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30 Nov

Useful Sinhala Phrases

Useful Sinhala Phrases for Sudhus by Lucy Nelson, 2014 Templeberg Residential Writer

In Sinhala, the word ‘sudhu’ means white. It is used to refer to the colour of the domed stupas that adorn the Buddhist temples, to describe European foreigners and is even used as a nickname for locals who have fair complexions.

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Sinhala useful phrases

If you are a ‘sudhu nona’ (white lady), as I am, locals may use this phrase, or similar, to get your attention. Yesterday, as I was walking to the temple, a very old and very tiny lady with white hair and a purple sari gave me spontaneous hug and called me ‘sudhu akka’, which was confusing, given that akka is a term used to refer to women older than the speaker. But hey, I guess you’re only as young as you feel. This achchi (grandma) was obviously embracing the concept of eternal youth.

Here are a few more useful Sinhala phrases and words to get you started in Lanka Land (these are written phoenetically so, apologies to any Sinhala sticklers):

Isthuthi: ‘Thank you’ (if someone’s really done you a favour and you want to up the ante on this one, you can add the word ‘bohoma’ at the beginning, which is the same as saying thank you very much)

Kamat na: I’m not sure of the literal translation but colloquially, this seems to mean ‘no worries’/’no dramas’. For example, if someone apologises because they’ve run out of something you wanted to buy, you can offer them this phrase with a smile. You can also phrase it as a question if you want to make sure someone is okay with what you’ve suggested (kamat na?). This can be interchanged with prashne na, meaning ‘no problem’.

Hari: ‘Okay’. This is a good one to have up your sleeve to confirm that the bus driver has dropped you off at the right place, or that the guy in the bottle shop has correctly understood which beer you’ve asked for etcetera. It’s usually said twice quickly: hari-hari.

Much of the culture revolves around food, so it’s good to know how to tell someone that the food smells good, tastes good, or that you’re full. The first time you say you’re full it’s generally met with protest so this may take some convincing.

Kah-mma soo-on-dye: The food smells good.
Kah-mma hurri ra-high: The food is tasty
Kah-mma ruh-sigh: The food is delicious
Bada pirri-laah: I’m full (literally translates to ‘belly full’, fun fact: to say the opposite, that you are hungry, the words are: bada ghini, which literally translate to ‘belly on fire’)

A few extra Sinhala words you might like to throw into conversations:
Lass-ah-nigh: ‘Beautiful’. If you want to convey to a tour guide at a tea plantation, or to a tuk-tuk driver taking you down the coast road that you appreciate how ridiculously gorgeous this country is, this word will do the trick.

Gehilang Enang: This is a gentle goodbye. Simply saying ‘bye’, is a little too final for Sinhalese people as they like to think you’ll come again. Saying gehilang enang as you’re leaving someone’s house, or a shop whose owners you’ve become friendly with, means ‘I’ll go and come’ and is a nicer way of parting.

The key is to practice the useful Sinhala phrases shortly after landing in Sri Lanka!

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