Sinhala Digitization and Sinhala and Tamil Content on the Internet
Sinhala is widely used on the Internet, especially on Facebook. It is estimated that there are eight million Facebook users in Sri Lanka, and Sinhala speakers use Sinhala predominantly for Facebook posts lately. The above is a direct result of the Government and private sector efforts to develop Sinhala and Tamil support for digital devices for more than twenty five years. The Sri Lankan Government spearheaded the encoding of Sinhala in Unicode, starting in 1996.
Sri Lanka Government issued two input standards for Sinhala: SLS 1134 version 2 in 2004 and 1134 version 3 in 2011. SLS released SLS 1134 version 3 after encoding Sinhala Numerals in Unicode. Also, Sri Lankan Government released Sri Lankan Tamil Input Standard SLS 1326 of 2008 to full fill the request made by Tamil Digital users to input Tamil text directly emulating the written flow of the Tamil text. Wijesekera Keyboard for Sinhala and Renganattan for Tamil enable inputting “Kombuva”, a vowel modifier, before a consonant.
The local Language Working Group (LLWG) of ICTA, which evolved from the Internet Committee of CINTEC, currently leads policy decisions on the localization efforts in the country. LLWG functioned for almost fourteen years without a break and was responsible for many localization initiatives. Since 2019, LLWG had a three-year break until it regrouped in October 2021, and the Committee met every month in 2022.
LK Domain Registry, IDNs, and Localized ccTLDs
LK Domain spearheaded with several other organizations to obtain delegation of two Non-Latin Internationalized ccTLDs, (ccTLDs) “.ලංකා” and “.இலங்கை” in Sinhala and Tamil respectively. LK Domain Registry manages the above-internationalized ccTLD Domains. Currently, LK Domain Registry has 50,000 active LK domains. Although the above two Non-Latin ccTLDs were in existence for more than ten years, less than a thousand have been registered, and very few are in operation actively. Sinhala Generation Panel of ICANN completed its work on Root Zone Label Generations Rules (LGR). The generation panel began LGR for Sinhala Script in December 2017 and finished in 2020. Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe and Mr. Harsha Wijayawardhana acted as Co-Chairs of the Sinhala Generation Panel.
Motivation for Starting the UASG Local Initiative in the Region
Sinhala is widely used on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. With the delegation of records for Sinhala and Tamil non-Latin ccTLDs in 2010, LK Domain Registry took the necessary steps to encourage using the above ccTLDs by giving relevant “.ලංකා” or “.இலங்கை” free of charge when purchasing LK Domain Name. However, LK Domain Registry has only been able to issue less than a thousand Non-Latin Domain Names, as mentioned, until now for the last fifteen years. No user currently uses Sinhala and Tamil email addresses using those Sinhala or Tamil Doman Names. The main reasons for not applying for Sinhala only Email Addresses can be the following: unawareness of the existence of Sinhala and Tamil ccTLDs, unavailability of readily available technical knowledge in setting up Email Addresses and Email Servers, lack of a platform to create Email addresses in Sinhala ccTLDs, and helpline dedicated for Sinhala Email Addresses and UA.
Sri Lankan Government has already introduced e-Governance policies to have content in three languages, English, Sinhala, and Tamil, on all Government Websites. In 2005, ICTA drove a national project under the e-Sri Lanka project to create content in Sinhala and Tamil for all those sites. With the release of Iskoola Pota, a default Unicode font of Microsoft, the Government also took another bold step to issue a directive by the Presidential Secretariat under the signature of the Secretary to the President to make compulsory the use of Iskoola Pota for Sinhala content on the Internet in 2007. Currently, the majority of Government sites have content in Sinhala and Tamil in parallel to English. Owing to the above-mentioned presidential circular, most officials in the Government insisted on having Iskoola Pota for Sinhala content, and Microsoft has discontinued its support for maintaining Iskoola Pota. Although ICTA encouraged the creation of several Unicode fonts in 2010, most people seem unaware of the existence of Unicode Fonts other than Iskoola Pota.