This is a question about the usage of the word "transliteration".

The sort of transliteration I've come in contact with the most is the romaji, Japanese to latin alphabet transliteration. For example, 漢字 to "kanji".

However, I've noticed that we transliterate a word so people who can read one alphabet but not the other can still read that word, and that this practice happens within the Japanese language.

The furigana (ruby text) is placed alongside the most difficult Japanese characters, the kanji, when the reading of a word is either ambiguous or not commonly known. It's written with the easier Japanese hiragana or katakana.

So I was thinking that, if "kanji" is a transliteration of the Japanese 漢字, then the Japanese hiragana かんじ could be called a transliteration of 漢字, even though both are from the same language.

Is this the right way to use that word?

Edit - Further Thoughts

The word "transliteration" seems to do with letters, but if you look at it that way, then could you transliterate from "lower-case" to "UPPER-CASE"?

Maybe transliteration only applies when the letters have different sounds? But in that case, "apple" could be transliterated to "eipou" in Portuguese even though it's the same latin alphabet?

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    Or would it be a different spelling? I don't think the concept of transliteration holds within a language. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 10 '16 at 18:50
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    @EdwinAshworth I think it's not a different spelling. When a word is spelled differently the letters do change, however, a person is assumed to be able read either spelling written with the same alphabet. Both furigana and transliteration are used when you can't read a set of letters and need a different set of letters which you do understand to read a given word. – OdraEncoded Aug 10 '16 at 19:04
  • 'Transliteration' is an English term, and doesn't seem to cover the representation of normal English words using different symbols, for teaching or pronunciation-marking purposes (eg ITA, IPA). 'Transcription' may be more appropriate. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 10 '16 at 19:53

Transliteration means to change alphabet.

Write or print (a letter or word) using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language:
names from one language are often transliterated into another


I have no idea whether 漢字 is pronounced "kanji". If it is, that's transliteration. If 漢字, かんじ and kanji are all pronounced "kanji", then the change between Japanese alphabets is also transliteration.

A slightly less opaque example might be a name like Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский, which is transliterated as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Rendering the first name as Peter would be more of a translation.

  • Yes, the pronunciation is the same. Kanji are often used because they're shorter and they help differentiate between words that would otherwise have the same kana... like the words for bridge (橋) and chopsticks (箸) - both pronounced "hashi" but with slightly different emphasis. In writing, though, they'd be identical (はし). – Catija Aug 10 '16 at 19:59

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