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Languages can be romanized in a number of ways, as shown here with Mandarin Chinese Gwoyu.svg
Languages can be romanized in a number of ways, as shown here with Mandarin Chinese

Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics, is the conversion of writing from a different writing system to the Roman (Latin) script, or a system for doing so. Methods of romanization include transliteration, for representing written text, and transcription, for representing the spoken word, and combinations of both. Transcription methods can be subdivided into phonemic transcription, which records the phonemes or units of semantic meaning in speech, and more strict phonetic transcription, which records speech sounds with precision.

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It involves analysing language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest activities in the documentation and description of language have been attributed to the 6th-century-BC Indian grammarian Pāṇini who wrote a formal description of the Sanskrit language in his Aṣṭādhyāyī.

Writing system system of visual symbols recorded on paper or another medium, used to represent elements expressible in language

A writing system is any conventional method of visually representing verbal communication. While both writing and speech are useful in conveying messages, writing differs in also being a reliable form of information storage and transfer. The processes of encoding and decoding writing systems involve shared understanding between writers and readers of the meaning behind the sets of characters that make up a script. Writing is usually recorded onto a durable medium, such as paper or electronic storage, although non-durable methods may also be used, such as writing on a computer display, on a blackboard, in sand, or by skywriting.

Latin script writing system used to write most Western and Central European languages

Latin or Roman script is a set of graphic signs (script) based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet. This is derived from a form of the Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet used by the Etruscans.



There are many consistent or standardized romanization systems. They can be classified by their characteristics. A particular system’s characteristics may make it better-suited for various, sometimes contradictory applications, including document retrieval, linguistic analysis, easy readability, faithful representation of pronunciation.

Latin alphabet alphabet used to write the Latin language (more specific than Q8229: Latin alphabet)

The Latin or Roman alphabet is the writing system originally used by the ancient Romans to write the Latin language. Due to its use in writing Germanic, Romance, and other languages first in Europe and then in other parts of the world and due to its use in Romanizing writing of other languages, it has become widespread. It is also used officially in China and has been adopted by Baltic and some Slavic states. The Latin alphabet evolved from the visually similar Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet, which was itself descended from the Phoenician abjad, which in turn derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Etruscans, who ruled early Rome, adopted the Cumaean Greek alphabet, which was modified over time to become the Etruscan alphabet, which was in turn adopted and further modified by the Romans to produce the Latin alphabet.

Digraph (orthography) pair of characters used to write one phoneme

A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used in the orthography of a language to write either a single phoneme, or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined.


If the romanization attempts to transliterate the original script, the guiding principle is a one-to-one mapping of characters in the source language into the target script, with less emphasis on how the result sounds when pronounced according to the reader's language. For example, the Nihon-shiki romanization of Japanese allows the informed reader to reconstruct the original Japanese kana syllables with 100% accuracy, but requires additional knowledge for correct pronunciation.

Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic language family, and its relation to other languages, such as Korean, is debated. Japanese has been grouped with several language families, such as Ainu or the now-discredited Altaic family, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.

Kana (仮名) are syllabic Japanese scripts, a part of the Japanese writing system contrasted with the logographic Chinese characters known in Japan as kanji (漢字). There are three kana scripts: modern cursive hiragana (ひらがな); modern angular katakana (カタカナ); and the old syllabic use of kanji known as man'yōgana (万葉仮名) that was ancestral to both. Hentaigana are historical variants of modern standard hiragana. In modern Japanese, hiragana and katakana have directly corresponding character sets.



Most romanizations are intended to enable the casual reader who is unfamiliar with the original script to pronounce the source language reasonably accurately. Such romanizations follow the principle of phonemic transcription and attempt to render the significant sounds (phonemes) of the original as faithfully as possible in the target language. The popular Hepburn romanization of Japanese is an example of a transcriptive romanization designed for English speakers.

