language of the beast

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The beast in us

daya dissanayake

Prof. J. B. Disanayaka, in his most recent book, 'Encyclopaedia of Sinhala Language and Culture', says "Language is thus what separates man from Beast", but language has not helped man to kill or even suppress the beast in him. Did language make man a beast or did the beast in man develop languages?

Times of India reported on August 18th, 2012, that 211 people had died in the past six months due to serious adverse events during clinical trials carried out by the drug industry, and in 2010 the total number of deaths was 668 (2 more than the number of the beast). In 2008, in one trial 49 children had died. More trials are carried out on innocent animals, not just for medicinal drugs, but even for cosmetics, totally unnecessary cosmetics. Man the beast, who considers himself as the humane animal, without any hesitation drops a cosmetic lotion into the eyes of a rabbit, to see if it could blind the poor animal.

The clinical trials are carried out by some of the most highly educated people among man kind. Those who promote such trials have a whole range of arguments to justify the murder and torture, for which they use language. In the USA over one hundred million animals are used for experiments every year. And it is also a multi-billion dollar industry to provide animal testing facilities and to breed animals for such experiments.

This is just one instance where the beast in us has come out. We use and abuse animals all the time, and we have been doing it throughout history. We have been using animals for food, clothing, labour, religious festivals, experiments and entertainment. We have been torturing and killing them for all these purposes. We use terms 'animal' and 'beast' to insult other humans, but to be called a 'human' should be the vilest insult to any man or woman, the way 'humans' behave today. Animals are really more humane than most humans.

Max Muller is reported to have said "Language is the Rubicon that divides man from beast". Muller himself used and manipulated language to degrade and insult the entire oriental history and philosophy. Language has always been used by power hungry rulers to incite people to invade, attack and conquer other people, other lands.

Perhaps language is what has turned man into a beast. Because it is more than one language, that is used and understood by man. When he cannot understand the language used by his brother, he fights him, kills him, takes over his land and property, sometimes even his family. In the same way, because man cannot understand the other animals, he has no hesitation in killing or torturing them.

If a man could hear and understand the plea of a poor cow, when he gets ready to slash its neck, may be he would hesitate in his act. If a man could understand the plea of a helpless mother when he takes away her only child to be conscripted into his killer squads, may be he would hesitate in his act.

We are so proud of our ability to speak, read and write in human languages, sometimes in more than one language. We are loyal and devoted and take all measures to preserve and develop our languages. Yet if languages are intended for communication, to be able to share our thoughts and visions and feelings with other creatures, our languages have failed miserably.

We also use animals for entertainment in racing. It is big business to bet on such races, and we use our languages to print the racing news. Animals run when they are hunting prey, or to escape from other predators, or just for fun when they are young. Animals are not meant to run against each other just to entertain humans. If humans want such entertainment, they should run themselves, and bet on such racing, as we do in cricket. Then animals are used in other sports, like polo. Making elephants play polo is one of the cruelest sports man has developed.

In most of our fiction, it is the beast that comes out, pushing the humane being aside. Many of the best sellers, money-spinners, and even highly acclaimed novels deal with murder, torture, sado-masochism, women and child abuse, war and destruction. Language too has become a weapon of destruction, like all other human inventions and discoveries like fire, the wheel and nuclear energy.

That is why there are only three wise monkeys, because when they do not hear, see or speak evil, they will not do any evil.

Even though it is difficult to accept Prof. J. B. Disanayaka's comment about language and the beast, the book is really an encyclopedia which should be read by all and as he said at the launch, we can enjoy reading it the way he had enjoyed writing it. It is also a comparative study of the Sinhala language and its versatility and richness when compared with the English language, even though the English boast their language has over one million words.

Prof. Dissanayake dedicated and gifted his book to five children, at the book launch. Children are the future of our country and of our language. Let us add to his wish that our children will learn and use language to the betterment of man and all life on Mother Earth, so their children will be able to inherit a happier world filled with Metta.

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