Working Group on Romanization Systems meeting

Czech Geodetical & Land Survey Office, Prague, Czechia, 7th April 2017

The Working Group on Romanization Systems (WGRS) met at a joint meeting with the Working Group on Exonyms (WGE), which was attended by c.25 participants including from Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and United Kingdom, as well as the Convenor, Mr Peeter Päll (Estonia).

The Convenor welcomed the participants and thanked them for their attendance. He also thanked Mr Peter Jordan for organizing this combined meeting of WGRS and WGE, noting that combining the two working group meetings had proved successful. Mr Päll also thanked the Czech Geodetical & Land Survey Office for hosting the meeting.

The WG studied and approved the proposed agenda:

  1. Introductory remarks.
  2. Romanization in a changing world (Paul Woodman).
  3. Preparations for the 11th UNCSGN (status of various romanization systems).
  4. Romanization of Arabic.
  5. Proposal to measure the implementation of UN-approved systems (continuation from the Bangkok meeting).
  6. Any other business.

1. Introductory remarks

The Convenor noted that WGRS was one of the most longstanding UNGEGN working groups. Its role was to provide feedback to donor countries wishing to get Romanization Systems approved by the UN. This approval could currently only occur at UNCSGN (every five years) but the proposed changes to the schedule of UNGEGN sessions might result in this opportunity being available every two years.

The principal criteria to be considered when approving Romanization Systems were:
a) The system should be based on scientific principles
b) The system’s degree of reversibility
c) The extent on the system’s implementation (on cartographic products)

2. Romanization in a changing world (Paul Woodman)

Mr Paul Woodman presented his paper, which provided an overview of the changes in toponymic romanization issues over the past four decades and considered the wider context of romanization, rather than focusing on the technical aspects. The three main changes were:

3. Preparations for the 11th UNCSGN (status of various romanization systems)

The Convenor would prepare a report on the last five years work of the WGRS.

There were currently 45 languages/scripts on the WGRS’s agenda, for which status reports were available on the WGRS website. These included:
a) 30 UN-approved romanization systems (although with differing levels of implementation)
b) 15 languages/scripts not yet covered by the UN.

The number of UN romanization systems could increase with countries putting forward systems for indigenous languages, e.g. Inuktitut in Canada.

a) UN-approved systems

Of interest to the WGRS here were:

b) Languages/scripts not yet covered by the UN

These included:

The Convenor and members of the WG provided updates on the status of some systems:

4. Romanization of Arabic

The proposed changes to the UN Romanization System for Arabic were considered. The obstacles to implementation of a Romanization System for Arabic across the Arab world were discussed.

The differences between Beirut 1972 System (current UN System) and the ADEGN 2007 System (approved at the 3rd Arab Conference in 2007) were discussed. The issues highlighted included:

The WGRS would compose a letter to ADEGN containing its recommendations on the 2007 System. Those members with knowledge of Arabic gathered with the Convenor in the break to draft this letter. The Convenor would first circulate the draft letter to this group and then to the wider WGRS for comment before sending the WGRS recommendations to ADEGN.

5. Proposal to measure the implementation of UN-approved systems (continuation from the Bangkok meeting)

The group discussed a proposal to measure the implementation of romanization systems, which considered the following points:
a) What is implementation? – This could refer to national or international use and would not necessarily be restricted to mapping, rather it encompassed the wider use of place names, e.g. on signage.
b) Implementation on a wider scale that purely toponyms might be considered a bonus, e.g. use for personal as well as place names might indicate a stronger status.
c) Who should be the judge?

Mr Paul Woodman commented that while it is reasonable to request evidence of implementation, judging implementation was problematic. For example, mapping might be provided but how would the WGRS assess what was actually happening on the ground.

Dr Kohei Watanabe expressed reluctance at the mention of personal names. The WGRS agreed to change the wording in this regard to ‘elsewhere, e.g. in passports’.

6. Any other business

Notes taken by Becki Maddock.