the language spoken by the majority of the
people living in Sri Lanka.
It belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, with strong kinship to
Bengali, Pali, Sanskrit and related languages. It has also absorbed many
words from Tamil, a Dravidian language spoken in south India and the
northern provinces of Sri Lanka. The sinhala script has evolved from the so
called Brahmi script of ancient north India.
Sinhalese, which developed as an island
language, has some unique features, not found in other Indo-Aryan languages.
This is due to its exposure to other language families of the South Asian
region such as Dravidian and Austronesian. The Tamil language, which belongs
to the Dravidian group has influenced the structure and vocabulary of
Sinhalese to such an extent that some scholars were erroneously led to
believe that Sinhalese belonged to the Dravidian group of languages.
It has many literary works, strongly influenced by Buddhism, and often
followed the literary band wagons of India (e.g, sandesha poetry of India,
literary modes used by Kalidasa and similar Indian dramatic poets etc., are
all echoed in Sinhala literature - as attested in the literary debates known
as "kukavi vada") ). Sinhala fell into official disuse under the Portuguese,
Dutch and British colonial rule. Nationalist movements in the first half of
the 20th century saw the establishment of the "helabasa" movement, led by
the grammarian Munidasa Kumaratunga, which gave new vigour to the language.
A more important influence was the rise of an important newspaper culture
(led by the Dinamina newspaper established by the Wijaywardena group). A
celebrated writer, Martin Wickremasinghe, was one of the well known and
influential editors of the Dinamina.
The script used in writing Sinhalese is evolved from the ancient Brahmi
script used in most Aryan languages, which was introduced to the island in
the 3rd century BC. Around the 6th century, certain characters were borrowed
from a Dravidian writing system to replace a few existing symbols. At
present the Sinhala alphabet has 56 characters.
Sinhala became the official language of Sri Lanka in 1956.