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The Origin and Nature of the Sinhalese Language

The Indo-European languages are usually characterized as being the languages of Europe, Iran and North India. This leaves out several dead languages such as Trocharian (found in documents uncovered in western China) and Hittite (which was spoken in the ancient Hittite Empire of eastern Anatolia and the Middle East. That usual characterization leaves out the Sinhalese language spoken by about ten million people in Sri Lanka. In a way it also leaves out the Icelandic spoken by several hundreds of thousand people in Iceland.

The Sinhalese language was brought to Sri Lanka by a migration from Northeast India in the fifth century BCE (the 400's Bc). It was a time when most of India was Buddhist and the Sinhalese migrants were Buddhists.

The table below illustrates the relationship of Sinhalese to Sanskrit and through Sanskrit to Greek and Latin. The correspondences are not complete but their perponderances leaves no doubt that the languages are related through, in the case of Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, from a common ancestor language.

Numeral Sinhalese Sanskrit Greek Latin
1 eka (එක) éka ena unus
2 deka (දෙක) dváu dúo duo
3 thuna (තුන) trayas treĩs tria
4 hathara (හතර) catúr téssera quattuor
5 paha (පහ) páñca pénte quinque
6 haya (හය) ṣaṣ éxi sex
7 hatha (හත) saptá eptá septem
8 aṭa (අට) aṣṭáu októ octo
9 nawaya (නවය) náva ennéa novem
10 dahaya (දහය) dáça déka decem

(The symbols following the Sinhalese words are those words written in the distinctive Sinhalese circular script.)

Sinhalese is probably directly derived from Sanskrit just as the Romance languages of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and French are directly derived from Latin. It is therefore no surprise that there exists a close relationship between Sinhalese and the Romance languages as a result of the relationship between Sanskrit and Latin. The relationship of Sinhalese to some of the other Indo-European languages are worth noting. The two tables below illustrate the relationship with Slavic and Baltic languages.

Numeral Sinhala Russian
1 eka (එක) odin
2 deka (දෙක) dva
3 thuna (තුන) tri
4 hathara (හතර) chetyre
5 paha (පහ) pyat'
6 haya (හය) shest'
7 hatha (හත) sem'
8 aṭa (අට) vosem'
9 nawaya (නවය) devyat'
10 dahaya (දහය) desyat'

Numeral Sinhala Latvian Lithuanian
1 eka (එක) viens vienas
2 deka (දෙක) divi du
3 thuna (තුන) trīs trys
4 hathara (හතර) četri keturi
5 paha (පහ) pieci penki
6 haya (හය) seši šeši
7 hatha (හත) septiņi septyni
8 aṭa (අට) astoņi aštuoni
9 nawaya (නවය) deviņi devyni
10 dahaya (දහය) desmit dešimt

The relationship extends to the Germanic languages but the correspondences are not so direct because the ancestor of the Germanic languages unwent a systematic sound shift.

The Germanic Sound Shift
bh dh gh
b d g
p t k
f th h

What this table means is that the phonemes (sounds) changed into the ones below them in the table. For example, in Spanish the word for father is padre. Under the sound shift the p became an f and the d became a t and later a th sound. Hence the word for father in German is vater and in English father. English has words from Latin sources as well a Germanic. Thus dental is from Latin sources but from Germanic sources the d became a t and the t became a th sound and hence tooth is cognate with dental.

In the above table bh, dh, gh stand for aspirated b, d, g. The diagraph th stands for the initial sound in the English word the.

Here are the correspondences of Sinhalese with three Germanic languages.

Numeral Sinhala German English Icelandic
1 eka (එක) eins one einn
2 deka (දෙක) zwei two tveir
3 thuna (තුන) drei three þrír
4 hathara (හතර) vier four fjórir
5 paha (පහ) fünf five fimm
6 haya (හය) sechs six sex
7 hatha (හත) sieben seven sjö
8 aṭa (අට) acht eight átta
9 nawaya (නවය) neun nine níu
10 dahaya (දහය) zehn ten tíu

Taking into account the Germanic Sound Shift there numerous corrspondences between the Sinhalese words for the numerals and the Germanic ones. Thus there is a definite linguistic relationship between the languages spoken on the two relatively isolated islands of Iceland and Sri Lanka, located at the extreme northwest and extreme southeast of the Indo-Europenan language area.

(To be continued.)

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