The Contact Between Sinhala and English Orthography in Online Text Messages
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At present, using English characters to represent Sinhala words appears to be a common feature in online texting among Sinhala-English bilinguals. This study examines the contact between Sinhala and English orthography in online text messages in which Sinhala words are represented using English letters. Much research has been conducted on the contact between Sinhala and English, features and conventions of Internet language and language contact in digital Internet genres. However, no research has yet examined the linguistic phenomenon of using English characters to represent spoken Sinhala sounds. The data for the study come from a corpus of online text messages sent via mobile messaging applications (hereafter apps) such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber collected from 20 undergraduates in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Colombo. The text messages were collected using the friend of a friend method. The study identifies four main patterns of representing Sinhala vowel sounds and two main patterns of representing Sinhala consonant sounds through English letters. The findings invoke a need to expand the conception of frequential copying showing a potential emergence of a new variety of Sinhala in which the orthographic system is a result of the contact between Sinhala and English orthography. The identified patterns also help develop more user-friendly online Sinhala-English transliteration software than the existing ones such as Google Input Tools, SinGlish Transliterated and SinGlish (Phonetic) Transliterated which are unable to identify certain patterns of representing Sinhala vowel and consonant sounds through English characters or have their own transliteration schemes which the users have to adopt. Thereby, these patterns challenge the conventional idea that no system of transliteration of a (more) phonetic language by an unphonetic one like English can be perfect.