It's always intrigued me what the difference is between these two terms.

I can guess that translation is a contextual translation whereby the original foreign text is maintained with any language idiosyncrasies intact, whereas transliteration is translating the text verbatim, during which any context may be lost.

Any help clearing up this would be appreciated, and an example from another language would be awesome!

Thanks is advance.

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  • 6
    Transliteration means 'translating' a text from one writing system to another while keeping it in its original language. For instance, <Yom Kippur> transliterates יוֹם כִּפּוּר, while Day of Atonement translates it. – StoneyB Mar 17 '14 at 10:19
  • 3
    In linguistic usage there is a difference between “transliteration” (symbol-for-symbol transposition of one writing system to another) and “transcription” (Latinized phonological analysis). To stay with Stoney’s example: ywm kpwr is a transliteration; yom kippur is a transcription. – fdb Mar 17 '14 at 11:18

Transliteration is a conversion in the script. eg:

arabic كتاب = ktʾb (ISO-233)

hebrew זכר = zkr (ISO 259-3)

Transcription is a conversion according to the phonological rules. The IPA is one common target for such conversion:

arabic كتاب = ktaːb (direct transcription, omitting unwritten vowels)

Translation translates text from one language to another

arabic كتاب = book

  • Wouldn't most transliterate L-R for a R-L conversion? I've always seen it that way, but perhaps there are two different conventions to that. – David M Mar 17 '14 at 13:22
  • 1
    @DavidM I'm assuming you're referring to the Hebrew example - that was a mistake. thanks, corrected. – msam Mar 17 '14 at 14:27
  • Yes. I have no knowledge of Arabic. Thanks for correcting it. – David M Mar 17 '14 at 14:39

Transliteration is a subset of translation. Translation can be categorised into various levels. Let us use Leviticus 18:22 as an example of various levels of translation ...

In Hebrew:
ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשּה תועבה הוא

  1. Translation level: transliteration (word-by-word literal translation)

    ואת = and with/to/at
    זכר = male
    לא = no/do not
    תשכב = shall sleep/lie-down
    משכבי = beds of
    אשּה = woman
    תועבה = abomination
    הוא = is he/it

  2. Translation level: transliteration (grammatical unit phrase-by-phrase literal translation)

    ואת זכר = and with male
    לא תשכב = shall you not sleep/lie-down
    משכבי אשּה = a woman's beds
    תועבה הוא = it is an abomination

  3. Translation level: whole phrase non-contextual (independent of surrounding passages)

    You should not lie-down/sleep a woman's bed with a male. It's an abomination.

  4. Translation level: whole phrase contextual with passage (which in this case is not much different from the non-contextual.

    You should not sleep on a woman's bed with a male. It's an abomination.

  5. Translation level: interpretive (translation of passage subject to dogma/doctrines not found in the passage)

    • Cultural conservative:
      You should not sleep with a man as you would a woman. It's an abomination.

    • Grammatical fundamentalist:
      You should not sleep with a man on a woman's bed. It's an abomination.

    • Liberal:
      You should not sleep with your male spouse on your female spouse's bed. It's an abomination.

    • Creative:
      You should not have sex with your male spouse the same way as you would your female spouse. It's gross. Use different techniques.

    • Graffiti:
      You should not sleep with a male on a woman's beds. He is an abomination.

Appendix: due to masm:

  1. Translation level: none. char transliteration

    ואת = B'ET
    זכר = ZKR
    לא = LO
    תשכב = TShKB
    משכבי = MShKBI
    אשּה = AShH
    תועבה = TOABH
    הוא = HUA

  2. Translation level: none. grammatical char transliteration

    ואת = V'ET
    זכר = ZaKaR
    לא = LO
    תשכב = TIShKaV
    משכבי = MiShKVI
    אשּה = EiShaH
    תועבה = TOEiVaH
    הוא = HU

  • That's a wonderful description and breakdown! Thank you!! – Dan Atkinson Mar 17 '14 at 12:05
  • 2
    @DanAtkinson except that it's wrong: transliteration is not word-by-word translation but a script conversion ie: זכר = rkz (according to ISO 259-3) – msam Mar 17 '14 at 12:22
  • msam, atkinson: pardon me, I had left out character level transliteration. – Blessed Geek Mar 17 '14 at 12:47
  • I had also misread הוא as היא - corrected. – Blessed Geek Mar 17 '14 at 13:05
  • 2
    It appears that my answer is not precise. Or may be wrong. Transliteration usually means char level transliteration. What meant here as word-level transliteration is usually termed literal translation. However, word transliteration is a term colloquially used (perhaps, mistakenly used) in place of literal translation. You should "unchoose" my answer. – Blessed Geek Mar 17 '14 at 13:14

Translation is meaning of something in language other than the one in which it was said/written.

Transliteration gives the word from a different language in letters that you can understand so as to be able to pronounce it .


There is a difference between read and read. One is present tense the other is past tense. This question has been beaten to death like a horse. Therefore, rather than using all the 'windfoggery,' allow me to simply define one at a time. TRANSLATION: It can be loose or tight, however which way, it must be in context. But even then, there are differing words, for all languages, which follow another words's meaning. A place to stay is a home i.e. flat i.e. apartment i.e. top room, and so forth. A translator does his or her best task in trying to place themselves out of the picture, as not to influence the translation, and studies the individual life or thinking of the individual who originally wrote it, of whom they are trying to translate. TRANSLITERATION: I am a Jewish, English, Norwegian speaker. I know that the translation is from Hebrew to English, however not everyone in America speaks or reads Hebrew, so therefore I transliterate for them in English. I write in English what the Hebrew translation is trying to say, or more important - mimic in the English tongue, how to speak, the best a possible, 'Shabat shalom,' or what I have translated from Hebrew. Ehe English speaker - if he dares - can try to speak the phrase in Hebrew, and allow all the Jews to laugh.

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