Hunterian transliteration


The Hunterian transliteration system is the "national system of romanization in India" and the one officially adopted by the Government of India.[1][2][3] Hunterian transliteration was sometimes also called the Jonesian transliteration system because it derived closely from a previous transliteration method developed by William Jones (1746–1794).[4][5] Upon its establishment, the Sahitya Akademi (India's National Academy of Letters) also adopted the Hunterian method, with additional adaptations, as its standard method of maintaining its bibliography of Indian-language works.[6]


Max Muller's 1866 anusvara transliterations

The original precursor to the Hunterian system was a transliteration method developed by Charles Wilkins, who is sometimes called the "father of Devanagari typography" because he was also the creator of the first Devanagari typeface.[5][7] William Jones, who also founded the Asiatic Society, further developed the transliteration method.[5] It was given a more complete form in the late nineteenth century by William Wilson Hunter, then Surveyor General of India.[8] When it was proposed, it immediately met with opposition from supporters of the phonetic Dowler system, which climaxed in a dramatic showdown in an India Council meeting on 28 May 1872 where the new Hunterian method carried the day. The Hunterian method was inherently simpler and extensible to several Indic scripts because it systematized grapheme transliteration, and it came to prevail and gain government and academic acceptance.[8] Opponents of the grapheme transliteration model continued to mount unsuccessful attempts at reversing government policy until the turn of the century, with one critic calling appealing to "the Indian Government to give up the whole attempt at scientific (i.e. Hunterian) transliteration, and decide once and for all in favour of a return to the old phonetic spelling."[9]

Additional languages and adaptationsEdit

Over time, the Hunterian method extended in reach to cover several Indic scripts, including Burmese and Tibetan.[10][11] The Hunterian system was used to establish writing systems that used the Latin alphabet for some Indian languages that were previously not associated with a written script, such as Mizo. In the case of Mizo, the Hunterian-based writing system "has proved hugely successful."[12] Provisions for schwa deletion in Indo-Aryan languages were also made where applicable, e.g. the Hindi कानपुर is transliterated as kānpur (and not kānapura) but the Sanskrit क्रम is transliterated as krama (and not kram). The system has undergone some evolution over time. For instance, long vowels were marked with an acute accent in the original version, but this was later replaced in the 1954 Government of India update with a macron.[13] Thus, जान ('life') was previously romanized as ján but began to be romanized as jān. Additional diacritics have been proposed for various purposes, such as disambiguating Nastaʿlīq letters which map to a single Devanagari grapheme (e.g. ث ,س and ص which all map to ).[14] Some languages of the region are tonal, such as Mizo and Punjabi, and accent marks over vowels have been repurposed to indicate tone for some of them.


An 1848 adaptation of the Jonesian/Hunterian system with both Devanagari and Perso-Arabic characters

Main Hindustani vowels with their various representations:[1][15]

Devanagari Nastaliq [note] Typical IPA Hunterian Proposed diacritic forms Notes
ا ə a a
آ a ā
اِ ɪ i i
ی i ī
اُ ʊ u u
او u ū
رِ ɾɪ ri ṛĭ[16]
رِ ɾiː ri ṟĭ[16]
اے e ē
اے ɛː, ai, æ ai ai Rarely [æ] in Standard Hindi, but diphthongal pronunciation [ai] (like the 'i' in bike) in Bihari/Eastern Hindi[17][18]
او o ō
او ɔː, au au au Pronounced as the diphthong [au] (like 'ou' in house) in Bihari/Eastern Hindi
अं ں, ن, م ŋ, m n, m ṅ, ṁ Differentiation between dental and labial anusvara
अः ح h h [16]
اے æ No Hunterian symbol defined; almost never written phonetically in Hindi except for loanwords; more rigorous usage in Nepali
او ɒ No Hunterian symbol defined; sound occurs in words like गौना ([gɒnaː]; 'engagement'), but never written phonetically except for loanwords


An 1879 Hunterian adaptation that uses italics
An 1895 Hunterian adaptation that uses diacritics
Many devices have been used to represent halants including small slashes

