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What is a transliteration and how is it different to a translation?

What is a transliteration and how is it different to a translation?


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What is a transliteration and how is it different to a translation?

Are translation and transliteration the same? Many assume translation and transliteration are equivalent. However, there are some important differences between them.

What is translation?

Translation conveys one message from one language to another. It expresses an author’s intended meaning in another language in which audiences are not fluent.

The words a translator uses do not have to be identical in both the source and target language; the crucial element is the meaning. Additionally, the sounds of the words are usually entirely different.

For example, a Spanish to English translation would be ‘Hola’ to ‘Hello’, both words sounding completely different, yet carrying the same message.

What is transliteration?

Transliteration expresses the sound of how a word is pronounced in the source language, in the alphabet of the target language. It helps knowing how a word is pronounced in a foreign language.

There are sometimes different ways of transliterating a name in a given language. Consistency is important so it is a good idea to check whether their name has been transliterated before. Additionally, be aware that a transliteration of the name could be inappropriate or even offensive in the target language.

For example, a Russian to English transliteration of the word ‘Hi’ would be Привет, pronounced as “pree-vyet”.

Another example, the Romanian name Alexandru Cazacu. If he were going on a trip to Russia, his name would be transliterated into Russian as “Александру Казаку” which when pronounced in Russian would sound like “Aleksandru Kazaku”, very close to the original.

If he were going to Serbia, his name would be represented as “алекандру Цазацу” which would sound like “Alekandru Cazacu”, again very close to the original.

Finally, if he were going to Ukraine then the transliteration would be “Олександру Козаку” which equates to “Oleksandru Kozaku” which is about as close as one can get to the sound of the original in Ukrainian.

Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian all use Cyrillic alphabet but the principle is the same whichever alphabet is being used.

Do you need translation or transliteration?

When to use transliteration? It all depends on your needs. The most popular use of transliteration is in the context you have been advised to use it, usually with names of people or places.

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