The Use of English Loan Words in Teaching ESL in Jaffna

University of Jaffna,
Sri Lanka.

The contact between English and Tamil, one of the national languages of Sri Lanka, and the consequent expansion of bilingualism caused the borrowing of many English words into Tamil. The verbal communication between bilinguals and monolinguals in different situations led to the penetration of English words into the speech of monolinguals. The variation in the sound systems and the number of phonemes of English and Tamil is the main reason for assimilation. Especially, the Tamil monolinguals who are not concerned about the root of the English words employ them comfortably in assimilated forms.

Although equivalent Tamil terms have been made available for some technical terms, the English terms are enjoyed in the casual communication of Tamils due to the reputation of English words. The translated or transliterated forms of English words are used in written texts. A severe decline of English bilingualism can be seen in Jaffna now, especially following the introduction of Tamil, the first language as the medium of instruction in government schools and other higher educational centers in 1945. There are many other factors that hamper the acquisition of English in Jaffna. Jaffna students do not have chances to have a good contact with English. Because of the long standing civil war, tourist industry and business and cultural activities have been paralyzed. Interruption in the transport service obstructs free contacts with those living outside Jaffna peninsula. This kind of obscured and culturally confined surrounding in Jaffna turns out to be shutters against the English oriented world.

The purist feeling of Tamils also posed restriction on the use of English. There have been propagandas emphasizing the use of Tamil technical terms possibly for all general concepts and common objects. A lack of enthusiasm can be seen among the Jaffna people in acclaiming the English programmes delivered by the electronic media like radio and television and internet. Indifference to English programmes and materials might be attributed to the deficiency of English proficiency.

However, influx of several hundred household articles, electronic tools, consumable goods and so on cause innumerable English terms to penetrate into the communication of speaking and writing of Tamil. In business transactions and bargain, financial institutions such as banks and normal social interactions, the mingling of many English words can be seen. The economy in usage and assimilation of such English words urge people to mix them. There are instances where speakers make effort to use English words with prestige motive in showing themselves as literate ones in order to create a social identity.

The authors of modern literature make effort to introduce new genres and adopt western literary modes in their works. They try to bridge the divisions which are found between the themes, language, and style of the conventional literature and western literature chiefly the English influences which are becoming more and more a part of the experience and a way of life. To attain this goal, they focus on the new literary language that is flexible enough to put across the experience of the changing set up of social and intellectual trend that can reach out to large middle class reading public that is anxious for reading material but not intellectually competent enough to read classic literature. At present, social relevance has become an important issue. All works on literature whether fiction, poetry, or play concentrate on political and social matters and themes.

The application of English borrowings as part of the English impact over the social and political experience of people has turned out to be unavoidable in the modern Tamil literature generated particularly by writers of Jaffna. The use of English borrowings is adopted as a literary tool to emphasize ideas and form impression of humour and mockery. Moreover, the unavailability of Tamil equivalents or translation and in case of certain borrowings the greater familiarity of people with the practice of these borrowings make writers select borrowings to insert in their works. The use of English borrowings in the modern Tamil literature makes it easy for the writer to convey the theme effectively.

The infiltration of English words has in fact enhanced and extended the Jaffna Tamil lexicon. The use of English borrowings has facilitated one’s expression of ideas with ease and effect. Despite certain degree of criticism with regard to the language purism that may be damaged by the fusion of borrowings from other languages, the very truth that the scope and a merit of a language expand and flourish through addition of foreign linguistic elements. Unequivocally, the linguists and philologists with the positive perspective would recognize the presence of English borrowings in Tamil. The following discussion illustrates how the presence of English borrowings in Tamil could facilitate ESL teaching.

