Sinhala Language - Sinhala Bhashawa

Once I managed to communicate with the Sri Lankan philologist Assif Hussein, who studied in detail the history of the origin, formation and stages of the evolution of the Sinhala language. According to Hussein, Sanskrit, on which the Vedas were composed, existed in northwestern India about 4 thousand years ago in its still living form. This is confirmed by internal evidence in the Rigveda and the science of comparative philology. Grammatist Panini only standardized Sanskrit, as a single and united literary language.

The statement is controversial. About 25 years ago, when I was a schoolboy, I began to study Sanskrit and Hindi myself, and the sources of the Indologists Chelyshev and Diymshits caught my eye, who claimed that the literary Sanskrit existed about 8000 years ago. Both authors cited several works — shastras, dating back to the period of about 8000 years or even slightly more. Other works on Indology, which I came across later, already at the time of professional study of Hindi, include Sanskrit to a standardized literary language, whose age is not older than 6000 years.

But let us return to the Sinhalese language, as to the direct descendant of Sanskrit. The origin of the Sinhalese language has been the subject of much controversy, and recently it has again provoked a new wave of numerous disputes. Claims of the Hel Havul movement that the Sinhala language originated and was formed independently of Sri Lanka, but was brought to the island by displaced people during the time of King Ashoka and the kingdom of Kalinga (the territory of the current Indian states of Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh in India), does not stand up to criticism, given the available philological evidence. In particular — the bright lexical and grammatical substrate of the indigenous island language of Vedda in Sinhalese.


In fact, there is hardly any modern language that does not develop from ancient sources. It is widely recognized that all modern Indo-Aryan local dialects, including Hindi, Bengali and Sinhalese, have gone through two main stages until their present state is reached, namely transit through the old Indo-Aryan stage and Prakrit and the middle Indo-Aryan stage, the era of the late Prakrites — the beginning of the formation of the New Indian languages.

Ancient Indo-Aryan languages, which were common in India during 2000-800 years BC. were, obviously, similar to each other. All of them were designated as Sanskrit forms of prakrit (that is, colloquial, non-literary forms of Sanskrit). The term Sanskrit (in Sinhalese: Sanskruth) literally means «refined,» «polished,» and was first applied somewhere between the 7th and 4th centuries to ours to refer to the ancient Indo-Aryan literary language in the counter-position to prakrtam, or raw, natural and everyday speech, which developed on the basis of Sanskrit.

The Sinhalian linguist Elian de Silva went so far as to suggest that Sanskrit was «created» artificially, by standardizing and reforming the grammar of Sanskrit by the writer Rishi Panini around the 4th century BC. De Silva does not deny that Sinhalese ultimately derives from ancient Indo-Aryan speech, which was largely represented by one of the forms of prakrit in the territory of ancient Indian Madhya Desha (now Central India). And with the help of this average Indo-Aryan speech, largely influenced by Sanskrit, Pali was formed. Therefore, it is not incorrect to give out purely Sanskrit terms for Pali and vice versa. For example, in Hindi the word Kam-Kaam (work) passed from the old Indo-Aryan Sanskrit word Karmana through the middle Indo-Aryan Pali in the form of Karm.
The same can be said about Sinhalese words Kam or Kamhala (place of work, workshop). Other examples include Sinhalese Thena (place), which in Pali sounds like Thana, and in Sanskrit Sthana.
The Sinhalese word Mega (road) in Pali sounds like Megga, and in Sanskrit, as Marga. Sinhala Eta (bones), at Pali Atthi, in Sanskrit Ashthi.

Epigraphic evidence of Sinhalese inscriptions can be cited as an example to show how language can develop. For example, in the 4th century the Sinhalese inscription of the word «Moon» is displayed in writing as Chada, while on the Pali word was written as Chanda, and in Sanskrit Chandra. Numerous inscriptions in all three languages were found simultaneously in India and Sri Lanka in the 15th century. And if we return to the word «Moon», then in the 15th century in Sinhala Chada it was already transformed into Handa, where H became semi-nasal and D-intervocal.

