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Encyclopedia > ISO 15919

A romanization or latinization is a system for representing a word or language with the Roman (Latin) alphabet, where the original word or language used a different writing system. Methods of romanization include transliteration, representing written text, and transcription, representing the spoken word. The latter can be subdivided into phonological transcription, which records the phonemes or units of semantic meaning in speech, and more strict phonetic transcription, which records speech sounds with precision. Each romanization has its own set of rules for pronunciation of the romanized words.

In antiquity, Romanization or Latinization was also the imposition of Roman culture and language.

To romanize is to transliterate or transcribe a language into the Roman alphabet. This process is most commonly associated with the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages (CJK). Cyrillization is the similar process of representing a language using the Cyrillic alphabet.

Also spelt romanisation and latinisation.


Methods of romanization


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 is not readable without prior study.



However, most romanizations are intended for the casual reader, who is unfamiliar with the intricacies of the original script and is more interested in pronouncing the source language. Such romanizations follow the principle of phonological 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.


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. The International Phonetic Alphabet is the most common system of phonetic transcription.


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 target language, but which must be denoted to achieve comprehensibility.

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 zyūzyutu may allow an expert to reconstruct the kana syllables じゅうじゅつ, but most people would find the Hepburn version jūjutsu more pronounceable.

Romanization of specific writing systems


The Arabic alphabet is used to write Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. Romanization standards include:

  • Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (1936): [1] (http://www.dmg-web.de/) Adopted by the International Convention of Orientalist Scholars in Rome. Is the basis for the very influential Hans Wehr dictionary (ISBN 0879500034)
  • BS 4280 (1968): Developed by the British Standards Institute [2] (http://www.bsi-global.com/index.xalter)
  • SATTS (1970s): Dveloped by US military
  • UNGEGN (1972): [3] (http://www.eki.ee/wgrs/rom1_ar.pdf)
  • DIN-31635 (1982): Developed by the Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardization)
  • ISO 233 (1984). Transliteration.
  • Qalam (1985): A system that focuses upon preserving the spelling, rather than the pronunciation, and uses mixed case [4] (http://eserver.org/langs/qalam.txt)
  • ISO 233-2 (1993). Simplified transliteration.
  • Buckwalter Transliteration (1990s): Developed at Xerox by Tim Buckwalter [5] (http://www.qamus.org/transliteration.htm); doesn't require unusual diacritics [6] (http://www.xrce.xerox.com/competencies/content-analysis/arabic/info/buckwalter-about.html)
  • ALA-LC (1997): [7] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/arabic.pdf)

A table comparing romanizations using DIN 31635, ISO 233, ISO/R 233, UN, ALA-LC, and Encyclopaedia of Islam systems is available here: [8] (http://ee.www.ee/transliteration/pdf/Arabic.pdf).


For more details, see Hebrew alphabet and Romanization of Hebrew.

  • ANSI Z39.25 (1975):
  • UNGEGN (1977): [9] (http://www.eki.ee/wgrs/rom1_he.pdf)
  • ISO 259 (1984): Transliteration.
  • ISO 259-2 (1994): Simplified transliteration.
  • ISO/DIS 259-3: Phonemic transcription.
  • ALA-LC: [10] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/hebrew.pdf)

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. A good comparison is provided here: [11] (http://www.sanskrit-sanscrito.com.ar/english/sanskrit/sanskrit3part2.html)

  • ISO 15919 (2001): A standard transliteration convention was codified in the ISO 15919 standard. It uses diacritics to map the much larger set of Brahmic consonants and vowels to the Latin script. See also Transliteration of Indic scripts: how to use ISO 15919 (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/stone-catend/trind.htm)
  • Harvard-Kyoto: Uses upper and lower case and doubling of letters, to avoid the use of diacritics.
  • ALA-LC: [12] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/hindi.pdf)
  • IAST: "International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration". The academic standard. Includes diacritical marks. [13] (http://www.sanskrit-sanscrito.com.ar/english/sanskrit/sanskrit3.html)
  • ISCII (1988): "Indian Script Code for Information Interchange". The Indian character encoding standard ISCII treats the romanized form as one among many script choices.
  • ITRANS: a lossless transliteration scheme created by Avinash Chopde that is used widely on the Internet (especially Usenet)
  • ASTHA: "Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration for HTML, made in Argentina" [14] (http://www.sanskrit-sanscrito.com.ar/english/sanskrit/sanskrit3.html)


