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Sinhala words of Tamil origin came about as part of the more than 2000 years of language interactions between Sinhala and Tamil in the island of Sri Lanka, as well as through Dravidian substratum effect on the Sinhala language. Sinhala is classified as an Indo-Aryan language and Tamil is classified as a Dravidian language. Separated from its sister Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi and Bengali by a large belt of Dravidian languages, Sinhala along with Dhivehi of the Maldives evolved somewhat separately.

Close interaction with the Tamil language and the assimilation of Tamils into Sinhalese society contributed to the adoption of several Tamil origin words into the Sinhalese language. It is important to note that the range of borrowings goes beyond the scope to be expected for a situation where two neighbouring peoples exchange material goods: Firstly, there are many Tamil loanwords pertaining to everyday and social life (kinship terms, body parts, ordinary activities). Secondly, several lexical words (nouns, adjectives and verbs) along with interjections (ayiyō), (aḍō) have also been borrowed. This - along with the impact Tamil has had on Sinhala syntax (e.g. the use of a verbal adjective of 'to say' as a subordinating conjunction meaning 'whether' and 'that') - is suggestive of not only close coexistence but the existence of large numbers of bilinguals and a high degree of mixing and intermarriage.

Kinds of loanwords[edit]


The words pertaining to the fields of commerce, administration, botany, food and military are the most numerous; this is to be expected because

  • new innovations and goods usually reached the Sinhalese via the Tamils whose area of settlement separates them from the rest of South Asia and
  • Tamil speaking traders conducted most of the island's foreign trade since the 10th century AD. This is attested by multiple Tamil inscriptions in Sri Lanka left by medieval trade guilds.

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The borrowing process[edit]

Tamil loanwords in Sinhala can appear in the same form as the original word (e.g. akkā), but this is quite rare. Usually, a word has undergone some kind of modification to fit into the Sinhala phonological (e.g. paḻi becomes paḷi(ya) because the sound of /ḻ/, [ɻ], does not exist in the Sinhala phoneme inventory) or morphological system (e.g. ilakkam becomes ilakkama because Sinhala inanimate nouns (see grammatical gender) need to end with /a/, [ə], in order to be declineable).

These are the main ways Tamil words are incorporated into the Sinhala lexicon with different endings: /need-for-speed-underground-free-download-full-version-for-android/.

  • With an /a/ added to Tamil words ending in /m/ and other consonants (e.g. pālam > pālama).
  • With a /ya/ or /va/ added to words ending in vowels (e.g. araḷi > araliya).
  • With the Tamil ending /ai/ represented as /ē/, commonly spelt /aya/.
  • With the animate ending /yā/ added to Tamil words signifying living beings or /yā/ replacing the Tamil endings /aṉ/, /ar/, etc. (e.g. caṇṭiyar > caṇḍiyā).
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It can be observed that the Tamil phonemes /ḷ/ and /ḻ/ do not coherently appear as /ḷ/ in Sinhala but sometimes as /l/ as well. This is because in Sinhala pronunciation there is no distinction between /ḷ/ and /l/; the letter /ḷ/ is merely maintained as an etymologicalspelling.

Time of borrowing[edit]

In many cases, the appearance of a loanword in a language indicates whether the borrowing is old or more recent: The more a word deviates from the 'original' one, the longer it must have been a part of the respective lexicon, because while being used, a word can undergo changes (sometimes regular sound changes along with the native words). The inversion of this argument is not possible since loanwords already matching the linguistic requirements of the target language may remain unchanged. Thus, the word täpäl (Tamil tapāl) gives away its old age because the respective umlaut processes took place before the 8th century; iḍama (Tamil iṭam) however needn't be a recent borrowing, because no sound changes that could have affected this word have taken place in Sinhala since at least the 13th century.

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List of words[edit]

In the following list, Tamil words are romanized in accordance with Tamil spelling. This results in seeming discrepancies in voicing between Sinhala words and their Tamil counterparts. Sinhala borrowing however has taken place on the basis of the sound of the Tamil words; thus, the word ampalam, [ambalam], logically results in the Sinhala spelling ambalama, and so forth. However, the Tamil language used here for comparison is Tamil as spoken in Sri Lanka.

