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Middle East Studies: Transliteration

Guide to Middle East Studies: ancient, medieval & modern.

Introduction to Transliteration

The UCSB Library collection includes thousands of books, journals, visual, and audio materials in Middle Eastern languages. The combined UC collection is even larger and is one of the best collections in the world.

There are many transliteration schemes available, but all libraries in the United States follow those established by the Library of Congress and the American Library Association. If you are trying to figure out how to search for transliterated authors, book and journal titles, or series, follow the links below to the appropriate language table. Also keep in mind that for Arabic and Persian authors, the form of the name most often will be a direct transliteration of the name, rather than the form commonly seen in English translations. For example: Nawal El Saadawi is transliterated as Saʻdāwī, Nawāl. However, when someone is particularly well-known, such as political figures, outside of the Middle East you will likely find the most common form of the name as it appears in English language sources, e.g. Nasser, Gamal Abdel instead of ʻAbd al-Nāṣir, Jāmāl .You do not need to worry about representing special diacritics when you search, so she should be searched as Sadawi, Nawal.

These tables apply only to library catalogs (OPACS and WorldCat), online databases employ their own transliteration schemes, so check each one to find out how to search.

One of the major problems in locating materials on Middle East-related topics is how to "spell" names and terms or whether they should be searched in English translation. Terms from Middle Eastern languages often have variant transliterations in English. For example, shari'ah or shari'a or sharia or shari'at; muslim or moslem; Ghaddafi, Kaddafi, Qazzafi, Qadhdhāfī.; and so on! Most often Middle Eastern names appear in a form which transliterates into the Roman alphabet (the one we use for English) the letters written in a non-roman alphabet (such as Arabic or Hebrew). Library catalogs in North America and Great Britain use a standardized scheme for transliteration. So when searching OPACS or WorldCat for names and terms from Middle Eastern languages you will need to refer to this scheme. However, databases do not follow a standard scheme. Each one determines its own, plus a variety of schemes will appear in those databases which index journals because the journals have their own schemes. In this case, to be comprehensive, search all the forms you are aware of because any of these forms could appear in a book title, article, or note.

But here is SOME GOOD NEWS! You can now search the UCSB and UC online catalogs (UCSB Library Search and Melvly) using  Arabic and Hebrew scripts. You can also search WorldCat using these scripts. However, keep in mind that you will only get results for items which actually have the script in the record. Many older titles will only be available in transliterated form until such time as script is retrospectively added to the records.

Use the following tables for UC Library Catalogs and Worldcat:

Keyboards & Diacritics

Unicode Fonts and Keyboard Layouts for Entering Diacritics from Mamluk Studies Resources, Middle East Documentation Center, the University of Chicago


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