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TAGS: Arabic language; Diacritics; Persian language; Transliteration
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Diacritics and transliteration

by Jonah Winters

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English publishing styles for Bahá'í works as set by Shoghi Effendi and consistently upheld by the Universal House of Justice require use of full diacritics (see Taherzadeh indexes or Gail's transliteration guide for proper transliterations of the titles of Bahá'u'lláh's tablets). However, there are a variety of reasons why I have felt it necessary sometimes to leave diacritics out of files at this site:
  1. As early browsers did not render Unicode or full diacritics (e.g., macrons, sub- and super-dots) without implementation of custom fonts, there was precedent for leaving off at least some diacritics.
  2. Another reason is simple practicality: I do not have the time to include the commands for diacritics. While text-to-html converters will add the html syntax for accents automatically, I do all HTML-formatting editing manually, and adding accents would require more time than is available.
  3. In the 1990s, many search engines did not support the input of accents in search requests, and occasionally will not return results accordingly: e.g., were one to search for "Bahá'í," then words spelled as "Bahá'í" will not always be found by the search request. As internet users are more likely to input search requests without accents, practicality suggested that they be left off of files here.
  4. Many documents at this site lacked diacritics in the original, and their posting here simply reflects that. Almost all newspaper/magazine articles, Pilgrims' Notes, historical documents, letters from the Universal House of Justice transmitted by email, and many other types of files posted here had no diacritics in the original.
  5. Apostrophes, used in standard Bahá'í transliteration to represent both `ayn () and hamza () as well as elision, are usually rendered here by the straight apostrophe ( ' ).
While it is unfortunate that diacritics could not be included — and it must be emphasized that such a choice is not supported by standard Bahá'í styles — it was deemed necessary at this point and in this medium. Some further discussion can be found in a preface to one of my theses.

On a pragmatic note (and this is no more than a matter of personal opinion), these diacritics serve no real function. Those who read Arabic and Persian already know what original characters the transliterated English letters represent and how to pronounce them; those who don't, don't. For example, few English speakers will even know the meaning of the three apostrophes in Abdu'l-Bahá or the use of the underline in Khán, and their presence will serve only to confuse, and to cause headaches for editors.

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