මහින්ද රාජපක්ශ ලංකාවේ කීවැනි ජනාධිපතිතුමාද? – An Analysis on the Translation to English

Have you heard this phrase before? Chances are that you have – either as a purely intellectual curiosity and/or as validation of the supposed superiority of the mother tongue over the Sudda tongue. The challenge is to translate the phrase to English. Your translation is required to have grammatical form at least surpassing that of a lolcat.

My answer used to be ‘What position does Mahinda Rajapakse hold in the chronological order of presidents?’

It’s ugly, I know. But it gets the job done. Sort of. Which is what is important really – just ask Thilakaratne Dilshan.

But it’s rather unlikely that anyone would come up with that in a casual discussion. I’ve always wondered – how would a native English speaker deal with this conundrum when they needed to ask a question like this themselves – and not as a response to a challenge? Maybe their minds are incapable of forming such questions? (Because their language is deficient, not because they are dumb! duh). You think in your language, and if your language does not have the particular construct, maybe the very need to ask such a question never arises.

This was troubling me for some time until one day, God took pity over the amount of sleep I was losing over this and placed the answer smack in the middle of one of my long YouTube ‘Related Videos’ trails. This gift from heaven has been embedded below.

This is a short clip from the Ellen DeGeneres (remember Dory from Finding Nemo?) show, where Ellen interviews a ‘4 year old Presidential Expert’. The clip is adorable, entertaining, and has the answer to my dilemma.

So there we have it. What number president. I guess Grammar Nazis everywhere would throw their hands up in despair, but like I said, it gets the job done – and is a lot less unwieldy than my, what appears to be now, feeble attempt.

Before you leave – do you know what number president Mahinda is? I didn’t. Asked it from the oracle (aka Wikipedia :D). For the record – he’s the sixth.

Also for the record – I was kidding about losing sleep over this. 😀

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “මහින්ද රාජපක්ශ ලංකාවේ කීවැනි ජනාධිපතිතුමාද? – An Analysis on the Translation to English

  1. Dude, I asked this from a Brit sometime back. It’s no big deal.
    “How many presidents were there before MR?” Clean, isn’t it?
    And also, there are certain phrases English language has but Sinhala doesn’t.

    • Well yes I’ll admit that it sounds clean, though it’s not exactly what we originally set out to ask is it?

      What we wanted was a question that would give the answer “MR is the 6th president of Sri Lanka”

      Yes we can logically deduce that MR would be the 6th president if 5 people preceded him, but I don’t think that solves the problem of not having a direct way to ask the question.

      And yes I totally agree that there are English phrases with no Sinhala equivalent. I am in NO way trying to say that one language is better than the other. There are enough of our beloved blinded ultranationalists who engage in such silly talk.

  2. Yes. I agree with you. Many Sri Lankans who have a fair knowledge of English, stammer when asked to translate a phrase like this. Some do it for fun of it. One of my friends who went to England for higher studies told me that English people are not so particular of using grammar in their written and spoken language.(I may be wrong. Just repeating what she told me.)

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