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Following on the discussion of Sri Lankan Portuguese in the Speaking to God and Mammon post, Thushara Gamage, Linguistics department alumna, gives her view on what's happening to the linguistic ecology of Sri Lanka, and why.

The two main ethnic languages spoken in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and Tamil. However, as my father is a Tamil and my mother is a Sinhalese, our common language at home is English.

In my case, the reason we spoke in English was due to a mixed marriage. But at present more and more people are communicating in English rather than in Sinhalese or Tamil due to various reasons. Some of them are:

• Employment
This is a key reason as to why, especially the present day generation is speaking more and more in English – mainly in the cities. The technology being used, such as computers, definitely requires the knowledge of English. Therefore, English has become an essential at interviews.

• Education
Due to this, parents are very keen that their children are taught English, so that they are ready for the demanding job market, where English is a necessity in an office. It is amazing to see the number of International schools, where the medium of study is English.

• Media
Due to more and more western programs having been introduced on the TV and radio, the younger generation tends to imitate the way their favorite actors or actresses speak and dress. Sometimes, to say that they do not know Sinhalese or Tamil makes them feel very westernized and ‘fashionable’!

• Migration
More and more people seem to be moving out of Sri Lanka due to the ethnic violence, for employment reasons and also education. At times, when children who have grown up overseas visit their grandparents, who do not know English, they find it hard to communicate.

However, in most homes, especially in the outskirts and villages, I would say that Sinhalese or Tamil are still spoken. But I wonder with the war, and the increasing penetration of technology and western culture into Sri Lanka, if it will be the same in a few years?

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.

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