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For other uses, see Elu (disambiguation).
Region Sri Lanka
Era evolved into Sinhalese
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

Eḷu, also Hela or Helu, is a Middle Indo-Iranian language or Prakrit of the 3rd century BCE. It is ancestral to the Sinhalese language. R. C. Childers, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, states:

[Elu] is the name by which is known an ancient form of the Sinhala language from which the modern vernacular of Ceylon is immediately received, and to which the latter bears is of the same relation that the English of today bears to Anglo-Saxon...The name Elu is no other than Sinhala much succeeded, standing for an older form, Hĕla or Hĕlu, which occurs in some ancient works, and this again for a still older, Sĕla, which brings us back to the Pali Sîhala.[1]

The Pali scholar Thomas William Rhys Davids refers to Eḷu as "the Prakrit of Ceylon".[2]

The Hela Havula are a modern Sri Lankan literary organization that advocate the use of Eḷu terms over Sanskritisms. Eḷu is often referred to by modern Sinhalese as amisra, Sinhalese for "unmixed".

A feature of Eḷu is its preference for short vowels, loss of aspiration and the reduction of compound consonants found frequently in other Prakrits such as Pali.

Eḷu in comparison with Pali and Sanskrit[edit]

Being a Prakrit, Eḷu is closely related to other Prakrits such as Pali. Indeed, a very large proportion of Eḷu word-stems are identical in form to Pali. The connections were sufficiently well known that technical terms from Pali and Sanskrit were easily converted into Eḷu by a set of conventional phonological transformations. Because of the prevalence of these transformations, it is not always possible to tell whether a given Eḷu word is a part of the old Prakrit lexicon, or a transformed borrowing from Sanskrit.

Vowels and diphthongs[edit]

  • Sanskrit ai and au always monophthongize to Eḷu e and o, respectively
Examples: maitrīmet, auṣadhaosada
  • Sanskrit avi becomes Eḷu e (i.e. aviaie)
Example: sthavirathera

Sound changes[edit]

  • Initial ca in Sanskrit and Pali becomes s or h
Examples: candasanda, handa
  • P if not omitted becomes v
Examples: rūparuva, dīpadiva
  • The Sanskrit sibilants ś, , and s merge as Eḷu s
Examples: śaraṇasaraṇa, doṣadosa
  • The Sanskrit kti becomes ti or vi
Examples: bhakthibätiya, shakthisaviya

Compound consonants[edit]

At the beginning of a word only a single consonant can remain

Examples: dharmadahama
Examples: prānapana

In the middle of a word no group may exceed one consonant

Examples: artaaruta
Examples: dantadata


  1. ^ Sir Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell, William Crooke (2006), A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, Asian Educational Services, p. 344, ISBN 0-7007-0321-7 
  2. ^ Rhys Davids, Thomas William (2007). Buddhist India. T. W. Press. ISBN 978-1406756326. 

See also[edit]