. Sinhalese (Sri Lanka)

Photo: sharyn morrow

Considered one of the most expansive alphabets in the world, Sinhalese has more than 50 phonemes, though only 38 are frequently used in contemporary writing. Still taught in Buddhist monasteries and schools, the language is the mother tongue for more than half of Sri Lanka’s 21 million inhabitants.


Its low geographical relevance (confined to the island of Sri Lanka) is its greatest threat. Restricted to a piece of land surrounded by water, Sinhalese writing has until now and is likely to endure for a good while yet, even if its usage decreases over time. I GOT THIS ON AN E MAIL.

Pre-History ; Sri Lanka is an small Island in the Indian Ocean at the bottom of India.The origin of the people is scientifically been tested – some dental morphorlogy testing was done recently by Diana Hawkley.please click to get link on the web.

Myths: The epic Ramayanaya describes the mythical king Ravana of early Sri Lanka. Some script on inscriptions with names associated with the king that needs to be clarified.

Evidence of early settlements.Settlement dating back to 1200 BC was done by Dr Raj Somadeva.

The Evolution of a Script is evident form about 900 BC

Didorous a contemporary of Augustus made or pretended to have made a voyage to Ceylon and lived there for seven years. Nine facts  mentioned by him as the characteristics of the Sinhalese people of that country, though doubted much in former days, have been confirmed by later experience. The tenth fact the learned  author of the “Periplus’ was obliged to leave to future inquiry — namely

Whether the particulars of the Alphabet of the Sinhalese  may not have some illusion to truth” for he says ‘ the characters are originally only seven, but four varying forms or combinations they became twenty -eight ,”

— Dr Vincents”s ‘ Periplus of the Erythrean Sea’.

The Sinhala or Sinhalese people are fortunate that their history is not only available in texts that can be dated back to the 4th Cent AD, but most of the facts are substanciated by inscriptions written in this script , that can be traced back to 500 BC. The Sinhala language and the script is now called Brahmi  mentioned  in Lalitavistara as  one of the scripts mastered by the Buddha in his boyhood. Brahmi and Dravida were  Sanskrit words for two of the many script learn’d by Prince Sidhartha.

Happy to note that you have started the work on Brahmi. The letters ඇ සහ ඈ appeared only by the 7th century.

“Our Brahmi letters are slightly different from the Indians. There is no different between the Brahmi script and the modern Sinhala script other than a few combined letters and those two letters. In the 3rd Century B.C. we had only 5 vowels (a, e, I, o, u) and in the 1st century B.C. it increased to 6  with long a. Perhaps we had other vowels from the 1 century B.C. but can be seen in the inscriptions only after the 7th century. The method of adding vowels to the consonants (medial vowels) is the same from the beginning to the present day”.- Prasad Fonseka.

The script similar to that  found in the Island was used by those in South and North  India. The student of the present Tamil script cannot be trace the origin   due to the lack of inscriptions in typical Tamil script beyond 9 Cent AD, the 200 odd dated pre -christ inscriptions found in the whole of  the Tamil speaking area of India is also written in a script similar to that used by the Sinhalese. There again these inscription use over 30 % of the words are loan words from Sanskrit and Sinhalese.

But the student of  the Sinhalese script  are more fortunate as they can trace back the  evolution of  script used in the Island as far back as 750 BC.  I feel I have the right to call it Sinhalese script until  evidence to the contrary appears.



Dr Shiran Deraniyagala published these short  inscription found on potsherd. They are names of person and their relationship,



The earliest and the present script is below, the script is placed according to the 7 sounds .Those akshra produced by the throat- the Gutterals, the Palatal -produced by the back of tongue or palate, The Cerebrals  produced by upperpart of mouth ,towards the brain, Dentals – the  sound produced by tongue tip against the upper front teeth, Labials those pronounced by the lips and Sibiants , sound pronounced with a Hissing sound.

Palm Leaf Manuscript


A story from Mahavagga

“There was in Rajagri a group of seventeen boys, friends of each other and all under twenty years of age. The most pre-eminent of them was Upali. Now, Upali’ s father and mother thought: ” How will Upali after our death live a life of “ease and without pain ? If he learns Lekha[the art of writing], his fingers will become sore. If he learns Ganana[Mathematics], his breast will become diseased. If, again, he learns Rupa [Dealing in money], his eyes will suffer”.

Now Lekha thus cannot here signify learning to write A, B, C, but rather ‘ the art of writing,’ which constitutes the profession of a Lekhaka.- Web site

Bone Stylus- Anuradhapura

This ‘ art of writing included not only the niceties of diction and style but also the different forms of correspondence, as will be seen from Chapter X of the Adhifftltsha-prachara of Kautilya’s Arthasastra, which in its concluding verse tells us that there were not one but many treatises on the subject.


In Sri Lanka, the earliest dated form of writing was  on inscribed  pottery found the strata,  C4 dated to 500-600 BC, some even to 750 BC.

Over 1300 short inscriptions of 3rd, 2nd and 1st Cent BC has been studied by Scholars, who  have identified that the letters in which Sinhala or Hela was written was arranged into seven groups the Guttrals, the Palatals, the Cerebrals, the Dentals, the Labials, Semi-vowels and the Vowels.


Janas ca vak-sudha- sutir mani-sutis ca Rohana Nanyatra Simhala-dvipan mukta- sutis ca sagarah

‘People who  produce the Nectar of speech, Rohana Mountains  which produce Gems and the Ocean that produces Pearls- these are nowhere found together, but in the Island of the Sinhalas’- Balaramayanaya-Act X verse 49.

