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Transliteration is the practice of converting a text from one writing system into another in a systematic way.



From an information-theoretical point of view, transliteration is a mapping from one system of writing into another, word by word, or ideally letter by letter. Transliteration attempts to use a one-to-one correspondence and be exact, so that an informed reader should be able to reconstruct the original spelling of unknown transliterated words. To achieve this objective, transliteration may define complex conventions for dealing with letters in a source script which do not correspond with letters in a goal script.

Transliteration is opposed to transcription, which specifically maps the sounds of one language to the best matching script of another language. Still, most systems of transliteration map the letters of the source script to letters pronounced similarly in the goal script, for some specific pair of source and goal language. If the relations between letters and sounds are similar in both languages, a transliteration may be (almost) the same as a transcription. In practice, there are also some mixed transliteration/transcription systems that transliterate a part of the original script and transcribe the rest. One instance of transliteration is the use of an English computer keyboard to type in a language that uses a different alphabet, such as Russian. Transliterated texts are often used in emails, blogs, and electronic correspondence where non-Latin keyboards are unavailable, is sometimes referred to by special composite terms that demonstrate the combination of English characters and the original non-Latin word pronunciation: Ruglish, Hebrish, Greeklish, or Arabish. While the transcription implies seeking the best way to render foreign words into a particular language, the typing transliteration is a purely pragmatic process of inputting text in a particular language. The rest of this article concerns itself with the first meaning of the word, that is rendering foreign words into a different alphabet, transliteration in a narrow sense.

Also, transliteration should not be confused with translation, which involves a change in language while preserving meaning. Transliteration performs a mapping from one alphabet into another.

In a broader sense, the word transliteration is used to include both transliteration in the narrow sense and transcription. Anglicizing is a transcription method. Romanization encompasses several transliteration and transcription methods.


Transliterations are used in situations where the original script is not available to write down a word in that script, while still high precision is required. For example, traditional or cheap typesetting with a small character set; editions of old texts in scripts not used any more (such as Linear B); some library catalogues.[1]

For example, the Greek language is written in the 24-letter Greek alphabet, which overlaps with, but differs from, the 26-letter version of the Roman alphabet in which English is written. Etymologies in English dictionaries often identify Greek words as ancestors of words used in English. Consequently, most such dictionaries transliterate the Greek words into Roman letters.

Transliteration should be distinguished from transcription, which is a rendition of a word in a given script, based on the word's sound rather than as a process of converting of one script into another. Thus, the variants of "Muhammad" vs. "Mohammed" or "Muslim" vs. "Moslem" are variants in transcription based on the sound these words can take to the ear of an English speaker in different varieties of Arabic.

Vs. transcription

In Modern Greek, the letters <η> <ι> <υ> and the letter combinations <ει> <υι> are all pronounced [i]. A transcription consequently renders them all as , but a transliteration still distinguishes them, for example by transliterating to <ē> and . (As the old Greek pronunciation of <η> was [ɛː], this proposal uses the character appropriate for an Old Greek transliteration or transcription <ē>, an with a macron.) On the other hand, <ευ> is sometimes pronounced [ev] and sometimes [ef], depending on the following sound. A transcription distinguishes them, but this is no requirement for a transliteration.

Greek word Transliteration Transcription
Ελληνική Δημοκρατία Ellēnikē Dēmokratia Elliniki Dhimokratia
Ελευθερία eleutheria eleftheria
Ευαγγέλιο Euaggelio Evanghelio
των υιών tōn uiōn ton ion


Some languages and scripts present particular difficulties to transcribers. These are discussed on separate pages.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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From Latin transliteratus past participle of transliterare (to transliterate), from trans- (across) + littera (letter).




transliteration (plural transliterations)

  1. (linguistics, translation studies) The act or product of transliterating, or of representing letters or words in the characters of another alphabet or script.

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Simple English

Transliteration is how writing is changed from a writing system or alphabet to another, while making each sound stay the same. There are different systems of writing in the world. Some use letters to write out sounds, and others use characters to write out whole words that have many sounds in them. Transliteration is what happens when letters from an alphabet match letters of another alphabet, that have the same sounds. Most often this is done by spelling the sounds of one system, with the letters or symbols of another. For example, the Cyrillic letter я is usually written as ya.

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