In the Hunterian system, implicit schwas are denoted by the transliterated schwa vowel in Devanagari, a (अ), and excluded as necessary under schwa deletion rules. Aspirations are represented by h.[1][15] Retroflex graphemes are often represented by a diacritic dot under the Latin consonant that represents the equivalent dental graphemes in proposals[16] (some of which predate even the Hunterian method),[19][20] though this has not officially been accepted by the Indian government. Halants are indicated by either leaving out a vowel after the transliterated consonant[21] or, in new proposals (not formally approved by the Indian government), with a period after the applicable consonant (e.g. जल्दी – jal.di). Initially, italics were sometimes used to differentiate consonants such as ख ("kh") and ख़ ("kh"),[22] but later macrons and diacritics began to be used more extensively.

Devanagari Urdu Nastaliq [note] Typical IPA Hunterian Proposed diacritic forms
[citation needed]
ک k k k
کھ kh kh
گ g g g
گھ ɡʱ gh gh
ن ŋ n [16]
چ ch ch
چھ tʃʰ chh cẖ, čh[16]
ج j j
جھ dʒʱ jh jh
ن ɲ n ñ[16]
ٹ ʈ t [16]
ٹھ ʈʰ th ṭh[16]
ڈ ɖ d [16]
ڈھ ɖʱ dh ḍh[16]
ن ɳ n [16]
ت t t
تھ t̪ʰ th th
د d d
دھ d̪ʱ dh dh
ن n n n
پ p p p
پھ ph ph
ب b b b
بھ bh bh
م m m m
ی j y y
ر r r r
ل l l l
و v, ʋ, w v, w v In Marathi, [w], except [v] before [i]; [v], [ʋ], [w] allophony in Hindi
ش ʃ sh sh In Nepali, [s] or [sh] can be used
ش ʃ, ʂ sh ṣh[16] Commonly pronounced [ʃ] in Hindi; [ʂ] in Sanskrit and in Hindi before retroflex consonants
س s s s
ح ɦ h h
क़ ق q q q
ख़ خ x kh ḳh, k͟h[14]
ग़ غ ɣ gh g͟h[14]
ड़ ڑ ɽ r [14]
ढ़ ڑھ ɽʱ rh ṛh[14]
फ़ ف f f f
ज़ ز z z z
झ़ ژ ʒ zh zh
क्ष کش kʃ, kʂ ksh kṣh[16]
त्र تر t̪r tr tr
ज्ञ گیہ gj, dʑɲ gy, jn gy, jñ Commonly pronounced [gj] in Hindi and [dʑɲ] in Sanskrit and occasionally in Hindi. Transliterated as gy for Hindi and jn for Sanskrit.
श्र شر ʃr shr shr


Example: मैं अपने संबंधी से कारख़ाने में मिला और उसने मुझे चाय पिलाई। वह बारिश के कारण फ़सलों को हुए नुक़सान की वजह से चिंतित था। मैंने उसे अपनी ख़बर सुनाई। क्योंकि मुझे निकलना था, इसीलिए कुछ देर बाद मैंने क्षमा माँगी और वहाँ से रवाना हुआ।

With diacritics: mãĩ apne sambandhī se kārk͟hāne mẽ milā aur usne mujhe chāy pilāī. vo bāriś ke kāraṇ faslõ ko hue nuqsān kī vajah se cintit thā. maĩne use apnī k͟habar sunāī. kyõki mujhe nikalnā thā, isilie kuchh der bād mãĩne kṣhamā māṅgī aur vahā̃ se ravānā huā.

Without any diacritics: main apne sambandhi se karkhane men mila aur usne mujhe chay pilayi. wo barish ke karan faslon ko hue nuqsan ki vajah se chintit tha. maine use apni khabar sunayi. kyonki mujhe nikalna tha, isilie kuchh der bad maine kshama mangi aur vahan se ravana hua.

Notes: संबंधी can interchangeably be written several different ways in Hindi: संबंधी, सम्बंधी, संबन्धी or सम्बन्धी.