The langauge on these inscriptions are sinhala ,only very few words belonging to Sanskrit , Pali or Tamil is used. These too  was  in later inscription . Even to express deep scientific concepts the Sinhalese used pure sinhala words. Today we cannot even understand the meaning of some of the words. The writers of these inscriptions knew Sinhala very well. The choice and use of words in the composition are scholarly. There is nothing wrong to be seen in the detailed analysis of letters except rarely.

The large numbers of the Sanga or Bikkhus who underwent training at the 3 main  ancient monasteries of Anuradhapura and those at Mahagama and other centres provided the whole country with learned Bikkhus who were available throughout the country. So the layman had the fortunes of learning to read and write easily.- A.S. Hettiarachchi-Sec II  Volume II – Inscriptions 1990.

In early Tamil inscription of South India , about 30 percent of the word used were  loan words from Sanskrit and Sinhala.[ I Mahadevan= CORPUS OF TAMIL INSCRIPTIONS]

Metal Styluses- Ruhuna

The aim of this post is to show the gradual changes of of this script in  Sri lanka from 600 BC to the present date. A complete study of the evolution of the Sinhala Script was published by Dr P.E.E.Fernando. This script belonged to  different generations of  the Sinhalese  from 600 BC to 20 Cent AD. The script was collected from inscriptions and published  by many scholars, to whom all the credit of this article is due.I in turn  has copied from the publications of these  great historian and archeologists for the benefit of those using the web.The earliest script is found on the potsherds found in layers of earth   C 14 dated 500-600 BC[ some back as 750 BC] during excavation of  Dr Shiran Deraniyagala in the Citidal of Anuradhapura.

The Script  found on cave inscription from the 2nd Cent BC to 7 Cent AD, published by Dr Saddhamangala Karunaratne in Epighraphia Zeylanica Special Volume VII,1984, is given next.

2 Cent BC-Inscribed as Devotional Offerings Bowl.

A gold plate from Vallipuram of the Minister Isigiri of King Vahaba who was governing at Naka-diva along with a Tissa who caused a Temple to be built in the script of 1 Cent AD.

The the script on Inscriptions of Ceylon- Vol I, II & III is included here is the script from 3 Cent BC to 4 Cent AD.

The Inscriptions having script between the 4 Cent and 10 Cent AD was published is Volume III, IV and V .

Script of 6 Cent AD.

A Sinhala  inscription of the 6 Cent AD found at Anuradhapura close to Dakkhina Stupa.

Shown below an Inscribed gold ingot found during the excavations at Abeyagiri Monastery  of 8-9 Cent AD.The weight is 438.10 gram. The weight indicated in ancient measures in Kalandas as 102. The weight of  a Kalan may be accepted as 4.3 grams.

Eka siya de Ka la N- 102 Kalanadas in Weight.

The Script  on the Mirror Wall at Sigiriya in shown next, published by Dr S.Paranavitane.

  1. The 9th and 10th Cent AD  script is taken from Inscriptions of Ceylon Volume V of Dr Sirimal Ranwella,2001.
    Parakramabuhu I Padaviya Inscription.Here Sinhala script is used to write a Sanskrit Inscriptions on Top part ,with the Sinhala transalation at the Bottom.

Those of the 13-15 Cent AD are from the Waharakagoda Inscription of  Prof.Rohanadeera

This script was used to write to language ,what was known as Sinhalese for the last 2500 years. There are many very interesting web sites  of the this language and the possible origin of it.

This may be of interest to the Sinhalese  speaking or writing people ,how the script developed in the Island. The alphabet is not arranged in an ad hoc manner, but according to sounds, this is now called  the Sinhala Hodiya which has expanded to use foreign words introduced to the Hela langauge..


1.Sinhala Inscriptions in South India- Article published by Mr DGA Perera in Ceylon Daily News

Gutturals .

1. Letter K

2 Letter Kha

3. Letter G

4. Letter Gha

5. Letter Ng


6. Letter Ch

7. Letter Cha

8. Letter J

9. letter Jha

10. Letter Ny.


11.letter T.

12.Letter Th.

13. Letter D

15. Letter N

16 Letter La

17 Letter Tha

18. Letter Dh

19 Letter Dha

20. Letter Na

21 Letter Pa

Letter Pha

Letter Ba

Letter Bha

Letter Ma

Letter Ya

Letter Ra

Letter La

Letter Ha

Letter Sa


letter A

Letter E

Letter U

Letter o



  1. When it says “pure sinhala”, is it referring to the Sinhalese dialect of the Prakrit language?

    • My expertise is nil on this subject, I have copied out what others have written, any way thanks I shall remove the word pure until I get the reference. Thanks

  2. There are letters for ka, ki, ke, ku, ko but not ‘k’? එකල්හි ‘ක්’ අකුර නොතිබුනේද​?

  3. Prasad Fonseka

    Our Brahmi letters are slightly different from the Indians. There is no different between the Brahmi script and the modern Sinhala script other than a few combined letters and those two letters. In the 3rd Century B.C. we had only 5 vowels (a, e, I, o, u) and in the 1st century B.C. it increased to 6 with long a. Perhaps we had other vowels from the 1 century B.C. but can be seen in the inscriptions only after the 7th century. The method of adding vowels to the consonants (medial vowels) is the same from the beginning to the present day.

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