In linguistics, a phonemic orthography is an orthography in which the graphemes correspond to the phonemes of the language. Languages rarely have perfectly phonemic orthographies; a high degree of grapheme-phoneme correspondence can be expected in orthographies based on alphabetic writing systems, but they differ in how complete this correspondence is. English orthography, for example, is alphabetic but highly nonphonemic; it was once mostly phonemic during the Middle English stage, when the modern spellings originated, but spoken English changed rapidly while the orthography was much more stable, resulting in the modern nonphonemic situation. However, because of their relatively recent modernizations when compared to English, the Italian, Turkish, Spanish, Finnish, Czech, Latvian and Polish orthographic systems come much closer to being consistent phonemic representations.

A phoneme is one of the units of sound that distinguish one word from another in a particular language.

Hepburn romanization is a system for the romanization of Japanese that uses the Latin alphabet to write the Japanese language. It is used by most foreigners learning to spell Japanese in the Latin alphabet and by the Japanese for romanizing personal names, geographical locations, and other information such as train tables, road signs, and official communications with foreign countries. Largely based on English writing conventions, consonants closely correspond to the English pronunciation and vowels approximate the Italian pronunciation.


A phonetic conversion goes one step further and attempts to depict all phones in the source language, sacrificing legibility if necessary by using characters or conventions not found in the target script. In practice such a representation almost never tries to represent every possible allophone—especially those that occur naturally due to coarticulation effects—and instead limits itself to the most significant allophonic distinctions. The International Phonetic Alphabet is the most common system of phonetic transcription.

In phonetics and linguistics, a phone is any distinct speech sound or gesture, regardless of whether the exact sound is critical to the meanings of words.

Coarticulation in its general sense refers to a situation in which a conceptually isolated speech sound is influenced by, and becomes more like, a preceding or following speech sound. There are two types of coarticulation: anticipatory coarticulation, when a feature or characteristic of a speech sound is anticipated (assumed) during the production of a preceding speech sound; and carryover or perseverative coarticulation, when the effects of a sound are seen during the production of sound(s) that follow. Many models have been developed to account for coarticulation. They include the look-ahead, articulatory syllable, time-locked, window, coproduction and articulatory phonology models.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin alphabet. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century as a standardized representation of the sounds of spoken language. The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech-language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators and translators.


For most language pairs, building a usable romanization involves tradeoffs between the two extremes. Pure transcriptions are generally not possible, as the source language usually contains sounds and distinctions not found in the target language, but which must be shown for the romanized form to be comprehensible. Furthermore, due to diachronic and synchronic variance no written language represents any spoken language with perfect accuracy and the vocal interpretation of a script may vary by a great degree among languages. In modern times the chain of transcription is usually spoken foreign language, written foreign language, written native language, spoken (read) native language. Reducing the number of those processes, i.e. removing one or both steps of writing, usually leads to more accurate oral articulations. In general, outside a limited audience of scholars, romanizations tend to lean more towards transcription. As an example, consider the Japanese martial art 柔術: the Nihon-shiki romanization zyûzyutu may allow someone who knows Japanese to reconstruct the kana syllables じゅうじゅつ, but most native English speakers or rather readers would find it easier to guess the pronunciation from the Hepburn version, jūjutsu .

Romanization of specific writing systems

The below listing may be incomplete, see also Category:Romanization


The Arabic alphabet is used to write Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Pashto as well as numerous other languages in the Muslim world, particularly African and Asian languages without alphabets of their own. Romanization standards include the following:





There are romanization systems for both Modern and Ancient Greek.


