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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Sri Lanka

Ethnicity

Nearly three quarters of the population in Sri Lanka consists of Sinhalese, an ethnic group related to the Dravidian people, who are defined by linguistic affiliations, but also have significant genetic similarities. Most of the world's Dravidians live in southern India today and these people are among the closest relatives of the Sinhalese. Of the remainder of the population, the largest group is the Tamils, another Dravidian group who is also present in southern India.

Language

Sinhala is the only official language in Sri Lanka although Tamil is considered a "national language." Sinhala is an Indo-Aryan language distantly related to Hindi; its closest relatives are numerous small Indian languages. Tamil is a southern Dravidian language, again closely related to many of the languages on the Indian sub-continent, particularly languages found in southern India.

Despite the two large native languages on the island, English is the most commonly taught second language as both native Sinhala and Tamil speakers often learn English and use it as a means of communication between themselves. English is also the most common language of communication in the government.

Religion

Just over two thirds of Sri Lanka's population, including most of the Sinhalese, is Buddhist. The rest of the people are nearly evenly divided into Muslims, Hindis, Christians, and adherents of other, unspecified religions.

Buddhism is a religion or philosophy that encourages people to strive for enlightenment. Adherents believe that each being is reborn until enlightenment is reached, at which time they escape the cycle of birth and death. To accomplish this, every being must speak, act, and live in a positive manner; this is magnified with the force of karma, which dictates an individual's later life and/or their rebirth.

This page was last updated: May, 2014