Informal romanizations of Cyrillic

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Informal or ad hoc romanizations of Cyrillic have been in use since the early days of electronic communications, starting from early e-mail and bulletin board systems.[1] Their use faded with the advances in the Russian internet that made support of Cyrillic script standard,[1] but resurfaced with the proliferation of instant messaging, SMS and mobile phone messaging in Russia.


Due to its informal character, there was neither well-established standard nor common name. In the early days of e-mail, the humorous term "Volapuk encoding" (Russian: кодировка "воляпюк" or "волапюк", kodirovka volapyuk) was sometimes used.[1]

More recently the term "translit" emerged to indiscriminately refer to both programs that transliterate Cyrillic (and other non-Latin alphabets) into Latin, as well as the result of such transliteration. The word is derived by convenience truncation of the term transliteration, and most probably its usage originated in several places. An example of early "translit" is the DOS program TRANSLIT [2] by Jan Labanowski, which run from the command prompt to convert a Cyrillic file to a Latin one using a specified transliteration table.

There are two basic varieties of romanization of Russian: transliterations and Leetspeak-type of rendering of Russian text. The latter one is often heavily saturated with common English words, which are often much shorter than the corresponding Russian ones, and is sometimes referred to as Runglish or Russlish.

Russian Chat Alphabet[edit]

The Russian Chat Alphabet is a fast-to-type mix of Translit and Volapuk - being Translit mostly, it replaces some 2 or 3 character transliterations with shorter 1 character counterparts from Volapuk. This speeds up typing; however, in some cases characters may be volapuk-encoded, making text appear incorrectly and therefore be harder or impossible to read. In Russia and countries where Russian is used regularly to communicate via mobile phone and chat room, it is used as an alternate and free style of transliteration.

The main reason that transliteration is used with Russian is that in text messages you get more Latin characters for your money: usually 160 Latin characters per charged message versus 60/70 Cyrillic script. Obviously the onus is on getting one Latin symbol (of which there are 26) for each Cyrillic symbol (of which there are 33 in Russian, and extra symbols in Ukrainian and other Cyrillic-based languages). Only those used for Russian are exemplified here.

(Where variants are given, the first is most common and the last is less common - although trends change quickly and differ from person-to-person.)

Cyrillic By pronunciation By shape Notes
А а a
Б б b 6
В в v B
Г г g r
Д д d g resembling a handwritten lowercase 'д' (only in fonts with opentail g)
Е е e, ye, je e
Ё ё yo, jo e
Ж ж zh, g, j *, }I{
З з z 3
И и i u
Й й i, y, j u, u`
К к k
Л л l JI, /\
М м m
Н н n H
О о o
П п p n
Р р r p
С с s c
Т т t m resembling a handwritten lowercase 'т'
У у u y
Ф ф f
Х х h, kh x
Ц ц ts, c "U,"
Ч ч ch, 4 4
Ш ш sh, 6 w, "LLI"
Щ щ sh, sch, shh, shch, shsh "W,"
Ъ ъ ' (apostrophe), " (quote marks) sometimes not transliterated
Ы ы y, i, ɨ #, bl
Ь ь ' (apostrophe) sometimes not transliterated - usually only transcribed with "ль"
Э э e, ė
Ю ю yu, u, iu, ju IO
Я я ya, ia, ja R, q, 9


  1. ^ a b c Notice of cancellation of automatic volapuk encoding (1997) (Russian, in KOI8-R encoding)
  2. ^ Translit of early 1990s (Wayback Machine archived version)

External links[edit]

  • RUS1.NET — 1:1 (univocal) transliteration map for learners of Russian, links to free auto-transliteration and IME tools for Firefox and Chrome.