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The politics of language policy in Sri Lanka (1948-1976)

de Mel-O'Toole, Marie Leela Chrysanthe (1989) The politics of language policy in Sri Lanka (1948-1976). PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The main aim of the thesis is to seek an adequate explanation through an analysis of current history, for the upsurgeance of the ethnic crisis in Sn Lanka, in order to do so it focuses on two related areas of conflict namely., language and education. In doing so the thesis rejects the view that the origin of the conflict is ethnic. Instead it argues that the origin of the conflict situation in Sri Lanka was in the competing claims for power between different strata within the majority Sinhalese ethnic aggregate The two main strata given prominence in the thesis are the Western educated, culturally anglicised elite and the Sinhalese educated culturally indigenous oriented new elite.

The primary difference between the elite and new elite is cultural but this difference leads to several other vital economic and social differences. The theoretical concept of the Marginal Man as proposed by Stonequist is used to define the cultural differentiation of the elite from the rest of Sri Lankan society. My thesis is that they assume the role of the Marginal Man which entitles them to occupy the position of the elite at the apex of the political and social structure in order to retain this position the elite attempt to camouflage their marginality by maintaining a facade of working with the new elite. Areas of activity that had restricted the new elite to the periphery of the political arena such as language and education now become central. This strategy is seen to have two consequences Firstly, though temporarily, it camouflages the tension between the elite and new elite. Secondly it heightens the tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil aggregates.

In terms of current theories of ethnic politics the thesis also rejects the definitions of the structuralist school of thought amongst scholars of ethnicity which equates an ethnic group with an ethnic aggregate. Instead it attempts to combine the structuralist and phenomenologist schools of thought in its definitions of ethnic group and ethnicity. It maintains that there are several ethnic groups in each ethnic aggregate, the basis of each formation being dependent on the awareness and consciousness of us ethnic traits. The first three chapters deal with the theoretical aspects of the thesis.

The six empirical chapters illuminate the general theoretical assumptions made in the thesis. More specifically, the fourth chapter examines the status of English and the national languages between the decade before the establishment of independence and the establishment in 1936 of the Official Language legislation including the attitude of the main political parties to their status. It also examines the social and economic grounds for resentment among the new elite against the elite.

The fifth and seventh chapters deal very specifically with the official status of each of the national languages. This includes the compromises made bv the elite to the new elite and the resultant effect these had on minority language rights. Chapter Seven focuses on the manner in which the official status of Sinhala Only was broadened to include areas previously not incorporated in the official language legislation. The implications of the inclusion of language legislation in the constitution of 1972 is also examined in this chapter.

Chapter Six examines the attempts made bv Sinhalese dominated parties not securing a sufficient majority to form governments to establish coalition governments which cut across ethnic barriers.

The primary focus of Chapter Eight is on education, both secondary and higher education. The nationalisation of schools in the early sixties is seen as another attempt bv the elite to identify with the new elite while the manipulation of university entrance procedures and policies by the ULF government of the seventies is seen as a vicious attack on a primary Tamil economic base with the objectives simultaneously of alienating the two main ethnic aggregates and reducing the elite’s alienation from the Sinhalese rural vote. Collectively these four chapters examine the rise and development of Sinhalese ethnic nationalism.

Chapter Nine examines the changing role, strategies and policies of the Federal Party in its struggle to win Tamil rights. The latter sections of the chapter examine the challenge to its leadership by the Tamil youth who are disillusioned by the Party’s strategies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Reece, Robert
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