letters and the uses of Sinhala language as observed in the earliest
stages of its evolution in our country tracing the forms as found in the
earliest texts to Sigiri Graffiti where a clear cut creative use of the
poetic diction is observable. This he names as Sigiri Sinhalaya.
Then he turns to more modern aspects which cover provinces such as
the dialect used in the hill country naming them as Udarata Sinhalaya.
He also classifies the uses of words and phrases into two broad
categories such as the more poetical uses or rhetorical uses called
kavlekiya and more prosaic and worldly verbal usages termed as levlakiya.
Then his attention is drawn towards the contemporary use of language
where mass media play a vital role called Samakalina Sinhalaya.
While classifying the language structures as utilised by the masses
over the years in this manner Disanayaka enters into a more modernistic
territory taking the contemporary uses as most controversial from a
puristic standpoint where he makes the reader feel that it is the duty
to face the computer and internet technology resourcefully and place
them in that perspective without turning the clock back and shows how it
could be done illustratively [pp349 - 380].
Though a lot of hard linguistic searching had gone into the contents
of this book to illuminate the graphological aspects of the Sinhala
letter which is the focal point, is not only a contribution to the main
subject of linguistics, but also to the allied areas such as folklore,
ritual, communication, sociology and creative expressions in popular