The Hebrew alphabet is romanized using several standards:

Indic (Brahmic) scripts

The Brahmic family of abugidas is used for languages of the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia. There is a long tradition in the west to study Sanskrit and other Indic texts in Latin transliteration. Various transliteration conventions have been used for Indic scripts since the time of Sir William Jones. [13]

Devanagari–nastaʿlīq (Hindustani)

Hindustani is an Indo-Aryan language with extreme digraphia and diglossia resulting from the Hindi–Urdu controversy starting in the 1800s. Technically, Hindustani itself is recognized by neither the language community nor any governments. Two standardized registers, Standard Hindi and Standard Urdu, are recognized as official languages in India and Pakistan. However, in practice the situation is,

  • In Pakistan: Standard (Saaf or Khaalis) Urdu is the "high" variety, whereas Hindustani is the "low" variety used by the masses (called Urdu, written in nastaʿlīq script).
  • In India, both Standard (Shuddh) Hindi and Standard (Saaf or Khaalis) Urdu are the "H" varieties (written in devanagari and nastaʿlīq respectively), whereas Hindustani is the "L" variety used by the masses and written in either devanagari or nastaʿlīq (and called 'Hindi' or 'Urdu' respectively).

The digraphia renders any work in either script largely inaccessible to users of the other script, though otherwise Hindustani is a perfectly mutually intelligible language, essentially meaning that any kind of text-based open source collaboration is impossible among devanagari and nastaʿlīq readers.

Initiated in 2011, the Hamari Boli Initiative [16] is a full-scale open-source language planning initiative aimed at Hindustani script, style, status & lexical reform and modernization. One of primary stated objectives of Hamari Boli is to relieve Hindustani of the crippling devanagari–nastaʿlīq digraphia by way of romanization. [17]


Romanization of the Sinitic languages, particularly Mandarin, has proved a very difficult problem, although the issue is further complicated by political considerations. Because of this, many romanization tables contain Chinese characters plus one or more romanizations or Zhuyin.


Mainland China
  • Hanyu Pinyin (1958): In mainland China, Hanyu Pinyin has been used officially to romanize Mandarin for decades, primarily as a linguistic tool for teaching the standardized language. The system is also used in other Chinese-speaking areas such as Singapore and parts of Taiwan, and has been adopted by much of the international community as a standard for writing Chinese words and names in the Latin script. The value of Hanyu Pinyin in education in China lies in the fact that China, like any other populated area with comparable area and population, has numerous distinct dialects, though there is just one common written language and one common standardized spoken form. (These comments apply to Romanization in general)
  • ISO 7098 (1991): Based on Hanyu Pinyin.
  1. Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR, 1928–1986, in Taiwan 1945–1986; Taiwan used Japanese Romaji before 1945),
  2. Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (MPS II, 1986–2002),
  3. Tongyong Pinyin (2002–2008), [20] [21] and
  4. Hanyu Pinyin (since January 1, 2009). [22] [23]


Min Nan or Hokkien

Min Dong


Romanization (or, more generally, Roman letters) is called "rōmaji" in Japanese. The most common systems are:


While romanization has taken various and at times seemingly unstructured forms, some sets of rules do exist:

Several problems with MR led to the development of the newer systems:

Philippine languages

Almost all Languages of the Philippines (including Tagalog, Ilokano, the Bicol languages, Cebuano and other Visayan languages, Kapampangan, and the Spanish-based creole Chavacano) use the Modern Filipino Alphabet.

When Spain colonised the Philippines in the late 16th century, the numerous languages of the Philippines were written in various scripts, such as Baybayin. These were initially promoted by the colonists but later replaced by Spanish transcriptions, which are still evident in place names and surnames. Letters such as C, Ll, and Ñ were considered Hispanic additions and removed in the Abakada , an attempt at a more indigenous alphabet devised by Lope K. Santos in 1940. These were eventually superseded by the Pilipino Alphabet and by the 28-letter, Modern Filipino Alphabet, which adds Ñ and the native Ng to the standard, 26-letter Latin alphabet.

While the Spanish language itself uses a very phonemic spelling, the romanised spelling created for Philippine languages is even more so. For example, the Spanish caballo ([kaˈβa.ʎo], "horse"), the same word in Tagalog is kabayo (demonstrating yeismo in the pronunciation of the Spanish "Ll" digraph).


