Notes on Belarusian (Biełarusian) pronunciation and transliterations

The Biełarusian language uses two alphabets, Kirylica (Cyrillic) and Łacinka (Latin). The Biełarusian Łacinka is an umbrella term for several historical alphabets that are used to transliterate Biełarusian Cyrillic texts to Latin script. All variants of Łacinka incorporate diacritical marks, similar to the Czech, Polish, Serbian (in Latin conversion), and Sorbian alphabets.

Though variants of Łacinka were used from the sixteenth century, the current study uses this term and transliteration system, based on the method elaborated by the linguist Branislaǔ Taraškievič (1892–1938). Spelling in the Cyrillic alphabet has two versions.

Taraškievica (named after Taraškievič) was prohibited by the Soviets and replaced by the Soviet Narkomaǔka, based on a Russified version of the Biełarusian language. The written Biełarusian language of the Taraškievica tradition (unlike Narkomaǔka), has its own Łacinka (Biełaruskaja abeceda) and Cyrillic. Taraškievič’s Łacinka reflects the Biełarusian pronunciation better than any other since its sounds innately reflect the Biełarusian language.

The reader may see various Biełarusian alphabets and transliteration systems reflected in different spellings of Biełarusian language: Byelorussian, Byelarussian, Belarusian, Bielarusan, Belarusan, and few more. Another good example is a spelling of the Biełarusian capital: Miensk turned into Minsk under the Soviets in 1938; the country’s present leaders have kept this spelling; the opposition and émigrés use original Miensk.

Though attempts are being made to introduce Łacinka into the Western library system, including the Library of Congress, the latter continues to use a Latin alphabet based on Soviet Biełarusian Cyrillic spelling, Narkomaǔka. The following transliteration charts are based on the Taraškievič’s Łacinka, which has been used in the Western world’s many academic writings.

We hope the following charts will be of help to English speakers and will allow the reader to experience the richness of Biełarusian sounds.

Biełarusian was the official language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Litva), and was the tool for producing one of the most advanced religious and secular literatures in Europe at the time. Biełarusian literature of the recent centuries is a valuable part of the world culture, and we are optimistic about its future.

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
A a a see charts and notes below a (in ah) A
Б б b b (in bid; bow) B
В в v v (in vim; in vow) V
Г г h h (in how) G
Ґґ g g (in go)
Д д d d (in dean; deaf) d
Дз дз dz dz (in aze) dz
Дзь дзь dz (palatalized) dz’
Дж дж j (in jet) dzh
Ж ж ž z (in pleasure) zh
З з z z (in zorro) z
Зь зь ź z (palatalized in shorten eu of Zeus) z’
І і i see charts and notes below i (in machine) i
Й й j see charts and notes below y (in boy) ĭ
К к k k (in kat0 k
Л л ł l (in lamp); followed by hard vowels: a, o, у, ы, э l
Ль ль l l (in million) followed by soft vowels or soft sign: я, ё, ю, і, е, ь l’
М м m m (in mom) m
Н н n n (in no) n
Нь нь ń n (in onion) n’
О о o see charts and notes below o (in horse) o
П п p p (in pot) p
Р р r r ( close to Scottish ‘r’ in row) r
С с s s (in so) s
Сь сь ś s (palatalized) s’
Т т t t (in to) u
У у u see charts and notes below u (in rule)
Ў ў ǔ w (in how) u
Ф ф f f (in fat) f
Х х ch ch (in Scottish loch) kh
Ц ц c ts (in tsetse) ts
Ць ць ć t (palatalized) ts’
Ч ч č ch (in church) ch
Ш ш š sh (in shine) sh
Ы ы y y (in Mary) y
ь ‘; ’ It palatalizes a consonant; a dividing sign.
Э э e e (in ten) e
Ю ю see charts and notes below iu
Я я see charts and notes below ia


After Consonants, and excluding Ł/ł

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
Я я ia ya (in yah) ia
Е е ie ye (in yet) e
Ё ё io yo (in yonder) io
Ю ю iu yu (in tune) iu

After the consonant L/l, the following vowel is always soft

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
Я я ia ya (in yah) ia
Е е ie ye (in yet) e
Ё ё io yo (in yonder) io
Ю ю iu yu (in tune) iu

After the consonant Ł/ł the following vowel is always hard

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
лa ła la (in latitude) N/A
ло łо lo (in lonely) N/A
лу łu lu (in looney) N/A
лэ łe laj (in lady) N/A

Variant with “j” used at the start of words and after vowels

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
Я я ja ya (in yah) ia
Е е jie ye (in yet) e
Ё ё jo yo (in yonder) io
Ю ю ju yu (in you) iu

See the following:

  • Biełarusian Łacinka: Belarusian_Latin_alphabet .
  • Byelorussian Statehood, edited by V. Kipel and Z. Kipel. New York: Byelorussian Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1988.
  • Kasaty, P. “Belarusian Alphabets and Transliteration.”
  • McMillin, A. Belarusian Literature in the 1950s and 1960s. Köln, Weimar, and Wien: Böhlau Verlag, 1999.
  • A History of Byelorussian Literature. Giessen: Wilhelm Schmitz Verlag, 1977.
  • Rich, V., Like Water, Like Fire. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971.

The image is from: Wikipedia article “Łacinka białoruska”