Hindi Language Blog

Lost in Transliteration Posted by on Jan 28, 2014 in Hindi Language

Lost in translation can be bad and let me tell you, that as a language learner, being lost in transliteration can be equally bad. But many of you might be wondering, what is this transliteration anyway? And as a Hindi learner, how are you affected by it?

Transliteration is the process (प्रक्रिया – Prakriya) of converting a text from one language into another. The verb is to transliterate. Many of you who might be following my previous post have already seen the romanized version of Hindi text from Devanagari script to Latin script. The transliterated version or romanized version provides any foreign language learner, the ability (क्षमता – Ksamata) to put a word from one language into his own language. This ability is very essential for easier grasp of a foreign language in more cognitive way.

But does this transliteration process also has some disadvantages? As matter of fact, it does. As the transliteration is concerned only to represent the characters accurately but not so in representing the phonemic of the original. What does it mean for the learner? it means, the user may accurately convert the text between the two languages in the written form, but may not so in the spoken form. As many of you might have experienced yourself that we tend to assume the pronunciation (उच्चारण – Ucchaaran) of a word on the basis of the spelling. while we are learning a foreign language. Certainly, those of you learning English may have your our pet peeves concerning the pronunciations of English words such as ‘put’ or ‘cut’ e.g. there is ‘u’ in ‘put’ but what does ‘cut’ has no ‘u’ though it spelling certainly does.

When we talk about Hindi, we may have a different problem (समस्या – Samasya) here. As we transliterate from Hindi to a another language say, English then there maybe no equivalent (समान – Samaan) of certain alphabets of Hindi and they will be substituted to their closely resembling sounds in English. That is where the phonemic system comes into play. Some of the words from Hindi such as निर्वाण (Salvation) is transliterated as Nirvana because there is no equivalent sound of ‘ण’ in English. Even those words which may be transliterated correctly are usually transliterated in a wrong way by mainstream media for many words such as राम (a Hindu God) which is transliterated as ‘Rama’ though a native Hindi speaker will always pronounce it as ‘Raam’. This list goes on and on.

From a learner’s prospective, this could be confusing as well as disappointing. Therefore, it becomes imperative (अनिवार्य – Anivaary) for any Hindi learner to is to learn the alphabets and their sounds. And if they come across the transliterated text, they must be careful. More and more such transliterated words will show up, where there no equivalent sound in the second language e.g. English.

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About the Author: Nitin Kumar

Nitin Kumar is a native Hindi speaker from New Delhi, India. His education qualification include Masters in Robotics and Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. Currently, he is working in the Research and Development in Robotics in Germany. He is avid language learner with varied level of proficiency in English, German, Spanish, and Japanese. He wish to learn French one day. His passion for languages motivated him to share his mother tongue, Hindi, and culture and traditions associated with its speakers. He has been working with Transparent Language since 2010 and has written over 430 blogs on various topics on Hindi language and India, its culture and traditions. He is also the Administrator for Hindi Facebook page which has a community of over 330,000 members.