SOAS University of London

SOAS Language Centre

Sinhala at SOAS Language Centre

Separated from its linguistic relatives by the Dravidian languages of Southern India, such as Tamil and Telugu, Sinhala represents an outpost of Indo-Aryan speech far to the south of the linguistic continuum of this branch of the Indo-European language family. Given its isolation, Sinhala has developed features atypical of Indo-Aryan languages, such as the loss of aspirated phonemes that are found in the overwhelming majority of cases (i.e. kh/gh, ch/jh, ṭh/ḍh, th/dh, ph/bh).  

Sinhala has a literary tradition dating back to the 9th century, although inscriptions in the language have been dated to around two centuries before the Common Era. Sinhala is, therefore, not a recent arrival to Sri Lanka. It has long been in touch with - and been influenced by - Vedda, the language of the pre-Aryan population of Sri Lanka; in more recent times, the languages of European traders and colonisers have left their mark in the form of borrowing from Portuguese, Dutch and English.

Sinhala was declared the official language of Sri Lanka in 1956 and made the sole language of the government and civil service. This marked a return to prominence of a language neglected under British administration, albeit the mother tongue of over 70% of the population. The total number of speakers of Sinhala is around eighteen million, of which the overwhelming majority live in Sri Lanka: unlike with many Indo-Aryan  languages, there has not been substantial migration of Sinhala speakers abroad.

SOAS Language Centre offers the following for Sinhala: