Sinhala dialects are the various minor variations of Sinhala language which is based on the locale (within Island of Sri Lanka) and the social classes and social groups (e.g. University Students). Most of the slang are common across all dialects. However certain slang are restricted to certain social classes or groups.
Sinhala is an Indo-Aryan language and exhibits a marked diglossia between the spoken and written forms. As such, it is also difficult to find instances of colloquial slang, in any form of formal literature. Also certain slang (specially sexual slang and swear words) are considered to be so taboo, that definitions of those words are not found in any public domain literature. If you take a language such as English, the level of taboo on most of the profanity has gradually declined over the time. If you take USA or UK for example, most of the English profanities are broadcast uncensored in cable channels like HBO. This is not the case with Sinhala profanities. They are not found in any form of media, publications or even internet, apart from unmoderated blogs and talk pages. Having said that, most of the non-taboo slangs given as examples below, are in widespread and frequent use even in popular media; especially in various FM radio channels and popular TV channels.
Slang, Vulgarism, Profanity and Swear Words
Each dialect and within each dialect; regional, class, age and gender differences would lead to unique slang, vulgarism, profanity and swear words. Following is a list of potential slang by different categories up until 2007.
Certain slang are used only within certain social groups and sometime not understood outside of that group. For example, Aais Amma (ආයිස් අම්මා) is a slang used by certain segments of the Sri Lankan society to express pleasurable surprise (similar to wow!). This slang is not picked up by most of the social classes who regard themselves as more refined. Instead they might use Shaa (ෂා) to express the same feeling. Within Sri Lankan universities, diverse slang exists, which is only used and understood by the university students and the alumni. For example Kuppiya (කුප්පිය) which literally means 'small bottle' or 'small lamp' is used to refer to an informal tuition class conducted by a student, who better knows the subject area for a small study group for free of charge. Within the Army, the term Aati (ආටි) is used to refer to artillery shells so that Aati gahanawa (ආටි ගහනවා) means shelling. These terms such as Kuppia (කුප්පිය) and Aati (ආටි) are mostly not understood outside of the demographic group which uses them.
Use of Kaaraya (කාරයා)
Sinhala language has an all purpose suffix Kaaraya (කාරයා) which when suffixed to a regular noun (which denotes a demographic group, etc.), creates an informal and (sometimes) disrespectful reference to a person of that demographic group. Most native speakers of Sinhala liberally use this suffix when they chat informally. However they also make great effort to avoid Kaaraya when they speak in a formal venue.
polis-kaAraya (පොලිස්කාරයා) – policeman
thæpel-kaaraya (තැපැල්කාරයා) – postman
mura-kaaraya (මුරකාරයා) - watchman
American-kaaraya (ඇමෙරිකන්කාරයා) - an American
Buddhism being the primary religious tradition in Sinhala culture, the blasphemy in Sinhala language primarily refers to Buddhism. However, there exists only a very few instances of Sinhala slang, which can be categorized as blasphemy on Buddhism.
The usage of the prefix Budu (බුදු) (a reference to Lord Buddha) to mean 'Very' is one such instance. (e.g. Budu Sira (බුදු සිරා) means 'Very Serious', Budu Shuvar (බුදු ෂුවර්) means 'Very much sure').
Similarly the term Ganaya (ගණයා) is a blasphemy, which is a very disrespectful reference to a Buddhist Monk.
The term Rahath Una (රහත් උනා) can also be treated as blasphemy, due to the fact that the religious term 'attaining arahath (enlightened) state' is used here to mean something non-religious and mundane. The slang Rahath Una usually refers to the situation where someone sneaks out from somewhere, without telling anyone. This slang, however is well accepted in the mainstream diglossia, unlike other blasphemy terms discussed above. Erdi Una (එර්දි උනා) is a similar term which can be treated as blasphemy on the same grounds. The term (Himin Sære) Maaru Una ((හිමින් සැරේ) මාරු උනා) gives the same meaning without blasphemy.
Equating People with Animals
For the purpose of swearing, for fun, and as nicknames, it is a common practice in any language/culture to equate people with animals; and Sinhala is not an exception. Each language/culture has popular set of such animals references used for this purpose. Each animal represents a particular set of characteristic which can be positive or negative. In any culture, usually an animal like 'Pig' is used with negative connotation and an animal like 'Lion' with positive connotation.
Cow or bull ('Gona'/'Haraka') is an animal reference frequently used in Sinhala. 'Gon Wedak' means a stupid deed.
Taboo Sexual Slang and Euphemisms
Most of the sexual slang, euphemisms and sexual innuendo in Sinhala discourse has a strong male perspective. Irreverence and disrespect is a common trait in sexual slang. Especially the slang is sexist and disrespectful towards females. However, one can argue that slang is disrespectful towards everybody, and not just females. Otherwise-well-meaning Sri Lankan male would resort to sexual slang when describing a situation of sexual nature to his peers, and that does not necessarily indicate that he is sexist. This type of sexual slang ranges from 'mild' to 'severe' and sometimes borders the 'extreme taboo'. It is advisable to avoid slang of this nature in decent company.
Sexual profanity in Sinhala language is regarded highly taboo in Sinhala speaking society, and are not supposed to be written down in any form, in any venue. These terms are collectively called kunu harupa in Sinhala which literally means 'dirty/rotten utterings'. It is difficult and nearly impossible to find references to Sinhala profanity. Definitions of such are not found in any public domain literature in the Internet or outside of Internet, apart from occasional un-moderated talk page or a blog in the internet, or graffiti and scribbles found in public toilets.
- Disanayaka, J.B, 1998, Understanding the Sinhalese, ISBN 978-955-20-2323-1
- Gair, J. W., 1970, Colloquial Sinhalese Clause Structures (no ISBN available before 1970)
- Inman, M. V., 1994, Semantics and Pragmatics of Colloquial Sinhala Involitive Verbs, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Stanford, CA: Department of Linguistics, Stanford University (no ISBN available, unpublished paper)