Romanization of Chinese, in particular, has proved a very difficult problem, although the issue is further complicated by political considerations. Another complication is the fact that Mandarin is not written phonetically, but rather written as ideograms. Because of this, most romanization tables convert not from directly from the Chinese characters but from the underlying Zhuyin pronunciation. See also: [15] (http://www.iqchina.com/going/PinYin2.asp) [16] (http://www.romanization.com/)


  • ALA-LC: Used to be similar to Wade-Giles [17] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/chinese.pdf), but converted to Hanyu Pinyin since 2000 [18] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/pinyin/romcover.html)
  • EFEO. Developed by Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient in 19th century, used mainly in France.
  • Latinxua Sinwenz (1926): Omitted tone sounds. Used mainly in the Soviet Union.
  • Postal System Pinyin (1906): Early standard for international addresses
  • Wade-Giles (1912): Transliteration. Very popular before World War II.
  • Lessing-Othmer (???): Used mainly in Germany.
  • Yale (1942): Created by the U.S. for battlefield communication.

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 Standard Mandarin (the standardized Chinese spoken language) to students whose mother tongue is not Standard Mandarin, and has been adopted by much of the international community as a standard for writing Chinese words and names in the Roman alphabet. 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 literally thousands of distinct dialects, though there is just one common written language and one common standardized spoken form.
  • ISO 7098 (1991): Very similar to Hanyu Pinyin.

Taiwan (Republic of China)


Min Nan


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

  • Hepburn (1867): transcription
  • Nihon-shiki (1885): transliteration. Also adopted as (ISO 3602 Strict) in 1989.
  • Kunrei-shiki (1937): transliteration. Also dopted as (ISO 3602).
  • JSL (1987)
  • ALA-LC: Similar to Hepburn [19] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/japanese.pdf)
  • Wāpuro


Main article: Korean romanization

  • McCune-Reischauer (1937): Transcription. Until 2002, the official system for Korean in South Korea was this system, which is still used in North Korea.
  • Revised Romanization of Korean (2000): As of 2005, South Korea officially uses this system, that was approved in 2000. Road signs and textbooks are required to follow these rules as soon as possible, at a cost estimated by the government to be at least US$20 million. Proper names are still left to personal preference, but the government encourages using the new system.
  • Yale (1942): This system is used mainly in academic literature.
  • ALA-LC: Follows McCune-Reischauer in most cases [20] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/korean.pdf)
  • ISO/TR 11941 (1996): This actually is two different standards under one name: one for North Korea (DPRK) and the other for South Korea (ROK). The initial submission to the ISO was a joint effort between both countries (and was based heavily on Yale), but they could not agree on the final draft. A comparison between the two is available here: [21] (http://www.sori.org/hangul/romanizations.html#Roman_Intro)


Thai, spoken in Thailand, is written with its own script, probably descended from Old Khmer, in the Brahmic family. Also see Thai alphabet.



The Belarusian language has been written with both Cyrillic and Latin scripts.   Today the Latin script (Łacinka or Łacinica) is rarely used (although it has its advocates).   Still it would seem that Belarusian has already a native romanization system, so we need not to invent anything.   However, usually Belarusian names are transcribed differently, using a system like that for the Russian language.   Names are then changed like this: Homiel → Homyel', Mahiloŭ → Mahilyow, Viciebsk → Vitsebsk, Baranavičy → Baranavichy, Žytkavičy → Zhytkavichy etc.

  • ALA-LC: [23] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/beloruss.pdf)


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 traveller's passports; the transcription of some names is purely traditional.   All this has resulted in great reduplication of names.   E.g. the name of the great Russian composer Tchaikovsky may also be written as Tchaykovsky, Tchajkovskij, Tchaikowski, Tschaikowski, Czajkowski, Čajkovskij, Čajkovski, Chajkovskij, Chaykovsky, Chaykovskiy, Chaikovski etc. Systems include:

  • BGN/PCGN (1947): Transliteration system (United States Board on Geographic Names & Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use). [24] (http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/avenue/vy75/cyrillic.htm)
  • GOST 16876-71 (1983): From the Main Administration of Geodesy and Cartography of the former Soviet Union. Russian abbreviation of GOsudarstvenny STandart, "the State Standard". [25] (http://www.ccl.net/cca/software/SOURCES/C/translit/phg-koi8.shtml)
  • United Nations standard (1987): Based on GOST. Used in the Russian Federation and increasingly in international cartographic products.
  • ISO 9 (1995): Transliteration. From the International Organization for Standardization.
  • ALA-LC (1997): [26] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/russian.pdf)
  • Volapuk encoding (1990s): Not truly a transliteration, but used for similar goals (see article)
  • During the Cold War, the United States Air Force had their own romanization.
  • Internal Wikipedia standard (2004): Derived from BGN/PCGN, documented at Transliteration of Russian into English, but essentially congruent with de-facto internet practices.


