Shape-based transliteration between alphabets?
August 25, 2011 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Is there a name for the practice of transliterating between alphabets, but doing substitutions based purely on shape, not sound? e.g., Я becomes R, З becomes 3, И becomes N...

I had a Russian friend who, when typing on a computer that would only support Latin character entry, would always chat with her friends using a shape-not-sound method. "Я забыл" would become something like "R 3a6bi/\" instead of anything phonemic.

It's kinda the same kind of thing with leet, h3ll0 n00bs and all that.

Does this kind of system have a name other than Oh Hey, Pretty Cool? Are there any other examples of this sort of mapping outside of Cyrillic and hip internet teens?

If the answer is just faux Cyrillic or "special magic transliteration" I am going to be so disappointed
posted by soma lkzx to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sure. This happens quite a bit. Google around for orthography and transliteration.

An example off the top of my head:

The Armenian letter "uh" ը sort of looks like an "@" symbol (more in written than in typed, but it is true), so people type that in transliteration.
posted by k8t at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: Apparently in the Cyrillic/Roman case it's called Volapuk Encoding, although Language Log comes up with the charming neologism of transletteration to describe the broader phenomenon.
posted by adamrice at 8:06 AM on August 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There are also ad-hoc transliteration schemes for Arabic (1, 2) and Greek.
posted by pmdboi at 8:18 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, faux-Cyrillic is a type of transletteration, but it's the exact opposite of what you're describing.
posted by griphus at 8:19 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Arabic chat alphabet uses a hybrid system. Arabic letters that have phonetic equivalent in the Latin alphabet are represented that way, but letters that don't are represented by number that sort of resembles the shape of the Arabic letter. So ع which has sort of an "ah" sound, only it's a consonant, is written 3. The letter ح which has kind of an h sound, but different from another h written with a different letter, is written 7. Sometimes apostrophes are used for dots.

On preview, pmdboi beat me to it.
posted by nangar at 8:26 AM on August 25, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This is all super helpful and super interesting.

And transletteration is the greatest word.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:36 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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