Category Archives: Transliteration

Arabic Transliteration Systems

For a student starting out in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, the different transliterations systems for Arabic can be bewildering.

Academics in different countries follow special conventions to represent Arabic letters in the Latin alphabet, so it can take a while to get used to all these systems.

To be honest, they can still be confusing to a graduate student or a seasoned researcher.

Like when you’re submitting an article to a journal with a different system to your usual one. Or when you’re searching for Arabic titles on a Turkish cataloguing system for the first time (what a nightmare!).

Summary of Systems by Country

Here’s a quick overview of some of the main transliteration systems for Arabic arranged by country.

Germany

The DIN 31635 is the standard used for Arabic transliteration in German (and French, I think) scholarship. It is based on the system originally devised for the Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) by Carl Brockelmann and Hans Wehr.

It differs from the North American and British systems in that each Arabic letter is represented by a single Latin letter. This is the reason why I prefer it.

  • A version of this standard is available here (courtesy of Thomas T. Pedersen): http://transliteration.eki.ee/pdf/Arabic_2.2.pdf
    This PDF file is extremely useful as it also includes the following standards: ISO 233 (1984), ISO/R 233 (1961), UN (1972), ALA-LC (1997) and EI (1960).

Spain

I’m not familiar with any official standards in Spain, but the conventions of the journal al-Qantara are available online.

United Kingdom

The Journal of Islamic Studies (published by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies) uses a system that is broadly representative of British conventions. Their transliteration system is based on that of the Encyclopaedia of Islam with some modifications.

The editors also state:

“Foreign words accepted in English usage should be spelled in accordance with the New Oxford Dictionary of English or the Concise Oxford Dictionary.”

United States

The American Library Association and Library of Congress romanization table for Arabic clearly explains the system they use.

Using LaTeX to Display Arabic Transliteration

LaTeX offers an excellent way to display any of these transliteration systems. For more information on this topic, check out my post on symbols here: https://latexforhumans.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/symbols/

Please add any more information you have (especially for Spain and Turkey) by adding a comment to this post.

Useful Links

For those of you not using LaTeX, I can recommend the following fonts for displaying the symbols used for these transliteration systems:

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Symbols

The Comprehensive LaTeX Symbol List

If you find yourself wondering how to create your chosen transliteration style and can’t find the right character input, this will make happy reading:

The Comprehensive LaTeX Symbol List by Scott Pakin (4.3Mb PDF)

Common Transliteration Symbols in LaTeX

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At 152 pages, the comprehensive symbol list is a bit unwieldy.

As a quick reference, I’ve made a one-page table of the most commonly used transliteration symbols for dealing with French, German, Spanish and transliterated Arabic – along with some examples.

You can download it from here:

Common Transliteration Symbols in LaTeX (61Kb PDF)

Semtrans Package

For people working with Semitic languages, the Semtrans package can be useful.

I found this after weeks searching for how to represent the Arabic letter kha’ in the style commonly used in German scholarship (a letter ‘h’ with a little u underneath). You get this by typing \U{h}. See page 14 of the comprehensive symbol list. `Ayn is \Ayn.

N.B. When using the command \U{h} in a section heading, you need to add \protect beforehand, so the command becomes \protect\U{h}. Otherwise, you will get error messages and the symbol won’t display. Thanks to Berteun for this tip. I haven’t found any difficulties with the \Ayn command.