Note: For information on the transcription used, see National Library at Calcutta romanization and Tamil script. Exceptions from the standard are the romanization of Sinhala long 'ä' ([æː]) as 'ää', and the non-marking of prenasalized stops.

akkāElder sisterakkāElder sisterKinship
ambalamaWay-side restambalamPublic placeDaily
āṃgāṇiyaStall (in a market)aṅgāṭiMarketTrade
āṇḍuvaGovernmentāṇṭāṉRich man with many slavesAdministration
appāFather (regional/colloquial)appāFatherKinship
avariyaIndigo plantavuriIndigo plantBotany
ayyāElder brotheraiyā (see also Ayya)Sir, fatherKinship
caṇḍiyāBandit, rowdysaṇdiyarBanditDaily
ediriyaOpposition, hostilityedhiriOpponent, enemyMilitary
iḍamaSite, landidamPlace, siteConstruction
iḷandāriyāYoung maniḷandāriYoung manDaily
iḷavuvaDeath, funeraliḻavuDeathDaily
iraṭṭaDouble, even numberiraṭṭaiDouble, even numberTrade
kaḍalēChickpeakadalai (paruppu)ChickpeaFood
kaḍasarakkuvaSpice, curry stuffskadai + sarakkuShop + GoodsTrade
kalandaA small measure of weightkaḻañcuWeight of 1.77 gramsTrade
kalavamaMixture, blendkalavaiMixtureDaily
kaṇisamaSizekaṇisamSize, amountDaily
kaṇṇāḍiyaMirror, spectacleskaṇṇāadiMirror, spectaclesDaily
kapparaSmall shipkappalShipTrade
kappiGrit, bruised grainkappiCoarse grits in flourDaily
kayitālamaA type of cymbal
kärapottāCockroachkarappaāṉCockroach (SL)Daily
karavaḷaDried fishkaruvāaduDried fishFood
kāsiyaCoinkāasuSmall change, coinTrade
kasippuIllicit liquorkacippuIllicit liquorTrade
kayiyeliyaCloth with coloured borderkailiMulticoloured cloth worn by MuslimsDaily
kiṭṭuClose, nearkiṭṭaClose, nearDaily
kollayaPlunder, pillagekoḷḷaiPlunderMilitary
kombuvaName of the sign ෙkombu (lakaram)Name of the sign ளDaily
kōnPart of a namekōṉ(ar)Name pertaining to members of the Iṭaiyar caste ('shepherd, king')Personal name
kōṇamaA loin cloth for menkōvaṇamA loin cloth for menDaily
koṇḍayaPlait/bun of hairkoṇdaiBun/plait of hairDaily
koṭṭayaPillowkoṭṭaiNut, round shape, pillowDaily
kōvilaHindu templekōyilTempleDaily
kūḍamaShed, ResthousekūḍaramTentDaily
kūḍuvaNest, cagekooduNest, small boxDaily
kulala/kuḷalaPipekuḻalTube, musical pipeDaily
kulappuvaConfusionkuḻappu-to confuseMilitary
kūlamaPondkulam-PondAgricultural Term
kurumbāYoung coconutkurumbaiYoung coconutFood
kuliyaRentkooliRent, payAdministration
kuṭṭamaA PairDaily
machanTerm of endearment along malesmachanDaily
MalayaHill countrymalaiHillPlace name
māmā[citation needed].Maternal unclemāmāMaternal uncleKinship
marakkalayaBoat, Ethnic Moor, Sampanmarakkalam(Sailing) BoatFishing
mayilFur, any hair other than on the head/facemayirDaily
mellaGentle, tame, obedientDaily
mudalāliMerchant, owner of a shopmudhalāḷiMerchantTrade
mudaliPart of a namemudhaliyārName of a castePersonal name
muḍukkuvaNarrow street, slumDaily
muluwhole, entiremulluDaily
muranḍuObstinate, wanting to fightmuranḍuDaily
muruṃgā'Drumsticks', the edible fruits of the Drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera)muruṅgaiHorse-radish treeFood
mūṭṭiEarthen cooking potDaily
nāḍagamaStage-playnaādagamDrama, stage-playCulture
nōṃjal, nōṃcalfeeble, unsteadyDaily
naṃgīYounger sisternaṅgaiYounger sisterKinship
nōnḍi, nonḍilamenonḍiDaily
ottēOdd numberotṟaiOdd numberTrade
paḍiyaWagepaṭiExtra payAdministration
paḷiyaRevengepaḻiGuilt, revengeDaily
pandalamaBower, shady placepandhalBower, shady placeDaily
piṭṭuA rice dishpiṭṭuA rice dishFood
poḍiSmall, littlepodiSmallDaily
poronduvaAgreement, promiseporundhu-To fit, to agreeDaily
porottuvaDelay, waitingpoṟutthuHaving waitedDaily
pūccamaBoast, bragDaily
pullēPart of a namePillaiPart of a name (originally a Hindu title)Personal name
pūṇa nūlaSacred string/cord that Brahmins wear over their shoulderpoo-noolDaily
saiva, sāivaShivaitesaivaDaily
sekkuvaOil millsekkuDaily
sembuvaSmall metal potsembuDaily
sottiCrippled, deformedsothhaiEmaciated person, defectDaily
suliwhirl, vorticalDaily
talluvaA pushthaḷḷu-To pushDaily
tambiyāDerogatory term for a Muslim mantambiYounger brotherDaily
täpälPostaltabaālPostal, mailAdministration
taramaSize, position, quantitytharamQuality, sortTrade
tāliyaA necklace signifying marriagetāliDaily
taṭṭuvaA knockthaṭṭu-To knockDaily
tōḍuvaA hollow cylindrical earringtōḍuDaily
uḍäkkiyaA narrow drumudukkaiA narrow drumDaily
ulukkuvaSprain (of a joint)suḷukkuSprainDaily
ūḷiyamaTax payable by foreignersooḻiyamServiceAdministration
vaṭṭiyaType of shallow basketDaily
veriDrunkveṟiintention, madnessDaily


