Talking about transliteration—and why it might come in handy for a genealogist.
Q. What’s the difference between a transliteration and a
A. A translation tells you the meaning of words in another
language. A transliteration doesn't tell you the meaning of the words, but it helps you
pronounce them. Transliteration changes the letters from one alphabet or
language into the corresponding, similar-sounding characters of another alphabet.
For example, this is the Hebrew word for the Festival of
Lights holiday: . The English transliteration of the Hebrew word is Hanukkah or Chanukah. In Spanish, the transliteration is Janucá or Jánuka.
Transliteration isn’t always an exact science—as with the above example, sometimes
words can be transliterated more than one way. For genealogists, transliteration
comes into play when you’re researching people and places that use
non-Roman alphabets, such as Hebrew, Cyrillic or Greek, and name changes of immigrants from those places. Our
ancestors often would
transliterate their names so Americans could spell and pronounce them,
producing many variant spellings.
Transliterations also are helpful when you're making research notes and your word processing
software doesn’t offer fonts with characters in the language of interest.
On the About.com Genealogy blog, Kimberly Powell writes
about using transliteration to help her identify an unfamiliar language on
headstones in a cemetery she visited.
This chart shows you how Hebrew characters transliterate into Roman ones.
This chart does the same with Greek characters
Stephen P. Morse offers a Russian to English transliteration
on his website.
can convert Roman characters to their phonetic equivalent in 17 languages. Read more about this tool on Google's blog