Historically, Sri Lanka has been one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. For millennia, the island was at the crossroads of global and regional trade, migrations, conquests, colonisation and cultural and religious exchanges. There have been a large number of languages and dialects, many of them, indeed most of them, unique to the island. There have been language shifts to and fro, and a number of languages have evolved and died in the island within historical times.
Language, or a distinct dialect, is only one, though an important one, of the factors which contribute to a community’s feeling of belonging to a distinct ethnicity. The other contributing factors may be a shared myth of common origin or ancestry; shared historical memories of major events, disasters or heroes which may be commemorated; shared cultural elements such as religious beliefs and rituals, dress, food, performing arts and literature and media output; a link with a particular geographical territory (homeland).
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