Professor De Silva argues that professors from Sinhalistics sometimes resort to substituting, or completely replacing certain pure Sinhalese forms of vocabulary («helu») with Sanskrit terms, which is unreasonable. He cites as an example the simple Sinhalese word Eta-sekilla (skeleton), which displaced from the literary Sinhalese cumbersome Sanskrit term Ashthipanjaraya. Many children — speakers of Sinhalese language in rural areas could not pronounce such words, which are difficult to remember and use in colloquial speech. So there was a substitution of the Sanskrit word for Sinhala, adapted.

Nevertheless, the campaign for the purity of Sinhalese language Hela Havula urges modern philologists to completely rid the Sinhala dictionary of Sanskrit terms, which is still unreasonable. In the modern vocabulary of the standard literary Sinhalese language, there are very many simple Sanskrit terms that have been assimilated in the language, such as Rupa (form), Bhasha (language), Desha (country), Dharma (religion), Sundara (beautiful). The removal of such words, which are widely used in everyday use, is inappropriate even in the presence of complete synonyms of a purely Sinhala origin. In addition, getting rid of the language from Sanskrit terms will deprive him of pleasant sounds, such as Sha and Ja, as well as their derivatives. But graphically, these sounds exist in Sinhala alphabet from the moment of its origin.

In addition, there is nothing wrong with giving the Hela Hawula movement, in the co-existence of equivalents from Sanskrit, when it is really lexically required to convey clearer shades of the meaning of a word or context. The existence of synonyms in any language is an indicator of its wealth. It is important to understand that extremist tendencies in the language are not useful. The same Hindi language, one of the world's richest languages, shows resistance to extremist movements of language purity, reviving Sanskritisms in modern spoken language. It seems that the Sinhala language affects it to a much lesser degree. Indeed, it's terrible to think what would happen to Hindi's rich and mellifluous speech if Nagari Pracharini Sabha's views (which is in favor of replacing Persian-Arabic vocabulary with Sanskrit) won. In this case, Hindi would be deprived of such general words as Asman (the sky), Duniya (world), Zindagi (life), Mohabbat (love), Dil (heart), Insan (human).


According to Mr. Hussein, Sinhalese scholars received priority directions and stopped disputes between themselves about the suitability or unsuitability of Sanskrit vocabulary. But what is of great concern today is not Sanskrit words that have been assimilated in the language, but the use of English words where native Sinhalese words in modern language are easily and unreasonably replaced by Anglicisms. If this alarming trend does not stop, we will probably see the degeneration of the Sinhala into a creolized language, that is, English with a Sinhalese stock of words.

Although, some may blame me for such a serious scale, this is actually what is happening now in urban areas in a short time, and can reach rural areas through media. And this is likely to happen, since in the media, not literary language is increasingly being introduced, but colloquial speech. Do you consider me an apocalyptic, but this can ultimately lead to the angling of the Sinhala vocabulary insofar that literary works can appear in a new language. For example, look at what's going on with the Russian or Ukrainian language in the last couple of decades. Maybe then it's easier for you to understand the concerns about the Sinhalese modifications.

I find it stupid when English forms are used to refer to common concepts such as a boy, girl, friend, girlfriend, husband and wife. In fact, the rural Sinhalese is unique in that it remains as yet an uncrazolized language, where these terms would have become so widespread. However, it's sad that such terms as Sinhalese Kolla and Kella (boy and girl) have become pejorative and are considered unfit for polite conversation, especially in urban areas. But while the literary Pirimi Lamaya (boy) and Gehenu Lamaya (girl), on the other hand, are too cumbersome. This explains their replacement in modern speech with English equivalents. As for the spoken Sinhalese Mahattaya (husband) and Nona (wife), it can be said that these terms convey meaning not only in the meaning of «husband» and «wife», but also «master» and «mistress», and so the same «gentleman» and «lady». This feature is absent in English terms, so, fortunately, the words Mr and Mrs. are unlikely to get accustomed.

