Āyubōwan (ආයුබෝවන්)

Two Sri Lankan women are looking outside from a train car window while smile at photographer
Photo by Kevin Olson

Āyubōwan

animated emoji of smile with big eyes(😃)

You may hear and see this very phrase in Sri Lanka! It is the Sri Lankan way of greeting anyone and going beyond just a “hi”; it adds the meaning of “May you live long!”

“Ayubowan” (ආයුබෝවන්) comes from the language spoken by a majority in Sri Lanka: Sinhala. “Sinhala” is a language unique to Sri Lanka, and it has its alphabet, where you may see round-shaped letters that embody various strokes then and there. Wherever you visit in Sri Lanka – you will find anyone speaking in Sinhala, for it is the lingua franca used in the country.

Wanakkam” (வணக்கம்), the Tamil equivalent of “Ayubowan” is also a phrase that you may hear often. Tamil, a language of Dravidian origin, is also an official language spoken in Sri Lanka, and nearly one-fifth of the population speak Tamil – especially in the Northern, Eastern and Central provinces. The Moors in Sri Lanka speak Tamil as well.

What is interesting about Sinhala and Tamil is that both languages have tons of borrowings, which have been taken from languages worldwide. As a result of being a colony under the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British for centuries – loan words had been taken from them to enrich the vocabulary of Sinhala and Tamil. Words like “balde” from the Portuguese (meaning – bucket), “Kamer” from the Dutch (meaning – room) are used in Sinhala, and are pronounced as “baldiya” and “Kamaraya” respectively.

Many people you may come across in Sri Lanka can converse in English since it is considered a second language in the country. You will hear so many English borrowings whenever you speak with Sri Lankans, for code-switching between English / Sinhala and English/ Tamil are more popular amongst the island nation’s citizens! Of course – around the country, you will find signboards written in all three official languages: Sinhala, Tamil and English.

Knowing a few phrases like the following will be quite helpful for you if you plan to visit Sri Lanka or converse with some Sri Lankans:

Kohomada? (How are you?)
Sththuthi! (Thank you!)
Mama hondin innawa. (I am doing well.)

Yet, undoubtedly one of the catchiest terms to learn in Sri Lanka will be “aiyo”, a word of Tamil origin that is accepted even in the Oxford English Dictionary! “Aiyo” may not have one meaning – yet it is the embodiment of all the expressions, including “Oh no!”, “Oh Dear!” and many more!

Article: Rediscover Sri Lanka


Sththuthi for reading this far! I hope you feel welcome here. Want to get to know me? 👽


“Sabbe sattā sukhi hontu”

Metta Sutta