Example: इस साल ग्रीष्मकालीन वर्षा ज़्यादा होने से अमरूद और बेर की क़िल्लत देखी गई। मज़े की बात यह है कि सेब और ख़ुबानी की क़ीमतें कम हैं क्योंकि उत्तराखंड में गोदाम भरें हैं.

With diacritics: is sāl grīṣmkālīn varṣā zyādā hone se amrūd aur ber kī qillat dekhī gaī. maze kī bāt ye hai ki seb aur k͟hubānī kī qīmtẽ kam hãĩ kyõki uttarākhaṇḍ mẽ godām bharẽ haĩ.

Without any diacritics: is sal grishmkalin varsha zyada hone se amrud aur ber ki qillat dekhi gayi. maze ki bat ye hai ki seb aur khubani ki qimten kam hain kyonki uttarakhand men godam bharen hain.


The Hunterian system has faced criticism over the years for not producing phonetically accurate results and being "unashamedly geared towards an English-language receiver audience."[13] Specifically, the lack of differentiation between retroflex and dental consonants (e.g. द and ड are both represented by d) has come in for repeated criticism and inspired several proposed modifications of Hunterian, including using a diacritic below retroflexes (e.g. making द=d and ड=, which is more readable but requires diacritic printing) or capitalizing them (e.g. making द=d and ड=D, which requires no diacritic printing but is less readable because it mixes small and capital letters in words).[23]

See alsoEdit


^Nastaliq: This will only display in the Nastaliq style if you have a suitable Urdu font installed. If this نستعلیق and this نستعلیق looks like these four نستعلیق نستعلیق نستعلیق نستعلیق then you are probably seeing it written in a modern Arabic style.


