Some tools for quickly transliterating Chinese characters

Students, librarians, and non-Sinologists who occassionally interact with Chinese language sources may want to speed up the process of transliterating Chinese terms for use in their monographs, papers, projects, bibliographies etc. There are a number of useful tools that can aid us in speeding up our transliteration. Today I would like to introduce a few of them.

In a previous piece in the Digital Orientalist, I introduced readers to the apps SmartHanzi and DDB Access. Both apps provide text segmentation functions, but whereas SmartHanzi provides only pinyin transliterations for searched terms, DDB Access provides pinyin, Wade-Giles, Hangeul, Revised Romanization, McCune–Reischauer, Katakana, Modified Hepburn, and Vietnamese transliterations making it particularly useful for the scholar doesn’t have the time to learn mutiple systems of transliteration or who is working across multiple regions.

The offering of different transliterations in DDB Access.

For those who do not need the added functionality of apps like SmartHanzi or DDB Access and just desire quick pinyin transliteration Google Translate works fairly adequately. The transliterations can also be easily copy-pasted. Nevertheless, it occassionally makes mistakes and is not very useful when working with older terms or for transliterating the names of places and people. Therefore, when using Google Translate as a transliteration tool it is advisable to check the accuracy of the transliteration with other sources.

In Google Translate, the pinyin appears below the Chinese text.


Finally, I would like to introduce Chinese Converter which offers tools to convert Simplified to Traditional script, Chinese to pinyin, Chinese to Zhuyin, Chinese characters to unicode, Chinese to Hangul, Chinese to Katakana, Chinese to Cyrillic, Chinese to Wade-Giles, and vice-versa.

Chinese to pinyin Converter.

Like Google Translate the output of these conversions can be easily copy-pasted. Chinese-Converter’s tools seem to work fairly well, but they have occassionally exhibited issues when I have used them. For example, if you use the Chinese to Wade-Giles tool to convert a pinyin transliteration to Wade-Giles one, it will only work if your text is segmented character by character. If you have transliterated your word-by-word it simply will not convert the pinyin to Wade-Giles.

Chinese to Wade-Giles conversion works well.

Pinyin to Wade-Giles doesn’t work very well if the transliteration is not segmented according to character.

For the Sinologist, these tools are likely not particularly groundbreaking. Indeed, those engaged wholly in Sinology are likely able to transliterate Chinese text at speeds that render these tools useless. Nevertheless, the use of such tools can increase the workflow of scholars and students starting out in Sinology or those who occassionally need to turn to Chinese language sources and texts as part of their work (such as Japanologists). They can also be used for cross-checking the accuracy of one’s transliterations. Personally, I have found these tools useful when drafting papers and for checking the accuracy of my own transliterations.

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