FSI - Sinhala Basic Course (Volume 1)

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Foreign Service Institute Sinhala  - Image This 1st Volume of the FSI Basic Sinhala course introduces the Sinhala writing system. Inasmuch as the other modules 2 volumes of Basic Sinhala are written in the Sinhala alphabet, this module undertaken first.

Why do we present the basic course in the Sinhala writing system? Why not in a transcription which would be "easier" for beginning students to read? Is it really necessary to learn the writing system? In particular, is it necessary for me? These are some of the questions which arise when Sinhala students first realize that they are about to learn an unfamiliar alphabet as well as a new language.
Perhaps the most compelling reason overall for presenting a beginner's course in Sinhala "script" is that this is the way the language has been written down in Sri Lanka for centuries. It is an ancient and universal system and the only culturally appropriate one. Because it is used everywhere by everyone, knowing script presents certain learning advantages for the student. One of the most obvious ones is that a student who knows the writing system can use the standard bilingual dictionary (Carter, Charles, Sinhala-English and En gish-Sinhala. 2 vol. Gunasena 1965). Thus knowledge of the writing system makes available an important re-source for building language skills which is not available to the student who knows only transcription.

A second important advantage of learning the writing system is that it provides a method of writing down words which is not only phonetically accurate but which can be checked by any literate speaker of Sinhala. Imagine, for example, a rural development worker who wants to make a list of local names of village varieties of rice. This is one of many parts of the Sinhala lexicon which varies from region to region and which therefore may not be completely or accurately represented in dictionaries, even in the better ones like Carter which contain a detailed botanical appendix.

One way to obtain an accurate spelling (and therefore a correct pronunciation) is to write down the names in the writing system so that they can be verified by the farmers who use them. Another way is to have the farmers themselves write down the names. In either case a knowledge of the writing system is an indispensible aid in gathering correct information. It may therefore be argued that the writing system is an important learning tool for all students, not solely for those with literary objectives or pretensions. Those students who have reading and writing skills as basic objectives in language training, however, will have to emphasize certain knowledge of Sinhala which need not concern other students. There are certain features of spelling, grammar and vocabulary which distinguish all correct Sinhala writing from the varieties of the language which are spoken. Because of the broad differences between speaking and writing, it has been customary to teach spoken and literary Sinhala as separate courses. This course is an introduction to spoken Sinhala. The basic sections (I-XXVIII) of this module were originally designed to be completed in ten hours. In this revision additional practice reading sections have been added at the conclusion of the module so that the script course should take about fifteen hours. Of course, experienced language students who are anxious to progress to the central module may move more quickly, and students who are learning another writing system for the first time may go more slowly. In either case it is important to remember that the information presented in this module is intended primarily as a tool for the use of the other modules. Instructors should not begin introducing structures and vocabulary until students have learned the writing system.

The emphasis in this course is on letter recognition. Directions for writing the symbols in the "basic" alphabet (see p. 3) are also provided so that the student will have a culturally appropriate and phonetically accurate method of writing down words. The many pictures of Sinhala signs which appear in this book were taken primarily in Colombo and Kandy. It is hoped that they will interest and involve the beginner who lives in Sri Lanka in writing of the landscape. It is perhaps necessary to point out that whereas the signs in these urban areas are frequently bilingual or even trilingual, those in rural areas are often in Sinhala only.

You can find the other volumes of this FSI Sinhala Basic course here:
- FSI - Sinhala Basic Course (Volume 2)
- FSI - Sinhala Basic Course (Volume 3)

Sinhala also known as Sinhalese (older spelling: Singhalese) in English, also known locally as Helabasa, is the mother tongue of the Sinhalese people, who make up the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, numbering about 16 million. Sinhala is also spoken, as a second language by other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, totalling about 3 million. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. Sinhala is one of the official and national languages of Sri Lanka. Sinhala, along with Pali, played a major role in the development of Theravada Buddhist literature. Sinhala has its own writing system, the Sinhala alphabet, which is a member of the Brahmic family of scripts, and a descendant of the ancient Indian Brahmi script. The oldest Sinhala inscriptions found are from the 6th century BCE, on pottery; the oldest existing literary works date from the 9th century CE. The closest relative of Sinhala is the language of the Maldives and Minicoy Island (India), Dhivehi.

Sinhala is spoken in: Sri Lanka

Sinhala is also called: Sinhalese

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