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Dividends of ICT must be taken to the village in Sinhala and Tamil

Comments / 1565 Views / Tuesday, 8 May 2012 00:54

If the dividends of ICT are to be taken to every village, every citizen and every business, it has to be done in Sinhala and Tamil, according to ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) Board Member and Local Language Initiative (LLI) Chairman Dr. R. B. Ekanayake.  

Dr. Ekanayake made the comment while participating at a multi-pronged launch that took place at Jaic Hilton, Colombo recently.

Explaining the rationale for the LLI Dr. Ekanayake said, “Most people in Sri Lanka use Sinhala and Tamil.  Most are not conversant in English.  English is necessary but learning a foreign language takes time.  The ICTA Local Language Initiative (LLI) therefore had to be implemented immediately after ICTA was set up.”

This implementation took place and in the recent past several projects have been completed under ICTA’s LLI and the event was held to launch the following: 

a.     The third revision of the Sri Lanka Sinhala Character Code for Information Interchange which has been approved by SLSI as a Sri Lanka Standard, SLS 1134 : 2011.  This version includes encoding for Sinhala numerals.    This is to be launched in partnership with the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI).

b.     Six new stylised Sinhala fonts have been designed by the trainees who underwent ICTA’s font development training. There has been resistance from various sectors towards using Unicode fonts citing the fact that only “serious” Unicode fonts were available.  Now several Unicode Sinhala fonts of different styles have been developed.

c.       A new Unicode Tamil font ‘Sri Tamil’

d.       Six new stylised Tamil fonts – “Chemmoli” series

e.       A book on how to develop Sinhala and Tamil fonts

f.        A keyboard driver for using Apple Mac with a Unicode Sinhala font – Mac Bhashitha

Presenting of certificates to font developers and tokens of appreciation to Local Language Working Group  (LLWG) also took place on this occasion.  

A certificate was given to those who developed stylised Sinhala Unicode fonts. This font development took place under the training on Developing Unicode Local Language Fonts that ICTA held in partnership with the University of Colombo School of Computing.   

The font developers who thus received certificates were: Nirmali Kaushalya Allahendra  for the font ‘Puskola Potha’, Nirmala Handapangoda – for the font ‘NYH’, Warna Somaratna   for the font ‘Warana,  and Winne Hettigoda for the fonts–’Winnie’ and ‘Winnie 1’ and Sushikshita Sasirichandra de Silva for the font ‘SS – Sulakna’.

 A memento was given to the members of the LLWG for providing direction and policy for ICTA’s LLI during the past seven years.

The present LLWG members Dr. R. B. Ekanayake (Chairman), Prof. V. Kumar, Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe, Channa de Silva, Prof. Gihan Dias, Dineesha Ediriweera, G. Balachandran, Dr. Sandagomi Coperahewa, Chamara Dissanayake, Venerable Bhikkhu Mettavihari, Harsha Wijaywardhana, J. Yogaraj, Susil Maduwage and N. Sivakumaran.

Former LLWG Chairperson, Dr. Shahani Weerawarne, and former LLWG members Mahesh Perera and Anura Tissera (currently abroad) were among those who contributed tremendously towards the success of the Local Language Initiative.

Late Professor and ICTA Chairman V. K. Samaranayake was the pioneer in the field of development of the use of local languages in ICT. He provided leadership to the arena of local languages in ICT. He was a visionary on what should happen in the area.

Professor Kumar explained the key benefits that have accrued to users, as a result of the LLI. “Thanks to the LLI, we are now free from many of the past cumbersome procedures like having to send the font to the recipient when emailing a local language document.”  

Addressing the audience on ‘Language trends over the years’ Professor Disanayaka showed how subjects that look highly academic could be presented in a humorous way.  

Narrating the development of the current 61-character Sinhala alphabet the Professor often sent the audience into fits of laughter. He said that as far as he knew the ‘sangngakaya’ of ‘ja’ was found only in the word ‘inju’, a vocative case word. Disseminating many a message in spite of a lighter vein the Professor pointed out the importance of working out a standard method for correctly transliterating in the Roman (English) script the Sinhala and Tamil proper names and place names (e.g., Wellawatta, Kegalle).

Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe and Sinnathamby Shanmugarajah described respectively the Sinhala and Tamil new fonts.  Prof. Gihan Dias whetted the interest of the audience motivating them to read the book that was launched on font development and contribute their share towards font development. Assigned the theme ‘Use of local languages in Government’ for his presentation ICTA Re-Engineering Government Program Director Wasantha Deshapriya gave a hands-on learning experience on using ICT in local languages.

At present using Unicode Sinhala and Tamil is the norm.  Local language content is being created.  Nearly 300 Unicode compliant trilingual government websites are now available.  There are other numerous sites providing assistance and information in Sinhala and Tamil, such as, www.subasa.lk, www.lakapps.lk.  www.danuma.lk.   Now people are registering domain names in Sinhala and Tamil under the top level domains and (.ilankai) through a consultative process for Sinhala and Tamil.  It is now possible to register domain names, through the .LK Domain Registry in Sinhala and Tamil scripts.

LLI comprises several strata, each of which builds on the previous ones. These are: developing standards; developing technology and infrastructure; developing and localising software; and awareness, promotion and support.  

Over the past seven years, ICTA, together with the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) and other stakeholders has ensured that the standards are in place.  The Sinhala and Tamil standards are SLS 1134 : 2004 (and SLS 1134 : 2011) and SLS 1326 which comprise the encoding, the keyboard layouts and the sorting were developed in a participatory manner, successfully rallying many competing players around the standards.  To enable ICT to be used in Sinhala and Tamil end to end the following projects were completed during the past seven years:

Fonts: Earlier, a multitude of legacy fonts and different types of keyboards fragmented the market and hindered development. Unicode compliant Sinhala fonts had to be made available for users. ICTA lead the development, in partnership with other entities – e.g. UCSC, University of Moratuwa, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, Microsoft, Science Land etc – of developing Unicode conformant Sinhala fonts, for the first time in Sri Lanka, which was a milestone for the way in which Sinhala is used. Tamil Unicode fonts – a serious font “Sri Tamil” and stylised fonts – were also developed.

The Sinhala and Tamil keyboard layouts were defined, accepted and standardised. The functionality of both these layouts is similar.  Both layouts are based on the “type-as-you-write” method. Software was developed to enable typing – keyboard input - in Sinhala and Tamil in accordance with the standard layouts. Trilingual (physical) keyboards based on the Sinhala and Tamil are now available in the market.  

Sinhala sorting and Tamil sorting:  Most computer users are familiar with the concept of sorting in English. It is available (as A to Z) in most applications.  But sorting for Sinhala and Tamil had to be standardised too.  A standard for sorting was needed in order to set up databases and other lists of information in Sinhala or Tamil.  UCSC carried out research and consultations and recommended a sorting sequence for Sinhala.  This sorting sequence was standardised.  

User interfaces are now available in Sinhala.

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