Main article: Romanization of Ukrainian

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

  • ALA-LC: (PDF) (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/ukrainia.pdf).
  • ISO9
  • Ukrainian National transliteration: (JPEG, in Ukrainian) (http://www.hostmaster.net.ua/docs/translit/tab_01.jpg).
  • Ukrainian National and BGN/PCGN systems, at the UN Working Group on Romanization Systems: (PDF) (http://www.eki.ee/wgrs/rom2_uk.pdf).
  • Thomas T. Pederson's comparison of five systems: (PDF) (http://ee.www.ee/transliteration/pdf/Ukrainian.pdf).


Greek language includes the modern language spoken in Greece, as well as ancient Polytonic Greek. See also Greeklish.

  • ISO 843 (1997): [27] (http://www.biology.uoc.gr/gvd/contents/databases/01c.htm)
  • ALA-LC: [28] (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/greek.pdf)


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 below. (Because the number of Hangul characters are prohibitively large, only the first characters are provided in the following table.)

ROMANIZED Greek Cyrillic (Russian) Hebrew Arabic Katakana Hangul
A A А ַ, ֲ, ָ دَ, دَ, ﺍ — ﺎ, دَىا
AI י ַ
B Б בּ ﺏ ﺑ ﺒ ﺐ
D Δ Д ד ﺩ — ﺪ, ﺽ ﺿ ﻀ ﺾ
DH ﺫ — ﺬ
E Ε Э , ֱ, י ֵֶ, ֵ, י ֶ
F Φ Ф פ (final ף ) ﻑ ﻓ ﻔ ﻒ
G Γ Г ג
GH ﻍ ﻏ ﻐ ﻎ
H ח, ה ﻩ ﻫ ﻬ ﻪ, ﺡ ﺣ ﺤ ﺢ
I Η, Ι, Υ И ִ, י ִ دِ
IY دِي
J ﺝ ﺟ ﺠ ﺞ
K Κ К כּ (final ךּ ), ק ﻙ ﻛ ﻜ ﻚ
KH Х כ (final ך ) ﺥ ﺧ ﺨ ﺦ
L Λ Л ל ﻝ ﻟ ﻠ ﻞ
M Μ М מ (final ם ) ﻡ ﻣ ﻤ ﻢ
N Ν Н נ (final ן ) ﻥ ﻧ ﻨ ﻦ
O Ο, Ω О , ֳ, וֹֹ
P Π П פּ (final ףּ )
Q ﻕ ﻗ ﻘ ﻖ
R Ρ Р ר ﺭ — ﺮ
S Σ С ס, שֹ ﺱ ﺳ ﺴ ﺲ, ﺹ ﺻ ﺼ ﺺ
SH Ш ש ﺵ ﺷ ﺸ ﺶ
T Τ Т ט, תּ, ת ﺕ ﺗ ﺘ ﺖ, ﻁ ﻃ ﻄ ﻂ
TH Θ ﺙ ﺛ ﺜ ﺚ
TS Ц צ (final ץ )
U У , וֻּ دُ
UW دُو
V B В ב, ו, וו
W ﻭ — ﻮ
Y Й, Ы י ﻱ ﻳ ﻴ ﻲ
Z Ζ З ז ﺯ — ﺰ, ﻅ ﻇ ﻈ ﻆ

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Romanization - definition of Romanization in Encyclopedia (1148 words)
In 2001, a standard transliteration convention was codified in the ISO 15919 standard, which very much resembles the "Library of Congress" and IAST schemes.
It uses diacritics to map the much larger set of Brahmic consonants and vowels to the Latin script.
Common systems include Hepburn and Kunrei-shiki, which is also known as ISO 3602, the system approved by ISO.
  More results at FactBites »



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