Why I spell Singhala with a ‘g’ (සිංහල)

‘Microsoft Word accepts both Singhalese and Sinhalese as acceptable spellings for people who speak the Singhala language. However, it does not accept the spelling ‘Singhala’ as opposed to Sinhala without the ‘g’.

There is a big semantic difference between ‘sing’ and ‘sin’ in the English language. Sin is a synonym for evil. People who sin are sinners. People who sing are singers, and Singhalese people love to sing. They have sung since ancient times and their poetry and oral history have been sung in towns. villages and Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka for more than two thousand years.

The spelling of the Singhala language without a g is at odds with the Singhala spelling of the word:

සිංහල

සිංහ – Singha – Lion

“සිං” is ‘sing’ not sin

The generous and cosmopolitan among the Britishers said that the natives of Ceylon spoke in a “sing-song voice”, but the racists among the British despised people “jabbering” in languages they didn’t understand. The Britsh brought the Anglican Church to Sri Lanka and also gave permission for American missionaries to teach that Hinduism and Buddhism were ignorant supersitions, and the only “good” songs were hymns and carols. Native songs and dances were discouraged. The beat of the African drums came to symbolise rebellion of the “restless natives”, who had to understand only enough English to understand the “riot act” when it was read out to them – in English.

The English (Anglican) Church and Catholic (Roman) Church talk a lot about sin, and sin is another word for evil. In Australia, the Aboriginal childen were taken by the rival churches and ‘educated’ in the mission schools, where they were forced to learn rudimentary English, enough to work as labourers and housemaids but not enough to aspire to university, or a well-paying job. They were actively prevented from speaking their numerous beautiful native languages at school, under threat of punishment. They were told that the ancient wisdom of their elders was superstitious nonsense and that they would only go to “heaven” of they believed in the Doctrine of the Trinity and that Jesus was God. If they ‘sinned’ against the Ten Commandments as interpreted by the relevant chuches and their White missionary-teachers they would go to “hell”, a horrific place of eternal punishment, where they would “gnash their teeth in agony for ever and ever”.

The treatment of the ‘civilized’ natives of Ceylon by the British was not as brutal as the treatment of Australian Aborigines, and efforts were made by the missionaries and British universities to undertand and translate the ancient Indian and Sri Lankan languages and scripts. This was done with the help of the Buddhist and Hindu clergy and intelligensia, as well as the political, academic and business leaders, who were keen to learn English and acquire positions of relative power in the colonial administration. There was a lot of interest in Sanskrit, but the British and Europeans divided the Singhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka as belonging to fundamentally different “races”. The Tamils were said to be Dravidian, but the Singhalese were said to be Aryan, like themselves. This was based on the differences between Singhala and Tamil regarding the influence of Sanskrit. Singhala is said to be derived from the North Indian languages of Pali and Sanskrit, while Tamil is a Dravidian language – which originally meant any of the several South Indian languages (including Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada), These have variable influences from Sanskrit, which is the Hindu liturgical language.

Modern DNA studies have shown the Singhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka to be closely related, and more closely related than either group to Indians (from the south or north). The Tamils and Singhalese may have distinct languages and culture, but they are the same race and Europeans were wrong about their doctrines about Aryans and Dravidians. It is true, however, that Sanskrit is related to most of the European languages, something that was noticed by European monk-scholars of the Catholic Church in the 1600s, when they first travelled to India and tried to learn Sanskrit from the Brahmins. The Western scholars found common words and linguistic similarity between Sanskrit and the European classical languages of Greek and Latin. This led to a debate about where the Indo-European language family originated, a matter that hasn’t yet been settled. It is generally accepted that though Sanskrit developed in North India and became the holy language of Hinduism, it is related to the rest of the Indo-European, formerly called the Indo-Aryan, language family.

However languages are not the same as races. People of different races can learn the same language. There are many unsolved mysteries that will be elucidated when more people have their DNA tested. I have had mine done by a Canadian company (Genebase).

My family tree on Genebase includes more than 6000 people, mostly uploaded by a distant relative of mine, who I have never met (but we linked family trees since I was already on his extensive, but inaccurate, family tree) . Genebase compares DNA analyses from Indigenous populations around the world, with many groups from India but none from Sri Lanka. This limits the conclusions I can reach from the result that my Tamil mother’s mitochondrial DNA (maternal lineage) traces from the Sindhi Province in Pakistan (home to the Indus-Saraswati Civilization) combined with genetic input from Central India. It is an interesting result, though.

My Singhalese father’s paternal line shows commonalities, according to the DNA analysis, with populations of Indians in Malaysia and populations of Central India, Iran and the Middle-East. Neiher of my parents showed commonalities with European, African, Chinese or South American populations. However, the database is limited to 300 or so studies, and Australian Aboriginal and other Australians, as well as Sri Lankan veddhas and Sri Lankans (whether Singhalese, Tamil or Muslim) were not studied

It took me some years to identify myself as a Sri Lankan rather than a ‘Ceylonese’. Like many English-speaking expatriates I was attached to the name Ceylon. But now I see myself as a Sri Lankan Australian, with heritage and ancestry that is both Tamil and Singhalese. With a g. And I am learning the beautiful languages of my ancestors from my Facebook friends and Linkedin connections, both Tamil and Singhala. With a g. Thanks to all those who have helped me.

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