Through the adoption of certain manipulation pertaining to teaching, the ESL teacher can focus on teaching some language areas like vocabulary, phonetics and to some extent English grammar. For instance, the ESL teacher in Jaffna context, when teaching vocabularies can quote a borrowing that deals with its different shades of meanings in different contexts. The spelling and correct pronunciation of words must be treated properly, since in the case of totally assimilated forms, the pronunciation is vastly deviated while interpreting the meaning of an English word. It is advisable for the teacher to offer a Tamil equivalent for the English word, so that the students will be able to understand the meaning more easily. The presence of a Tamil equivalent would enable the students to identify the concept for the object and associate it with its social and cultural background in the better sense. For example, the word ‘cigarette’ is pronounced as ‘si:krat’ ,when it is used as a borrowing. Here, it is a responsibility of a teacher to make the students aware of the spelling of the word and the actual pronunciation of the words as well. Then, students will be mentally more comfortable in getting the right pronunciation through linking the spelling of the word with a pronunciation of the uttered word by the teacher. A Tamil equivalent for cigarette does not exist in usage and the students will not expect the teacher to give an equivalent for it, as the frequency of this word is very high. Another interesting example that somehow baffles the teacher is that, when the teacher looks for its Tamil equivalent, is the word ‘boycott’. An equivalent frequently used in Tamil for ‘boycott’ is ‘pakiskarippu’ that is not of Tamil origin. Despite its origin, being of another language other than Tamil, when the teacher equates ‘boycott’ with ‘pakiskarippu’, students are psychologically at ease. Here, the teacher’s effort to supply the available equivalents in Tamil for English borrowings is stressed. It is very much essential that educationists and curriculum designers should venture in creating technical terms in order to eliminate famine for Tamil equivalents. The need of the availability of technical terms or Tamil equivalents for English borrowings is felt necessary, since the literary compositions or research pursuits in Tamil compulsorily require Tamil terms instead of translated forms of English borrowings.

The use of English borrowings in Tamil can be successfully applied in the English classes to teach certain portions of English language structure, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The Tamil ending ‘-ai’ is added to the borrowings in Tamil, if it is a noun: for example, in Tamil ‘vayarai ǝu’ (Take the wire), the ending ‘-ai’ is added to the English ‘wire’. Further example, ‘tiai kui’(Have the tea). If the borrowing is a verb, word ‘paṇṇu’ (Do) goes with ‘vayarai yoin paṇṇu’(Join the wire). Similarly, test paṇṇu(Test).If the borrowing is an adjective, the Tamil ending ‘a:na’ goes with ‘ni:a:na velai’ ( Neat work). In case the borrowing is an adverb, it is combined with the Tamil ending ‘a:ha’ as in ‘silova po:na:n’(He went slowly) and visia: irukkiraan(He is busy).

Highlighting the above features which are involved in the Tamil expression entailing English borrowings, teacher can explain as to how English nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs can be distinguished and identified. Sometimes, it is difficult to differentiate distinction code-mixing from borrowing due to lack of linguistic evidence. It is encouraging to say that currently a greater stress is given to the production of technical terminology in Tamil. Immense efforts are made in India and Sri Lanka in this regard.
Special focus needs to be given to produce a set of standardized technical terms at least in the academic discipline to evade puzzle caused by the presence of various Tamil translations for the same English word. Further, in some texts, Tamil translations and in some other texts Transliterations are used for the same terms. Hence, it is necessary to plan whether an English term, whether it is borrowed word or not, needs to be in transliterated form or it should be restored by a Tamil translation. Considering the economy of effort in pronunciation, proper meaning expression needs to be taken into account.


Canagarajah, S. (1995). Use of English borrowings by Tamil fish vendors: Manipulating the context. Multilingua 14: 5–24.

Canagarajah, S. (1997). Challenges in English Literacy for African-American and Lankan Tamil Learners: Towards a Pedagogical Paradigm for Bidialectal and Bilingual Minority Students.Language and Education, no1,Vol.11.

Gunesekera, M.(2005).The Post colonial Identity of Sri Lankan English .University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.
Karunakaran, T. (2008). English Borrowing in Jaffna Tami from 1993 to 2006.
Unpublished Mphil thesis, University of Kelaniya, Kelaniya.


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