By the way, for example, only a few know today that the common English word «brother» is a revived and old English term derived from a common Indo-European lexical root. The old terms of the Sinhala language can similarly be revived in accordance with modern values in use. For example, -Kumar (the old Sinhalese term «boy») is also revived for use in the polite form of the spoken language, while Lamissi-the old form of the «girl» — is still used in rural areas. Pure Sinhala words Himiya and Biriya can be used to refer to the words «husband» and «wife.» Pemvatha and Pemvathiya can be used instead of Boy or Girl, respectively. Such attempts are likely to be successful given the fact that even the term Pasala (school) is essentially a neologism coined by the founder of the movement for the purity of Sangalese language Hala Haluwa Munidasa Kumarathunga.

But let's, nevertheless, go back to 6000 years ago, when, as there are theories, the Sinhala language began to emerge.
It would seem surprising to many, but the origins of the Sinhala language can be traced back to the period 6000 years ago. Surprising, but true. Language studies of the 19th century in the person of the German linguists Franz Bopp and Schleicher made it possible to connect the Sinhalese words included in so many European, Iranian and Indian languages belonging to the so-called Indo-European family of languages. Two scientists, having done a comparative root analysis, followed many Sinhalese words in their early forms. Science, known as comparative linguistics, is aimed at establishing a close connection that exists between such languages as Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Gothic, Lithuanian, German, French, English, Russian, Persian, Hindi and Sinhala. Specialists of this field of linguistics are also trying to restore the primary speech of all these related languages, which are believed to have a common origin in the distant past.


The close connection between these languages is not very clear at first glance because of the sound changes that they have been subjected to for centuries before they find their present forms. However, on closer examination, we will see that all these languages go back to the proto-language, which German scientists prefer to call Ursprache or Early Speech. In this proto-Indo-European language, apparently, spoke in the south of Russia about 4,500-3,500 BC, before this proto-language spread to the outskirts of Europe and Asia, and at the same time began to break into dialects, and eventually formed separate, local language groups and subgroups of completely different languages. German linguist Schleicher was the first scientist who tried to reconstruct this and the proto-Indo-European language, which became his epoch-making work. As a result, the collection Der Vergleichenden Grammatik der Indogermanischen Sprachen (Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages) was published in 1861. A method of studying languages by Schleicher received quite a few adherents and followers. Schleicher collected many of the then extinct and extant Indo-European languages, from which he derived, as old forms might have sounded. These hypothetical reconstructed forms he designated an asterisk. This practice, which applies to this day. Schleicher also wrote a fable on this hypothetical common proto-Indo-European language called Avis Akvasas Ka (Sheep and Horses), which, however, was subject to revision. Linguist Julius Pokorny in his comprehensive series called Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (Indo-Germanic Etymological Dictionary, 1948-1969 editions) was able to reconstruct the proto-Indo-European speech (PIE) with greater accuracy.

Sounds changes
Before we move on, I'll continue a little about Julius Pokorny. He thought that it was necessary to give the reader some idea of the sound or phonetic changes to which various Indo-European languages were subjected. These differences in sounds or phonetics can be explained on the basis of specific laws through which sound or phonetic changes occurred. For example, one of the main phonetic changes characterizing many Indo-European languages is the change in the PIE (the proto-Indo-European language) of the sound K to the hissing sounds of Sh (Shsh, Ch) or S.

This change affected the Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Baltic and Slavic languages, but did not affect the Greek, Latin, Celtic and Germanic languages. Consider the case of the Greek and Latin Canis (dog), which in Sanskrit, the Indo-Aryan languages turned into Shwan-Shvan. Germanic languages on the other hand were in the zone of the original change for PIE K in X, for example, in the Gothic languages of the Hunths. Germanic languages also lost their original D in favor of T (as is seen in the Gothic Tvai (two), where Sanskrit is in the form of Dvau, and Greek and Latin Duet.) Also, the original PIE sound P in the Gothic Fotus (feet), where in the Sanskrit Pad, and in the Greek and Latin Podos.

