Working Group on Romanization Systems meeting

11th August 2017, United Nations, New York

The Working Group on Romanization Systems (WGRS) met in the course of the 11th UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names on the morning of 11th August 2017.

The Convenor welcomed the participants and thanked them for their attendance. The WG studied and approved the proposed agenda:

  1. Romanization of Arabic
  2. Romanization of Sinhala
  3. Romanization of the Indian group of languages
  4. Other romanization issues
  5. Convenorship of the WG and future plans
  6. Any other business

Under item 1, Romanization of Arabic

The Working Group considered in some detail the draft resolution on the romanization of Arabic geographical names that was being put to the 11th UNCSGN on behalf of the Arabic Division.

The Convenor described the background to the currently approved UN system (1972), noting that a new system had been on the agenda of the Arabic Division for a long time, and described the evolution of the new proposal (2007).

WGRS’s views on the system had been solicited and a side meeting had been held during the previous WGRS meeting in Prague, April 2017. Comments resulting from this meeting had been compiled and submitted to the Arabic Division, and these comments had in turn been considered in a meeting of the Arabic Division held in May 2017 in Riyadh attended by the WGRS Convenor and UNGEGN Chair (1).

Participants from the Arabic Division recorded their views, mostly in support of the draft Resolution though particular objections from Algeria were recorded. It was noted that the Resolution’s text included scope for the system not to be adopted in areas where it was not felt to be applicable.

It was noted that if the Resolution were passed that the WGRS’s task would be to update the system on the WGRS website and to monitor the implementation of the system.

[Subsequent note, the 11th UNCSGN approved the recommendation with objections from Algeria and Tunisia, to be passed to ECOSOC for final approval.]

Under item 2, Romanization of Sinhala

The Convenor reported that he and some members of the Working Group had been in correspondence with Mr Hettiarachchi towards a new draft system for Sinhala. Points to note from the resulting draft, after receiving some input from WGRS members, included:

It was reported that Mr Hettiarachchi welcomed any further feedback. After this forthcoming period of consultation, the draft system would be submitted to the Sri Lankan Government for approval. It was noted that the proposed extent of the implementation of the system remained to be clarified.

Under item 3, Romanization of the Indian group of languages

The Convenor reported that 13 of the currently UN-approved systems of romanization had never been implemented: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu.

The WGRS noted that it was difficult to recognise the relevance of such internationally adopted romanization systems for which there was no official implementation by the sponsoring nation, and two possible solutions were mooted:

It was acknowledged that the first of these was preferable, and appreciatively recognised by the WG as being a realistic way forward given the attendance of delegates from India. The participants from India confirmed the consistent and widespread use of the Hunterian system for the romanization of geographical names in India, and would continue to liaise with the Convenor on proposed next steps.

Under item 4, other Romanization issues

Lao: It was reported that Mr Päll and Ms Cheetham had met with Ms Noun Phommixay during the course of the Conference and that she had supplied a paper copy of updated romanization guidelines. It was hoped that an electronic version could be shared, so that this could be disseminated to the WG members. Ms Phommixay had agreed that comments would be awaited from Working Group members before the document was submitted to the Ministry of Justice.

Kazakh: Mr Aimenov reported that the planned transition to Roman script for the Kazakh language would start in 2018, noting that Roman script would facilitate use of the internet, and also noting that Kazakhstan would look to the models of Roman-script adoption in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan for Kazakhstan’s own transition.

Khmer: Mr Ith Sotha had reported in conversation with the Convenor in the course of the Conference that no significant progress had been made on romanization of Khmer, and that the relevant committee was undergoing reorganisation.

Montenegrin: It was noted that the addition of Montenegrin to the ISO 639 list of language code was under discussion, and if it were included in this Standard then it would also become a topic for discussion for WGRS.

Under items 5 and 6, Convenorship, Future plans, AOB

The current Convenor Peeter Päll had previously noted his desire to step down as Convenor of the working group and proposed that for the coming two year period that Catherine Cheetham, United Kingdom, become a co-convenor. The Working Group accepted this proposal.

The meeting closed noting the possibility of a future meeting of the Working Group on Romanization Systems to be in conjunction with another UNGEGN Working Group, perhaps in 2018. The Working Group’s Convenors would update the members on this in due course.

Notes taken by Catherine Cheetham


Brahim Atoui (Algeria), Farid Benramdane (Algeria), Hamid Oukaci (Algeria), Peter Jordan (Austria), Gerhard Rampl (Austria), Peeter Päll (Estonia), Ulla Onkamo (Finland), Georgios Valvis (Greece), Girish Kumar (India), Amit, Pant (India), Panhaj Mishra (India), S. K. Sinha (India) Abhimanyu Kumar Manish (India), Kohei Watanabe (Japan), Awni Khasawneh (Jordan), Ali Al-Olimat (Jordan), Ebrahim Alusour (Jordan), Amirkhan Aimenov (Kazakhstan), Abdellah El Abdi El Alaoui (Morocco), Zineb Didouz (Morocco), Yousuf Al Nabhani (Oman), Maciej Zych (Poland ), Mohammed Al-Marri (Qatar), Sungjae Choo (Republic of Korea), Alexey Trifonov (Russia), Abdullah Alwelaie (Saudi Arabia), Khalid Al Rowis (Saudi Arabia), Talal Alshafaey (Saudi Arabia), Mohammed Khashaan (Saudi Arabia), Hani Hassan Zahid (Saudi Arabia), Nassar Abujabal (State of Palestine), Abdulwahab Albustani (United Arab Emirates), Catherine Cheetham (United Kingdom), Trent Palmer (United States), Cosimo Palagiano (IGU Observer)

1 Specifically, the comments and replies/alterations to the draft (shown in uppercase) were: