History of Sinhala Unicode

1. Background

With the introduction of microcomputers in the early eighties, Sri Lanka too embarked on the use of computers with local language input and output. The University of Colombo developed a Sinhala screen output for television displays and went on to provide election result displays in the three languages Sinhala, Tamil and English within a few years. However, the requirement for a standard code was identified and steps were taken by the Computer and Information Technology Council of Sri Lanka (CINTEC) to establish a committee for the use of Sinhala & Tamil in Computer Technology in 1985, soon after its inception.

This committee quite correctly took steps to meet the immediate need to agree on an acceptable Sinhala alphabet and an alphabetical order. Thus this committee joined with a committee appointed by the Natural Resources, Energy and Science Authority of Sri Lanka (NARESA) to form the Committee on Adaptation of National Languages in IT (CANLIT), which agreed on a unique Sinhala alphabet and alphabetical order. As for Tamil, no immediate action was taken due to the work being undertaken in India. CANLIT consisted of experts in the Sinhala language as well as IT. It is of historic importance that a major set back for the development of Sinhala language computing was averted when an injunction on the development of Sinhala word processors taken by one developer against another based on a disputable patent was settled out of court after years of litigation.


2. The Sinhala Alphabet and Alphabetical Order

CANLIT arrived at defining the Sinhala alphabat on as having 16 vowels, 2 semi consonants and 41 consonants as shown in the CINTEC publication of 1990 [2]. 13 consonant modifiers were also identified. A new character to denote “fa” (f) was introduced. CANLIT also agreed on the alphabetical order as given in [2] with a slight modification as referred to in section 9 below. It should be noted that this exercise took a representative group of language and technology experts several months to arrive at a consensus solution. 

3. The Standard Sinhala Character Se

In developing the Sinhala Character set for use in IT, the work already done in Thailand for the Thai language, which is somewhat similar to Sinhala, was studied with Dr Thaweesak Koanantakool of Tammasat University, Bangkok. At this stage the aim was to develop a 7-bit code to fill the positions A0 to FF in the single byte ASCII code table (ISO 646). Work towards this was reported in [1,2] and the draft standard code was approved by the Council of CINTEC on the advice of its Working Committee for Recommending Standards for the use of Sinhala and Tamil Script in Computer Technology [2] 

4. The Sinhala Standard Code for Information Interchange SLASCII 

The standard as approved above (SLASCII) differs in many aspects with the Unicode for Sinhala approved later in 1998 and all such cases are discussed later on in this paper. At this stage, it is important to indicate the development of the appropriate keyboard layout where again CINTEC took the initiative. Having agreed that a large number of Sinhala typists were using the government approved Wijesekera Keyboard, CINTEC first developed and obtained government approval for the “Extended Wijesekera Keyboard for Electronic Typewriters”, the intention being the introduction of Daisywheel and Golf-ball electronic typewriters then used as an interface for microcomputer output. The draft included the new character f (fa) and 3 other additional key positions as explained in [1]. As indicated later on, this layout has once again been modified for use of the 101 Key Standard English Keyboard [2]. This code table and keyboard layout were used in Wadan Tharuwa – one of the earliest commercial Sinhala word processors released in Sri Lanka and later on in Sarasavi the trilingual application package developed by the University of Colombo. 

5. Appointment of a Committee on Unicode Compatible Fonts 

The CINTEC Internet Committee agreed that one of the major impediments to the development and use of the Internet in Sri Lanka, especially into rural areas is the lack of local language content. The Committee agreed that the availability of a high quality, free, and standards-conformant Sinhala font would enable content providers to create Sinhala language content. As a first measure, the Internet Committee decided that a Committee on Unicode Compatible Sinhala Fonts should be formed. This Committee would define the basic minimum requirements for Unicode compatible Sinhala fonts; define the essential features which should be present in a Sinhala character set, character combinations and their input, address the requirements for a standard Sinhala keyboard, key board stroke sequences, and issues relating to the glyphs and keyboard drivers. The Council has appointed the following as Committee members and resource persons: a) Dr. Gihan Dias .lk Domain Name Registrar - Chair (Senior Lecturer and Head, Networking Unit, Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa). b) Prof. J. B. Disanayaka Professor Emeritus of Sinhala, University of Colombo Department of Sinhala, University of Colombo. c) Ms. Amara Nanayakkara Librarian, National Library and Documentation Services Board d) Mr. Lalith De Silva Deputy Government Printer, Department of Government Printing e) Mr. Abhaya Amaradasa Head of Group – Operations, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. f) Mr. Anura Tissera Head of Division – Projects, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. g) Mr. H. Naveen Gunaratne Information System Manager, Wijeya Publications Ltd., h) Mr. Niranjan Meegammana Chief Technologist, e-Fusion Ltd. i) Dr. Ruwan Weerasinghe Senior Lecturer, School of Computing, University of Colombo j) Mr. Harsha Wijayawardena Consultant, School of Computing, University of Colombo k) Ms. Padma Jayaweera, Commissioner, Department of. Official Languages l) Ms. Aruni Goonetilleke Assistant Director, CINTEC. m) Prof. VK Samaranayake Director, School of Computing, University of Colombo n) Mr. S. T. Nandasara Coordinator of the ADSTC (Advanced Digital Media Technology Center) School of Computing, University of Colombo 

6. Sinhala Language Requirements Committee

Witht the establishment of ICTA in 2003 the responsibilities of the Fonts Committee was assigned to ICTA and it set up a Langugae Requirements Committee to take the Sinhla Unicode initiative forward.