The Sinhalese language, being an Aryan language, underwent two significant stages of change before acquiring its present form. The ancient Indo-Aryan stage is represented in Sanskrit (2000-800 BC), and the near Indo-Aryan stage is represented in Prakrit (about 800-400 AD). And the best representative of prakrit is Pali, the language of Buddhist scriptures.

Sinhalese forms
Take, for example, the Sinhala numeral Hatha (seven). The word can easily be proved that it occurs from the Sanskrit Saptan-Saptan through the prakrta form of Satta, as in Pali. Related forms in other Indo-European languages including Latin, Greek Septum, Gepta, Avestanian Hapta, Persian, Lithuanian, French Septyni and Hindi Saat. All these forms are reconstructed in the PIE hypothesis about the sounding of the original form of the numerals, as Sept-Septom. Similarly, it can be shown how the Sinhala numeral Ata (eight) follows from the Sanskrit Ashtau through Attha in Prakrit, which is identical to the sound in Pali.

Now consider the terminology of kinship, which is another very important aspect of folk vocabulary. The Sinhalese word Mawa-Mawa (mother) comes from the Sanskrit form of Matr. Here, too, we find related forms, such as the Latin word Mater, Greek, Russian Matu (further reduced — «mother») Lithuanian Motina, Persian Madar, Dutch Moeder, and Hindi Maa. All these forms come from the PIE of the Mater language form, which is believed to originally mean «producer.» Then take the term for Sinhalese Beya (brother), which comes from the Sanskrit Bhrathri-Bhratri. Here we also find related forms, such as the Gothic Brothar, the Persian Baradar, the German Bruder, the Russian Brat, the Lithuanian Brolis and the Hindi Bhai. These forms are fixed in the PIE, as Bhrater, which, originally meant «supporter.»

Then we take the Sinhalese word Duwa (daughter). In Sanskrit the word sounds like Duhitr, in the Avestan Dugdar, in the Persian Dokhter, in the Gothic Dauhtar, in the Dutch Dochter, in the Lithuanian Dukte and in the Russian Doch'. All these forms are in the proto-Indo-European language PIE to the word Dhughater, which originally meant «thrush», or «milkmaid» or «milk-extracting», which is described in descriptive terminology, «she takes milk from her mother.»

Now let's look at some terms that denote body parts. Take, for example, the term denoting a «tooth» in Sinhalese. This word is derived from the Sanskrit Danta and is associated with such forms as the Latin Dentis, the Lithuanian Dantis, the French Dent and the Hindi Dant, the Dutch Tand and the German Zahn. All these forms originate from the PIE form of Dantis.

Similarly, Sinhalese words Nahaya (nose) comes from the Sanskrit Nasa and is associated with such forms as the Latin Nasus, the Russian Nos, the German Nase and the Lithuanian Naše. The PIE form for this word was Nasus.


Common Words
Now let's look at some common words that appear in everyday Sinhalese speech. Take, for example, the Sinhala term Dora (door), which springs from the Sanskrit Dvara. In the Gothic we find the sound of Daura, in Lithuanian Durys, in Russian Dver', in German Tür and in Dutch Deur. The form of the proto-Indo-Aryan sounds like the Dwar. Also consider the Sinhala term Ginna (fire), which I have no doubt derived from the Sanskrit Agni, and is therefore associated with such forms as the Latin Ignis, Lithuanian Ugnis and the Slavic Ogni (plural). The PIE form was something like Ognis. Finally, take the case of the Sinhalese word Taruva (the star), which comes from the Sanskrit Str-Str and is associated with such forms as the Greek Aster, the Latin Stella, the Gothic Stairno, the German Stern and the Persian Sitara. All these forms return to the root of PIE Srt in the meaning «scattered» and, therefore, is applied to the stars, because those are scattered across the sky. Or the meaning of «scatterers» or «spreaders of light».


Sanskritisms in Sinhala: struggle for balance
The fact that Sinhalese is an important aspect of the cultural heritage of the people of Sri Lanka is not subject to the slightest doubt. It represents a large part of the intellectual achievements of the nation and reflects to a large extent its perception of the world. Therefore, it is not surprising why intellectuals or other countries should be concerned about preserving their language for descendants, and some even propagate the policy of «purity» of the language, seeking to clear the language of all foreign influences. I already mentioned this in the abstract above.

