Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil came about mostly due contact between colonial powers and the native population. Linguists study a language's lexicon for a number of reasons. Languages such as Tamil with centuries of literature and multi-cultural contact offer the chance to compare the various processes of lexical change. The words of foreign origin or loanwords illustrate those processes: calques, loanwords, the distinction between function words and content words.
Sri Lankan Tamil dialects are distinct from the Tamil dialects used in Tamil Nadu, India. They are used in Sri Lanka and in the Tamil diaspora. Linguistic borrowings from European colonizers such as the Portuguese, English and the Dutch have also contributed to a unique vocabulary that is distinct from the colloquial usage of Tamil in the Indian mainland. Furthermore, a form of Tamil spoken exclusively by Sri Lankan Moors has been strongly influenced by Arabic. Words that are peculiar to Sri Lankan Tamil dialects are marked with an asterisk (*).
Most Portuguese loan words are for items the native population lacked when the encounter happened c. 1505. Some are administrative terms, others are personal usage terms as well as items directly introduced from South America via the Portuguese traders. Most of these words are also shared with Sinhalese language users.
|baila||dance||baile or bailar|
|chuppu||suck||chupar or chupo|
|pēnā||pen||pena (old type)|
|pīppa||wooden cask, barrel||pipa|
|kāmara* (rarely used)||Room||kamer|
|piaskōpu (rarely used)||Cinema||bioscoop|
Sri Lankan Tamil dialects use countless number of English words; following are some of the unique ones.
|pattīx*||A kind of fried potato snack||patties|
|blows||Worn with Sari||blouse|
|rōlls*||A kind of fried meat snack||rolls|
Black July induced civil conflict has introduced number of English and international words to the native population.
|Claymore*||Land or aerial mine||Claymore|
|Shell*||Mortar or artillery shells||Shell|
Loanwords from the neighbouring Indo-European Sinhala are quite sparse in Sri Lankan Tamil (as opposed to the large number of Tamil loan words in Sinhala), which is most likely due to the relative isolation of the exclusively Tamil-speaking settlements in the North and East of the island.
|kirāma cēvakaṉ*||Village Leader||grāma sēvakayā|
|(mālu) panis*||(fish) buns||(mālu) banis|
|piratēciya sapā*||Council||pradeśiya sabhāva|
|sarvōtayam *||Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement||sarvōdaya|
|vitānayar*||Village headman||vidāna (muhandirama)|
There are also a few words from the Malay language. Malay words for edible fruits were introduced during the colonial period by traders. The same terminology is shared with Sinhalese.
|maṅkostīn*||Type of Fruit||Mangosteen|
|ramputan*||A type of fruit||Rambutan|
|rempa* (rarely used)||Curry mix||Rempa|
|totol *||A type of sweetmeat||dodol|
|tūriyan*||Type of Fruit||Durian|