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Sunday, 15 August 2004    
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Books / Reviews

Knox's Words : The other side of Knox

A study of the words of Sri Lankan origin or association first used in English literature by Robert Knox and recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.

In September 1680, Robert Knox returned to London after an absence of 22 years, most of which was spent incarcerated in the Kandyan Kingdom of the otherwise Dutch-held island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Knox experienced a rapid reintegration with English society. At a London coffee house he was introduced to the scientist Robert Hooke.

When Hooke learnt that Knox had written an account of the island - the first in English - he assisted in preparing the manuscript for publication, performing an editorial role and writing a preface.

Within a year of Knox's return An Historical Relation of Ceylon was published. This popular book introduced readers to many exotic words of Sri Lankan origin or association with a diverse future in the English language.

The usage of some of these loan words, such as dissava, illuk, kabaragoya, kittul, kurakkan, and perahera, would remain restricted to the island. Others, such as gaur, kangany, toran and vihara, would enjoy regional usage.

Then there were those, such as betel-leaf, bo-tree, Buddha, poojah and rattan, which would attain international usage. All these words brought to the language by Knox - and there are others - ended up in the Oxford English Dictionary.

This study uncovers Knox's contribution to the language, which extends to words of English origin, as recorded in the OED. A comprehensive introduction provides the background to the subject, especially Knox's book.

The main section traces the history of Knox words of Sri Lankan origin from the publication of An Historical Relation of Ceylon (1681) to Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost (2000).

The author has consulted eighty-nine books published during this period, gathering some 650 quotations to illustrate thirty words. Chronological presentation of the quotations reveals the manner in which spelling evolved and how initial usage entailing careful definition gave way to more casual usage.

The word entries are modelled on those of the OED and include comments by the author on derivation and definition. Furthermore, due to the author's involvement with the OED, a glimpse is provided of the Dictionary's ongoing revision programme.

Knox's Words is more than just a study in etymology and lexicography, however. The quotations expose Knox's influence on subsequent writers, prejudice towards local custom, and much fascinating incidental information on Sri Lanka. This unusual book is not only a groundbreaking study but also a multi-facetted reference work of interest to a variety of readers.

The Author

Richard Boyle was born and educated in England but has resided in Sri Lanka since 1984. A former film producer and scriptwriter, he has devoted much of the past two decades to research concerning cultural aspects of Sri Lanka's British colonial period (1796-1948).

In 2000 he began assisting the Oxford English Dictionary in the revision of the entries for words of Sri Lankan origin or association contained in the Dictionary's second edition. The work has resulted in this study and the forthcoming glossary, The Concise Guide to the Anglo-Sri Lankan Lexicon. Richard Boyle is a regular contributor of features and the author of the biography B. P. de Silva: The Royal Jeweller of South-East Asia (1989).

Knox's Words is published by Visidunu Prakashakayo (Pvt.) Ltd. and was launched at the British Council on August 10.

Innovative approach to nursery education

Reviewed by Carol Aloysius

The Preface to Partners in Learning by Maureen Wickremasinghe is all about teaching the very young.

Author Maureen Wickremasinghe not only offers her readers a refreshingly practical hands on approach to pre-school education; she shares with them her own diverse experiences as a pre-school and primary teacher for over four decades, starting out with her teething years at the Ladies College nursery in the early fifties.

To read the book without reading its Preface would be to miss out on a rare glimpse into the early years of modern pre-school education in this country.

Here the author recalls the innovative and practical concepts that Mrs Edwina Wilson, a nursery teacher brought down by Miss Simon, the then Principal of Ladies College, had introduced to the nursery where she ( the author) was a student trainee.

Instead of relying on expensive hard to get imported equipment, she had the school carpenter George turn out home spun inexpensive and easy to make nursery equipment as for example, sand trays, water play basins ( in this case Ms Wilson had brought in her own baby's bath tub); manipulative toys that screwed on and off, inset puzzles. It is this practical and innovative approach to nursery education that the author later applied to her own pupils over the past forty odd years.

As she says in her Preface, it is a mistaken notion that Pre-school education is really a preparation for school and that the earlier children learned to read and write their letters, the more prepared they would be for school. "Children when faced with what they cannot do, will rebel,...they are capable of what they can do, according to their stage of development", she points out.

