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During the proceedings in one of the state prosecutions in 1848, it was elicited in evidence, that there were, in this comparatively small Island, many natives who had never seen an Englishman. This, doubtless, is to the people a source of regret, and may, under peculiar circumstances, prove to be a serious grievance : but how much greater must be the vexation and annoyance to thousands to know, that the majority of those whom they do see, and with whom they hold official intercourse, do not understand the Singhalese, and cannot correctly interpret the language of their complaints, or the expression of their grievances?—and how often, indeed, does an ignorance of the native character, the habits and feelings of the people (all which spring as it were from their language), induce Europeans to act in a manner hostile to the general interests of this Island?
To encourage therefore the study of Singhalese, amongst at least the European portion of the inhabitants of Ceylon, will not only be, it is confidently hoped, one of Your Excellency's first endeavours; but, it is respectfully submitted, becomes a duty which cannot perhaps be too strongly impressed upon your attention.
Under such circumstances, the following work, perhaps the first of the kind that has emanated from a native, and which has for its end the dissemination of the Singhalese language amongst Europeans, is inscribed to Your Excellency: and if, by the authority of your official position in this Island, the weight of your name, and the influence of
those distinguished merits which have placed Your Excellency over the Government of Ceylon at a critical period of its political history, any additional support be derived from the public; it will add not a little to the deep sense of the obligations which the translator already feels, at being permitted, consistently with ancient usage, to dedicate this Grammar of the Singhalese language to the Ruler of the Island in the person of Your Excellency
Few studies have more attraction, excite greater curiosity, or are more instructive, than that of languages. Whether we pursue it with a view to philosophic comparison of different tongues, with the object of throwing light on man's social progress, or with the design of ascertaining the changes which one single language has undergone in progressing through a vista of ages, the interest which attaches to it is equally great.
Led by curiosity, or invited by the allurements of science, Europeans have, during the past half-century, devoted not a little of their time to the task of unlocking the rich stores of Oriental literature. Not only those whose lot has been cast in the far East, but those also who have never rounded the Cape, have made Oriental languages the subject of deep study. England, Germany, and France have each rivalled Hindlostan: whilst a Jones, a Colebrooke, a Wilson, a Wilkins, an Adelung, a Bopp, a Burnout, and other deservedly celebrated scholars, have, by their thorough researches into Oriental literature, cast into dim shade a Kaliđầsha, a Panninni, a Cattyāna, and a Yopadèwa, in India ; and, in our own country, a Totagamuwa, and a Weedāgama.
Apart from the instructions which philological inquiries in general convey, as auxiliaries to the elucidation of science; when extended to Asiatic languages, they afford, (from the reflection that the Eastern hemisphere was at one time the seat of the primeval language of the human species,) matter of additional interest to the student. Not the less engaging or instructive, however, are such studies when they are confined to his national language-a language too, which had its origin in the East; for then he feels a zest beyond the interest inherent in the subject.
* A paper, being “A brief sketch of the history of the Singhalese Janguage," read before the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society on the 13th August, 1860.
Reflections such as these have led me to take advantage of the means afforded by the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, in devoting a portion of my leisure hours to an inquiry, the result of which I hope may not be without interest to the general reader in Ceylon.—That result is “A brief sketch of the history of the Singhalese language.”
In entering upon this investigation, I must not omit to premise, that however engaging the subject, the inquiry is not the less tedious, nor are its results perfectly satisfactory. The farther we extend our inquiries, the deeper are we shrouded in the darkness of the fabulous accounts of our forefathers; and, perhaps, of no country is this more true than of Ceylon.
I am sensible that I have, for obvious reasons, entered upon a subject which I know myself unable to discuss to the full extent of my design. Indeed, in the words of Doctor Johnson, this is one of those “works of human industry, which, to begin and finish, is hardly granted to the same man. Yet his labours, though deficient, may be useful, and, with the hope of this inferior praise, he must incite his activity and solace his weariness.”
Under such circumstances, our investigations must necessarily partake much of the character of theories; in our inquiries probabilities must take the place of positive facts; and the authority of eminent scholars can only add weight to our conclusions. More, perhaps, we cannot accomplish; less, indeed, may be expected.
The known history of this Island commences from the period of its invasion by Wijeya, 543 B. C. As the English nation and the then (Anglo-Saxon) language were called