History of the Sinhalese Language

Sinhalese is one of the two official languages of Sri Lanka, which is constitutionally recognized along with Tamil. It is also the oldest living Indo-Aryan language which was brought by some immigrants from northern India in the 5th century B.C. Sinhalese is an independent language as it is isolated from the other Indo-Aryan lingo of mainland India.

It has a major influence of Pali (the sacred language of the Sri Lankan Buddhists) and to some extent, of Sanskrit. A large number of expressions came from the Dravidian languages, primarily from Tamil, which was also one of Sri Lanka’s languages.

The ancient Sinhalese inscriptions carved on the rock in Brahmi characters dates back from the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C., while the oldest existing literary work dates from the 9th century. Sinhalese is derived from the Indian Brahmi script while Contemporary Sinhalese has its own syllabic script and is spoken in different dialects in the Lakshadweep and Maldives.

The Sinhalese language spoken in the Central and Western Sri Lanka differs from the one spoken in the Southern territory. Foreigners who communicate in the western dialect find it difficult to communicate in the southern dialect. However, for the resident speakers, both the dialects are mutually understandable, and they may not even realize that there is a significant difference between the two!

The language of the Veddah is a lot similar to Sinhalese, although the words used are independent of any other language.

In Sinhala, the literary and the spoken language differ from each other in many respects. While the written language is used in literary texts and orally during formal occasions, the spoken language is used in the day to day communication.

In 1956, English was replaced by Sinhalese as the national language. The Sri Lankan Freedom Party executed this as one of its 1st acts by the government and placed the Sinhalese language, its religion and culture in a dominant position in the society.

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