Official languages in Sri Lanka

Languages in Sri Lanka

What languages are spoken in Sri Lanka?

Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka. Sinhala is widely spoken in the southern, western and central parts of the island, while Tamil is almost exclusively spoken in northern and eastern parts of the island.

Sinhala is the native language of the Sinhalese people, who constitute approximately 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, which equals approximately 13 million people. Sinhala is also spoken among other ethnic groups on the island as a second language, making it the most widely spoken language in Sri Lanka. It was greatly influenced by Pali, the liturgical language of Sri Lankan Buddhists. Due to the centuries of colonial rule in Sri Lanka, Sinhala contains many Portuguese, Dutch and English loanwords. Sinhala also has a number of words borrowed from Tamil.

Tamil is Sri Lanka’s second official language, spoken by about five million people on the island, which is about 15 percent of the population. Tamil belongs to the Dravidian language family, which is predominant in southern India, particularly in state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil has existed as a spoken language in Sri Lanka for centuries brought by ancient settlers, tradesmen, invaders, foreign kings and immigrants.

Other than Sinhala and Tamil, many minority languages exist spoken by small communities of people. The best known of these minority languages is Veddah, spoken by the Veddah people, who are a group of tribal hunter gatherers that live in the forests of central Sri Lanka. Veddah is closely related to Sinhala and both languages have a number of words borrowed from each other. Also, the Rodiya community that lives in the Hill Country speaks a language of their own, sometimes considered a dialect of Sinhala. The Sri Lankan Moors speak a form of Tamil heavily influenced by Arabic. The Malay Muslims in Sri Lanka speak Creole Malay, a mix of Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Sinhala and Arabic.

Majority of Sri Lankans are conversational in English, so you are unlikely to face communication issues. Sri Lankans learn English as a second language at school starting from primary grades. Sri Lankan English is essentially British English infused with quirky local phrases and words. Sri Lankan English might not be entirely comprehensible to native English speakers due to the accent and words borrowed from local languages.

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