Most of the major languages in the world today are under the significant influence of external influences of foreign languages. This, in particular, concerns Arabic, Persian, Russian, Hindi, Sinhalese and even English. To a large extent, due to historical or practical reasons in the context of the introduction of technology and globalization. Take the Sinhala language, which was influenced by Tamil as a result of the multiple incursions of Tamil troops into the ancient Sinhalese kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. At the same time, peaceful commercial communication and the assimilation of Tamil new words from the category of trade occurred in the Sinhala social and linguistic environment. Similarly, Sinhala was influenced by the languages of the European colonial powers, including Portuguese, Dutch and English. These factors, it can be said, are largely historical.

Nevertheless, there is another reason why foreign terms relating to commercial matters have entered the language. Because of practical considerations. And Sinhalese scholars, for example, found it advisable to borrow loans from the Sanskrit language to make up for the shortcomings of the Sinhalese language, especially with regard to technical terminology. In fact, there are hundreds of Sanskrit conditions that have entered into the Sinhala vocabulary in a particular manner of use over the past hundred years. Many of them seem to have been introduced under the influence of dictionaries compiled by Professor Raghu Vira. He thought out a scheme for the introduction of technical terms for Indian languages, to which Sinhala belongs, on the basis of Sanskrit, the ancient Indo-European language spoken and composed in ancient times of numerous written works in Northern India. It is believed that Sanskrit became the progenitor of modern Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi, Sindhi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali and Sinhala.

The methodology used by Professor Raghu Vira somewhat resembled the European model of minting neologisms from Greek and Latin, dead languages. Nevertheless, the terms taken from there formed the basis for a significant number of modern scientific, medical and technological terms in some major European languages, such as English or German.

Among the Sanskrit borrowings in modern Sinhala, such general terms as Prajatantra (Democracy), Shalyakarma (surgery), Chhayarupa (photograph), Suryabalaya (solar energy), Trastavadaya (terrorism), Hrudaspandana (palpitation), Vagvidya (linguistics) and Rupavahini (television). Despite the fact that such borrowings are justified and even necessary, one can also assume that Sanskrit terms are often used, as a rule, unnecessarily even where there are alternative or purely Sinhalese terms, helu (genuinely Sinhala), which convey the meaning exactly the same or even better than Sanskrit equivalents.

By the way, comparatively recently I had an amusing incident in conversation with one Sri Lanakan teacher of English, who kindly invited me to dinner for her charming house on the beach. In particular, it came about Sinhalese cinema. I mastered the hosts, whether they already saw a novelty called Spandana. After a hefty pause and live discussions within the family, it turned out that they had never heard of such a film and did not even understand the meaning of the name of this movie. Both funny and sad, but I, as foreigner, had to explain that this Sinhala-adapted Sanskrit word means Palpitation or Heart Beats…

In general, an unhealthy trend is especially evident in the modern Sinhalese scientific, medical and technical literature, including school textbooks, where innumerable Sanskritisms are used, even in cases where alternative Sinhalese terms exist. For example, take Asthipanjaraya (skeleton), which in Sinhala is quite appropriate, as the Eta-sekilla, Shatavarsha (century) has the Sinhala synonym of Siyawasa, Dirghashirsha (dolichashaliya) in Sinhala sounds like Digusiras, Shilalekhana (inscription) has a Sinhala synonym for Sellipi, and Pathashala (school) in Sinhalese Pasala, Arogyashala (hospital) has a Sinhala synonym for Rohala. The Sanskrit Karmantashala (plant) is quite appropriately replaced by Kamhala.

Sri Lanka is often asked why Sinhalese scholars and educators prefer these complex Sanskritisms if one could return to the age-old, much simpler and more pleasing terms of the chela, especially when compiling textbooks intended for schoolchildren. Shortness and practicality have been missed by Sri Lankan scientists by men in their impulse to join the fashionable Sanskrit who has made rapid raids in the Indian media and academia since the 1950s.
Not only because of the complexity of the pronunciation, however, is the problem of a bad impression of a high literary style among Sinhalese youth, which, as I wrote above, seeks to keep up with the rest of the world by grabbing and introducing foreign words and jargons. In fact, this is a question that lexicographers should pay serious attention to.