Play, she believes is the best way to teach the young child's mind. With this in mind, the focus of her book is on play rather than formal learning, because, "Through play children learn the most valuable lessons of life, of learning about themselves, socialising and inter-acting with other children, and most importantly, learning to share one another's toys and idea's."

Having watched her young charges at play, the author observes that children go through various types and stages of play; 1) Solitary Play. Here, "Children play by themselves and with themselves. A small child notices his fingers and toes. He looks, touches and then tastes them, by bringing them to his mouth. He is learning about himself."

As he grows older, the play becomes more sophisticated. He learns to fill a bowl in his bath by pushing it under the water. He learns to sink and float his toys, to dissolve the soap and make bubbles. He is also learning to use various muscles of his body by pushing, pulling and lifting."

They next proceed to Parallel Play, where, "children play side by side at the same activity, and although they are aware of each other, there is little or no communication between them.

In short, "they are becoming social beings and there may be times when they look to others for ideas but still need their own space. They are not ready to share their toys and do not like interference of even adults when they are totally involved in this type of play.

This type of learning continues throughout life as we work side by side with fellow workers", the author points out.

The third stage is Co-operative play when children play together and share their ideas, sometimes having a common goal. This stage usually begins at the age of three years.

The 4th stage is when they engage in "Imitative Play", where children learn from observing others and following their examples through life; e.g. dressing up like adults, pretending to cook like their mothers or teach like their teachers. "This is their way of learning and understanding the world around them. Watching them may even teach you some lessons in being better parents and teachers!", she explains..

A remarkable feature about this book is that within just 110 pages of writing, the author is able to discuss in a concise and comprehensive manner a wide variety of hitherto little discussed and yet important aspects of pre-school education which include a chapter on good parenting and the value of home life and the importance of parents as role models for their children.

"Remember that doing things together at the beginning of partnership and collaboration", she says urging parents not to under value their children who have an inborn talent to learn through observation and imitation when they act and role play. In turn she advises parents not to under-estimate themselves as they are important to their children.

She makes the important point that almost everything around a child provides a valuable learning experience in her discussions on 'food and education', the 'natural world around us' where she tells us how valuable lessons can be learned from the child's own immediate environment, 'water play', 'play with sand', 'play outdoors'.

She also remind parents that they are the 'first educators' of their children and the first link in the chain of literacy and draws attention to the close link between the child, the parent and the teacher in the learning process. This inter-active and collaborative effort she describes as a, 'Partnership in Learning'.

The book contains several such practical hints and tips to both the parent and the teacher. Interspersed with these guidelines is a liberal sprinkling of amusing anecdotes drawn from the author's own experiences which give it a personal note. She even ventures into the field of child psychology when she discusses the 'naughty child' and how a parent should deal with such a child.

"Avoid using the word 'Naughty'" she stresses. "Some children have to be naughty as this includes being NOTICED".

Written in simple easy, to understand language and carrying a affordable price tag, this slim book illustrated with delightful line sketches by Neelika Edirisinghe comes at a time when pre-school education is at an important juncture in this country.

It is an invaluable guide to all child minders and especially parents and teachers.

From Guttila Publications

Guttila Publications will release their first four books specially designed for children in the primary levels of schooling, on august 28.

Hussein Sourjah the head of Guttila Publications is the youngest son of the late Ehsan Sourjah (one time Features Editor of the Sunday Observer and Sunday Times). Ehsan was also book and film critic and had a hand in putting together the first TV Guide of Sri Lanka. Hussein named his company 'Guttila' to perpetuate the memory of his father, who wrote quite often under this pseudonym.

These books are all being published in Sinhala. Of the four books, two are workbooks for pre-school and Grade 2 students, while the other two are stories for little children.

The author of the pre-school workbook is Mrs. Inoka Indranie Gunewardena, Principal of the Katho-Iku preschool in Mulleriyawa. She is also an active member of the National Pre-schools Association. The other workbook is authored by Mrs. Srinika Dabare, teaching staff of Dudley Senanayake College, Colombo. She holds a degree in Education.

The story books for the little ones are Punchi Nade Hari Hapannu by Mrs. Inoka Indranie Gunewardena and Themunu Kukul Patiya by Mrs. Olivia Sourjah, Hussein's wife.

