Romanizing Ukrainian

Romanization of Ukrainian

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, a variation of Cyrillic.

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.

In contrast to romanization, there have been several historical proposals for a native Ukrainian Latin alphabet, but none has caught on.

Romanization systems


Transliteration is the letter-for-letter representation of text using another writing system. Depending on the purpose of the transliteration it may be necessary to be able to reconstruct the original text, or it may be preferable to have a transliteration which sounds like the original language when read aloud. International scholarly system
Also called scientific transliteration, this system is most often seen in linguistic publications on Slavic languages. It is purely phonemic, meaning each character represents one meaningful unit of sound, and is based on the Croatian Latin alphabet. It was codified in the 1898 Prussian Instructions for libraries, or Preußische Instruktionen (PI). It was later adopted by the International Organization for Standardization, with minor differences, as 1968.
Representing all of the necessary diacritics on computers requires Unicode, Latin-2, Latin-4, or Latin-7 encoding. Other Slavic based romanizations occasionally seen are those based on the Slovak alphabet or the Polish alphabet, which include symbols for palatalized consonants. ALA-LC Romanization Tables
American Library Association (1885) and Library of Congress (1905). Used by US and Canadian libraries for representing bibliographic information. The latest 1997 revision is very similar to the 1905 version.
Requires Unicode for connecting diacritics, but these are often omitted in practice. BGN/PCGN
BGN/PCGN romanization is a series of standards approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names and Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use. Pronunciation is intuitive for English-speakers. Latest revision is from 1965.
Requires only ASCII characters if optional separators are not used. GOST (1971, 1983)/Derzhstandart (1995)
The Soviet Union's GOST, COMECON's SEV, and Ukraine's Derzhstandart are government standards bodies of the former Eurasian communist countries. They published a series of romanization systems for Ukrainian, which were replaced by ISO 9:1995. For details, see GOST 16876-71. ISO 9:1995
ISO 9 is a standard from the International Organization for Standardization. It supports most national Cyrillic alphabets in a single transliteration table. Each Cyrillic character is represented by exactly one unique Latin character, so the transliteration is reliably reversible. This was originally derived from the Scholarly system in 1954, and is meant to be usable by readers of most European languages.
The 1995 revision considers only graphemes and disregards phonemic differences. So, for example, г (Ukrainian He or Russian Ge) is always represented by the transliteration g; ґ (Ukrainian letter Ge) is represented by .
Representing all of the necessary diacritics on computers requires Unicode, and a few characters are rarely present in computer fonts, for example g-grave: g̀. Ukrainian National transliteration (1996)
The official system of Ukraine also employed by the UN and many countries' foreign services. It is currently widely used to represent Ukrainian geographic names, which were almost exclusively romanized from Russian before Ukrainian independence in 1991. Based on English orthography. It was codified in Decision No. 9 of the Committee on Issues of Legal Terminology, on April 19, 1996.
The decision states that the system is binding for the transliteration of Ukrainian names in English in legislative and official acts. A new official system has been introduced fot transliteration of Ukrainian personal names in Ukrainian passport in 2007 (see below).
The system requires only ASCII characters. Ukrainian official transliteration for personal names in Ukrainian passport (2007)
The system is used for transliterating personal names in Ukrainian passports, approved as Decision no. 858 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, June 26, 2007.
The system requires only ASCII characters. Romanization for other languages
Romanization intended for readers of other languages is usually transcribed phonetically into the familiar orthography. For example, y, kh, ch, sh, shch for anglophones may be transcribed j, ch, tsch, sch, schtsch for German readers (for letters й, х, ч, ш, щ). Or it may be rendered in Latin letters according to the normal orthography of another Slavic language, such as Polish or Croatian (as does the established scholarly system, above). Ad hoc romanization
Users of public-access computers or mobile text messaging services sometimes improvise informal romanization due to limitations in keyboard or character set. These may include both sound-alike and look-alike letter substitutions. Example: YKRAINCbKA ABTORKA for "УКРАЇНСЬКА АВТОРКА". See also Volapuk encoding.
This system uses the available character set.


Transcription is the representation of the spoken word. Phonological, or phonemic, transcription represents the phonemes, or meaningful sounds of a language, and is useful to describe the general pronunciation of a word. Phonetic transcription represents every single sound, or phone, and can be used to compare different dialects of a language. Both methods can use the same sets of symbols, but linguists usually denote phonemic transcriptions by enclosing them in slashes / ... /, while phonetic transcriptions are enclosed in square brackets [... ]. IPA

The International Phonetic Alphabet precisely represents pronunciation. Requires a special Unicode font.

