Working Group on Romanization Systems

Report on the Meeting of the Working Group in London, 16–17 May 2001.

  1. Following an invitation by the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use (PCGN), the UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems held its meeting in London, at the offices of the PCGN on May 16–17, 2001. Participants in the meeting included Mr. Brahim Atoui (Algeria), Mrs. Caroline Burgess (United Kingdom), Mr. Charles M. Heyda (United States), Mr. Naftali Kadmon (Israel), Mrs. Sylvie Lejeune (France), Mr. David Munro (United Kingdom), Mr. Peeter Päll (Estonia), Mr. Gerd Quinting (United States), Mr. Peter E. Raper (South Africa), Mr. Alessandro Toniolo (Italy), Mr. Paul J. Woodman (United Kingdom).
  2. The agenda of the meeting included recent developments of various romanization systems; romanization systems in the context of the United Nations; preparations for the Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (Berlin, 2002); other activities of the Working Group.
  3. While discussing the status of various romanization systems already approved by the United Nations, experts noted that the systems for Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Macedonian Cyrillic, Mongolian (in China), Persian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian Cyrillic, Tibetan and Uighur were stable and being used by the appropriate national authorities though the degree of implementation in different countries varied greatly and some aspects (e.g. the use of diacritical marks or apostrophes) deserved further attention. Alternative national systems were adopted and occasionally used for Bulgarian and Khmer. It was hoped that the proposed modification of the romanization system for Thai would be put forward at the next UN Conference in 2002, after clarifying some differences in the use of certain character complexes. Working Group members took note of the developments regarding the romanization system for Arabic, notably the planned conference on romanization issues in Algeria in 2002 and the meeting of experts of the Arabic Division planned to take place in the United Arab Emirates in autumn 2001, in accordance with resolution 4 of the Seventh United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (New York, 1998). More information was needed on the implementation of the romanization system for Amharic in Ethiopia. As regards the romanization systems for the languages of the Indian group (Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu), it was stated that, as these systems had not been implemented, it was necessary to contact the national names authorities of the countries of that division in order to obtain their views on the necessity of revising previous United Nations resolutions concerning the adoption of the aforementioned systems.
  4. Turning to the languages and scripts that are not yet covered by romanization systems recommended by the United Nations, members of the Working Group noted that while there existed national romanization systems for Byelorussian, Dzongkha, Laotian, and Maldivian, none of the systems had been presented to the Working Group and subsequently to UNGEGN sessions or United Nations conferences on the standardization of geographical names. National authorities of these countries needed to be contacted in order to encourage them to put forward their national systems for consideration by experts on geographical names. Experts noted that although the romanization system for Ukrainian had been discussed at previous UNGEGN sessions, there was no new information available since 1997 and the Roman-letter equivalents of certain Ukrainian characters still needed clarification. Working Group members took note of the new official system of romanization for Korean promulgated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Korea, in July 2000. The Working Group was mindful of the efforts by experts from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea started in 1989 seeking to agree on a single international system for the romanization of Korean geographical names. Information to clarify the actually utilized script and/or possible romanization systems for Armenian, Georgian, Kazakh and Tigrinya was obtained. No new information was received on the status of the romanization systems for Burmese, Japanese, Kirghiz, Mongolian (Cyrillic), Pashto, Sinhalese and Tajik.
  5. Working Group members noted that there was evidence of the actual and quite stable use of new official Roman alphabets for Turkmen and Uzbek. Thus, these languages now fall outside the scope of consideration of the Working Group. In order to facilitate the use of earlier name sources, however, it was agreed to include the tables of correspondences between Cyrillic and Roman characters for Azerbaijani, Turkmen and Uzbek in the report of the Working Group to the Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names.
  6. Discussing the difficulties faced by the United Nations departments and services in using geographical names, especially diacritical marks accompanying the letters and characters in some names, it was noted that there already existed technical solutions to solve the problems with diacritical marks. The UNGEGN Working Group on Toponymic Data Files and Gazetteers does address these issues. The resolutions of the United Nations conferences on the standardization of geographical names supported the use of diacritics in names since they are integral parts of the spellings of names.
  7. Working Group members also discussed preparations for the Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. This involved the contents and format of the report on the current status of United Nations romanization systems for geographical names and conceptions for the romanization sub-topic at the planned Technical Exhibition. Development of the Working Group website was also briefly discussed.
  8. During the two-day meeting the Working Group was able to discuss a wide range of topics, accomplishing a great deal of work thanks to the dedicated efforts of each participant of the meeting and to the excellent organizational support by the PCGN, the host of the meeting. Altogether, these meetings are most beneficial and will continue to be in the future.

Peeter Päll,
Convenor, Working Group on Romanization Systems