A-Z of Sri Lankan English, Colombo, Language

A-Z of Sri Lankan English: D is for deffa

Eyebrows were raised when I included the word deffa on the mirisgala website under “new entries”. And it’s true that it is stretching the point to claim that it qualifies as standard Sri Lankan English. But perhaps it also gives us an insight into the future of SLE.

Deffa (or defa) is a word that is increasingly common in internet chatrooms etc. It is an abbreviation of the English word definitely, which is used in colloquial Sinhala as an alternative to the slightly formal anivareng. From Sinhala (via Singlish?) it has re-entered colloquial Sri Lankan English with the same meaning. Here are a few examples from the internet:

He will defa help you out.
dudes…we can all defa chip in a bit and raise 300000 bucks…
there’s deffa a chance of retrieving stuff …
we’ll deffa be there!

Another word which has taken a similar route is shape, which has a far wider range of meanings in current colloquial SLE than it has in standard English. First of all the English word shape seems to have entered Sinhala as a verb (shape karanava), presumably derived from phrases such as in shape (= fit) and getting something into shape (= getting something organised, arranging something properly). Its meaning extended to include sorting things out, smoothing things over, winning somebody over, buttering somebody up, getting out of an awkard situation, etc. And it became a one-word expression “Shape!” meaning “Great!/perfect!/sorted!”

Finally, the word shape re-entered Sri Lankan English with the same range of uses. There was once a newspaper headline “Referee blamed for ‘shaping’ All Blacks rugby captain”. And Nihal de Silva used the term in his posthumous novel Arathi:

“It’s a business thing – a supplier has buggered me up.”
“Well, shape it, – You can always fix these things, can’t you?”
(Arathi, by Nihal de Silva, page 27)


A-Z Sri Lankan English

A-Z of Sri Lankan English is an all-new, occasional alphabetical dip into the variety of English spoken in Sri Lanka, published exclusively on Groundviews. The original A-Z of Sri Lankan English was published in the travelsrilanka magazine, and can be found here.