Notes on Transliterations, Translations and Spelling

In: Ottoman-Southeast Asian Relations (2 vols.)
Free access

It has been a great challenge to outline consistent rules of transliteration for a work containing documents in several languages (Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Malay, English, French, Tausug, Burmese and Thai Languages). Nevertheless, we have tried to follow certain rules.

First of all, in the English texts, whether authored by contributors or translated from Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Malay or Tausug documents we have used a standard spelling for the same words (e.g. Şah in Ottoman-Turkish transliterations, Syah in Malay transliterations but Shah in all English texts). In general, names are spelt in the translation according to the conventions of the area to which the individual belonged. Thus Hadrami names are transliterated according to the conventions for Arabic in the English translation (although their Turkicised form is retained in the transliterations of Turkish texts), while names of Ottoman officials are transliterated according to the conventions for Turkish. Similarly, Southeast Asian names appear in the forms in which they should be familiar to scholars of Southeast Asia. Clearly, on occasion there are ambiguities and thus inconsistencies, and some exceptions are made for names of individuals who are already well-known in a certain form, thus the Malay-style transliteration Abdurrahman al-Zahir is preferred to the Arabising Abd al-Rahman al-Zahir.

The work contains transliterations only in three languages: Ottoman Turkish, Malay and Tausug. Full photographs of the original documents in Arabic and other languages are provided which are sufficiently legible not to require transcription.

The documents in Ottoman Turkish are transliterated in line with a method that has become increasingly popular among Ottomanists in recent years. Several collections of documents (including İstanbul Kadı Sicilleri by İSAM)2 have been transliterated and published in line with this method recently, which is based on modern Turkish orthography with as few diacritical marks as possible. Hamza and ʿayn in Arabic words are indicated with ʾ and ʿ respectively, except when these letters are at the beginning of the word. Moreover, long vowels are indicated with a ^ on the related vowel. Although this method is not sophisticated enough to remain consistent in all instances, it has proven to be the most comprehensible one for readers of Turkish.

Malay documents are transliterated according to the guidelines established in Gallop 1994: 193, and Arabic loan words in Malay are spelled according to their entries in standard national dictionaries from Malaysia (KD3: Kamus Dewan, 3rd edn, 1994).

Kawashima Midori on her part has basically followed the spelling found in Taʾu-Sug – English – Tagalog Dictionary by Hamsali S. Jawali (Mandaluyong City: National Book Store, 2006). For Arabic words found in the Tausug text, she basically followed the spelling which are commonly used by the Tausugs. For proper nouns (personal names and place names) found in the Tausug text, she basically followed the ALA-LC Romanization table for Jawi.

In general the translation of the texts aims to keep as close to the original as is congruent with English style. The Ottoman documents, in particular, are often expressed in extremely flowery language which we have chosen to reproduce as closely as possible, for all its inevitable redundancies and verbosity. To attempt to remove these would result in providing a summary, rather than a translation, and in accordance with our aim to make the exact contents of these documents accessible, and of greater use to historians, we have opted for the latter. Some common set phrases are noted here. We appreciate that sometimes the style of the documents does not make easy reading in translation, but in that respect they are faithful to the originals.

For all their verbosity, the Ottoman documents are often imprecise when it comes to geography. Those lands now comprising Indonesia is commonly referred to as “India” or the “Indian islands”. We have maintained this ambiguous usage in the translation. The Ottoman term Cava, meanwhile, like Arabic Jawa, can refer both to the island of Java and the whole of maritime Southeast Asia. In this instance we have distinguished between the island of Java and used Jawa to denote the region more generally and its peoples (see Laffan 2009).

Finally, it should be noted that identifying European and Southeast Asian proper nouns behind the Arabic script of the Ottoman documents is no easy task. Often the names were unfamiliar to the clerks of the Ottoman bureaucracy who copied them, and frequently the forms of the consonants are ambiguous while vowels are not written. While every effort has been made to establish the correct form, there are plenty of instances where we have had to resort to guess work. Any names indicated with [?] in the text or index must be regarded as uncertain and the transcription merely an approximation of the Arabic script.

Common Ottoman Epistolographic Set Phrases


heaven-dwelling – the late, deceased

çâker-i kemîneleri

humble servant – a set formula for officials of the Ottoman empire to address their superiors


Abode of Felicity – Istanbul

Devlet-i Aliyye

Sublime State – Ottoman Empire

enâmil-i zîb-i taʿzîm

from the fingertips of beauty and honour – a set phrase in documents issued by the Grand Vizier

Südde-i Saʿâdetüm

My Threshold of Felicity – Istanbul, the imperial court (16th C)


The details of this system has been outlined in Aydın & Tak 2008: 65–67. Nevertheless, in this volume the standards outlined there are not strictly applied. For instance, Arabic names in Ottoman Turkish are treated as Arabic words in the aforementioned work while we treat them like Turkish words and opt for their modern Turkish orthography in this volume.