Thai, spoken in Thailand and some areas of Laos, Burma and China, is written with its own script, probably descended from mixture of Tai–Laotian and Old Khmer, in the Brahmic family.


In English language library catalogues, bibliographies, and most academic publications, the Library of Congress transliteration method is used worldwide.

In linguistics, scientific transliteration is used for both Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabets. This applies to Old Church Slavonic, as well as modern Slavic languages that use these alphabets.



A system based on scientific transliteration and ISO/R 9:1968 was considered official in Bulgaria since the 1970s. Since the late 1990s, Bulgarian authorities have switched to the so-called Streamlined System avoiding the use of diacritics and optimized for compatibility with English. This system became mandatory for public use with a law passed in 2009. [30] Where the old system uses <č,š,ž,št,c,j,ă>, the new system uses <ch,sh,zh,sht,ts,y,a>.

The new Bulgarian system was endorsed for official use also by UN in 2012, [31] and by BGN and PCGN in 2013. [32]




There is no single universally accepted system of writing Russian using the Latin script—in fact there are a huge number of such systems: some are adjusted for a particular target language (e.g. German or French), some are designed as a librarian's transliteration, some are prescribed for Russian travellers' passports; the transcription of some names is purely traditional.   All this has resulted in great reduplication of names.   E.g. the name of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky may also be written as Tchaykovsky, Tchajkovskij, Tchaikowski, Tschaikowski, Czajkowski, Čajkovskij, Čajkovski, Chajkovskij, Çaykovski, Chaykovsky, Chaykovskiy, Chaikovski, Tshaikovski, Tšaikovski, Tsjajkovskij etc. Systems include:

  • BGN/PCGN (1947): Transliteration system (United States Board on Geographic Names & Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use). [33]
  • GOST 16876-71 (1971): A now defunct Soviet transliteration standard. Replaced by GOST 7.79, which is an ISO 9 equivalent.
  • United Nations romanization system for geographical names (1987): Based on GOST 16876-71.
  • ISO 9 (1995): Transliteration. From the International Organization for Standardization.
  • ALA-LC (1997) [34]
  • "Volapuk" encoding (1990s): Slang term (it's not really Volapük) for a writing method that's not truly a transliteration, but used for similar goals (see article).
  • Conventional English transliteration is based to BGN/PCGN, but doesn't follow a particular standard. Described in detail at Romanization of Russian.
  • Streamlined System [35] [36] for the Romanization of Russian.
  • Comparative transliteration of Russian [37] in different languages (Western European, Arabic, Georgian, Braille, Morse)


The Latin script for Syriac was developed in the 1930s, following the state policy for minority languages of the Soviet Union, with some material published. [38]


Ukrainian personal names are usually transcribed phonetically; see the main article section Conventional romanization of proper names. The Ukrainian National system is used for geographic names in Ukraine.

  • ALA-LC [39]
  • ISO 9
  • Ukrainian National transliteration [40]
  • Ukrainian National and BGN/PCGN systems, at the UN Working Group on Romanization Systems [41]
  • Thomas T. Pedersen's comparison of five systems [42]

See also: Ukrainian Latin alphabet

Overview and summary

The chart below shows the most common phonemic transcription romanization used for several different alphabets. While it is sufficient for many casual users, there are multiple alternatives used for each alphabet, and many exceptions. For details, consult each of the language sections above. (Hangul characters are broken down into jamo components.)

