ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 43

Mind your language

Dear TPH,
Is there a facility available for typing Sinhala phonetically with the new Microsoft OS – Vista? I am made to understand that it has the Sinhala Unicode facility. If this is not possible could you advise me of the various sources available to obtain this facility?
– T.T.

Dear TT,
I grew up with a strong influence from my parents and uncles who made grand speeches at the dinner table that I should first master Sinhala before trying to master other languages. This advice has saved my life and tongue on more than a couple of occasions. I can also vouch for the fact that most of the new-age radio presenters at some of the Sinhala radio stations who use a heavy and highly corrupt mix of English words in their Sinhala would not have survived a dinner-time conversation at my place without having their tongues chopped off like in the times of the ancient kings!

Some of this wisdom seems to be sinking into Microsoft as well, because they have just included a host of Sinhala enabled services to their new Windows Vista Operating system – probably fearing their tongues and fingertips might be chopped off too.
The Vista has true-type fonts for ten languages that weren't previously supported and Sinhala is one of those new additions. The font face that has been added is the popular ‘Iskola Pota’ true type font. The default phonetic correlations are those specified in ‘Iskola Pota,’ but you also have the option of customising it and assigning your own keys to specific letters. This simply means that you can open notepad and select ‘Iskola Pota’ as your font, then type away in Sinhala. Vista also has included support for specialised "Sinhala" and "Sinhala Wij 9" keyboard layouts. Vista also has updated its display formats for dates, time, numbers and currency for Sinhala and Sri Lanka.

Microsoft has also updated its Multilingual User Interface options with thirty five new languages, but this does not include Sinhala. However there is a Sinhala "Language Interface Pack" for Windows Vista – Ultimate, which translates about 20% of the user interface; it still covers about 80% of most users' experiences.

Sinhala fonts have been added to the Unicode database and are allocated between characters 0D80 – 0DFF (Hexadecimal) and even though most operating systems support Unicode encoding, it is developed separately by the Unicode Consortium.

Typing in phonetically in Sinhala using the computer has been possible for some time now. There have been a number of Sinhala fonts which could be installed and used; for example, on Windows Notepad or MS Word. The trouble however was portability, because the document could then be viewed only on a system that had the same font – and even then, it would be a bit of a tricky process. Besides, each font had a different set of key-assignments for corresponding Sinhala letters. It was also complicated by the fact that typing in Sinhala sometimes requires combinations of keys for the ‘kombuwa’s’ and ‘yansaya’s.’ adding to those was the fact that the phonetics of English and Sinhala don't quite overlap so smoothly. For example, even though there is ‘K’ and ‘C’ for the two types of ‘kayanna’s, there is only one ‘L’ for two ‘layanna’s!

The most intuitive and easy to use Sinhala typing tool for computers that I have found is "Sinhala Word" downloadable from <> and lets you save documents in RTF or DOC (MS Word) formats. It uses the function keys for each 'vowel sound' which takes only a few minutes to get used to, very little to remember and takes a lot of guess work out of typing in Sinhala. You can save the files in RTF or DOC (MS Word) format. I have used this "lethal weapon" to launch many a tormenting long email in Sinhala to my friends and relatives, but make sure you select "Tools>Save Options" and tick the "Enable linguistic data" and "Embed true type fonts" check-boxes (DOC format only), so that the document would be viewable on a system even where the fonts are not installed.

Wikipedia – the online encyclopaedia also has a Sinhala section at <> that had 174 articles the last time I checked and two administrators. It also has more Sinhala language resources and links at <> which you might find helpful.


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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.