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Travel to Sri Lanka

Important information ant tips.

What Language Is Spoken in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island in South Asia, located very close to the south-east coast of India. This country is famous for the diversity of cultures, ethnic communities, and religions that all manage to coexist there. But what language is spoken in Sri Lanka? The answer is that there are two official languages, Sinhalese and Tamil.

Sinhalese Language

This is the language spoken by Sinhalese people. There are about 16 million of them in the country, and that makes them the largest ethnic group. Some other ethnicities use Sinhalese as a second language, and that adds 4 million more to the list of people who speak it.

Sinhalese is an Indo-Aryan language, and it has its own alphabet that comes from Brahmi, the oldest known writing system used in Ancient India. It’s also significantly influenced by Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Tamil, and has many words that are borrowed from these languages.

There is a dialect of Sinhalese that is called Rodiya. It’s spoken by the Rodiya community that’s considered to be the lowest caste, or the “untouchables”, of the society.

One more dialect, Vedda, is spoken by the Vedda community. However, there aren’t many differences between the actual Sinhalese language and its dialects. Many locals, though they speak different dialects, easily understand each other.

Tamil Language

While about 70 million people in the world speak Tamil, in Sri Lanka there are only 4.7 million Tamil speakers. However, it’s enough for this language to be official on the island. It’s especially popular in the East and the North of Sri Lanka.

Tamil is one of the oldest languages that’s still spoken in the modern world. Writings in Tamil that the researchers found date back to 500 BC.

Still, Tamil is only the second official language of Sri Lanka. Those citizens who only speak Tamil can find it very difficult to find a job because most of them require the knowledge of Sinhalese as well.

Sri Lankan Creole Malay

This is a minority language in Sri Lanka, spoken by approximately 46,000 people. This number is falling each year because younger people don’t learn it and prefer to speak Sinhalese, Tamil, or English.

Creole Malay is an Austronesian language that was first developed at the beginning of the 13th century when Malay immigrants arrived in Sri Lanka. There are written works in this language from the 19th century. However, today it’s only used in oral communication.

Sri Lankan Portuguese Creole

Though there are only a few thousand people in Sri Lanka who speak this language, it’s still worth mentioning. People who use it in their daily speech are of Portuguese descent, and there are about 3,400 of them.

Other Languages

While in Sri Lanka, you can hear people of the Muslim community using Arabic but mostly in religious contexts. Very rarely you’ll bump into people who use Arwi. This is a written register of Tamil that’s been influenced by Arabic.

When it comes to foreign languages, more and more people in Sri Lanka start learning English. Today, approximately 10% of the population speaks it, though mostly for business purposes.

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