What Is Involved in Russian Transcription?

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  • Written By: A.M. Boyle
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2019
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Russian transcription is a very technical process by which words and sentences written in Russian are converted into other languages. This process requires a thorough knowledge of the Russian language and its various dialects. It also requires a strong knowledge of the language into which the written words are being translated and the differences between the Cyrillic alphabet and the alphabet subject to translation.

Russian transcription and translation, more accurately called transliteration, is based upon a scientific process whereby letters and sounds from the Russian language are interchanged with the letters and sounds of another language. The Russian language is based upon the Cyrillic alphabet, while many other languages use the Latin alphabet. There are also less common alphabets that form the basis for other languages, such as Manchu and Greek. Consequently, the process of Russian transliteration can be complicated and confusing depending largely upon which alphabet is being used.

Most times, those who perform Russian transcription specialize in one or two specific languages and alphabets. Aside from Cyrillic, the most common alphabet used in Russian transcription is the Latin alphabet, upon which English and many other languages are based. The process of transcribing the Russian Cyrillic alphabet into a language using the Latin alphabet is sometimes known as Romanization.


The Cyrillic alphabet uses a series of dashes, marks, and emphases to change the character and sounds of letters. On the other hand, with the Latin alphabet, different sounds are created not by using dashes and marks but rather by using various letter combinations. In fact, letters within the Latin alphabet often take on different characteristics depending upon their use and context in association with other letters. Consequently, the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets are very different, and anyone seeking to get involved in Russian transcription must be intimately familiar with these differences and the nuances of each alphabet and language.

Although the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recommends a specific formula by which the Cyrillic alphabet can be translated into the Latin alphabet, there is no international consensus as to a unified system for conversion. This oftentimes causes a great deal of confusion among transcriptionists because translations can be inconsistent and somewhat convoluted. People who perform Russian transcription, especially if they specialize in Romanization, must be sure to specify which process they are applying for transliteration and whether they are using the ISO-recommended standard.

As an additional note, there are several online programs that claim to provide detailed Russian transcription when words are typed into appropriate boxes. While these online services may provide a basic translation, they often do not catch all the nuances involved in transcribing the Cyrillic alphabet into the Latin alphabet. Due to this fact, they should not be trusted to provide an accurate translation. Rather, precise transcription should only be performed by an individual specially trained in transliteration and familiar with the particularities of both the Russian language and the language of translation.


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