The launching ceremony is scheduled to commence at 10.00 a.m. at the Mulleriyawa Kotikawatte, Rajasinghe Vidyalaya. Bennet Coorey Chairman - Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation will be the chief guest. Jayantha de Silva, Member of Provincial Council WP, and Ven. Bandagiriye Somawansa Thera head of National Preschools Institute, Mulleriyawa will be the guests of honour. Lecturer-Colombo Campus Sarath Wijesooriya will address the gathering.

Cooking Like Mum

Cooking Like Mum a cookery book authored and published by Mallika Joseph will be launched at Salon Orchid, Hotel Galadari at 5.00 p.m. on August 23.

This book offers a wide range of modern as well as traditional recipes which would help any reader meet the challenge of feeding her family and friends with exciting and delicious home-made meals.

Annette Mallika Joseph a diploma holder in Cake Decoration and Sugar Craft from the House of Sugar Craft International School West Midlands, UK and Grace Siam School of Beautification, Bangkok is one of the leading culinary experts in Sri Lanka and a much sought after one when it comes to promoting food products.

As directress of Mallika School of Home Science - established in 1969, she offers classes in modern cake decoration, sugar art, general cookery, fruit, vegetable and butter carving, hair styling, bridal dressing, beauty culture, fabric and pottery painting, floral art, costume jewellery, paper tole, mirror carving and dress making to name a few. She has trained and tutored more than 15,000 students in various fields who have become self-sufficient and good home makers while most of her students have found employment in star hotels and confectionary schools both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Mallika is a member of the Zonta Club, Ikebana Association and of the International Member of the Association of Business and Professional Women and was also appointed as a member of the Projects Committee representing Business and Professional Women for the United Nations.

She is also a member of The British Sugarcraft Guild - UK and of the International Cake Exploration Society - USA.

Mallika was on the 1999 President's award list and was a recipient of the Presidential Award for 'Women of Excellence.'

Chambers gone to pot?

by Rohan Jayawardena

In the matters of the Greek and Roman legends, the book-series known as the Penguin Classics are most authoritative.

The translators and editors of these volumes are acknowledged scholars, almost all of them British alumni from the great university colleges. Among them have been Messrs E. V. Rieu and W. F. Jackson Knight (Doctors of Philosophy).

On the other hand the Chambers 20th Century Dictionary is also a British product with a hallowed reputation - and originating in Scotland several decades ago (it is now produced for them in New Delhi, India, dating from 1984). It is internationally well known that the famous dictionaries are usually the Alpha and the Omega in the matters of definities and of soundly verified FACTS. There are supposedly always Quite Right!

In the Chambers 20th Century Dictionary on page 988 it is unequivocally stated about the word is that 'PLUTO': the Greek god of the underworld;..."

This is completely wrong!

The word 'Hades' actually signifies the Greek god of the dead who received "the underworld as his portion when he and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon divided the world between them". There is a reference - among many others available in The Island by Homer translated by Dr. E. V. Rieu and published in Penguin Classics (first in 1950).

The actual meaning of Pluto is: "also called ORCUS, king of the dead" in Roman legends, and "in Greek known as Hades"; which means he is of the later Roman equivalents.

This reference is about the fact that Roman legends were written seven or eight centuries later, the great Greek poet Homer being of the 8th Century B.C., whilst the Roman poet virgil was at 70-19 BC. This is from "The Aeneid" by Virgil translated for Penguin Classics (1956) by Dr. W. F. Jackson Knight.

Therefore it is quite absurb to state in the Chambers Dictionary that Pluto is a 'Greek'god.

However when this matter was politely referred by me to the Chambers Dictionary people in Scotland, an astonishing reply was received from Ian Brookes, a lexicographer, who asserts that "the name Pluto is used in both Greek and Roman writers, and indeed the name Pluto itself is originally Greek..." (letter of 19.3.02)

This is patently wrong because the Greek named Homer never did so in The Odyssy and The Iliad. Hence it appears to me that my polite collection was either (a) an embarrassment that cannot be conceded, or (b) it was nevertheless too 'colourful' in expression! On the other hand, is Brooker more correct than me?

This matter needs authoritative discussion and I welcome any well based contradiction.

It cannot however be contradicted that the Greek poet Homer is indeed the historical originator - source of this entire subject at 8th Century B.C. and he asserts that the world belonged only with the three sons Zeus, Poseidon and Hades of Cronos and Rhea.

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