[This is how The Sunday Times of 27th October 2002 reported the launch of the late Aelian de Silva’s masterpiece ‘Technical Terms in Sinhala’]
As we walked into the Central Bank Auditorium at Rajagiriya we were greeted by some soft music over the sound system. It was Ananda Samarakoon’s voice. Old favourites dating back to the 1940s were being played. Those who had turned up for Aelian de Silva’s book launch being a mature crowd, appreciated the songs in their original form. What a difference to the jarring noises we normally hear at any function! That set the tone for a most profitable evening.
Aelian is a Chartered Engineer. He is more a lover of the Sinhala language and a great admirer of indigenous talent and craftsmanship. I first came to know him when he compiled a glossary of technical terms in Sinhala in the mid-1950s while serving as an Engineer in the Department of Electrical Undertakings (forerunner to the CEB). He spent a great deal of time in coining meaningful Sinhala terms when he realised that what the Official Languages Department was turning out, were mere copies of Sanskrit terms which did not convey the actual meaning. We, on the ‘Dinamina’ at the time, fully supported Aelian’s effort but he did not get the backing of the Official Language Commissioner and his staff.
“Sanskrit was never used for practical technological processes. Even so, the Sanskrit-phobia reached surprising levels when even the existing Sinhala terms, while simple and accurate, were excommunicated to make room for weird Sanskrit monstrosities,” Aelian recalls.
After years of hard work, Aelian has compiled a comprehensive list of technical terms in Sinhala, which he has titled ‘Sinhalayen Sipyuru Vadan’. He explains that it provides all linguistic information necessary to produce the desired technological literature in Sinhala, thus enhancing the technological abilities of a people who are naturally technologically inclined.
A long felt need
Appreciating Aelian’s effort, chief guest at the launch, Minister Karu Jayasuriya pledged the government’s total commitment and support for the venture. “He has done it on his own initiative with absolutely no monetary advantage or seeking recognition or glory. Fulfilling a long felt need has been his sole objective. I assure that the government will back his effort,” he said.
Erudite scholar Arisen Ahubudu lauded Aelian’s undaunting task and reminded the audience how the author was encouraged by the language a remote villager in Tantirimale used when asked for the way to the famed Buddha statue during a school trip. Acknowledging Aelian’s talent, he said: “We have yet to come across a person who is equally well versed in Sinhala, English and technical knowledge.” In a hard-hitting speech, Aelian was most critical of those who don’t appreciate or recognise indigenous talent. “We grab everything that come from abroad with both hands but totally ignore the best products that are turned out here. Our people are remarkable. They are so talented. Yet they don’t gain any recognition.”