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Colonialism and problems of language policy: formulation of a colonial language policy in Sri Lanka


Sandagomi Coperehewa

Senior Lecturer, Department of Sinhala, University of Colombo, Colombo, LK
About Sandagomi
Sandagomi Coperahewa is a senior Lecturer in the Department of Sinhala at the University of Colombo. He completed his doctoral studies in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge in 2009. Dr Coperahewa’s thesis entitled “The politics of Language in Colonial Sri Lanka, 1900-1948” was supervised by Dr Sujith Sivasundaram and Dr Francesca Orsini. Dr Coparahwea has been a recipient of a NCAS grant.
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The problems of language policy in modern Sri Lanka have their roots in the nineteenth century. The question of language came to the fore during the early nineteenth century when British administrators and missionaries debated what kind of language education policy should be introduced. The first official pronouncement relating to language policy in colonial Sri Lanka is to be found in the Colebrooke report on the Administration of the Government of Ceylon (1832), which made explicit the privileged position of English in the country. Linguistic imperialism was another consequence of colonial policy, and colonial ideologies were reflected in language education policies. However, there was no total agreement among the missionaries and colonial officials on policies relating to language-in-education and they continued to hold conflicting views. It is clear that the dual discourses of Orientalism (policies in favour of education in local languages) and Anglicism (policies in favour of education in English) continued to coexist alongside, and served the interests of the British colonial agenda. The introduction of English education in the nineteenth century had a profound long-term impact on the country’s language policies and practices. This discussion of colonial language policies and practices reveals the historical origins of the language question in Sri Lanka and points to the general embeddedness of linguistic developments in colonial history.

Keywords: Colonialism; Colonial Sri Lanka; Language policy; Education; Colebrooke; Cameron


Sri Lanka Journal of Advanced Social Studies Vol.1(1) 2011 27-52

How to Cite: Coperehewa, S., 2011. Colonialism and problems of language policy: formulation of a colonial language policy in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Journal of Advanced Social Studies, 1(1), pp.27–52. DOI:
Published on 25 Nov 2011.
Peer Reviewed


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