Ian Andreas Miller. 29 June 2002.

     Some visitors may not know what I mean when I mention in my articles how the Japanese approximate non-Japanese words in their written language.  I hope that this brief essay will help visitors understand what is meant by transliteration.

     When a person writes letters or signs of one language’s script in order to approximate the sounds of words or names that are written in another language’s script, the action is called transliteration.  The letters that the person comes up with is called the transliteration of the word of name.  Many anime fans are familiar with the term romanization.  Romanization is a kind of transliteration that deals with the approximation of foreign words and names using the Roman alphabet.  While a translation is concerned with the semantic meaning of foreign words, a transliteration is concerned with the sounds of those foreign words.

     In my SuperS movie article, it is explained how Poupelin takes his name from a kind of French pastry.  When the Japanese wish to transliterate, or approximate, the French term poupelin into their script, they use these katakana characters:

     Those four characters literally represent pupuran.  That is the closest that the Japanese can get to the sounds in the French term poupelin.  When I write pupuran, I am really writing a romanization of the Japanese transliteration!

     Poupelin is the original spelling of the term, and it is the spelling that the Japanese saw before they transliterated the sounds of the term into their script.  It would not be appropriate to say that poupelin was romanized.  It was already written in Roman letters!  When we see Poupelin’s name written as Pupuran, we are looking at an approximation of an approximation.  In other words, we are seeing a spelling of Poupelin’s name that is twice removed from the original spelling.

     In the popular anime series named Wedding Peach, there is a purple-haired female character and the Japanese write her name with these katakana characters:

     English-speaking fans of that anime series almost always call her “Potamosu,” and the origin of her name is rarely acknowledged.  Those fans are right in saying that Potamosu is the romanization of the katakana characters used, but those katakana characters are actually approximating the Greek word , which means river.  The romanization of those Greek letters is potamos.  The name Potamos is appropriate for the character because her powers are based on water.  Since her name is Greek, and we are not writing in the Greek alphabet, we would write her name as Potamos in Roman letters.  There is no need to write “Potamosu.”

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