Conventional romanization of proper names

In many publications, especially in English-language journalism, it is common to use a simplified system of transliteration, one that strives to be intuitively phonetic for anglophones. Such transcriptions are also used for the surnames of people of Ukrainian ancestry in English-speaking countries (personal names have often been translated to equivalent or similar English names, e.g., "Alexander" for Oleksandr, "Terry" for Taras).

Usually such a semi-formal usage is based on either the ALA-LC system (in America) or BGN/PCGN system (in Britain). Such a simplified system usually omits diacritics and tie-bars, simplifies -yj and -ij word endings to "-y", ignores the Ukrainian soft sign (ь) and apostrophe (), and typically substitutes ya, ye, yu, yo for ia, ie, iu, io at the beginnings of words. It may also simplify doubled letters.

Conventional transliterations can reflect the history of a person or place. Many well-known spellings are based on transcriptions into another Latin alphabet, such as the German or Polish. Others are transcribed from equivalent names in other languages, for example Ukrainian Pavlo ("Paul") may be called by the Russian equivalent Pavel, Ukrainian Kyiv by the Russian equivalent Kiev.

Treatises on history often use the pedantic transliteration with apostrophe for the name Rus’, even when they drop the apostrophe for all other names and words.

The employment of romanization systems can become complex. For example, the English translation of Kubijovyč's Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopædia uses a modified Library of Congress (ALA-LC) system as outlined above for Ukrainian and Russian names—with the exceptions for endings or doubled consonants applying variously to personal and geographic names. For technical reasons, maps in the Encyclopedia follow different conventions. Names of persons are anglicized in the encyclopedia's text, but also presented in their original form in the index. Various geographic names are presented in their anglicized, Russian, or both Ukrainian and Polish forms, and appear in several forms in the index. Scholarly transliteration is used in linguistics articles. The Encyclopedia's explanation of its transliteration and naming convention occupies 2-1/2 pages.

  • Kubijovyč, Volodymyr ed. (1963). Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopædia, Vol. 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-3105-6.

Table of romanization systems

Common systems for romanizing Ukrainian
Cyrillic Scholarly* ALA-LC BGN/PCGN ISO 9 National** French German
А а a a a a a a a
Б б b b b b b b b
В в v v v v v v w
Г г h h h g h, gh¹ h h
Ґ ґ g g g g g g
Д д d d d d d d d
Е е e e e e e e e
Є є je i͡e ye ê ie, ye² ie je
Ж ж ž z͡h zh ž zh j sh
З з z z z z z z s
И и y y y i y y y
І і i i i ì i i i
Ї ї ji or ï ï yi ï i, yi² ï, yi ji
Й й j ĭ y j i, y² i j
К к k k k k k k k
Л л l l l l l l l
М м m m m m m m m
Н н n n n n n n n
О о o o o o o o o
П п p p p p p p p
Р р r r r r r r r
С с s s s s s s s, ss
Т т t t t t t t t
У у u u u u u ou u
Ф ф f f f f f f f
Х х x or ch kh kh h kh kh ch
Ц ц c t͡s ts c ts ts z
Ч ч č ch ch č ch tch tsch
Ш ш š sh sh š sh ch sch
Щ щ šč shch shch ŝ sch chtch schtsch
Ю ю ju i͡u yu û iu, yu² iou, you² ju
Я я ja i͡a ya â ia, ya² ia, ya² ja
Ь ь
- or -

* Notes for the scholarly system
Where two transliterations appear, the first is according to the traditional system, and the second according to 1968. † Notes for ALA-LC
* When applied strictly, ALA-LC requires the use of two-character combining diacritics, but in practice these are often omitted. ‡ Notes for BGN/PCGN
* The character sequences зг, кг, сг, тс, and цг may be romanized as z∙h, k∙h, s∙h, t∙s, and ts∙h to differentiate them from the digraphs zh, kh, sh, ts, and the letter sequence tsh, which are used to render the characters ж, х, ш, ц, and the letter sequence тш. ** Notes for the Ukrainian National system
* Transliteration can be rendered in a simplified form:
** Doubled consonants ж, х, ц, ч, ш are simplified, for example Запоріжжя→Zaporizhia.
** Apostrophe and soft sign are omitted, except for ьо and ьї which are always rendered as ’o and ’i.
1. gh is used in the romanization of зг (zgh), avoiding confusion with ж (zh).
2. The second variant is used at the beginning of a word.

See also



  • Daniels, Peter T., and William Bright, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems, pp. 700, 702, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  • U.S. Board on Geographic Names, Foreign Names Committee Staff (1994). Romanization Systems and Roman-Script Spelling Conventions, p. 105.

External links

Transliteration systems

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