The committee owrked to improve the Sinhla encoding and it mainly focused on the following issues in encoding.

  1. Lack of encoding for joined letters
  2. The absence of encoding for yansaha, rakaransaya and repaya
  3. The lack of guidance for ව්‍යාංජනාක්‍ෂරවලට බහු ස්වර එක් වූ අවස්ථාවල දී වර ගැනිම් සඳහා මග පෙන්වීමක් නොමැති වීම.
  4. Lack of encoding for letters which have not been standardized

Having considered the proposals received in this connection, SLA 1134 was amanded in 2004.

7. Sinhala Support in Operating Systems

වින්ඩෝස් 95 වැනි මෙහෙයුම් පද්ධති බිටු 8 මගින් දක්වන කේත ක්‍රම සඳහා අනුකූල වූ නමුත්යුනිකෝඩ් සඳහා ඒය සහාය නොදක්වීය.  වින්ඩෝස් 2000 බිටු 16හි යුනිකෝඩ් සඳහා සහාය දැක්වූවත් සංකීර්ණ අක්‍ෂර එමගින් පෙන්විය නොහැක.  වින්ඩෝස් XP යුනිකෝඩ් හරහා සංකීර්ණ අක්‍ෂර දැක්වුව ද අක්‍ෂර ඇතුල් කිරීමේ (input method) අඩුපාඩු තිබුණි.

යුනිකෝඩ් සහාය ලබා ගැනීමට වින්ඩෝස් විසින් යොදා ගන්නා යුනිස්ක්‍රයිබ් යුනිකෝඩ් ස්ක්‍රිප්ට් ප්‍රෝසසරය භාවිතා කරයි. එය ඇතුලත් කොට මයික්‍රොසොෆ්ට්, මයික්‍රොඉමේජ්, එක්සත් ප්‍රවෘත්ති සමාගම, කොළඹ සරසවියේ පරිගණක අධ්‍යනායතනය හා එක්ව ඉක්ටා මගින් වින්ඩෝස් XP තුල සිංහල යුනිකෝඩ් එතුල නිවැරදිව පණ ගැන්වීමට යොදා ගත හැකි මෘදුකාංගයක් 2005 දී නිකුත් කරන ලදී.  මෙ මගින් යුනිකෝඩ් භාවිතයේ වින්ඩෝස් XP තුල තිබූ ගැටළු සමනය විය.  වින්ඩෝස් XP හි තිබූ ගැටළු කිහිපයක් වින්ඩෝස් විස්ටා තුලටද රිංගා තුබූ අතර 2007 ජූලි මස එය නිවාරණය සඳහා මයික්‍රොසොෆ්ට් සමාගම ඉක්ටා හි සහයෝගයෙන් මෘදුකාංගයක් නිකුත් කරන ලදී.

2004 වසරේදී මයික්‍රොසොෆ්ට් නිපදවූ ඉස්කෝල පොත නැමැති ෆොන්ටය  වින්ඩෝස් සඳහා වූ සිංහල මෘදුකාංගවල මූලික ප්‍රධාන ෆොන්ටය ලෙස භාවිතා වූ    අතර එය SLS 1134 හි අකුරු දැක්වීමට ද භාවිතා කරන ලදි.

ලිනක්ස් පාදක සියලු මෙහෙයුම් පද්ධති 2004 වසරේ සිට ක්‍රමානුකූලව සිංහල සහාය දැක්වීමට පටන් ගන්නා ලදී.

8. Office Automation Applications

MS Office 2003 and XP became compatible with Sinhala Unicode as soon as the Sinhala Kit was issued in 2005. MS Office 2007 was compliant with the Sinhala Unicode since the date of issue. 

Open Office was working correcty with Sinhala Unicode since 2005.

9. Sinhala Unicode Gruop

Sinhala Unicode Group was established by few Sinhala Unicode enthuciastics lead by Mr. Niranjan Meegammana.   This provides Sinhala instructions and English instructions for installation of Sinhala Unicode. Furthrmore this provides advice on demand for varios technical issues related to implementation of Sinhala Unicode.

10. www.fonts.lk, www.siyabasa.lk, www.locallanguages.lk and www.emadumolihal.lk sites

In order to provide the instructions on installation of Sinhala Unicode and provide the required software to the users, ICTA with the support of UCSC established www.fonts.lk. The servers and software for the site was provided free of charge by UCSC.  ICTA developed 3 more websites in 2007 in order to extend the support provided by www.fonts.lk in local langugaes. While www.emadumilihal.lk provides information and software for using Tamil Unicode, www.locallanguages.lk provides information and software for using both Sinhala and Tamil Unicode.   

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