Decorative Arch, Resafa, Syria. Copyright, Daniel Schwartz. Documentation

What are "Transliteration", "Romanization" and "Vocalization"?

Transliteration, in the sense used here, refers to the rendering of characters written in one script in another script. For example, the Syriac word ܟܬܒܐ can be transliterated into English as ktbʾ. While transliteration can occur between any two scripts, transliteration into the Roman (or Latin) script can also be called "romanization". Finally it should be noted that romanization schemes themselves can vary based on the target language. For example a Anglicized transliteration of the Syriac letter ܫ might be sh while a Francophone romanization scheme might render the character as ch.

Vocalization, in the sense used here, refers to marking of vowels in languages such as Syriac or Arabic in which vowels were traditionally left unwritten. In the transliteration systems described below, the process of rendering text in Syriac script into Roman script may also be accompanied by the marking of vowels not indicated in the original text. For example, the Syriac word ܟܬܒܐ can be transliterated and vocalized into English as ktaba.

Use of Transliteration by publishes historical data using a variety of languages and scripts. For the aid of its users in searching, all entries in can be browsed according to a "headword" in Roman (Latin) characters. The romanized headword is usually related to the Syriac name for the entity, and in many cases it is a transliterated and vocalized name derived by from a non-Roman script form.'s preferred Anglicized transliteration system is that used by the Gorgias Encyclopedia of the Syriac Heritage (GEDSH). Nearly all entries provide transliteration according to this scheme which is described further below. may also provide additional data using other Syriac transliteration and vocalization systems.

These include the following standard schemes:

Anglicized Vocalized Transliteration

Unvocalized Machine-Reversible Transliteration

In addition, incorporates some data using legacy or historical transliteration schemes including a Francophone scheme developed by Fr. Ugo Zanetti for the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca.

N.B. Users can also search and browse the majority of entries using non-Roman scripts (Syriac, Arabic, etc.), but searching using Roman characters is the only way to search all entries at once regardless of language since not all entries have data in Arabic or Syriac script. Compare the following search results: "Mar" and "ܡܪܝ""

The GESDH Transliteration Scheme Implementation

The scheme is used in Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, eds. The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011). The following text is adapted with permission from page X of the introduction.

The Syriac consonants are transliterated:

ʾ, b, g, d, h, w, z, ḥ, ṭ, y, k, l, m, n, s, ʿ, p, ṣ, q, r, š, and t. 

Please note that the characters: ʾ and ʿ are not inverted commas or apostrophes but are the unicode “modifier letter right half ring” and “modifier letter left half ring” characters. Thus modifier letter left half ring ʿ is used to transliterate ʿayn and modifier letter right half ring ʾ is used to transliterate ālap.

In personal names and geographic names, šin is transliterated sh instead of š.

Ālap, waw, and yud are not indicated when they serve as matres lectionis.

Ālap is not indicated when it is word initial, e.g. alāhāʾit.

Spirantization (i.e. rukkākā) is generally not marked, though in several more well-known words it is marked (e.g. beth).

Gemination of consonants is represented for E. Syr. but not for W. Syr.

The vowels:

East Syriac a, ā, e, ē (i.e. rbāṣā karyā), i, o, and u

West Syriac a, o, e, i, and u

The distinction between a and is not indicated in the transliteration of Syriac geographic names.

The E.-Syr. transliteration system can be used with material prior to the East/West division as well as for instances that span both the E.- and W.-Syr. traditions.

Schwa is not generally marked, except in certain proper names, for which the more common transliteration with schwa is used.

The Arabic consonants are transliterated:

ʾ, b, t, th, j, ḥ, kh, d, dh, r, z, s, š, ṣ, ḍ, ṭ, ẓ, ʿ, gh, f, q, k, l, m, n, h, w, and y.

Arabic ḥamza (ʾ) is not indicated when it is word initial.

The Arabic vowels are transliterated a, ā, i, ī, u, and ū. has emended the to GEDSH scheme in the following ways:

For personal names of people who are known primarily by a non-Syriac name (e.g., “Constantine”), the editors may choose to represent the name using the version most widely known in English or may follow standard transliterations for the language in question, e.g. Arabic or Greek.

For widely known figures in Syriac culture, such as Ephrem, editors may choose to represent the name using the version most widely known in English. N.B. For headwords for personal names, this policy allows greater flexibility than the GEDSH preference for Syriac proper nouns over English variants ("e.g. Yuḥannan (E. Syr.) or Yuḥanon (W. Syr.), but not John."). When possible, however, editors are encouraged to include as a name variant, a GEDSH style transliteration of the Syriac for all proper names, even those from Greek or other languages. E.g. the entry on John Chrysostom should include as a variant the GEDSH transliteration, Yoḥannan.

Including Greek suffixes (e.g., “-os”) on the end of Syriac names of Greek origin should reflect attested usage in Syriac and is done at the editors’ discretion.

The unstated GEDSH practice is to not distinguish “a” from “ā” vowels for Syriac, especially in transliteration of names of persons and places. This is left to the discretion of editors. (Note: the search engine is able to ignore macrons over vowels in searching).

Russian is transliterated according to the ISO 9:1995 standard.


  1. Tom Elliott, David Michelson, Gabriel Bodard, Eli Weaverdyck, Valeria Vitale, and Sarah Bond, “Name Romanization Guide,” Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, November 23, 2016,
  2. Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, eds. The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011).