In linguistics, romanization (or latinization, also spelled romanisation or latinisation) is the representation of a word or language with the Roman (Latin) alphabet, or a system for doing so, where the original word or language uses a different writing system (or none). Methods of romanization include transliteration, for representing written text, and transcription, for representing the spoken word. The latter 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. Each romanization has its own set of rules for pronunciation of the romanized words.

Examples of languages to which this process is often applied are Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Cyrillization is the similar process of representing a language using the Cyrillic alphabet.

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 requires additional knowledge for correct pronunciation.



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.


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.


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 to 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 , 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 Arabic alphabet is used to write Arabic, Persian, and Urdu as well as numerous other languages in the Muslim world, particularly African and Asian languages which do not have alphabets of their own. Romanization standards include:





The Hebrew alphabet is romanized using several standards:

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 comparison of some of them is provided here:


Romanization of the Chinese language, 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 perceived to be written non-phonetically, and this myth has retarded acceptance of romanization efforts. Because of this, many romanization tables contain Chinese characters plus one or more romanizations or Zhuyin.

Standard Mandarin

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. The system is also used in some 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 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. (These comments apply to Romanization in general)
  • ISO 7098 (1991): Based on Hanyu Pinyin.



Standard Cantonese

Standard Shanghainese

Min Nan

  • Pe̍h-oē-jī (POJ), once the de facto official script of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (since the late 19th century). Technically this represented a largely phonemic transcription system, as Min Nan was not commonly written in Chinese.
  • Guangdong (1960), for the distinct Teochow variety.

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:

  • McCune-Reischauer (MR; 1937?), the first transcription to gain some acceptance. A slightly changed version of MR was the official system for Korean in South Korea from 1984 to 2000, and yet a different modification is still the official system in North Korea. Uses breves, apostrophes and diereses, the latter two indicating orthographic syllable boundaries in cases that would otherwise be ambiguous.
    What is called MR may in many cases be any of a number of systems that differ from each other and from the original MR mostly in whether word endings are separated from the stem by a space, a hyphen or – according to McCune's and Reischauer's system – not at all; and if a hyphen or space is used, whether sound change is reflected in a stem's last and an ending's first consonant letter (e.g. pur-i vs. pul-i). Although mostly irrelevant when transcribing uninflected words, these aberrations are so widespread that any mention of "McCune-Reischauer romanization" may not necessarily refer to the original system as published in the 1930s.
    • There is, for example, the ALA-LC / U.S. Library of Congress system, based on MR but with some deviations. Word division is addressed in detail, with a generous use of spaces to separate word endings from stems that is not seen in MR. Syllables of given names are always separated with a hyphen, which is expressly never done by MR. Sound changes are ignored more often than in MR. Distinguishes between and .

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

  • Yale (1942): This system has become the established standard romanization for Korean among linguists. Vowel length in old or dialectal pronunciation is indicated by a macron. In cases that would otherwise be ambiguous, orthographic syllable boundaries are indicated with a period. Indicates disappearance of consonants.
  • Revised Romanization of Korean (RR; 2000): Includes rules both for transcription and for transliteration. South Korea now officially uses this system which was approved in 2000. Road signs and textbooks were required to follow these rules as soon as possible, at a cost estimated by the government to be at least US$20 million. All road signs, names of railway and subway stations on line maps and signs etc. have been changed. Romanization of surnames and existing companies' names has been left untouched; the government encourages using the new system for given names and new companies. Basically similar to MR, but uses no diacritics or apostrophes. In cases of ambiguity, orthographic syllable boundaries may be indicated with a hyphen, although state institutions never seem to make use of this option e.g. on street signs or linemaps.
  • 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 based heavily on Yale and was a joint effort between both states, but they could not agree on the final draft. A superficial comparison between the two is available here:
  • Lukoff romanization, developed 1945-47 for his Spoken Korean coursebooks
  • Chosŏn Kwahagwŏn (조선민주주의인민공화국 과학원) romanization


See main article: Vietnamese Writing System


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


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


See also: Belarusian Latin alphabet


The official Bulgarian scheme for the Roman transliteration of Bulgarian Cyrillic is the English-oriented Streamlined System proposed by L.L. Ivanov and introduced by the Antarctic Place-names Commission of Bulgaria on 2 March 1995. The Streamlined System was subsequently adopted by the Bulgarian Government (Ordinances #61 of 2 April 1999 and #10 of 11 February 2000) for the purposes of introducing new identity documents Presently the system is being promulgated by the Ministry of Public Administration and Administrative Reform for further usage in road signs, street names, official information systems, databases, local authorities’ websites etc.

In the USA and Britain, the US Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and the UK Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use (PCGN) still retain their 1952 BGN/PCGN System for the Romanization of Bulgarian, used primarily in the English spelling of Bulgarian geographical names. That system differs from the Streamlined System in the case of three Cyrillic letters. See also Romanization of Bulgarian.



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, Çaykovski, Chaykovsky, Chaykovskiy, Chaikovski, Tshaikovski, Tšaikovski etc. Systems include:


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.

See also: Ukrainian Latin alphabet


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


India has many regional languages and these scripts are so different that they can not be identified by a person familiar with only one system. Roman script is known to almost all so romanisation has important place in that.

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 below. (Hangul characters are broken down into jamo components.)

ROMANIZEDGreekRussian (Cyrillic)HebrewArabicPersianKatakanaHangul

AAАַ, ֲ, ָدَ, دَ, ﺍ — ﺎ, دَىاآ ا


AIי ַ

BΜΠ, ΒБבּﺏ ﺑ ﺒ ﺐﺏ ﺑ




DΝΤ, ΔДדﺩ — ﺪ, ﺽ ﺿ ﻀ ﺾد

DHΔדֿﺫ — ﺬ


EΕ, ΑΙЭ, ֱ, י ֵֶ, ֵ, י ֶ




FΦФפ (final 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, ΟΙИִ, י ִدِ


JTZ̈ДЖ, Џג׳ﺝ ﺟ ﺠ ﺞج


KΚКכּ (final ךּ )ﻙ ﻛ ﻜ ﻚک



KHXХכ ,חֿ (final ך )ﺥ ﺧ ﺨ ﺦخ





LΛЛלﻝ ﻟ ﻠ ﻞل

MΜМמ (final ם )ﻡ ﻣ ﻤ ﻢم






NΝНנ (final ן )ﻥ ﻧ ﻨ ﻦن






OΟ, ΩО, ֳ, וֹֹُا


PΠПפּ (final ףּ )پ



QΘקﻕ ﻗ ﻘ ﻖق

RΡРרﺭ — ﺮر






SΣСס, שׂﺱ ﺳ ﺴ ﺲ, ﺹ ﺻ ﺼ ﺺس ص



SHΣ̈Шשׁﺵ ﺷ ﺸ ﺶش






TΤТט, תּ, תﺕ ﺗ ﺘ ﺖ, ﻁ ﻃ ﻄ ﻂت ط



THΘתֿﺙ ﺛ ﺜ ﺚ


TSΤΣЦצ (final ץ )



UΟΥ, ΥУ, וֻּدُ



WΩו, ווﻭ — ﻮو






YΨЙ, Ы, Јיﻱ ﻳ ﻴ ﻲی







ZΖЗזﺯ — ﺰ, ﻅ ﻇ ﻈ ﻆز


See also


External links

Search another word or see Romanizationon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature