Sinhalese belongs to the Indo-European language family with its roots deeply associated with Indo-Aryan sub family to which the languages such as Persian and Hindi belong. Although it is not very clear whether people in Sri Lanka spoke a dialect of Prakrit at the time of arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, there is enough evidence that Sinhala evolved from mixing of Sanskrit, Magadi (the language which was spoken in Magada Province of India where Lord Buddha was born) and local language which was spoken by people of Sri Lanka prior to the arrival of Vijaya in Sri Lanka, the founder of Sinhala Kingdom.[1] It is also surmised that Sinhala had evolved from an ancient variant of Apabramsa (middle Indic) which is known as ‘Elu’. When tracing history of Elu, it was preceded by Hela or Pali Sihala.

Sinhala though has close relationships with Indo Aryan languages which are spoken primarily in the north, north eastern and central India, was very much influenced by Dravidian language families of Hindi.Though Sinhala is related closely to Indic languages, it also has its own unique characteristics: Sinhala has symbols for two vowels which are not found in any other Indic languages in India: ‘æ’ (ඇ) and ‘æ:’ (ඈ).

The Sinhala script had evolved from Southern Brahmi script from which almost all the Southern Indic Scripts such as Telugu and Oriya had evolved. Later Sinhala was influenced by Grantha writing of Southern India. Since 1250 AD, the Sinhala script had remained the same with few changes. Although some scholars are of the view that the Brahmi Script arrived with the Buddhism, Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle) speaks of written language even right after the arrival of Vijaya.[2] Archeologists had found pottery fragments in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka with older Brahmi script inscriptions, which had been carbon dated to 5th century BC. The earliest Brahmi Script found in India had been dated to 6th Century BC in Tamil Nadu though most of Brahmi writing found in India had been attributed to emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC.

Sinhala letters are round-shaped and are written from left to right and they are the most circular-shaped script found in the Indic scripts. The evolution of the script to the present shapes may have taken place due to writing on Ola leaves. Unlike chiseling on a rock, writing on palm leaves has to be more round-shaped to avoid the stylus ripping the Palm leaf while writing on it. When drawing vertical or horizontal straight lines on Ola leaf, the leaves would have been ripped and this also may have influenced Sinhala not to have a period or full stop. Instead a stylistic stop which was known as ‘Kundaliya’ is used. Period and commas were later introduced into Sinhala script after the introduction of paper due to the influence of Western languages.


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