graeco_celt (graeco_celt) wrote in linguaphiles,

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Sinhala and transliteration queries

Note for maintainers, before I forget: could we have a Sinhala tag, please? Thanks.

I've put a brief explanation of my reason for taking up Sinhala, under the LJ cut, so you can just skip to the actual questions if you like. However, reading it will probably give you a better idea of what level of learning I'm looking for right now.

Two very good friends of mine are getting married in Sri Lanka, next January and I would like to learn some Sinhala before I go. Now I would love to just jump in and commit to fully learning it as a language but I cannot do so just at the moment, as I already have my plate pretty full learning Catalan and Spanish, for daily living purposes.
What I would like to do is to be able to speak a bit of basic Sinhala and read basic everyday signs, menus etc. So any resources aimed at turning me into a university Sinhala professor will be dutifully bookmarked for the future but are not that helpful for me in immediate terms!

A couple of things I want to note:

One of the aforementioned friends is Sri Lankan herself and is coming to stay with us for a couple of weeks, in October. You can be sure I'm going to pick her brains for those two weeks! But she's lived in New Zealand (where we met) most of her life and even though she goes back to Sri Lanka every year, her family all speak English, so I don't know how much Sinhala practise she gets. She always says that her Sinhala is pretty crap but I don't know how accurate an assessment that is!

I've also been told that a significant number of Sri Lankans speak English, especially where we'll be staying (Colombo) but we'll be travelling around part of the island for 12 days after the wedding, so I don't know how accurate that figure will be, in other places. At any rate, regardless of whether people can speak English or not, I'd like to try to use some Sinhala, out of respect, and also because I don't want to waste the opportunity to try a new language!

Okay, so here are my two questions:
(one is Sinhala specific and one is a general transliteration question)

1. Can anyone recommend a good resource for learning the Sinhalese script? I have a Lonely Planet phrasebook, which is actually really good in many ways, BUT is designed primarily with speaking in mind. Consequently, although it includes the script, the characters are very small and hard to make out, let alone try to write! I've managed to find sites that teach the language and have the script on them but, as they use a different style of transcription, I'm having difficulty equating some of the charcters in my book, with the ones on the sites (most notably, the character set on Omniglot's Sinhala page). Also, most of the sites I've found are a bit sparse or, in one case, very confusing!

2. This one is for those of you who are learning or have learned non-Roman script languages, in transliterated form. If you've ever come across a transliteration that doesn't sit logically with your brain, have you found it easier to just re-rig/train your brain to accept and remember what X transliteration stands for? Or have you re-written the words in a way that more closely approximates the sound it represents?
The only other time I've come across this is with pinyin vs. Wade-Giles in my Chinese studies but, as we only used pinyin to learn it, the only time I had to deal with the Wade-Giles system (which was harder for my brain) was in one Chinese history class, in which we used quite an old textbook.

Anyway, an example of the problem I'm having here is that my Lonely Planet book tells me that it is using ah to represent the [ʌ] sound in 'cup'. I've tried banging this into my head but then when I'm practising individual words and sentences, I keep suddenly realising that I've been pronouncing it as the [ɑː] in 'father'. It's really frustrating and I'm considering re-writing all of their examples in a notebook, writing this sound as uh instead of ah but I don't know if that would just be a lot of unnecessary work/make things more confusing etc.
Has anyone else had problems with this and, if so, what have you done about it?

Any help you can give me with either query would be greatly appreciated.
Tags: asian languages, handwriting, internet resources, sinhala, transliteration, writing systems

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