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Transliteration in a narrow sense is a mapping from one script into another script. It tries to be lossless, i.e., the informed reader should be able to reconstruct the original spelling of unknown transliterated words. To achieve this, it may define complex conventions about how to transliterate letters that have no simple correspondence in the goal script. Romaji is a transliterating method.

This is opposed to transcription, which maps the sounds of one language to the script of another language. Still, most transliterations map the letters of the source script to letters pronounced similarly in the goal script, for some specific pair of source and goal language. If the relations between letters and sounds are similar in both languages, a transliteration may be (almost) the same as a transcription. In practice, there are also some mixed transliteration/transcription systems, that transliterate a part of the original script and transcribe the rest. Greeklish is an example of such a mixture.

In a broader sense, the word transliteration is used to include both transliteration in the narrow sense and transcription. Anglicizing[?] is a transcription method. Romanization encompasses several transliteration and transcription methods.

Table of contents
1 Uses of transliteration
2 Transliterating cuneiform languages
3 Transliteration sites

Example to illustrate the difference between transliteration and transcription

In Modern Greek, the letters <η> <ι> <υ> and the letter combinations <ει> <oι> <υι> are all pronounced [i] (in SAMPA notation). A transcription consequently renders them all as <i>, but a transliteration still distinguishes them, for example by transliterating to <ē> <i> <y> and <ei> <oi> <yi>. (As the old Greek pronunciation of <η> was [E:], this proposal uses the character appropriate for an Old Greek transliteration or transcription <ē>, an <e> with a macron.) On the other hand, <ευ> is sometimes pronounced [ev] and sometimes [ef], depending on the following sound. A transcription distinguishes them, but this is no requirement for a transliteration.

Greek wordTransliterationTranscription
Eλληvικη Δηµoκρατια Ellēnikē DēmokratiaElliniki Dimokratia
ελευθερια eleutheriaeleftheria
Eυαγγελιo EuaggelioEvangelio
τωv υιωv tōn yiōnton ion
Maybe a New Greek native speaker could add the correct accents to the above examples.

Uses of transliteration

Transliterations in the narrow sense are used in situations where the original script is not available to write down a word in that script, while still high precision is required. For example, traditional or cheap typesetting with a small character set; editions of old texts in scripts not used any more (such as Linear B); some library catalogues (see www.ifla.org/VII/s13/pubs/isbdg0.htm (http://www.ifla.org/VII/s13/pubs/isbdg0.htm#0.6)).

For example, the Greek language is written in the 24-letter Greek alphabet, which overlaps with, but differs from, the 26-letter version of the Roman alphabet in which English is written. Etymologies in English dictionaries often identify Greek words as ancestors of words used in English. Consequently, most such dictionaries transliterate the Greek words into Roman letters.

Transliteration in the broader sense is a necessary process when you use words or concepts expressed in a language with a script other than yours.

The idea of transliteration is complicated by the genuine use in multiple languages of different common nouns for the same person, place or thing. Thus, "Muhammad" is in common use now in English and "Mohammed" is less popular, though there are excellent reasons for each transcription (and similarly for "Muslim" and "Moslem"). Muslim and Mohammedan are less interchangeable, but the typical French usage "Musulman" is considered offensively colonialist in English language contexts.

Transliteration is also used for simple encryption.

Many people believe that transliterations of the original language should be preferred for places, people and things over anglicised terms. For example, they might hold that what is now commonly called in English Munich should instead be called in English München, just as it in German. There is an increasing tendency in English to do exactly this, although the anglicised forms of most words are still more common, with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Beijing). Others do not approve of this trend.

Explanations for this may be a desire on the part of English speakers to be "authentic" and "correct", the increasing usage of English by native speakers of non-English languages (who may prefer to use their native language form for a native person or place even in English), and as a reaction to the spread of the English language, which threatens non-English languages--using the native forms of such words may be viewed as a way of compensating for the use of English.

Transliterating cuneiform languages

In the study of languages written in cuneiform, transliteration is the process of representing the sounds of written cuneiform signs in a lossless[?] way, as opposed to transcription, which is a lossy[?] method of representing the spoken language. Because cuneiform is polyvalent[?], signs may be interpreted to represent more than one syllable (or logogram). For example, the sign DINGIR may represent either the sound "an" or "il", as well as the word meaning god and the phonetic complement for a name of a deity. Similarly, the sign "MU" represents either the sound "a" or the word meaning water.

Therefore, a text containing DINGIR and MU in succession could be construed to represent the words "ana", "ila", god + "a" (the accusative ending), god + water, or a divine name "A" or Water. Someone transcribing the signs would make the decision how the signs should be read and assemble the signs as "ana", "ila", "Ila" ('god"+accusative case), etc. A transliteration of these signs, however, would separate the signs with dashes "il-a", "an-a", "DINGIR-a". This is much easier to read than the original cuneiform, but now the reader is able to trace the sounds back to the original signs and determine if the correct decision was made on how to read them.

Since Cuneiform also exhibits polyvalence[?], in which more than one sign represents a given sound, the transliteration for a phonetic value includes a designation of which sign represents the sound. Cuneiform signs are canonically numbered, and usually a subscripted number follows each sign: "u6" corresponds to a specific sign, whereas "u4" corresponds to a different one, both of which are pronounced "u". Due to a historical artifact, the sign number one is unnumbered and unaccented: "u" = "u1", number two is unnumbered with an acute accent: "ú" == "u2", and number three is often unnumbered with a grave accent: "ù" == "u3".

Transliteration sites

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