Sinhala language

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Sinhala ( සිංහල )

Spoken in

Sri Lanka
speaker 16 million
Official status
Official language in Sri LankaSri Lanka Sri Lanka
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Sinhalese is the language of the Sinhalese , the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka . It belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian subgroup of the Indo-European languages . It is also the name of the self සිංහල ( 15919 ISO : Simhala spoken siŋhələ ) Name derived Sinhala used.

It is spoken by around 16 million people, mainly in Sri Lanka, and became the official language in 1958 at the instigation of the then Prime Minister Bandaranaike . Later, Tamil was also declared the official language of Sri Lanka. English was also the official language until 1957 and is now the language of communication and education. Sinhala has its own script (see Sinhala script ).

The language most closely related to Sinhala is Dhivehi spoken in the Maldives .


The first element ( siṁha or sīha ) in Sinhala (actually Sanskrit ) and the corresponding term Sīhala , which comes from the Prakrit, means " lion ". According to legend, Sīhabāhu ("lion's arm") was the son of a Vanga princess and a lion. After killing his father, he became king of Vanga. His son Vijaya was banished from his kingdom, as a result Vijaya emigrated to Lanka and became the progenitor of the Sinhalese. Based on this linguistic and mythological evidence, it can be assumed that the first component of the word means "lion".

The local tradition brings the second element la either in connection with the Sanskrit root lā- "seize", and translates it "lion gripper" or "lion slayer", or with Sanskrit loha / Sinhala "blood", translated as "lion's blood". From a linguistic point of view, however, none of the interpretations is convincing. It can only be said with certainty that the word Sinhala is related to the word for "lion".


In the 5th century BC BC settlers from northwest India came to the island of Laṃkā, who spoke a western Prakrit . In the centuries that followed, there was substantial immigration from northeastern India (Kalinga, Magadha & in what is now Bangladesh ), adding some of the characteristics of eastern prakrit.

The first Sinhalese inscriptions are from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Known, the oldest literary evidence comes from the 10th century AD.

Stages of development

The development of the Sinhala language is commonly divided into four sections:

  • Sinhala Prakrit (up to the 3rd century AD)
  • Proto-Sinhala (3rd-7th centuries)
  • Medieval Sinhala (7th-12th centuries)
  • Modern Sinhala (12th century to the present day)

Western and Eastern characteristics

An example of a western characteristic in Sinhala is the retention of / v / at the beginning of the word, which developed into / b / in the eastern Indo-Aryan languages ​​(e.g. Sanskrit viṃśati "twenty", Sinhala visi , Hindi bīs ). An example of an eastern characteristic is the ending -e for the nominative singular in the masculine (instead of western -o) in Sinhala Prakrit.

There are numerous instances of mixed vocabulary, e.g. B. the words mässā ("fly") and mäkkā ("flea"), which both correspond to Sanskrit makṣikā , but originated from the two regionally different Prakrit words macchiā and makkhikā (as in Pali ).

Sound development

The main characteristic phonetic developments of Sinhala are

  • the loss of the aspirated plosives (z. B. corresponds kanava "eat" Sanskrit khādati and Hindi KHANA )
  • the shortening of all vowels (see example above) [The long vowels in modern Sinhala are due to borrowings (e.g. vibāgaya "examination" <Sanskrit vibhāga ) and Sandhip phenomena (either elision of intervowel consonants [e.g. dānavā "set , put "< damanavā ] or at the word boundaries in compound words )]
  • the simplification of consonant clusters and geminated consonants to geminates or simple consonants (e.g. Sanskrit viṣṭā "time"> Singhal. Prakrit viṭṭa > Modernes Singh. viṭa )
  • the development from / j / to / d / (e.g. däla "net" corresponds to Sanskrit jāla )

Similarities with neighboring languages

Sinhalese is geographically separated from the other Indo-Aryan languages ​​in north and central India by the Dravidian language area . In the course of time it has not only taken up numerous loanwords from neighboring languages, especially Tamil , but also syntactic and phonetic characteristics; in the area of syntax it is very close to the (South) Dravidian. Some of the characteristics that could be traced back to Dravidian influence are

