What's in a name you may ask?
Do you call it "Sri Lunkah" or Sree Lanker?
I was brought up to believe that "Sri Lunkah" is the correct pronunciation and that "Sree Lanker" is wrong. That was it, black and white, well more brown and white. Grey didn't exist, there was the correct way and the incorrect way. Suddhas say it incorrectly, Lankans say it correctly and Kalu Suddhas just mess things up.
As a kid, in Richmond at school, I'd call it "Sree Lanker" when talking to my British friends. I felt cheap and prostituted, like I was betraying my roots, but it made sense and I managed to live with the guilt. I'd mention the name at school using the Brit way then go home and chat with my parents and use the "proper" pronunciation.
There was rarely an overlap, an occasion when I'd be with a Suddha friend and one or both of my parents and get caught in a position of not knowing which way to turn, so there was never any real conflict. The thing that was definite in my mind, the banker, or bunker, was the right way to say it and the wrong way.
As I got older I maintained the view but, as I felt a stronger sense of identity, perhaps more confidence in my Sri Lankanness, I'd use the "correct" Sri Lunkah more and more, with Western people. I can't really explain the set of rules that I'd come up with to help me decide which pronunciation to use, but they were continually evolving anyhow and loosely based on how close I was to the Western person concerned.
Then, about ten years ago, something happened that messed up my mental equilibrium. I had a really close friend with me, a Lankan who was on holiday here in London, a fellow who's as Sri Lankan as can be and one of my oldest and best buddies. We were browsing in a local camera shop and for some reason he gave the shop assistant his name and address.
When he got to the country bit, you've guessed it, he told the guy that he lived in "Sree Lanker". I was cor blimey gobsmacked guvnor, I tell you Machang. I've never mentioned it to L, my friend, but it was evident that he'd chosen the Suddha way on that occasion as a means of communicating more easily with the very white and very British shop assistant.
Since then I've observed people and their choice of phonetics when saying the hallowed words. The results have surprised me. There's a large chunk of people who'll say "Sri Lunkah" all the time. Stick them with a group of whiter than white people who've never been outside the UK and they'll say it "correctly". Chuck them in the remotest village in the motherland and their pronunciation will be exactly the same.
There's another group of people, mostly western who'll say it "incorrectly" wherever they are.
But what has perplexed me is the number of people I'd consider Lankans, many with Lankan parents who are born here in the UK, some even in Sri Lanka, who'll use the Suddha way all or some of the time. These people have messed up my mindset and forced me to reevaluate. I've met people, brown ones no less, the sort who I'd always say Sri Lunkah to, who'll talk to me, or talk to people that I'd think of as fully Sri Lankan, who'll use the Western way all the time.
My reevaluation is a bit of a reflection on what I feel is my changing attitude towards many things in life anyhow, the fact that there is no right way and no wrong way, just different ways.
What is language? It's communication isn't it? A means of relating to each other to make ourselves understood. It has its limitations but it can also be very effective. So, when we succeed in making other people understand what we mean, it's working. When a person says Sri Lanka and gets it "wrong", it's me who's being wrong in judging them.
It also means that when I say "Sree Lanker" to someone I needn't feel bad or guilty. It's not actually a sign of how Sri Lankan I am, it's just a means of communicating.
What about you though? Which way do you say it and do you alter your choice depending on who you're with or where you are?
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