Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka

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In the mid-1950s, Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese politicians began outbidding one another on who could provide the greatest advantages for their community, using the Sinhala language as their instrument. The appeal to Sinhalese linguistic nationalism precipitated a situation in which the movement to replace English as the country’s official language with Sinhala and Tamil (the language of Sri Lanka’s principal minority) was abandoned and Sinhala alone became the official language in 1956. The Tamils’ subsequent protests led to anti-Tamil riots and institutional decay, which meant that supposedly representative agencies of government catered to Sinhalese preferences and blatantly disregarded minority interests. This in turn led to the Tamils’ mobilizing, first politically then militarily, and by the mid-1970s Tamil youth were bent on creating a separate state.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"DeVotta has submitted an elaborate, interesting, theory-led study of the Sri Lankan conflict. Focusing on the language politics, he allude to a highly sensitive topic in the history of Tamil-Sinhalese ethnic relations. In addition, the extensive quotations enable the reader to comprehend the political view of the Sinhala and Tamil elites at that time."—Internationales Asienforum

"DeVotta's detailed historical approach makes the book a fine case study for social scientists in general and for anyone with a serious interest in ethnic conflict in South Asia."—Journal of Asian Studies

"The resounding strength of DeVotta's book is that it provides a truly nuanced understanding of the productive ideological linking of language to collective notions of peoplehood within the postcolonial state. His book richly illustrates the ways that language ideologies are created, linked to competing versions of national identity, and intimately embedded in institutionalized positions of power."—Journal of Anthropological Research

"Neil DeVotta's devastating indictment of Sinhala linguistic nationalism offers a well-researched historical narrative and theoretical discussion of the origins of the conflict."—ANTHROPOLOGICAL LINGUISTICS

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Neil DeVotta is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Hartwick College, New York.

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Table of Contents

1 An overview 1
2 Ethnic identities and politics before independence 21
3 From linguistic parity to Sinhala-only 42
4 The Official Language Act of 1956 73
5 Institutional decay : the consequences of the Official Language Act, 1956-77 92
6 From linguistic nationalism to civil war 143
7 The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and ethnic conflict 166
8 Conclusion 191
App. A The Official Language Act, No. 33 of 1956 207
App. B Resolutions passed at the Fifth (Special) National Convention of Federal Party (1957) 208
App. C The "Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact" (1957) 209
App. D The Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act, No. 28 of 1958 211
App. E The agreement between Dudley Senanayake and S. J. V. Chelvanayakam 212
App. F The Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Regulations (1966) 213
App. G The Vaddukkoddai Resolution (1976) 213
App. H The LTTE Proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Authority for the Northeast (2003) 217
Notes 225
References 253
Index 267
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