Sinhalese, an Indo-Aryan language also known as Sinhala or Singhala, is the language of the Singhalese people in Sri Lanka, previous called Ceylon. Both Sinhalese and Tamil are official languages in Sri Lanka. It is an old language used from the times of the ancient Singhalese kings who ruled the country before it was invaded by the Dutch, the Portuguese and finally the British, who remained until 1945. Due to this colonial influence, the language has many borrowings from Portuguese, Dutch and English, in addition to loanwords from Sanskrit, from the sacred Buddhist language called Pali, and from neighbouring languages such as Tamil.
Spoken and literary Sinhalese have distinct differences. There are formal and colloquial varieties of spoken Sinhalese; formal Sinhalese is used in public settings while colloquial Sinhalese is used for everyday communication. Literary Sinhalese is always used for writing.
The Sinhalese alphabet contains 58 letters. Like other Indo-Aryan languages, each consonant has the vowel [a] built in. Extra letters have been added for writing Sanskrit and Pali loanwords.
When translating from Sinhalese to English, the word count may increase or decrease depending on the source text and the subject matter.
The Sinhalese population numbers some 15 million people, 80% of the Sri Lankan population. The native name of the language, Simhala, meaning ‘lion-blood’, comes from the legendary founders of the Sinhalese people, an Indian princess and a lion. The Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist in religion and culture. Important festivals include the New Year in April and the Vesak festival in May, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. Orthodox Buddhists are vegetarians although many Sinhalese eat meat and fish. The staple food is rice served with curry and sauces like sambol, a spicy mixture of grated coconut and chilli, peppers, pickles, and chutneys.