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Language and Writing Center: Transliteration


 النَقْحَرَةal-naqḥara   μεταγραφή→metagraphē   ﬨַעﬨִיק→taʿtîq   전자jeonja

Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Korean, and other languages utilize different alphabets that have letters and sounds that have no correlation to the twenty-six letter English-Latin alphabet. Scholars writing in English about sources in these and other languages need to write out these letters and sounds in Latin script so that a general audience can sound out the words and so that other scholars can reconstruct the original spellings.  Scholars of these languages have therefore devised transliteration systems with special characters for representing these letters and sounds not found in English.

If you are seriously and critically engaging in source materials in such a language in your Master's thesis, Ph.D. dissertation, or other formal work, then you will most likely be expected to follow a transliteration system involving special characters.  If you are looking to publish something with an academic journal or press, note that the publisher may have a preferred transliteration style.  While you should defer to your transliteration system's guidelines, there are in general two major rules when transliterating:

  1. The most important rule of transliteration is to be consistent!  If you decide to fully transliterate one word from another language, then you must transliterate all words from that language.  Follow the same transliteration scheme throughout your whole document, with the following exceptions:
    • If you quote another writer who has used a different transliteration style, then you must quote them as is with their different transliteration style.
    • Certain names and words are now common enough in English that you may decide to use the common English spelling.  For example, it is fine to type out Hanukkah instead of Ḥănukâ or Quran instead of Qurʾān in general discussions on those topics, particularly if you are not writing for specialists.  The major exception is that these words should be fully transliterated if part of a transliterated phrase.
    • Modern writers and figures whose names derive from Arabic/Greek/Hebrew/Korean/etc. often already have preferred Latinized spellings for their names by which they are already known.
  2. You should in general italicize transliterated words, with the following exceptions:
    • If the transliterated word appears in text that should otherwise be italicized—like the title of a book in a bibliography—then the transliterated word should not be italicized.
    • Formal nouns on their own, like the names of persons or places as well as terms with common English spellings, do not need to be italicized, unless they are in a phrase that is to be transliterated.

How to Type Special Characters

So, how do you type special characters like: Ā ă ʾ ç ḍ ḏ ʿ ğ Ḥ Ḫ ï ñ Ō ô Ṣ š ż ?

Insert a Symbol (Microsoft Word)

If you only type a few special characters rarely in Microsoft Word, then inserting a symbol is the easiest way to go about it.  Click on the top menu option Insert, and then on the far right, click on the Ω Symbol icon. You can then find and click on the desired character.

Shortcut Keys (Microsoft Word)

If you find yourself transliterating more often but you only regularly transliterate with a few characters, then consider learning the Unicode shortcut keys for those characters.  For example, in Microsoft Word, you can type in 1e62 and then hold the Alt and X keys 1E62 Alt+X to get the character Ṣ, capital S with a dot below.  You can find a character's shortcut key in the insert a symbol table (see above).

Special Characters (Google Docs)

You can type in special characters in a similar way on Google Docs.  Click on Insert in the top menu, and then, about half way down the menu, click on Ω Special characters.  You can then browse through the menus and charts to find the desired character, or use the search or draw symbol function.  Similar to Word's Shortcut Keys, each character comes with a Unicode value; for example, the character Ṣ is U+1E62.  You could therefore type in 1e62 (with to without U+) into the search to get Ṣ.

Character Viewer (Apple)

If you do not have to type special characters often and you use an Apple computer, then you can insert your special character through the Character Viewer.  You can access the Character Viewer by clicking on Edit in the top menu bar, and then clicking on Emojis & Symbols at the bottom.  Alternatively, on your keyboard, hold the function or globe key and E, fn+E.  Search through the table to find your desired character.  When you find what you're looking for, make sure to click on the Add to Favorites button on the right so it will be easier to find next time!

Downloadable Keyboard and Font Programs

Many students and scholars who regularly type transliterated words and phrases, or even words or phrases directly in the Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, or other alphabets, download and utilize a keyboard program. They take a little bit of time to learn and get used to, but with practice, they are by far the fastest way to type in special transliteration symbols.  Free keyboard and font programs are available from the Society of Biblical Literature and Doulos SIL.  Both include instruction manuals that explain how to download and utilize the programs.

Common Academic Transliteration Styles