How to pronounce “Sri Lanka”

Now that my blog seems to be getting search engine hits for those who want to know how to pronounce Phnom Penh, the limitations of the intelligence behind search engines means I am also getting hits from people who want to know how to pronounce “Sri Lanka”.

I suppose I am being irresponsible by giving a non-authoritative answer, but I am currently residing in Sri Lanka and can report on what I have observed. So as a service to those search engine users who find themselves sent to this page, I provide an answer strictly from my own experience in Sri Lanka.

Despite having heard in the past that one can properly pronounce Sri Lanka as “Shree Lawn-ka” (with the last “ka” pronounced as if it were the word “cup” without the final “p”), I have never heard any Sri Lankan I’ve met say it that way. In my experience, everyone says “Sree Lawn-ka”, where “Sree” ryhmes with “tree.”

Real experts are invited to correct me by submitting a comment.

By the way, while the island has been known to foreigners by many names, the name “Lanka” is very old and has been the name used by the Sinhalese inhabitants essentially since they landed on the island. The name is so old that one of the Hindu stories related in the ancient, sacred Hindu text, The Ramayana, tells of the abduction of the goddess Sita by the King of Lanka. The word “Sri” is kind of an honorific which might be translated as “holy” or “revered” or “beautiful”.

Romans refered to Sri Lanka as Taprobane. Muslim traders used Serandib (meaning Island of Jewels) . The name Serendib gave rise to the English word “serendipity.” The Portuguese, the first Europeans to colonize Sri Lanka, called the island Ceilao, the origins of which are disputed but which may have come from Chinese Si-lan. The Dutch, the second European country to colonize Sri Lanka, used Zeillan. Finally the last European colonizers, the English termed the island Ceylon. The ancient name was restored and the honorific added in 1972.

(Sources: Those highly academic references, Lonely Planet-Sri Lanka and Insight Compact Guide-Sri Lanka.)




  1. Tim said,

    December 15, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Amazingly enough, this posting is now (December 15th) listed in the number two position in a Google search for “How to pronounce Sri Lanka.” Unlike the case with “How to pronounce Phnom Penh,” the first hit is a better reference than mine. It even includes an audio clip giving the correct pronunciation.

  2. February 18, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    […] number three for “Electrical plugs in Sri Lanka.” I am still number two for the search “pronounce Sri Lanka.” My blog is on the second page of Google results for “nonya ware.” If I Google […]

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