  • the distinction between short / e / and / o / and long / ē / and / ō /
  • the loss of aspiration
  • the pronounced left-branching word order
  • the use of a verbal adjective of kiyanavā “to say” as a subordinate conjunction with the meanings “that” and “whether” (e.g. ēka alut kiyalā mama dannavā “having said the new-I know” = "I know that it is new ", ēka alut-da kiyalā mama dannē nahä " saying that new? I don't know "=" I don't know if it's new ")

European influence

In the course of more than four centuries of colonial rule, Sinhala has borrowed many loan words from Portuguese , Dutch and English .


In Sinhala, as in many languages ​​of the Indian subcontinent, there is a pronounced diglossy situation : the written and everyday language differ greatly from one another in many ways. The written language is used for all forms of written texts, but also orally for formal occasions (public speeches, television and radio reports, etc.), while colloquial language serves as the general lingua franca of everyday life. The biggest difference is the lack of inflected verbs in colloquial language. One can imagine the situation as if the written language in German-speaking countries were Middle or even Old High German . The written language is learned by the children at school almost like a foreign language .


Sinhala is usually written in the Sinhala script .

Characteristics of Spoken Sinhala

The Sinhalese colloquial language has the following characteristic properties:

  • SOV (subject-object-verb) sentence position .
  • There are no subordinate clauses as in German, but only infinite subordinate clauses that are formed with the help of participles and verbal adjectives. Example: “The man who writes books” is called pot liənə miniha , literally: “ Man who writes books”.
  • It is a left-branching language, which means that descriptive elements are usually placed before what they determine (see example above).
  • The exception to this is the quantity given, which is almost always behind what it determines. Example: “the four books” means pot hatərə , literally “books four”.
  • There are no prepositions, only postpositions. Example: “under the book” means potə jaʈə , literally “book under”.
  • Sinhala is a pro-drop language and a null-subject language : the subject can be omitted if it is clear from the context. Example: The sentence kohedə gie , literally “where went”, can mean “where did you go” (or “is he…”, “she”, “we” etc.).
  • The copula (“to be”) is generally left out (“zero copula” language): “I am rich” means mamə poːsat , literally “I am rich”.
  • The deixis has four levels (which is extremely rare): There are four demonstrative stems (see demonstrative pronouns ) meː "here, near the speaker", "there, near the person addressed", arə "there, with a third party, in the visible area" and “there, with a third party, in the invisible area”.
  • The presence of so-called "Halbnasalen" or "pränasalisierten plosives ". A very short homorgan nasal is suggested to the voiced plosives ( n d, m b etc.), whereby the corresponding syllable remains single- core (see Mora (unit) ).


  • Heinz Bechert : About Sanskrit education and the school system in Burma and Ceylon . In: Viennese magazine for the customers of South and East Asia, Volume VII , Vienna 1963.
  • James Gair: Sinhala and Other South Asian Languages , New York 1998.
  • James Gair, John C. Paolillo: Sinhala . Munich / Newcastle 1997.
  • Wilhelm Geiger: A Grammar of the Sinhalese Language . Colombo 1938 [reprint Asian Educational Services, Delhi 1995].
  • Premalatha Jayawardena-Moser: Basic Sinhala-German vocabulary . Wiesbaden 1993.
  • WS Karunatillake: An Introduction to Spoken Sinhala . Colombo 1992 [numerous reprints].
  • Klaus Matzel, Premalatha Jayawardena-Moser: Introduction to the Sinhala language . 4th, revised edition, Wiesbaden 2001.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. More details in the article Bandaranaike
  2. ^ Department of Official Languages: Official Languages ​​Policy
  3. ^ Wilhelm Geiger: Culture of Ceylon in Mediaeval Times . 2nd edition, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-515-04447-7 , §21.
  4. ^ Charles Carter: A Sinhalese-English Dictionary . Reprint, New Delhi 1996. ISBN 81-206-1174-8 . p678.