Compiled by the UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems
Version 2.2. January 2003
The report is an updated version of a document presented to the 20th Session of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN, New York, 17–28 January 2000, Working Paper No. 34 and 34/Corr.). The overall aim of the report is to clarify the present status and the degree of implementation of the United Nations romanization systems used for converting geographical names from other writing systems than Roman. Since 1967, the United Nations conferences on the standardization of geographical names have adopted resolutions recommending romanization systems that cover 28 languages and/or scripts: Amharic, Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Kannada, Khmer, Macedonian Cyrillic, Malayalam, Marathi, Mongolian (in China), Nepali, Oriya, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Uighur, Urdu. Not all of them have been implemented on equal level, both nationally and internationally.
It has been agreed from the beginning that one of the general aims of international standardization is "to arrive at an agreement on a single romanization system, based on scientific principles, from each non-Roman alphabet or script, for international application" (Resolution 9 of the first UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, 1967). The Fourth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (1982) also adopted Resolution 15 which called for guidelines governing the consideration of romanization systems. The resolution stated that
In the reports of the UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems and elsewhere it has been emphasized that the process of adoption of a romanization system by the UN involves the following prerequisites.
There are many aspects that one should consider when adopting new romanization systems for international use. These concern both the nature of the system itself, practical considerations and expectations for its future usage. The romanization systems would benefit from the following.
If the above conditions should be irreconcilable as is sometimes the case, it is the practical aspects that are the most decisive. For writing systems which would not allow for practicable and easy-to-use reversible romanization systems, it is often necessary to adopt two different romanization methods. The transcription method is the one recommended for wide usage, including the romanization of geographical names which is the area of interest for the United Nations. The second method, transliteration, could be applied for rendering the original script forms, e.g., in bibliography. Such systems fall into the sphere of activities of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). For one such language there may exist two totally differing systems. For example, for Thai there is the UN system 1967/2002 and ISO 11940:1998. Or these two can be combined into one integral system, as, for example, for Greek for which exists the UN system 1987 (ELOT 743) containing two versions of romanization: one for general purposes and the other for documentation, i.e., a fully reversible one. Reversibility is achieved by adding diacritical marks in case there could be ambiguities.
A new romanization system is typically submitted by the proposing country in form of a resolution to the next full United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. When the resolution is adopted, the subject romanization system becomes the United Nations standard.
The present report consists of two main parts. The first part lists languages with non-Roman writing systems and the romanization systems used to render geographical names from these languages.
The second part of the report presents an overview of romanization systems for each of the languages. A language section usually consists of an introduction that gives the origin of the UN system, describes the implementation of the system both nationally and internationally and briefly characterizes the system itself regarding the ease of applicability, reversibility, possible ambiguities and other problems.
The romanization system is presented with notes on its application if appropriate. While trying to preserve accurately the content of the original tables published in the UN materials, an attempt has been made to harmonize and consolidate their presentation. Where possible, all non-Roman characters are listed in the order which is traditional for the given language. Examples of romanization and details on pronunciation have been left out of the tables in this version as it is difficult to find sources for all the presented languages. Examples may be found in supplementary notes.
Briefly listed and compared with the main system are also other systems of romanization.
Major changes between Version 1.3 (March 2000) and Version 2.1 (June 2002).
Changes between Version 2.1 (June 2002) and Version 2.2 (January 2003), following the Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names in Berlin (2002).