Background – The Constitution
The Constitution (1978) of Sri Lanka (Chapter IV, Articles 18 to 25) contains a clear set of language provisions which guarantees that no citizen shall be discriminated against on grounds of language, and entitles every citizen the freedom to enjoy and promote his own culture and to use his own language.
Following are the language provisions :
- Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka and English is the ‘link’ (Article18)
- Sinhala and Tamil are the national languages of Sri Lanka. (Article 19)
- A Member of Parliament or a member of a Provincial Council or a Local Authority is entitled to perform his duties in Parliament and Provincial Council or Local Authority in either Sinhala or Tamil. (Article 20)
- Every person is entitled to be educated through the medium of Sinhala or Tamil. (Article 21)
- Sinhala and Tamil are the languages of administration throughout Sri Lanka. Sinhala shall be the language of administration and used for the maintenance of public records and transaction of business by public institutions in all the Provinces other than the Northern and Eastern Provinces. In Northern and Eastern Provinces, Tamil shall be the language of administration. However, the President may direct Divisions to use both Sinhala and Tamil as the language of administration, on the basis of proportion of linguistic minority population. (Article 22)
- All laws and legislation are to be enacted or made and published in both Sinhala and Tamil, with a translation in English, including all Orders, Proclamations, rules, by-laws, regulations and notifications made or issued under any written law, other than by Provincial Council or Local Authority, in which case all documents are to be issued and published in the language of the administration of the area, with a translation in English. (Article 23)
- Sinhala and Tamil are the languages of the courts throughout Sri Lanka, Sinhala to be used in all provinces except in the Northern and Eastern provinces where Tamil is to be so used; any party or applicant or any person entitled to represent such party or applicant may hold proceedings and submit documents in Sinhala or Tamil; any judge, juror, party or applicant is entitled to interpretation and translation into Sinhala or Tamil provided by the State. (Article 24)
- The responsibility to provide adequate facilities for the use of the languages enshrined in the Constitution (Chap IV) shall be the State. (Article 25)
The language provisions of the Constitution reflect the vision of the people of Sri Lanka and its Government to create a society which promotes understanding, diversity and social cohesion, through the knowledge, respect and appreciation of each other’s language and culture. For this vision to become reality however, it needs to be translated into a set of objectives and initiatives which will make both Sinhalese and Tamil speaking communities feel well represented and well served by their government.
Language Policy Advisor/NLEAP Special Advisor/Language Policy and International Relations,
Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI), University of Ottawa