Sinhala (සිංහල ), also known as Sinhalese , is the native language of the Sinhalese people, who make up the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, numbering about 16 million. Sinhala is also spoken, as a second language by other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, totalling about 3 million. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. Sinhala has its own writing system, the Sinhala alphabet, which is a member of the Brahmic family of scripts, and a descendant of the ancient Indian Brahmi script. Sinhala is one of the official and national languages of Sri Lanka. Sinhala, along with Pali, played a major role in the development of Theravada Buddhist literature. The oldest Sinhala Prakrit inscriptions found are from the 3rd to 2nd century BCE following the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the oldest existing literary works date from the 9th century CE.The closest relative of Sinhala is the language of the Maldives and Minicoy Island (India), Dhivehi.