The Eḷu language (also Hela, Helu) is the ancestral form of the Sinhala language, a Middle Indo-Iranian language or Prakrit of the 3rd century BCE. R. C. Childers, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, states:
[Elu] is the name by which is known an ancient form of the Sinhala language from which the modern vernacular of Ceylon is immediately received, and to which the latter bears is of the same relation that the English of today bears to Anglo-Saxon...The name Elu is no other than Sinhala much succeeded, standing for an older form, Hĕla or Hĕlu, which occurs in some ancient works, and this again for a still older, Sĕla, which brings us back to the Pali Sîhala.
The Pali scholar Thomas William Rhys Davids refers to Elu as "the Prakrit of Ceylon".
The Hela Havula are a modern Sri Lankan literary organization that advocate the use of Elu terms over Sanskritisms. Elu is often referred to by modern Sinhalese as "amisra Sinhala" "unmixed Sinhala".
A feature of Elu is its preference for short vowels, loss of aspiration and the reduction of compound consonants found frequently in other Prakrits such as Pali.
Elu in comparison with Pali and Sanskrit
Being a Prakrit, Elu is closely related to other Prakrits such as Pali. Indeed, a very large proportion of Elu word-stems are identical in form to Pali. The connections were sufficiently well known that technical terms from Pali and Sanskrit were easily converted into Elu by a set of conventional phonological transformations. Because of the prevalence of these transformations, it is not always possible to tell whether a given Elu word is a part of the old Prakrit lexicon, or a transformed borrowing from Sanskrit.
Vowels and diphthongs
- Sanskrit ai and au always monophthongize to Elu e and o, respectively
- Examples: maitrī → met, auṣadha → osada
- Sanskrit avi becomes Elu e (i.e. avi → ai → e)
- Example: sthavira' → thera
- Initial ca in Sanskrit and Pali becomes s or h
- Examples: canda → sanda, handa
- P if not omitted becomes v
- Examples: rūpa → ruva, dīpa → diva
- The Sanskrit sibilants ś, ṣ, and s merge as Elu s
- Examples: śaraṇa → saraṇa, doṣa → dosa
- The Sanskrit kti becomes ti or vi
- Examples: bhakthi → bätiya, shakthi → saviya
At the beginning of a word only a single consonant can remain
- Examples: dharma → dahama
- Examples: prāna → pana
In the middle of a word no group may exceed one consonant
- Examples: arta → aruta
- Examples: danta → data
- ^ Sir Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell, William Crooke (2006), A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, Asian Educational Services, p. 344, ISBN 0-7007-0321-7
- ^ Rhys Davids, Thomas William (2007). Buddhist India. T. W. Press. ISBN 978-1406756326.