What Languages Are Spoken In Sri Lanka?

Place name sign in Sri Lanka in three languages with each linguistic version different from each other.
Place name sign in Sri Lanka in three languages with each linguistic version different from each other.

Sri Lanka is a South Asian island nation located off the southeast coast of India. It covers an area of 25,332 square miles and has a population of 20,277,597. The population here is diverse and represents a multitude of cultures, including those from other countries. While this diversity leads to the richness of life in Sri Lanka, it also leads to complications in maintaining peace. This difficulty is rooted in disagreements among people of differing ethnicities. These ethnicities can be recognized and identified by the languages spoken. This article takes a look at the languages of the country.

Sinhalese, One Of The Official Languages Of Sri Lanka

One of the official languages of Sri Lanka is Sinhalese. It is the Sinhalese people's native language, who total approximately 16 million. An additional 4 million speak Sinhalese as a second language. This language belongs to the Indo-European language family. Within that category, is part of the Indo-Aryan branch. It is written with the Sinhalese alphabet which descends from the ancient Indian Brahmi writing. Modern-Sinhalese is traced to the Dravidian language as well as Pali and the medieval version of Sinhalese. It has also borrowed words from Tamil, Portuguese, Dutch, and English. The Rodiya community within Sri Lanka speaks a dialect of Sinhalese called Rodiya. It is considered an indication of belonging to a lower-caste in the society.

Tamil, The Second Official Language Of Sri Lanka

Within Sri Lanka, there are thought to be approximately 4.7 million Tamil speakers; although worldwide, there are 70 million. The language belongs to the Dravidian language family and is one of the oldest continuously spoken classical languages in the world. Researchers have discovered writings that date back to around 500 BC and its literary works date back to over 2,000 years. Tamil is the second official language in Sri Lanka. However, its use has been relegated to areas in which Tamil-speakers make up the majority of the population. The perceived inequality between Tamils and Sinhalese led to the 1983 to 2009 civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. For those Tamil speakers who do not speak Sinhalese, finding jobs or even doing government paperwork can be difficult.

Creole Languages, Minority Languages Spoken In Sri Lanka

Besides the two official languages in Sri Lanka, several minority languages are also spoken. Sri Lankan Creole Malay is the native language of around 46,000 speakers. It is considered an Austronesian language and is made up of a mix of Sinhalese, Tamil, and Malay. The language originally developed with the arrival of Malay immigrants, who came as laborers, soldiers, and exiles of the Dutch and British colonizers during the 1200’s. Written Sri Lankan Malay from the 19th century utilized the Gundul alphabet. Today, however, its use is mainly oral and has been declining as younger Sri Lankan Malays have begun relying on Sinhalese, Tamil, and English for communication.

Another creole language spoken in Sri Lanka is Sri Lankan Portuguese Creole, spoken by only 30 of the 3,400 people of Portuguese descent. These individuals are descendants of the Topazes, Casados, and Portuguese Burgher. This language was the lingua franca of the country between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Foreign Languages Of Sri Lanka

The principal foreign language spoken on this island nation is English. It is spoken by around 10% of the population. Its primary use is for business purposes.

What Languages Are Spoken In Sri Lanka?

RankCategories Of LanguageLanguage
1Official languagesSinhalese, Tamil
2Main foreign languagesEnglish
3Sign languagesMultiple Sign Languages

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