Learning at Peradeniya University
This week's column is personal plus factual. It is personal as far as
my association with some of the academics. The academics concerned are
Prof Arjuna Parakrama, Prof Manique Gunesekera and Prof. Thiru Kandiah
in particular. Younger students might not know some details about these
So may I in the first place give some information about them as far
as I know? Before that I must explain why I am talking about them at the
present juncture. Well, Prof Manique Gunesekera invited me to attend a
one-day conference at the Arts Theatre, University of Peradeniya on
Monday, February 09, 2009.
Thanking her I attended the SLELTA Conference 2009. SLELTA spells out
as Sri Lanka English Language Teachers' Association. The English
Literary Association of the University of Peradeniya hosted the event.
What was the conference about? Well, it's topical in the present
context: Non-School English Education: Addressing New Demands and
I politely asked Manique whether she invited me as a freelance
journalist / columnist or as a teacher of English and English
Literature. She affirmed the latter. Readers might be interested to know
that your's truly had been teaching these subjects in International
Schools both in Lanka and Maldives, Oman and Secondary High Schools in
the United States. Presently I do not work for any educational
institution but conduct limited private classes for a selected few
Having satisfied myself that I could benefit by this conference I
looked around to spot one of the foremost Lankan woman writer,
internationally known- Jean Arasanayagam and her quiet daughter,
Parvathi who has produced four volumes of poetry. I also spotted Rashmi
(I hope I got her name correct) wife of the late Ravi John, a colourful
media personality. I was also happy to see Prof K N O Dharmadasa in the
Prof Arjuna Parakrama and Prof Manique Gunesekera are the chair
person and vice chairperson of SLELTA.
This included Registration (I willingly became a member of SLELTA),
Opening & Introduction by Prof Arjuna Parakrama, Pleanary by Prof Colin
MacCabe of the University of Pittsburgh, Q&A Session, Panel 1 Prof Thiru
Kandiah, Prof Gnanakumaran Subramaniam (from Malaysia), Prof Siromi
Fernando and Prof Arjuna Parakrama who chaired the session. Panel II had
the following as speakers: Sunil Athugoda from the NIE, Namal
Walisundara (RESC), Dinali Fernando (SLFUW) and Manique Gunesekera. At
the end threw was Resolution Forum and Conclusion with Profs Arjuna and
Manique. Certificates to all the participants were also issued. The
spacious Arts theatre was full of young students from Peradeniya and
Kelaniya and English teachers including a young Buddhist monk.
I benefitted by the approach and outlook of Prof Colin MacCabae. At
the start he said that the English people had an inferiority complex vis
a vis the Germans and the French way back in 1056.
Then an Aristocratic class emerged by 1362 where Anglo-Saxon words
like cow, pig, sheep got into the English language. By 1400 English
became a dominant language. However during the reign of Henry V, the
English people had an inferiority complex again. Imperial identity was
forced in the language. It was later the pronunciation in English became
proper. In the 18th century Upper Class English came to the fore
separating from the spoken language. The speaker pointed out the
different styles of speech by the late Winston Churchill and Tony Blair.
The TV plays an important part in making public speeches clear and
simple. There is no more an imperial English Language. There is no clear
demarcation between standard and dialect form of speech. The Oxford
Elite English is dead.
I found that there was similarity in the thought process of Prof
Thiru Kandiah and Prof Colin MacCabe. While Arjuna Parakrama moderated
the discussion in his own fashion, I tend to agree with Manique that
there is space for Elitism.
Spotlighting mushroom tutories run by unqualified teachers that boast
of teaching the English language in double quick time and with BBC
pronunciation as advertised particularly in the Thamil newspapers,
Arjuna brought to our notice the damage done to the learning of the
Thiru Kandiah' analysis of conventional implicature was also very
interesting and useful. He gave examples of Received Pronunciation and
Lankan Pronunciation. He also quoted Gamini Haththotuwegama's The E F C
Ludowyk Memorial lecture, 2005, University of Peradeniya and exemplified
on the language used. GK spoke on "Unreasonable Postulates and
treasonable Practices Correlative to English- Rescuing the Liberation
Arjuna Parakrama, son of the famous couple the late Sali Parakrama
and the late Sita Jayawardene was working for the Daily News and he was
a chess champion. While working for the Colombo University, he asked me
to write the Thamil script for a trilingual play which he produced. The
Malaysian professor's speech was informative in that how his country
manages the teaching of English language.
The SLELTA Quarterly is interesting reading.