The study of linguistics as an academic field first emerged at the university level when renowned linguists such as P. B. F Wijeratne, Prof. D. E. Hettiarachchi and D. J. Wijeratne who studied the subject in European universities began to teach linguistic concepts in the Universities of Colombo and Peradeniya. Prof. Sugathapala is considered the first academic to teach modern linguistics in Sri Lanka. With the gradual increase in the number of linguists, the necessity of providing facilities to study Linguistics as a distinct field also grew. Thus in 1968, Linguistics Studies were introduced into the academic curriculum of the University of Colombo. The University of Kelaniya gained the unique opportunity of teaching Linguistics in 1972 with the effect of the reconstruction policy of universities in Sri Lanka.
Linguistics Studies which was under the Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages was established as a separate department in 1973. The first Head and the first Professor of the department was Mr. S. L. Kekulawala. At the inception of the department, two degree programmes, namely the Bachelor of Arts General and Special Degrees, were conducted in both Sinhala and Tamil. At the beginning there were 16 students in Sinhala medium and only seven students in the Tamil Medium degree course. After the Tamil medium degree programmes and its lecturers joined the University of Jaffna, only the Sinhala medium degree programmes were conducted at the University of Kelaniya.
The degree courses in Translation Methods and the certificate courses in the Tamil Language were started in 1975.  In addition, a Sinhala language certificate course is also being offered by the Department of Linguistics. It is significant that students from foreign countries such as Great Britain, United States of America, Switzerland, Canada, China, Russia, and Japan register for this course each year.

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