You don't need to know the Sinhala language to go to Sri
Lanka, but it helps. As this photo indicates, English is extremely
common, and one can get by. Having a guide like Katie who speaks like
a native is very helpful, though!
English was the common international language in Sri Lanka. We saw
tourists from all over, but almost all spoke some English. It was a
little eerie to see a German tourist and a Sri Lankan bank clerk
arguing in English over the exchange rate.
A city street Kandy. Try to find something besides English... it's
Sinhala words and phrases:
- pao - "pow" - "pity, shame, too
bad". Used frequently, as in: "The bus is late." "Pao."
- ping - "ping" - Good karma. One
gets ping for doing good deeds, leading to a better
reincarnation and, eventually, escape for the cycle of death and
We saw this in action mainly in terms of how people deferred to us and
offered us gifts. Being westerners, we were automatically high on the
social ladder in general. Therefore, it was more ping if we
were offered a gift and we accepted. We never had to stand on the
overcrowded buses. (We tried to get there early just to be safe,
- kade - "KAH-day" - (sometimes
"hotel") Shack stores. Extremely common - there were about a dozen in
Veliulla alone. They are all apparently identical, from the
"Coca-Cola" sign above to the displays of merchandise within. So far
as we could tell, they all sold about the same things, and the only
reason we could find to choose among them was that some had electric
power (and thus refrigeration) and some did not. Neither Monica nor I
risked any of the cooked food.
Factory-issue kades. Note the ox-drawn cart, trishaw, and van in
the lower left.
- duoy - "DUHYEE" - used when
speaking to babies, like "cootchie-coo" in English. Disconcerting when
you hear it on the radio, as it sounds exactly like what an
English speaker would say if they saw or did something stupid. (Think
of what a moronic Warner Brothers cartoon character would say.)
Some of the Sinhala language is actually quite elegantly constructed,
and much can be said in a few syllables. (Bear in mind that I am not a
linguist - these are my impressions from speaking with Katie. She and
the other Peace Corps volunteers often spoke in "Singlish", sprinking
their speech with Sinhalisms.) What I found the most interesting was
the use of suffixes to indicate overall meanings. For example:
Another interesting construction was the "verb-and-verb". Many times,
actions were lumped together, in a manner difficult to render into
English. For example, if someone were to be heading off to fetch
a coconut, they might say, "I will go-and-come", or "I will
climb-and-fetch", or similar. In Sinhala, as I understand, this uses
the present form of the first verb and the future form of the second.
- -de - "-DEH" - typically used as
a suffix after a verb, it indicates a question. The placement of the
suffix can indicate the intent of the question; for example: "Who owns
that dog-de?" and "Who-de owns that dog?" indicate concern more about
the dog or the owner, respectively.
- -lu - "-LOU" - used as a suffix
after a sentence or phrase, to indicate hearsay information. It means,
roughly, "This is what someone said, I take no responsibility for it."
(For example: "The power lines will be installed soon - lu." means,
more or less, "Somebody told me the power lines will be installed, but
I'll believe it when I see it.")
- trishaw - "TRY-shaw" - A
small, three-wheeled taxi common in the major cities, these somewhat
resemble canopied motorcycles. Three close friends can fit in back,
with a minimum of baggage. It's hard to see, but there's a trishaw
next to the kades in the picture above.
- western breakfast -
Identical in every hotel, except in quality, this is a mainstay of the
tourist trade. It consists of tea, eggs, toast, muffins, and fruit.
- Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie,
Ontario - One of the geography questions on the nation
standardized tests is to name the Great Lakes. Many people, on hearing
that we were from Michigan, spontaneously listed the Great Lakes.
- table water - What you ask for
in a restaurant when you want water that has been boiled or comes from
a bottle. You have to be careful about this, though. Either you have
to know that the water has been boiled, or you have to open
the bottle yourself.