Context: I'm working on Anki decks (think fancy flashcards). One of the goals is to be able to recognize/spell words by their transliterations, but some words have identical transliterations and I'd need to list them: if I show basilēa I want to accept either βασίλεια ('queen') or βασιλεία ('kingdom') because they're words-with-the-same-transliteration, though they have different pronunciation and spelling. If I show I want to accept 魚, 於, etc.

I don't want to call them homographs because I would use that for words that are homographs in the original script, which can be but aren't always words-with-the-same-transliteration — Chinese 行 might be háng ('line, profession') or xíng ('walk, do, OK').

Question: If I wanted to list a word's words-with-the-same-transliteration, what would be the best thing to call them?

  • 1
    A transliteration is usually a representation of the pronunciation of the word. So how can they have different transliterations if they have different pronunciations?
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 18:50
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the fact that words/symbols in some other language might correspond to multiple English words is irrelevant to how English itself works from the point of view of native Anglophones (as addressed on ELU). Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 19:01
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    @FumbleFingers I'm looking for an English word similar to homophone, homograph, homonym, but that applies to words transliterated from one writing system to another. If mentioning other languages makes it off-topic, then imagine examples concerning other written forms of English like shorthand or Braille.
    – Muskworker
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 19:04
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    @FumbleFingers For a concrete example, "⠋" in Braille can transliterate to "F", "-self", "from", or "6". The question is essentially what can I call those four expansions of the Braille symbol, which all share a common transliteration into Braille?
    – Muskworker
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 19:23
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    @FumbleFingers We can use English to talk about the process of translating between different languages. That's why English might have a word for this, even though the languages we're translating between don't necessarily include English.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 19:55

2 Answers 2


It is a good question. You are looking at something that is definitely a homograph, yet needs further qualification. There may be no single word for this- would homographic transliteration work?

@Barmar- what you are referring to is called a transcription (the rendering of the sounds of the original into symbols).

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    "Homographs in transliteration" would probably be the phrase I'd go to if I had to resort to one.
    – Muskworker
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 20:44
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    If the transliterator can use accented characters or macrons, and not just a-z, then the OP's example is not an especially good one: basīlēa versus basilēa.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 21:18

I don't believe there is a term for this and it is due to the differences between writing systems and problematic nature of transliteration. For example, one English word may have several transliterations in Mandarin also; because the abundance of homophones in Chinese increases the number of similarly acceptable English-to-Chinese transliterations. Meanwhile, Chinese is a tonal language also and the tone of a character can help distinguish homophones; but it might not be possible in the transliterated version.

Another problem is that there can be different systems to transcribe Chinese characters to English. For example, older works often used Wade-Giles system but pinyin is becoming the standard in Western scholarship.

Here is a brief explanation why different Chinese characters can have the same transliteration:

In Chinese, one written character represent one spoken syllable. Because there are over 50,000 of these characters represented by just over 400 spoken syllables, there can be hundreds of distinct characters sharing the same transliteration.41

41 I'm describing here modern Chinese in the standard Mandarin dialect; these numbers vary over different dialects and historical periods.

"Imagined Civilizations: China, the West, and Their First Encounter" By Roger Hart

  • "hundreds of distinct characters sharing the same transliteration" - I guess he didn't have a word for the concept either.
    – Muskworker
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 2:08
  • @Muskworker: Yes but the real answer is "there is no term". I offered further explanation also. Making up new terms is off topic here. I could make up too if I wanted, for example: homotransliteration or homotransliterated words but they sound off.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 19:12

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