Sinhalese (/sɪnəˈliːz/), known natively as Sinhala (Sinhalese: සිංහල; siṁhala [ˈsiŋɦələ]),[3]is the native language of the Sinhalese people, who make up the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, numbering about 16 million.[4][5][6] Sinhalese is also spoken as a second language by other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, totalling about four million.[7] It belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages.[8] Sinhalese is written using the Sinhalese script, which is one of the Brahmic scripts, a descendant of the ancient Indian Brahmi scriptclosely related to the Kadamba alphabet.[9]
Sinhalese is one of the official and national languages of Sri Lanka. Sinhalese, along with Pali, played a major role in the development of Theravada Buddhist literature.[10][11]
The oldest Sinhalese Prakrit inscriptions found are from the third to second century BCE following the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka,[12][13] the oldest extant literary works date from the ninth century. The closest relative of Sinhalese is the Maldivian language.[14]