Chasing new words
In addition, using existing Sinhalese terms, creating new terms based on old extant forms or chela, is also worth seriously considering.
There is a significant vocabulary in Sinhalese, both extinct and existing, which could be the basis for the creation of scientific and other terminology for modern research.

For example, take the obsolete Sinhalese words La (heart), Rov (disease), Detu (older), Milis (barbarian) and Hingu (fast), which can be easily used to replace their respective Sanskrit equivalents of Harda, Roga, Jyeshtha, Mlechcha and Shighra, which are widely used nowadays, even in difficult conditions. Using this technique, you can mint a number of neologisms, for example, and Aturudela (Internet). Why not? After all, grammatically observed all the rules and conditions. This, of course, should receive the support of all stakeholders who sincerely believe in preserving and perpetuating the Sinhalese language. But in Sri Lanka, I am a foreigner and my conversations on preserving the Sinhalese language often end in amazement: why, because the Sinhala gradually dies and will once become a typical pidgin. Representatives of the younger generation make it clear to me. And the stories about the catastrophic situation in which the European, Slavic and Indian languages are in this case simply not impressive. There is no understanding that the Sinhalese language is threatened approximately the same way.

Good sounding conditions
Nevertheless, returning to the balance between the Sanskrit innovated terms and the minting of the actual Sinhala words, I would like to say that the campaign of adherents of the hela against Sanskrit should not be taken to the end. After all, otherwise, getting rid of Sanskritisms, impoverishes the Sinhalese language itself, depriving it of some very useful and euphonious terms. And there is no doubt that English will replace them, which are completely or very inappropriate.

Take, for example, such common words as Rupa (form), Krama (way), Svalpa (small), Avastha (possibility), Bhasha (language), Sthana (place), Viplava (revolution) and Swarupa (form), which are just worth using, preserving their euphony anywhere else. There are also many Sanskrit terms commonly used in Sinhala, which simply do not need to be changed for want of a better one.

Take, for example, such words as Madhyasthana (center) and Baladakshika (girl-guide). It is not possible to easily find alternatives in the form of Sinhala forms to convey certain deep-seated hues of meaning. Sometimes using the equivalents from helo you can get very ridiculous shades. And there are still cases when the equivalent of the Sanskrit term in Sinhalese helu, used today, can have a completely different meaning. For example, the equivalent of Yantra from Sanskrit, which is used to designate a machine, in Sinhalese in the form of Yathura means «key.»

In conclusion, it should be noted that although there is a need to use more terms of pure Sinhala language helu in the field of education and the scientific community, up to the minting of new words, due attention should be given to the brevity and euphony of these Sanskrit words, for replacement is not always appropriate. Achieving a balance between the two sources of vocabulary creation is perhaps the best alternative.

By the way, the very first short English-Sinhala phrasebook I tried to compose, avoiding the Sanskrit terminology and words, which are used strictly in the literary form of the Sinhalese language. Therefore, you can safely use this mini-helper in your travel to Sri Lanka, without fear of being misunderstood. Well, of course, if you try to keep the phonetic conditions to the best of your ability.
In any case, I am ready to talk and discuss Sinhalese only with Indologists. Neither more and nor less. Please do not disturb specialists in European linguistics or simply curious people.

The inscription on the caricature of the Minister Sergei Lavrov, who, as you know, speaks the Sinhala language: Mata sinhala katha karannath puluwan — I can also speak Sinhala


If you are keen on understanding one of the brightest, most beautiful and rich languages of the world, dream of seriously studying the Sinhala language, then a couple of benefits can download in electronic form from the Lankarus website.
Wish you very success is on your way to the fascinating world of Sinhalistic!

With great respect to readers, partners and guests of Lankarus,

Sergius Pedde,
Lankarus Lanka Private Limited

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