Monday, April 18, 2022

Automatic Hebrew Transliteration

New version! More accurate and flexible transliteration engine than ever.

Transliterating Hebrew

Transliteration is the process of moving text from one writing system or alphabet to another. The purpose of this site is to do that automatically for Hebrew text.

There are many different alphabets in the world. Many languages, such as English, German, and Spanish use the Roman alphabet. Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and some other Jewish languages use the Hebrew alphabet. Russian, Ukranian, Bulgarian and other related languages use the Cyrillic alphabet.

Romanization of Hebrew

If you don't know the Hebrew letters, you might not be able to read and pronounce this Hebrew greeting: שָׁלוֹם. But if we approximate the sounds of this Hebrew word using Roman letters, then people can read it even if they don't know the Hebrew writing system: shalom. Transliterating into Roman letters is called Romanization.

However, speakers of different languages interpret the same Roman alphabet differently. Even though English, Spanish, and German all use mostly the same letters, each language has different rules about how they sound. This means that transliterations might need to be different depending on the native language of the reader.

Cyrillization of Hebrew

And if we do the same thing but use Cyrillic letters, then it is readable by Russian speakers: шалом. Transliterating into Cyrillic letters is called Cyrillization.

Hebrew Braille

You might know about Braille, the tactile writing system for visually impaired people. But did you know that Hebrew has its own version of Braille? Hebrew speakers can have Bibles, prayer books, and other texts written in Hebrew Braille. This website allows users to convert Unicode Hebrew text into the standard codes used by Braille printers and refreshable displays.

Hebrew Accents

Like English and many other languages, Hebrew speakers from different origins speak with different accents. Although there is a standard accent used in everyday speech in the State of Israel, other accents are not incorrect Hebrew. Hebrew is an ancient language, and accents have varied over time. But even in biblical times, people from different tribes and regions had different ways of pronouncing words.

Two of the most common categories of Hebrew accents today are Sephardi or Ashkenazi. Sephardic Jews come from communities around the Mediterranean region, while Ashkenazi Jewish communities flourished in Eastern Europe. Within these two categories, there are minor variances in pronunciation, and there are also other Hebrew accents outside these two.

When transliterating Hebrew, it is necessary to decide which accent's sounds you wish to represent in the other alphabet. For example, the Hebrew word for the Sabbath is שַׁבָּת. With a Sephardic accent, this is pronounced as shabbat. With an Ashkenazi accent, the same word is pronounced shabbos. Both are correct but one may be more suitable than the other for certain contexts and readers.

Transliteration Standards

There is no officially correct way to write Hebrew in Roman letters. Is it Chanukah, Ḥanukah, Chanuka, or Hanuka? There are some sounds in Hebrew that are hard to represent in English. Some methods of transliteration are optimized for simplicity, others for technical accuracy. Some methods make sure that you can still distinguish between letters that make the same or similar sound. Often, publishers or organziations specify their preferred style of transliteration so that they represent Hebrew in a consistent way in all their publications. This website allows you to use standards such as the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) and ISO-259-2.

Virtual Hebrew Keyboard

This website also allows you to use a virtual Hebrew keyboard with vowels. The button on the lower left also allows you to switch between different Hebrew keyboard layouts:

  • Standard is the layout used by most Hebrew speakers.
  • Phonetic is more intuitive for people who are used to the QWERTY layout.
  • Alpha arranges the letters in alphabetical order to make them easy to find.



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