  1. ^ a b c United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2007), Technical reference manual for the standardization of geographical names, United Nations Publications, 2007, ISBN 978-92-1-161500-5, ... ISO 15919 ... There is no evidence of the use of the system either in India or in international cartographic products ... The Hunterian system is the actually used national system of romanization in India ...
  2. ^ United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (1955), United Nations Regional Cartographic Conference for Asia and the Far East, Volume 2, United Nations, 1955, ... In India the Hunterian system is used, whereby every sound in the local language is uniformly represented by a certain letter in the Roman alphabet ...
  3. ^ National Library (India) (1960), Indian scientific & technical publications, exhibition 1960: a bibliography, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, Government of India, 1960, ... The Hunterian system of transliteration, which has international acceptance, has been used ...
  4. ^ Jones, William (1786). "A Dissertation on the Orthography of Asiatick Words in Roman Letters". Asiatick Researches. 1: 1–56.
  5. ^ a b c Notes and queries, Oxford University Press, 1883, 1883, ... What is now culled the Jonesian or Hunterian system is due primarily to Sir Charles Wilkins ... The original Jonesian system had its merits; but the ignorance of phonology which prevailed in those days prevents it from being accepted as a scientific instrument for the reproduction of sounds outside the limited range ...
  6. ^ D. S. Rao (2004), Five decades: the National Academy of Letters, India: a short history of Sahitya Akademi, Sahitya Akademi, 2004, ISBN 9788126020607, ... The Bibliography was to be in Roman script with annotations in English, so that it could serve as a tool of reference both in India and abroad. The Hunterian system of transliteration was to be adopted with suitable modifications. Every language section was to be divided into 8 major categories: 1. General works, eg important bibliographies, general encyclopaedias, dictionaries; 2. Philosophy and Religion, containing works of literary significance ...
  7. ^ Bapurao S. Naik (1971), Typography of Devanagari, Volume 1, Directorate of Languages, Government of Maharashtra, India, 1971, ... Sir Charles Wilkins:The Father of Devanagari Typography. Charles Wilkins (born in 1749-50) arrived in India in 1770 and joined the service of the East India Company ...
  8. ^ a b Francis Henry Skrine (1901), Life of Sir William Wilson Hunter, K.C.S.I., M.A., LL.D., a vice-president of the Royal Asiatic society, etc, Longmans, Green, and co., 1901, ... phonetic or 'Sir Roger Dowler method' ... The Secretary of State and the great majority of his councillors gave an unqualified support to the Hunterian system ...
  9. ^ The Fortnightly, Volume 68, Chapman and Hall, 1897, 1897, ... the Indian Government to give up the whole attempt at scientific (i.e. Hunterian) transliteration, and decide once and for all in favour of a return to the old phonetic spelling ...
  10. ^ Mînn Latt Yêkháun (1966), Modernization of Burmese, Oriental Institute in Academia, Publishing House of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, 1966, ... There does exist a system df transcribing Burmese words in roman letters, one that is called the 'Government', or the 'Hunterian' method ...
  11. ^ Kunwar Krishan Rampal (1993), Mapping and compilation, Concept Publishing Company, 1993, ISBN 978-81-7022-414-3, ... The Hunterian system has rules for transliteration into English the names form Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Burmese, Chinese and Tibetan origin. These rules are described in Chapter VI, Survey of India, Handbook of Topographical Mapping ...
  12. ^ Ram Narayan Prasad, Prithwipati Chakraborty (January 2006), Administration of justice in Mizoram, Mittal Publications, 2006, ISBN 978-81-8324-059-8, ... The first Christian Missionaries who came to Mizoram, namely the Revd. James Herbert Lorrain and the Revd. Frederick William Savidge, devised an alphabet using Roman lettering and based on the Hunterian system. It was later modified slightly, but in principle it has remained the same and has proved highly successful ...
  13. ^ a b The Romanization of Toponyms in the Countries of South Asia, retrieved 27 February 2011, ... In the late 19th century sources, the system marks long vowels with an acute accent, and renders the letters k and q both as k. However, when the system was again published in 1954, alterations had been made. Long vowels were now marked with a macron and the q-k distinction was maintained ...
  14. ^ a b c d e Duncan Forbes (1848), A dictionary, Hindustani and English: to which is added a reversed part, English and Hindustani, W.H. Allen, 1848, ... ب ब b ...
  15. ^ a b Lt. Col. St. George Corbet Gore, Handbook of Professional Instructions for the Topographical Branch, Survey of India Department, 1896, ... क k ख kh ग g घ gh ...
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n James Burgess (1895), The transliteration of oriental alphabets, E.J. Brill, 1895, ... the use of c alone for this sound ... though it may be easy for specialists to attach an arbitrary sound to a letter, the public can hardly be expected ... Every map and geographical text book has adopted 'ch', as does the roll of every Indian regiment and every revenue record ... chh is the analogous aspirate of this, unless we adopt for it čh ... Table: The Principal Indian Alphabets ...
  17. ^ Manjari, Ohala (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the Use of the International Phonetic Alphabet: Hindi. International Phonetic Association.
  18. ^ George Cardona (26 July 2007), The Indo-Aryan languages, Psychology Press, 2003, ISBN 978-0-7007-1130-7, ... Table 7.1 Vowel Phonemes ... ai (ऐ) [æ] low front unrounded; diphthongal pronunciations in eastern and nonstandard dialects ... ...
  19. ^ Calcutta School-Book Society (1861), Romanized school dictionary: English and Urdu, Calcutta School-Book Society Press, 1861, ... Anglo-Urdu Alphabet ... ḍ bad ... ḳh loch ...
  20. ^ Max Muller (1866), A Sanskrit grammar for beginners, Longmans, Green & Co., 1866, ... ड ḍ ढ ḍh ...
  21. ^ Transliteration of Hindi, Marathi & Nepali (PDF), ... ◌् halanta vowelless vowelless ...
  22. ^ Royal Geographical Society (Great Britain) (1879), The journal of the Royal Geographic Society of London, Volume 49, J. Murray, 1879, ... the italic sign to mark certain peculiarities in the consonants ...
  23. ^ Institution of Surveyors (India) (1991), Indian surveyor, Volumes 33-34, Institution of Surveyors., 1991, ... Suggested by Mr. GS Oberoi, Director, Survey of India, in lieu of the existing table 'Hunterian System of Transliteration' which does not distinguish between द and ड, र and ड़, त and ट ...