Meeting of the Working Group on Romanization Systems

United Nations Headquarters, New York

Friday 3rd August 2012

1. Discussion of proposed romanization systems (continuation of Gdańsk, May 2012)

The Convenor summarized discussions that had taken place during the WG meeting in Gdańsk, May 2012. The question of reversibility had generated some debate, prompting the Convenor to draw together statistics in a paper concerning the reversibility of UN systems which was to be presented to the Tenth Conference as E/CONF.101/141. Email correspondence from the expert from Poland stressed the importance of ensuring UN systems were as reversible as technically possible.

a.) Belarusian
Belarus had presented a system of romanization to the Ninth UNCSGN in New York in 2007 which was reported to be in use on Belarusian products. A Resolution had been drafted for the Tenth Conference.

b.) Bulgarian
Bulgaria had proposed a new system of romanization to replace that approved by the UN in 1977. Whilst the system had been legally adopted in Bulgaria and was in widespread use, its lack of reversibility and perceived orientation towards the English language was seen by some WG Members as an obstacle to UN approval. Email correspondence from the expert from Bulgaria provided evidence of implementation and noted that intelligent software was available on the website of the Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre Agency allowing conversion from Bulgarian Cyrillic to Roman and vice versa. The WG debated the question of the system’s reversibility vs its level of implementation (see also Ukrainian below).

c.) Persian
There had been long discussions in Gdańsk about the proposed new romanization system for Persian, based on broad transcription, which was being used in the Iranian National Geographical Names Database. The importance of reversibility and evidence of implementation had also been considered. Fruitful discussions with the WG regarding some of the romanization equivalents had taken place and, as a result of this, the Islamic Republic of Iran had submitted a revised version of the system. This system captured the characteristics of the Persian language which was very different to Arabic. A Resolution had been drafted noting that further implementation of the system was needed but recommending its adoption to replace that agreed by the First Conference.

d.) Ukrainian
Ukraine presented its national system for the romanization of Ukrainian. This system, approved by Ukraine in January 2010, had incorporated several changes to that approved in 1996, and had also brought in line all systems used for the romanization of proper names in Ukraine. Whilst it was not fully reversible, the system had been widely implemented. A number of WG Members were not in favour of this system, as it was not considered to produce technically sound results in a standard Slavic Roman style which would be accessible to non-English language speaking receivers. The expert from Russia pointed out that the Ukrainian system was well-supported by Members of UNGEGN’s Eastern Europe, Northern and Central Asia Division, as it demonstrated all the qualities of a sound and stable system and had been widely accepted by and implemented in Ukraine.

2. Discussion of draft Resolutions

Resolutions had been drafted for the four systems discussed above. The WG agreed with the proposed wording for the systems for Belarusian and Iranian names. The proposed Resolutions for Bulgarian and Ukrainian were not unanimously supported. Referring to the arguments presented in the Statement of the Austrian Board on Geographical Names (WP 41), the expert from Austria stated that the adoption of these two resolutions would signify a full turn in UN policies and held the opinion that the fact that a conversion system was well implemented in a certain country should not overrule all other principles. This position was backed at this Working Group meeting by experts from the Czech Republic and Germany. Other Members considered stability and implementation to be of overriding importance and supported the systems as demonstrations of national standardization. This position was expressed by experts from Greece, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

3. Information on other languages/scripts

a.) Arabic
Correspondence had been received from the expert from Lebanon, reporting that the modified system for the romanization of Arabic, which incorporated a number of changes to the 1972 Beirut system, had been accepted by 12 Arab states. He argued that the modified system should be presented to the Conference through the Arabic Division, noting that support of all Arab states would not be possible to achieve. The expert from Tunisia reported that the system had been discussed at a meeting of the Arabic Division in July in Amman, Jordan, where a number of countries had highlighted the need to make provision for non-standard Arabic letters used in the Maghreb area which would take into account the local pronunciation. Any system for Arabic that differed from the 1972 system would require approval through the Arab League.

b.) Georgian
The experts from Georgia outlined the background to the development of a proposed national system for Georgian, noting that there had been some considerable discussion concerning the inclusion of apostrophes. A decision had been made to revert to the system which used apostrophes to mark abruptive consonants. The romanization of personal names was also under consideration. The Convenor encouraged the experts from Georgia to provide examples of the system’s implementation.

4. Any other business

The Convenor closed the meeting.

Caroline Burgess
United Kingdom
21st August 2012