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What Language Do They Speak in Sri Lanka?

What Language Do They Speak in Sri Lanka

Key Takeaway

Official LanguageSinhala and Tamil
Widely Spoken LanguageSinhala
Minority LanguageTamil
Language of BusinessEnglish (widely used)
Language OriginsIndo-Aryan (Sinhala) and Dravidian (Tamil)


Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, has a rich tapestry of history, culture, and language. With influences ranging from ancient kingdoms to colonial rulers, the linguistic landscape of this island nation is as diverse as its scenic beauty and culinary delights. Let’s delve deeper into the fascinating world of Sri Lankan languages.

Main Languages Spoken

1. Sinhala

Sinhala, also known as Sinhalese, is the language of the majority of the population. It traces its origins to the Indo-Aryan group of languages and boasts a history that spans over 2,000 years.

Characteristics of Sinhala:

  • Script: Uses Sinhala script, which is derived from ancient Brahmi script.
  • Speakers: Over 16 million native speakers, accounting for nearly 70% of the country’s population.
  • Dialects: While there are various regional dialects, the differences aren’t substantial.

2. Tamil

Tamil is the mother tongue of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, which is predominantly found in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Characteristics of Tamil:

  • Script: Uses the Tamil script.
  • Origins: Belongs to the Dravidian family of languages.
  • Speakers: About 4.7 million speakers in Sri Lanka.
  • Dialects: Sri Lankan Tamil has slight variations compared to the Tamil spoken in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Table: Comparison of Sinhala and Tamil

ScriptSinhala ScriptTamil Script
Major Regions SpokenThroughout Sri LankaNorthern and Eastern Provinces
Approx. Number of Speakers16 million4.7 million

Language of Business and Education

English in Sri Lanka

Although Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages, English is widely spoken and understood, especially in urban areas and by the educated populace. Many schools teach in English, and it’s commonly used in business, tourism, and government. English is often seen as a bridge language that connects the Sinhala and Tamil communities.

Language Diversity: Beyond Sinhala and Tamil

Sri Lanka, though small in size, is a melting pot of cultures. This has resulted in a linguistic landscape that goes beyond just Sinhala and Tamil.

Minority Languages:

  1. Moor: The Sri Lankan Moors, primarily Muslims by religion, often speak a variant of Tamil, with influences from Arabic.
  2. Malay: The Malay community in Sri Lanka, descendants of soldiers, prisoners, and slaves brought by colonial powers, speaks Sri Lankan Malay.
  3. Vedda: The Vedda language is spoken by the indigenous Vedda people. However, it’s now endangered with very few speakers left.

Cultural Significance of Language

Languages in Sri Lanka are not just a medium of communication; they are deeply interwoven with the island’s history, culture, and identity. Here are some ways in which language plays a significant role in Sri Lanka:

  • Literature: Both Sinhala and Tamil languages have a rich literary tradition with ancient scriptures, poems, and modern works reflecting the island’s culture and ethos.
  • Art: Traditional Sri Lankan art forms, like dances and songs, are often performed in native languages, telling tales of the nation’s history, mythology, and folklore.
  • Religion: Religious scriptures and chants in Buddhism (primarily in Pali, but understood through Sinhala) and Hinduism (in Tamil) play an essential role in spiritual practices.


Language in Sri Lanka is a reflection of its multifaceted history and culture. From the dominant Sinhala and Tamil to the minority languages, each adds its own flavor to the island’s vibrant linguistic tapestry. For visitors and enthusiasts, understanding Sri Lanka’s languages offers a richer, deeper insight into this beautiful nation and its people.

Table: Quick Language Facts

SinhalaDominant language with Indo-Aryan roots
TamilSpoken by the Tamil minority; Dravidian roots
EnglishWidely understood; used in business and education
Minority LanguagesInclude Moor, Malay, and Vedda

Remember, while the languages are diverse, the spirit of unity and harmony prevails, making Sri Lanka the unique and inviting destination it is today.