Sinhalese/Sri Lankan?
July 23, 2011 5:58 PM   Subscribe

What do you call people from Sri Lanka?

I have seen both Sinhalese used for the language and people, and Sri Lankan for the people. Google has yielded me little answer; there's too much interference.

I never know what to use in conversation and I worry I might inadvertently offend someone by using the wrong term, especially if they are Tamil. Thanks very much,
posted by smoke to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
The Sri Lankans I know refer to themselves as Sri Lankan, fwiw.
posted by robcorr at 6:02 PM on July 23, 2011

Sri Lankan/s. Cricket doesn't lie.
posted by holgate at 6:03 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mecca of pedantry Wikipedia agrees that the proper demonym for citizens of Sri Lanka is "Sri Lankan." Sinhalese refers to the majority ethnic group (and language).
posted by Rhaomi at 6:06 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sri Lankan includes Sinhalese and Tamil - it's the safe option.
posted by pompomtom at 6:17 PM on July 23, 2011

Yeah, I would definitely not call a Tamil person Sinhalese, that would not go over very well at all.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:20 PM on July 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I knew someone in college who was Tamil. You could call her Sri Lankan or Tamil, but not Sinhalese. That was a no-no.
posted by rtha at 6:35 PM on July 23, 2011

my friend whose family is from Sri Lanka refers to them as Sri Lankan
posted by dmbfan93 at 7:12 PM on July 23, 2011

Best answer: Sri Lankan is the nationality, Tamil and Sinhalese are both languages and ethnicities. Sinhalese are the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka, Tamils are the significant minority. There are also Tamils in India and elsewhere, so in some contexts it may be appropriate to refer to Tamils from Sri Lanka as 'Sri Lankan Tamils'. If you're referring to people from Sri Lanka in general, without wanting to specify an ethnicity or language, you should call them Sri Lankans.
posted by embrangled at 7:31 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My understanding is that this one is pretty simple. Sinhalese are the majority ethnic group, Tamil are the main minority group (there are others, we had a Burgher friend), if you know the ethnicity of the person you're speaking to you'll not offend them referring to them as either Sri Lankan or their ethnic group, if you get it wrong you probably will offend them, so to be safe, just call them Sri Lankan.
posted by wilful at 8:37 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know Sri Lankans who refer to themselves as Ceylonese (generally older people), but Sri Lankan is universally accepted.
posted by goo at 6:26 AM on July 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all, this has totally cleared it up for me.
posted by smoke at 7:16 PM on July 24, 2011

« Older Crème de glace. Um, crème de GLASS. Tell me I'll...   |   Is this political donation legal? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.