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Sri Lanka: Notes


(a) Before Independence 1948

The Ceylon Independence Orders in Council, 1946-1948, that contain the Constitution, such as it was, and being UK documents, in English, make no mention of official or other languages. Legislation had provided for the use of Sinhala and Tamil in notional replacement of English in official contexts. An example is the coinage, which carried the iscriptions Ceylon (English), Śrī Laṃkā (Sinhala), and Ilaṅkai (Tamil).

(b) Monarchy: 1948-1972

The cited Orders in Council were minimally amended. The Royal Style and Titles were unaffected until 1953, when in the flurry of Royal Style changes preceding the coronation of Elizabeth II Ceylon also received a new Royal Style. The relevant legislation, and the ensuing Royal Proclamation, are in English, although the versions in Sinhala and/or Tamil may have been issued. There is certainly no evidence that if any existed, they had statutory authority. The same considerations apply to the documents establishing the authority of the Governor-General.

As the cited account of the language debates illustrates, the Government of the day was adamant on making Sinhala prevail. The result was the Official Language Act, effective 7 Jul 1956, establishing Sinhala as the only Official Langauge, with limited accomodation for the use of Tamil; hardly any mention of English, and yet, the text of the Act is largely known only in English. There is no evidence of a widespread implementation of this Act, and it apparently did not affect the use of the Royal Style or the style of the Governor-General.

(c) Republic: 1972-1978

It is only partially correct to assert, with practically all popular accounts, that "The name of the country was changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka", in view of the above information on the use of Sinhala and Tamil versions of the polity style. The Constitution of 1972 did promulgate the change in English, with the explicit beginning "Sri Lanka (Ceylon)". The provisions on languages were:

Sinhala is the official language.

Sinhala and Tamil are the national languages.

There is no explicit mention of English, although all the legislation is documented in this language.

(d) Republic: from 1978

The 1978 Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka makes the following provisions on languages:

The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala.

The national languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil.

As a result of continuing debate and perceptions of the needs of national security, the following provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution became effective 14 Nov 1987:

(a) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala.

(b) Tamil shall also be an official language.

(c) English shall be the link language.

The provision on national languages remained undisturbed. The text does not provide a definition of "link language".

Last updated on: 03 Apr 2010 00:58:02