The Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) is promoting standards in the use of ICT in Sinhala and Tamil, and has been addressing issues relating to standard fonts and keyboards in Sinhala and Tamil, standard sorting sequences etc. The objective is to ensure that the benefits of ICT are taken to the majority of the people in Sri Lanka who prefer to use ICT in Sinhala or Tamil.
The way it used to be
Applications used their own fonts. No standard was used in the industry. Documents produced using one application could be accessed and used only through that application. This was a major problem when a person tried to use a document created by another using a different font or application. A copy of the font had to be sent to the recipient together with a Sinhala document, unless one knew that the recipient already had the font. This made the use of Sinhala e-mail impractical, and slowed the use of Sinhala on the web. Functions such as sorting in Sinhala and Tamil were not standardised among applications.
If devices and connectivity were affordable for all in Sri Lanka, a person conversant only in Sinhala or Tamil would use these only if there is relevant content to keep the user interested, and with local language support enabled.
What is possible now
Now it is possible to type in Sinhala and Tamil, exchange information in Sinhala and Tamil using computers and browse the web in Sinhala and Tamil without having to download various fonts. The content on websites in local languages is displayed as Sinhala and Tamil content, rather than as undecipherable symbols. New avenues are now open in the use of ICT for the majority of the people in Sri Lanka. Now anyone can work with anyone else! There is no need to send fonts with emails, no need to download proprietary fonts to view the web. All this was made possible through the following developments:
The way out of the disorder caused by the use of numerous non-standard solutions was standardisation. The international standard Unicode (Universal Encoding) “provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, programme, or the language is” (www.unicode.org). ICTA, in partnership with the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) and other stakeholders worked on two standards, which included the encoding and keyboard layouts: the Sri Lanka standard Sinhala Character Code for Information Interchange, SLS 1134 : 2004 and the Sri Lanka Tamil Character Code for Information Interchange, SLS 1326 : 2008 are now Sri Lanka standards and are both consistent with the Unicode standard.
These standards provide for the way in which letters are stored in computers. Using the Sinhala standard all letters in the Sinhala alphabet and in Buddhist texts – which contain conjoined and touching letter – can be stored. Using these standards, documents can contain Sinhala, Tamil and English – all in the same document.
Keyboard input: keyboard drivers are available on www.locallanguages.lk to enable the use of the standard Sinhala and Tamil keyboard layouts on Windows on Linux distributions. Tri-lingual key boards are now available in the market based on the layouts given in these standards.
Fonts: ICTA spearheaded the development of Sinhala fonts compliant with SLS 1134 : 2004. A Sinhala “kit” was created which included standard Sinhala fonts, keyboard driver and installation instructions, made available on www.locallanguages.lk. At present ICTA is working on developing a set of standards-based Sinhala font families and intends to make the font rules available to font designers. ICTA is also about to commence a project on developing standards-based Tamil fonts.
Training for Font Developers: ICTA intends to hold a programme to provide font developers with the knowledge and expertise on how to develop standards based, aesthetically correct Sinhala fonts of good quality to upgrade the general level of skill and knowledge in this area.
Sorting: The sorting orders for Sinhala and Tamil were important issues that had to be resolved. There were many issues regarding the Sinhala and Tamil sorting sequence that needed to be clarified. A sorting sequence is needed in order to set up data bases and other lists of information. Thereafter, through the University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) a suitable sorting sequence for Sinhala was recommended and later approved as a Sri Lanka Standard. This Sinhala sorting sequence has now been standardised as Part 1 of SLS 1134 : 2004. The Tamil sorting sequence is standardised as Part 1 of SLS 1326 : 2008.
Portal: A portal in all three languages has been developed through which information and software on local languages are disseminated for those involved in Unicode related local languages projects. – www.siyabas.lk, www.emathumozhihal.lk,