Introduction ~ හැඳින්වීම
to learn this language. This introductory lesson will explain you the very basic things that you should know.
Sinhala (සිංහල) is the native language of Sinhalese people, who constitute 75% of the population of Sri Lanka and number greater than 15 million. Sinhalese is also spoken as a second language by about three million people from other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. It has been developed over the course of more than 2,300 years. Sanskrit and Pali are the parental languages of Sinhalese. It mainly belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages, but has influence of Dravidian languages such as Tamil and minor influences from English, Dutch, and Portuguese.
According to legend, Sinhabahu or Sīhabāhu (meaning, "Lion-arms") was the son of a princess of the Kalinga Kingdom and Sinha* (meaning, "Lion"; *he is described as a lion;). Sinhabahu killed his father who was harming the people of Kalinga and became the king of Kalinga. Prince Vijaya was his son who was exiled because of his impropriety and sailed to Sri Lanka with his troops. The term Sinhala is coming from Sanskrit and is based on a mythological story of Prince Vijaya who is also the mythological founder of the Sinhalese nation. In some versions of this story, he is introduced with the name Simhala and as the son of Sinha. So, this has named both the nation and the language as "Sinhala". There are lot of definitions for the etymology of the name Simhala, but none of them are officially considered yet. But, it is sure that it has a connection with the word Sinha (meaning, "Lion").
Since Sinhalese is classified as an Indo-European language, it is not as same as other Indo-European languages. Sinhalese has features that set it apart from other Indo-Aryan languages. Some of the differences can be explained by the substrate influence of the parent stock of the Vedda language1. Sinhalese has many words that are only found in Sinhalese, or shared between Sinhalese and Vedda and not etymologically derivable from Middle or Old Indo-Aryan.
The oldest Sinhalese Prakrit inscriptions found are from the 3rd to 2nd century BCE following the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the oldest existing literary works date from the 9th century CE. Because of the arrival of Buddhism, Sri Lanka has been effected by the Indian culture and has relinquished most of the aboriginal culture which has completely disappeared now. Because of this situation Sri Lanka became a country with Indo-Aryan culture which is surrounded by the Dravidian culture of South India. This has made a major influence of Dravidian (mostly Tamil) in Sinhalese.
Stages of historical development
The development of the Sinhalese language is divided into four periods:
- Sinhalese Prakrit (until 3rd century AD)
- Proto-Sinhalese (3rd - 7th century AD)
- Medieval Sinhalese (7th - 12th century AD)
- Modern Sinhalese (12th century — present)
Written Sinhalese and Spoken Sinhalese
There is a large difference between written and spoken Sinhalese. Written Sinhalese do have its standards, but spoken Sinhalese doesn't. So its pretty much easy to learn than the written. Even though, this book book has been written to teach how to speak, read and write, its priority is to teach written Sinhalese. The following passage includes very important information about the writing system and pronunciation, so please read it carefully and understand it well.
Writing System and Pronunciation
The Sinhalese writing system is an "abugida", where the consonants are written with the vowels while the vowels are indicated with diacritics (pillam; පිල්ලම්) on those consonants. Then, both sounds are written in one character. When a vowel is not joined with a consonant, the consonant is written as a single letter by adding a sign called hal kireema on it. There are two forms of a vowel that can be written. Those forms are the form as a letter and as a diacritic. When a vowel appears in front of a word, it is written in its form of a letter not as a diacritic.
Also, when a diacritic is not used, an "inherent vowel", either /ʌ/ or /ə/, is pronounced, depending on the position of the consonant within the word. The sound of /ʌ/ is pronounced when the vowel "අ" is the first letter of the word or it is joined as a diacritic (but not written) with the first letter which is a consonant. The sound of /ə/ is pronounced when the vowel "අ" is joined as a diacritic (but not written) with a letter which is a consonant. But remember that there are some words that are pronounced ignoring the above theory.
Even though the writing system of Sinhalese is an "abugida", there were characters called "joined letters" (bandi akuru; බැඳි අකුරු) with three sounds combined that are rarely used now. They were used widely until the mid-twentieth century. These letters were written when the first letter is a consonant without a vowel and the second is a letter with a consonant and a vowel.
The alphabet will be extensively described in the next lesson. There are 18 vowels and 42 consonants in the alphabet. Keep in mind that there are some letters that are not added to the alphabet and some letters that should be removed from the alphabet. The alphabet has so many versions since very ancient times and there are contemporaneous versions that are proposed. But the standard Sinhalese alphabet is the one from Sri lankan National Institute of Education (NIE).
How should I start?
No need to write long paragraphs about the start, because you just need to understand these lessons and go ahead. Just don't worry too much about learning this language. It'll be very easy to understand, if you start from the basics. Even though Sinhalese is an Indo-European language like English, it is very far from English geographically and linguistically. So, its structure is very different from English. Although the online sources for you to learn Sinhalese is lack, this book will be enough to learn the basics. You can learn how to write Sinhalese letters from YouTube videos and other online sources. Get a book and write them again and again. Then, try to write them in more accurate shapes and sizes.
IPA signs will give a better help to pronounce words, if you are compatible with them. Here comes the problem of many people. In this wikibook, we are using special and memorable signs for vowels to make these lessons easier for everyone. They will be introduced to you in vowel chart of the next lesson. Also, every word that is written in Sinhalese characters will be followed by its pronunciation which is written with English (Latin) characters.
This book is designed with lessons from four stages. Basic lessons will make you ready to step on the next stage. Each lesson of the second stage will carry its vocabulary and exercises. So, study well and have fun !! Also, don't forget to read the DID YOU KNOW fact in every lesson.
- 1.^ Vedda is the language of aboriginal people of Sri Lanka. The parent Vedda language is of unknown genetic origins. Studies indicate that Vedda language is a creole which evolved from ancient times, when the Veddas came in contact with the early Sinhalese, from whom they increasingly borrowed words and synthetic features, yielding the cumulative effect that Vedda looked like Sinhalese in many particulars, but its grammatical core was still intact.