Romanized Greek Russian (Cyrillic) Hebrew Arabic Persian Katakana Hangul
AAАַ, ֲ, ָَ, اا, آ
AIי ַ
BΜΠ, ΒБבּﺏ ﺑ ﺒ ﺐﺏ ﺑ
DΝΤ, ΔДד — ﺪ, ﺽ ﺿ ﻀ ﺾد
DHΔדֿ — ﺬ
EΕ, ΑΙЭ, ֱ, י ֵֶ, ֵ, י ֶエ, ヱ
FΦФפ (or its final form ף )ﻑ ﻓ ﻔ ﻒ
GHΓҒגֿ, עֿﻍ ﻏ ﻐ ﻎق غ
HΗҺח, הﻩ ﻫ ﻬ ﻪ, ﺡ ﺣ ﺤ ﺢه ح ﻫ
IΗ, Ι, Υ, ΕΙ, ΟΙИ, Іִ, י ִدِイ, ヰ
JTZ̈ДЖ, Џג׳ﺝ ﺟ ﺠ ﺞج
KΚКכּ (or its final form ךּ )ﻙ ﻛ ﻜ ﻚک
KHXХכ, חֿ (or its final form ך )ﺥ ﺧ ﺨ ﺦخ
LΛЛלﻝ ﻟ ﻠ ﻞل
MΜМמ (or its final form ם )ﻡ ﻣ ﻤ ﻢم
NΝНנ (or its final form ן )ﻥ ﻧ ﻨ ﻦن
OΟ, ΩО, ֳ, וֹֹُا
PΠПפּ (or its final form ףּ )پ
QΘקﻕ ﻗ ﻘ ﻖغ ق
RΡРר — ﺮر
SΣСס, שׂﺱ ﺳ ﺴ ﺲ, ﺹ ﺻ ﺼ ﺺس ث ص
SHΣ̈Шשׁﺵ ﺷ ﺸ ﺶش
TΤТט, תּ, תﺕ ﺗ ﺘ ﺖ, ﻁ ﻃ ﻄ ﻂت ط
THΘתֿﺙ ﺛ ﺜ ﺚ
TSΤΣЦצ (or its final form ץ )
UΟΥ, ΥУ, וֻּدُ
WΩו, וו — ﻮ
YΥ, Ι, ΓΙЙ, Ы, Јיﻱ ﻳ ﻴ ﻲی
ZΖЗז — ﺰ, ﻅ ﻇ ﻈ ﻆز ظ ذ ض

See also

Related Research Articles

Transliteration is a type of conversion of a text from one script to another that involves swapping letters in predictable ways.

There are several methods of transliteration from Devanāgarī to the Roman script which share similarities, although no single system of transliteration has emerged as the standard. This process has been termed Romanagari, a portmanteau of the words Roman and Devanagari.. The term may also be used for other languages that use Devanagari as the standard writing script, such as Marathi, Nepali or Sanskrit.

Romanization of Russian Romanization of the Russian alphabet

Romanization of Russian is the process of transliterating the Russian language from the Cyrillic script into the Latin script.

ISO 15919 "Transliteration of Devanagari and related Indic scripts into Latin characters" is one of a series of international standards for romanization by the International Organization for Standardization. It was published in 2001 and uses diacritics to map the much larger set of consonants and vowels in Brahmic scripts to the Latin script.

The romanization or Latinization of Ukrainian is the representation of the Ukrainian language using Latin letters. Ukrainian is natively written in its own Ukrainian alphabet, which is based on the Cyrillic script. Romanization may be employed to represent Ukrainian text or pronunciation for non-Ukrainian readers, on computer systems that cannot reproduce Cyrillic characters, or for typists who are not familiar with the Ukrainian keyboard layout. Methods of romanization include transliteration, representing written text, and transcription, representing the spoken word.

The Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS) is the official system for rendering Thai words in the Latin alphabet. It was published by the Royal Institute of Thailand.

Romanization of Bulgarian transliteration of text in Bulgarian from its conventional Cyrillic orthography into the Latin alphabet

Romanization of Bulgarian is the practice of transliteration of text in Bulgarian from its conventional Cyrillic orthography into the Latin alphabet. Romanization can be used for various purposes, such as rendering of proper names and place names in foreign-language contexts, or for informal writing of Bulgarian in environments where Cyrillic is not easily available. Official use of romanization by Bulgarian authorities is found, for instance, in identity documents and in road signage. Several different standards of transliteration exist, one of which was chosen and made mandatory for common use by the Bulgarian authorities in a law of 2009.

