Vedda Language History

Anthropology view, Liguistic Anthropology

It is unknown which languages were spoken in Sri Lanka before it was settled by Prakrit-speaking immigrants in the 5th century BCE. The term "Vedda" is a Dravidian word and stems from the Tamil word Vēdu meaning hunting.

Also Read: -

Creole based on Sinhalese: Classification of Vedda Language

Dialect, creole or independent language: Classification of Vedda Language

Vedda Language History

Vedda Language: A short Note 

Grammar of Vedda Language

Cognate terms (such as bedar, beda) are used throughout South India to describe hunter-gatherers. Sri Lanka has had other hunter-gathering peoples such as the Rodiya and Kinnaraya.

The earliest account of Vedda was written by Ryklof Van Goens (1663–1675), who served as a Director General of the Dutch East India Company in Sri Lanka. He wrote that the Veddas' language was much closer to Sinhalese than to Tamil. Robert Knox, an Englishman held captive by a Kandyan king, wrote in 1681 that the wild and settled Veddas spoke the language of the Sinhalese people.

The Portuguese friar Fernão de Queiroz, who wrote a nuanced description of Vedda in 1686, reported that the language was not mutually intelligible with other native languages. Robert Percival wrote in 1803 that the Veddas, although seemingly speaking a broken dialect of Sinhalese, amongst themselves spoke a language that was known only to them.

But John Davies in 1831 wrote that the Veddas spoke a language that was understood by the Sinhalese except for a few words. These discrepancies in observations were clarified by Charles Pridham, who wrote in 1848 that the Veddas knew a form of Sinhalese that they were able to use in talking to outsiders, but to themselves, they spoke in a language that, although influenced by Sinhalese and Tamil, was understood only by them.

The first systematic attempt at studying the Vedda language was undertaken by Hugh Neville, an English civil servant in British Ceylon. He founded The Taprobanian, a quarterly journal devoted to the study of everything Ceylonese. He speculated, based on etymological studies, that Vedda is based on an Old Sinhalese form called Hela.

His views were followed by Henry Parker, another English civil servant and the author of Ancient Ceylon (1909), who wrote that most Vedda words were borrowed from Sinhalese, but he also noted words of unique origin, which he assigned to the original language of the Veddas. The second most important study was made in 1935 by Wilhelm Geiger, who also sounded the alarm that Vedda would soon be extinct and needed to be studied in detail.

One of the linguists to heed that call was Manniku W. Sugathapala De Silva who did a comprehensive study of the language in 1959 as a PhD thesis, which he published as a book: according to him, the language was restricted to the older generation of people from the Dambana region, with the younger generation shifting to Sinhalese, whereas Coast Veddas were speaking a dialect of Sri Lankan Tamil that is used in the region.

During religious festivals, people who enter a trance or spirit possession sometimes use a mixed language that contains words from Vedda. Veddas of the Anuradhapura region speak in Sinhalese but use Vedda words to denote animals during hunting trips.