Avaris to Avanim
Pursuing Holiness

Guide for Transliterating Semitic Languages

For those who have had the joy of learning Semitic languages, like Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic, and Akkadian, that joy may have been somewhat softened by having to write papers that require transliteration.  For instance, converting ח into ḥ would involve copy and pasting the character from another document or sifting through the "Insert Special Character" dialog.  Of course, this is tedious and time-consuming over the course of writing a paper and makes real-time note taking with a laptop virtually impossible.

Luckily, there is a way to insert special characters by Unicode values as you type.  This means just a few additional keystrokes for special characters without having to copy/paste or go through a special dialog.  No clicks! 

Semitic Characters Chart

Below is a chart of common transliteration characters used in Semitics.  The Hex values will be most meaningful, but the Dec values are provided, where available, for Windows users who may need them (see below).

Unicode Values for Common Semitic Letters




ʔ 294
ʕ 295
ā 101
â e2 0226
ē 113
ê ea 0234
ī 12b
î ee 0238
ō 14d
ô f4 0244
ū 16b
û fb 0251
š 161
ś 15b

Adding Unicode Text

The method for adding unicode characters depends on the system, but should generally work anywhere there's text input, including a Word Processor or even a Facebook post.


Usage: Hold Ctrl+Shift, then U+<Hex>, release Ctrl+Shift
Example: Ctrl-Shift+U161 produces š

Windows (Hex)

Usage: Hold Alt, then +, then <HEX>, release Alt ("+" key and numbers must be typed on Num Pad)
Example: Alt-+-161 produces š

Notes: There are two caveats to this method on Windows.  First, the "+" key and number must be typed on a Num Pad (many laptops don't have one).  Secondly, this method may require a registry key update:

  • HKEY_Current_User/Control Panel/Input Method, setEnableHexNumpad to "1"

If you don't have a Num Pad and/or can't update your registry key, you'll need to use the Dec method below.

Windows (Dec)

Usage: Hold Alt, then X+<DEC>, release Alt
Example: Alt+X0251 produces û

Notes: Since Windows can only handle up to 255 in Decimal, this method greatly limits your available characters.  I've still provided the Dec values where relevant, but you'll be better off using a Hex setup (it's a good day to switch to Linux!).


As of now, the Apple documentation still refers back to the "Special Character" dialog.  However, as an alternative you might be able to use the SIL IPA keyboard which has diacritical shortcuts (credit to Jessamyn Schertz from the comments for finding this).

If you'd like to use this guide as a course hand-out, see the PDF version here.

Want to know about new posts? Subscribe!