Meeting of the Working Group on Romanization Systems

26th May 2009

The Working Group on Romanization Systems met informally out-of-session on 11 May 2009 during the 25th Session of UNGEGN in Nairobi, Kenya. The Working Group’s Convenor, Dr Peeter Päll, chaired the meeting and led the WG members through an agenda that covered a number of romanization systems.


The expert from Lebanon, General Maroun Khraish, introduced a paper on the romanization of Arabic. This paper outlined the system for Arabic romanization that had been approved at the 3rd Arab Conference on Geographical Names held in Beirut in 2007. The system differed in certain elements from the current UN-approved Arabic romanization system and General Maroun noted the intention to continue implementing this newer system in all Arabic-speaking countries – implementation being a key factor in a system’s readiness for approval by the UN – and subsequently to present it to the next United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names which would take place in 2012.

General Maroun claimed that each of the Roman-script characters encountered in the system was available in the Unicode Standard of encoding. These included a Vietnamese letter required to represent the alif maqşūrah (ىٰ). WG members commented that this was difficult to find, and to reproduce. The double-underlined d͟h (to represent ظ) was also difficult to reproduce: a combined diacritical mark had to be employed, and this encoding (035F) was included in very few fonts.

The Convenor noted the importance of using Unicode, rather than custom-building fonts, to ensure that characters could be transmitted electronically.


The experts from the Islamic Republic of Iran described the use and implementation in Iran of the “broad transcription system” for representing Persian in Roman-script. This system was used in the official database, available at The opinion of WG members as to the relative merits of the transliteration system (currently approved for use in the UN) and the transcription method was solicited. A number of members noted that only through the transliteration system could the linguistic heritage of the original Persian be conveyed and that it was only possible to re-create the Persian script from the transliterated form. Iran stated the intention also to include transliterations in the database.

French systems of Romanization

The expert from France described the development in France of romanization systems for Arabic, Cyrillic and Greek for national French use. These systems were not intended as alternatives to the UN-approved systems, but were systems only for use in a French-language environment; they captured both the original phonetics and the nuances of French orthography.


Dr Päll continued to maintain the WG’s website and updates had been made to a number of systems. It was likely that the next meeting of the Working Group would take place some time before the 26th UNGEGN.