Since Sri Lanka endows a diversity of ethnic groups, language spoken in the country is various. The two major ones widely used are, however, Sinhala language spoken by the Sinhalese majority and Tamil language used by the Tamils. Although, Sinhala and Tamil are languages from different source, both share some common characteristics and obviously have influence on each other’s linguistic evolution as well.
For Sinhala language whose origins have been very discussable is widely accepted that it is ultimately derived from Indo-Aryan speech which is in turn divided into two phases of evolution: an old Indo-Aryan speech (C.2000-800 B.C.) represented by Sanskrit language used in central India and a middle Indo-Aryan speech (C.800 B.C-400 A.D.) represented by Pali, the language of Buddhist scripture. With a science of comparative linguistics, Sinhala language shares a common parent language with Greek, Latin, German, English, French Persian, Russian, and Hindi in the distant past. In the evolving phases, they have been derived from each other and ultimately became distinct languages.
The Tamil language belongs to Dravidian family mostly spoken in the South Indian states. Tamil language played a key role in trades and business along the Indian coasts as well as Sri Lankan coasts as it was a main language used in commercial communication at that time. Even Arab traders from the Middle East had adopted the Tamil language as their speech when they had to contact with the Tamils in the region. Ironically, Sinhala language has 400 loan words from Tamil language, indicating the influence of both languages that has on one another.
Language is one of the most important elements representing the national identity. In Sri Lanka, national language issue seems very influential in both cultural and political sphere; it was the major bone of contention between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. During the 1950s when the nationalism movement was in force, the language question became dominant political issue. By then the Buddhist revivalism also emerged and enforced the adoption of Sinhala as the sole official national language. Eventually, in 1956, despite efforts to conduct the two-language policy, the ruling coalition of the Parliament introduced the Official Language Bill of 1956, making the Sinhala the sole official language. From then onwards, the Tamils who resided elsewhere other than in Jaffna were discriminate against; all public servants were required to have proficiency in the Sinhala language within three years, or they would be penalized and lose their jobs. They were also discriminated against in political, educational and professional opportunity. Language issue led thus to the religio-ethno-nationalism as well as the communal riots in the country.