Languages of Sri Lanka

Several languages are spoken in Sri Lanka within the Indo-Aryan, Austronesian, and Dravidian families. Sri Lanka accords official status to Sinhala and Tamil, and English as a recognised language. The languages spoken on the island nation are deeply influenced by the various languages in India, Europe and Southeast Asia. Arab settlers and the colonial powers of Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain have also influenced the development of modern languages in Sri Lanka. See below for the most-spoken languages of Sri Lanka.[1]

Languages of Sri Lanka
A road sign in Sinhala, Tamil and English
OfficialSinhala and Tamil
VernacularSri Lankan Tamil dialects, Sri Lankan English, Sri Lanka Malay
MinoritySri Lankan Portuguese creole, Telugu, Vedda
SignedSri Lankan sign languages
Keyboard layout
QWERTY, Sinhala keyboard, Tamil 99

Native and indigenous languages

As per 2016, the Sinhala language is mostly spoken by the Sinhalese people, who constitute approximately 74.9% of the national population and total about 16.6 million. It uses the Sinhala abugida script, which is derived from the ancient Brahmi script. About 300 of the Veddah people, totaling barely 2,500 in 2002,[2] speak the Veddah language, of which the origin is debated. The Tamil language is spoken by Sri Lankan Tamils, as well as by Tamil migrants from the neighboring Indian state of Tamil Nadu and by most Sri Lankan Moors. Tamil speakers number around 5 million. There are more than 40,000 speakers of the Sri Lankan Malay language.

Languages of foreign origin

English, Sinhala and Tamil languages on a war grave memorial plate in Kandy.
(click to see full view of memorial plate)

English in Sri Lanka is fluently spoken by approximately 23.8%[3] of the population, and widely used for official and commercial purposes. It is the native language of approximately 74,000 people, mainly in urban areas. A handful of the 3,400 people of Portuguese descent speak Sri Lankan Portuguese creole.[4]


  1. "Sri Lanka – language". Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  2. Veddah at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  3. "Sri Lanka – language". Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  4. Indo-Portuguese (Sri Lanka) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
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