The romanization of Arabic writes written and spoken Arabic in the Latin script in one of various systematic ways. Romanized Arabic is used for a number of different purposes, among them transcription of names and titles, cataloging Arabic language works, language education when used in lieu of or alongside the Arabic script, and representation of the language in scientific publications by linguists. These formal systems, which often make use of diacritics and non-standard Latin characters and are used in academic settings or for the benefit of non-speakers, contrast with informal means of written communication used by speakers such as the Latin-based Arabic chat alphabet.

There are and have been several Chinese alphabets, that is pre-existing alphabets adapted to write down the Chinese language. However, the standard Chinese writing system uses a non-alphabetic script with an alphabet for supplementary use. There is no original alphabet native to China. China has its Pinyin system though sometimes the term is used anyway to refer to logographic Chinese characters (sinograms). It is more appropriately used, though, for phonemic transcriptions such as pinyin.

Scientific transliteration, variously called academic, linguistic, international, or scholarly transliteration, is an international system for transliteration of text from the Cyrillic script to the Latin script (romanization). This system is most often seen in linguistics publications on Slavic languages.

Romanization or Latinization of Belarusian is any system for transliterating written Belarusian from Cyrillic to the Latin.

The ALA-LC Romanization tables for Slavic alphabets is a set of standards for romanization of texts in various writing systems used in North American libraries and publications. The latest version was published by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress in 1997. This article is about the ALA-LC method of transliteration of Russian-language text from Cyrillic script to Latin script.

There are many systems for the romanization of the Thai language, i.e. representing the language in Latin script. These include systems of transliteration, and transcription.

The Romanization of Macedonian is the transliteration of text in the Macedonian language from the Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet into the Latin alphabet. Romanization can be used for various purposes, such as rendering of proper names in foreign contexts, or for informal writing of Macedonian in environments where Cyrillic is not easily available. Official use of Romanization by Macedonian authorities is found, for instance, on road signage and in passports. Several different codified standards of transliteration currently exist and there is widespread variability in practice.

Urdu alphabet Perso-Arabic-based alphabet for Urdu of 39 letters (incl. hamza and nun ghunnah); in addition to the Persian alphabet contains ٹ‎ ڈ‎ ڑ‎ for retroflex consonants, ں‎ for nasalization, ے‎ for /ɛ:/ or /e:/, and ھ‎ for aspiration or murmure

The Urdu alphabet is the right-to-left alphabet used for the Urdu language. It is a modification of the Persian alphabet known as Perso-Arabic, which is itself a derivative of the Arabic alphabet. The Urdu alphabet has up to 58 letters. With 39 basic letters and no distinct letter cases, the Urdu alphabet is typically written in the calligraphic Nastaʿlīq script, whereas Arabic is more commonly in the Naskh style.

Romanization of Persian or Latinization of Persian is the representation of the Persian language with the Latin script. Several different romanization schemes exist, each with its own set of rules driven by its own set of ideological goals.

There are various systems of romanization of the Armenian alphabet.

The Hunterian transliteration system is the "national system of romanization in India" and the one officially adopted by the Government of India. Hunterian transliteration was sometimes also called the Jonesian transliteration system because it derived closely from a previous transliteration method developed by William Jones (1746–1794). Upon its establishment, the Sahitya Akademi also adopted the Hunterian method, with additional adaptations, as its standard method of maintaining its bibliography of Indian-language works.

The former State Administration of Surveying and Mapping, Geographical Names Committee and former Script Reform Committee of the People's Republic of China have adopted several romanizations for Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Uyghur, officially known as pinyin, Regulation of Phonetic Transcription in Hanyu Pinyin Letters of Place Names in Minority Nationality Languages and Orthography of Chinese Personal Name in Hanyu Pinyin Letters. These systems may be referred to as SASM/GNC/SRC transcriptions or SASM/GNC romanizations.

Romanization of the Burmese alphabet is representation of the Burmese language or Burmese names in the Latin alphabet.


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