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When and how to transliterate titles in references

Cite this
Adams, A. (2021, August 23). When and how to transliterate titles in references. APA Style.

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I’m someone who spends many nights a week enjoying foreign-language works. And it’s never a problem juggling so many languages in my day-to-day—at least until I want to write about these works. Then the panic ensues because most of the works I want to cite include characters that are not in the Roman alphabet I use.

These works include characters in Hanzi (Chinese), Kanji/Hiragana/Katakana (Japanese), and Hangul (Korean). Many other languages also use non-Roman alphabets (e.g., Russian, Arabic, Amharic, Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, and Hindi), in which there are characters that may be difficult to reproduce via a word processor. To avoid character errors, the guidelines in the seventh edition Publication Manual are to transliterate (i.e., change the letters from the alphabet of the language of the work you read into the alphabet of the language in which you are writing your paper) the title of a work written in a non-Roman alphabet into the Roman alphabet in the reference list entry and if mentioning the title in the text of your paper.

This approach makes it easier for you to alphabetize your references and for your readers to locate the specific entry in the reference list in cases where a work has no author. For further clarity, always provide a translation of the title of the work in the same language as your paper and place it in square brackets after the title and before the period in the title element. Remember, even if the title of a stand-alone work in another language is italicized, do not italicize the translation of the title.

If the work in another language is a film, song, video, or some other work that requires a bracketed description, include the description in a separate set of square brackets after the translation and before the period, as shown in the following example.

Film with a transliterated Arabic-language title

Haroun, M.-S. (Director). (2002). Abouna [Our father] [Film]. Filmmuseum Distributie; Kairos Filmverleih; Leisure Time Features; MK2 Diffusion.


  • Parenthetical citation: (Haroun, 2002)
  • Narrative citation: Haroun (2002)

If you are citing a work, such as a song, that features another artist or artists, place the featured artist’s name (formatted as “Surname, First Name Initial”) in parentheses after the main artist’s name, and preceded by the word “featuring,” as shown in the following example.

Song with a transliterated Korean-language title

BTS (featuring Aoki, S.). (2018). Jeonhaji motan jinsim [The truth untold/Sincerity that couldn’t be delivered] [Song]. On Love yourself: Tear. BigHit Entertainment.


  • Parenthetical citation: (BTS, 2018)
  • Narrative citation: BTS (2018)

What if the transliterated work does not have an author?

For works that have no author, include the transliterated title and the year of publication in the in-text citation (note that the title moves to the author position in the reference list entry as well). If the title of the work is italicized in the reference, also italicize the title in the in-text citation. If the title of the work is not italicized in the reference, use double quotation marks around the title in the in-text citation.

Capitalize the title in the text using title case, even though sentence case is used in the reference list entry, and alphabetize the work in the reference list as you would any other work (in this case, by the first significant word of the transliterated title). If the title of the work is long, you can shorten it for the in-text citation only. For example:

Webpage with a transliterated Chinese-language title on a news website, no author

Gāoxióng shuǐguǒ shǒucì shàngjià Xīnjiāpō diàn shāng shàng bànnián xiāo 51.4 dūn [Kaohsiung fruit is on the shelves for the first time in Singapore’s e-commerce market, selling 51.4 tons in the first half of the year]. (2021, July 22). The Overseas Chinese Affairs Newspaper.


  • Parenthetical citation: (Gāoxióng Shuǐguǒ Shǒucì, 2021)
  • Narrative citation: Gāoxióng Shuǐguǒ Shǒucì (2021)

What if you can’t transliterate the title of a work?

If it is not practical or desirable to transliterate the title of a work that uses a non-Roman alphabet, you may leave the title in its original alphabet.

Film with a title in Hanzi (Chinese) characters

Lee, A. (2000). 臥虎藏龍 [Crouching tiger, hidden dragon] [Film]. Asia Union Film& Entertainment; China Film Co-Production Corporation; Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia; Edko Films; Good Machine; Prosperity Pictures; Sony Pictures Classics; United China Vision; Zoom Hunt International Productions.


  • Parenthetical citation: (Lee, 2000)
  • Narrative citation: Lee (2000)

Music video with a title in Hangul (Korean) characters

eAeon (featuring RM). (2021, April 30). 그러지 마 [Don’t] [Video]. YouTube.


  • Parenthetical citation: (eAeon, 2021)
  • Narrative citation: eAeon (2021)

When alphabetizing a nontransliterated work in which the first element in the reference (either the author or, if no author, the title) is written in a non-Roman alphabet, use your best judgment to alphabetize the reference list entry—let the order of reference list entries found in other published articles serve as a guide—or place the entry at the end of the reference list.

More information on transliteration can be found in Section 9.38 in both the Publication Manual and the Concise Guide to APA Style.