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Several verbs have been adopted into Sinhala from the Tamil language. The vast majority of these are compound verbs consisting of a Tamil origin primary verb and a Sinhala origin light verb.

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iranavāඉරනවාTo tear
kiṭṭu venavāකිට්ටු වෙනවාTo get close, to near
kolla karanavāකොල්ල කනවාTo plunderKoḷḷai
nōnḍi venavāනෝන්ඩි වෙනවාTo be humiliated/embarrassed
parakku venavāපරක්කු වෙනවාTo be late/delayed
pattu karanavāපත්තු කරනවාTo light, to set on firepatṟu-To catch fire
pēru väṭenavāපේරු වැටෙනවාTo fall to someone by chancepēṟuLuck ll
poḍi venavāපොඩි වෙනවාTo be crushed/crumpled
pūṭṭu karanavāපූට්ටු කරනවාTo splice, to fasten together
tallu karanavāතල්ලු කරනවාTo pushthaḷḷu-To push
taṭṭu karanavāතට්ටු කරනවාTo knockthaṭṭu-
udav karanavāඋදව් කරනවාTo helpUtavi
veḍi kanavāවෙඩි කනවාTo have been shotvediShot, dynamite
veḍi tiyanavāවෙඩි තියනවාTo shoot, to firevediShot, dynamite
veri venavāවෙරි වෙනවාTo become drunkveri

See also[edit]


  • Coperahewa, Sandagomi and Arunachalam,Sarojini Devi Sinhala Bhashave Demala Vacana Akaradiya[Dictionary of Tamil Words in Sinhala] (Colombo: S.Godage, 2002).
  • Gair, James (1998). Studies in South Asian Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 368. ISBN0-19-509521-9.
  • Geiger, Wilhelm: Linguistic Character of Sinhalese, in: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon), Vol. XXXIV
  • Gunasekara, A.M.: A Comprehensive Grammar of the Sinhalese Language, Colombo 1891 (reprint New Delhi 1986), ISBN81-206-0106-8 (§234: Naturalised and derived words from Tamil)

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External links[edit]

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