A Few Words

Know Your Languages: Rohingya - An Evolving Alphabet Leads to Challenges in Translation

Posted by Annette Heidrich on Nov 19, 2014 10:57:00 AM

Rohingya is spoken by around 3 million people in Burma and parts of Thailand. It is the written and spoken language of the Rohingya Muslim people who are from the State of Arakan in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) in South East Asia. In recent years, they have been in the news for being persecuted for theirRohingya_map religion. This has led many to flee to bordering Thailand and Bangladesh.

Their language is derived from the Bengali language and is similar to the Chittagonian dialect spoken in nearby Chittagong, Bangladesh. The Rohingya's second language is either Urdu (for studying at religious schools) or Burmese (for studying at government schools). The study of English is also very much encouraged. You can find many words from Urdu, Hindi, Burmese and English assimilated into the Rohingya language.

Rohingya has been written in Arabic and Burmese for hundreds of years. In the 1980s a new alphabet called Hanifi was invented.  Hanifi, however, is written right-to-left, which makes it awkward to use on some computers and mobile devices.  This led to the development of Rohingyalish or Rohingyalic, a new writing system that uses the Latin alphabet plus some additional letters. It is constantly evolving and updated as new vocabulary is added. Rohingya is recognised by ISO with the ISO 639-3 code "rhg". The below tables show the two scripts currently in use.

Rohingyalish Character Set 






























Hanafi Script


The Rohingya do not have an automatic right to education, which presents a challenge for translating into or from Rohingya as there are a limited number of people who have the education or experience to do so. Accordingly, with so few professional translators available, the turnaround time for this language pair is generally much longer than for other more common languages. This should be considered when planning translation into or from Rohingya.

Rohingya is not a common request from commercial clients.  Most requests tend to be from government or aid organisations for communication with new arrivals or refugees/asylum seekers. When planning a Rohingyan job, it is important to confirm which form of Rohingya is required, and confirm that your team are all using the same form of Rohingya. Unless there is consistency, there will be problems when consolidating a large document translated by several translators, or, when sending a translation to an editor who does not use the same writing system. It is also important to confirm that your target market actually requires Rohingya, or if Burmese is a suitable alternative.




Topics: Know Your Languages

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