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    From: Alexandre Eremenko
    Date: 2005 Nov 29, 11:07 -0500

    Dear Herbert,
    Thank you for your interesting account of Krusenstern's
    On Tue, 29 Nov 2005, Herbert Prinz wrote:
    > On transliteration
    > Of
    > course, linguistics is a science
    > and scientific transliteration by all
    > means is supposed to provide a bijective mapping between sequences of
    > characters.
    There is absolutely no way of doing that.
    And there are several reasons.
    a) Who (what authority) could possibly establish such rules?
    Suppose you have two totally totalitarian states, A and B.
    (You really need totalitarian dictatorship for this, remember,
    even we on this list could not come to the uniform decision
    how to transliterate the name of a Russian sextant:-)
    But this is NOT the main problem:
    Their governments can decide on establishing uniform transliteration
    from language A to language B and back ("bijective map").
    OK. Then these governments will still have to negotiate that both
    countries use the same rule. OK.
    b) But now suppose that the third
    country with the third language comes to play...
    Now (as in the case of Kruzenshtern) simple bijectivity is not enough...
    You also seem to require a "functoriality property", sorry for
    using such term but you started with "bijectivity":-)
    It simply means that a name transliterated from A to B to C to A
    should remain the same! Now HOW, even in principle, do you propose
    to establish such a rule?
    c) English and German use (essentially) the same alphabet.
    So the natural rule is NOT TO change the SPELLING of a name.
    But you agree that if a word "stern" is encountered in an English
    context, it is pronounced very differently from the same word
    in a German context. So, if your language is English, you have to be an
    educated person to pronounce
    "Krusenstern" correctly, you have to know that this is a German name,
    not anything else, and you have to know some German pronounciation
    rules. But
    everyone in the English speaking world seems
    to agree that "Krusenstern" has to be transliterated this way,
    so that it is SPELLED as in German.
    But now Russian comes into play, and they have DIFFERENT ALPHABET.
    So preservation of spelling in transliteration of Latin-alphabet
    names is simply impossible (The Russians even used to use Latin
    alphabet for names, but then abandonned this practice, and this was right:
    otherwise they had to use Chinese alphabet for Chinese names etc.)
    So they use the other natural rule: phonetic. WHAT ELSE would you
    propose? But now, naturally the word "stern" transliterated from
    German will be different from the same word transliterated from
    English. And THUS when you transliterate it from German to Russian
    and then to English, you obtain a different result than
    simple transliteration from German to English.
    Is not it clear that this is unavoidable with any possible or
    imaginable rule?
    c) But fortunately we do not live under a totalitarian government:-)
    And everyone transliterates as s/he finds fit. For example, American
    Mathematical Society established a "bijective correspondence" in its
    databases and translations.
    As a result, a German mathematician Siegel is translated from Russian by
    the AMS as "Zigel". I insisted that they write my name as "Eremenko"
    (which is more or less based on the "visual principle", that is on the
    But I have a famous ancestor who is known as "Yeremenko" to the
    English (and especially German:-) speaking world.
    And nothing can be done about this...

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