Sinhala Is Throwing Us for a Loop

Sinhala Is Throwing Us for a Loop

With its fluid, circular characters, written Sinhala (or Sinhalese) must be one of the world’s most lovely scripts. A page full of it almost looks like absent-minded doodling, with its loops, spirals and squiggles. I’ve been fascinated by it since we arrived, and bought a book called Let’s Learn Sinhala, Volume 1. Five days later, I can confidently write important words like head, crooked, bones, eye and bait. That’s a good start towards a strange, sinister sentence.

රසම ඇට
tastiest bones

The Sinhala alphabet is descended from India’s Brahmi, and has a history almost as old as Sri Lanka itself. Although the script’s curviness is aesthetically pleasing, its reason for being is rather practical. Thousands of years ago, while the language was developing, it was most often written on palm leaves. Straight lines sketched across leaf veins would have caused unwanted rippage.

According to my book (and somewhat in contradiction to Wikipedia), there are 58 symbols in Sinhala, split between 16 vowels and 42 consonants. Of these, only 37 are much in use. Each character gets a syllable: ම = “ma”. You can add extra symbols to change the sound of the syllable. ි added to the “ma” symbol would change it something more like “mi”. මි

I’m through nine characters of my book, and am starting to be able to sound out street signs. Of course, I have no idea as to the meaning of the words which I’m saying, but let’s just take this one step at a time!

වේ ලොවේ ශ්‍රී ලංකා

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