In order to make the transliterator more precise, it looks like I am going to need to distinguish between different versions of a language. My question is, is this the complete list of languages and their variations? Or if not, what is the complete list of "key variants". By "key" I mean extremely popular/primary, and turning points in history. The languages I am talking about are:

  • tibetan
  • sanskrit
  • chinese (mandarin)
  • arabic
  • hebrew
  • greek
  • latin

The reason is, these are where most ancient texts live that we have copies of that are still around.

The list I have so far composed is:

  • biblical hebrew
  • tiberian hebrew
  • modern hebrew
  • ancient greek
  • koine greek
  • modern greek
  • tibetan
  • chinese
  • sanskrit
  • latin
  • quranic arabic
  • modern arabic

For Hebrew, I've seen Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Israeli, etc. But these seem to be small groups relative to the 3 I've mentioned. I don't know for sure, just going by sense. Sorry if that isn't crystal clear, but I am trying to cover most bases while not covering every base. Are ther any other versions of Hebrew that are extremely important and useful to a very large population?

For Greek, do these 3 cover all the bases?

For Latin, is there more than one version? Is there like a "Catholic Liturgical Latin" or something? That is different from perhaps a Classical and Modern Latin? Or is there just one Latin?

For Chinese, is there more than 1 Chinese (Mandarin) language? I don't want to cover Cantonese, but are there other than these 2? I am specifically interested in regards to ancient texts like Buddhism and Daoism and Confucianism. Do they all use the same Chinese version?

For Sanskrit, is there only 1 Sanskrit version? Interested in ancient texts and speaking it as well. But I don't think this is a modern spoken language, but perhaps it has a religious version or something.

For Tibetan, same thing. I am interested in understanding how to speak it and read the ancient Tibetan texts. Is there a big difference between the Tibetan used in the Kangyur and that spoken by the Tibetan people?

Finally, is there more than just Quranic and Modern Arabic? I know there are various dialects of Arabic (while there seems to be only 1 major dialect of the rest of these above languages). Is it important to cover multiple cases, like Egyptian vs. Middle Eastern or something? Or is "Modern" a good enough category.

Basically I want to figure out the key places that are important for understanding religious texts, ancient speech (at perhaps key points in time), and modern speech and writing.

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    So many of your questions reflect an unwillingness to do even cursory research. Just skimming the Wikipedia articles for those seven languages would have answered your question in less time than it took to type it out. – Cairnarvon Mar 17 '20 at 5:28
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    @LancePollard Cairnarvon is right, you have a history of low quality unresearched questions. This specific one is also blatantly unfocused. – curiousdannii Mar 17 '20 at 6:36
  • May I ask, how much research am I supposed to do? If I could research it on my own, I would (and do, for a million other things). When I have a question in class, I ask my teacher right then to clear up my misunderstanding. If all questions require hours of research before they can be asked, then that is an unwelcoming environment to newcomers who aren't experts. My posts are honest, descriptive, unique, deep, and eager to learn and help out others on the path. If that's not welcome here, then I will quit asking. – Lance Pollard Mar 17 '20 at 6:51
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    Each "language" that you mentioned has its own set of peculiarities. One SE question/answer can not do it justice. As Cairnarvon pointed out, browsing Wikipedia would have shown you the magnitude of the problem. For example: "Currently, most classifications posit 7 to 13 main regional groups, based on often superficial phonetic developments, of which the most populous by far is Mandarin [...], followed by Min [...], Wu [...], Yue [...]. These groups are unintelligible to each other, and generally many of their subgroups are mutually unintelligible as well" – prash Mar 17 '20 at 7:12
  • @LancePollard The general expectation here is that you try a Google search or look at Wikipedia before asking; the Wikipedia articles for most of these languages list the main dialects, as prash quoted for Chinese. – Draconis Mar 17 '20 at 23:32

Before I go into a few "key variant" for a few of the languages, I will clarify a few things about my answer. Language is not nice and discrete - it evolves in time, and even in a given time and space, varies from speaker to speaker. Think of what I give as "key variants" not as nice discrete units, but rather a loose collection of similar trends and styles with very loosely defined fuzzy borders. Each of these languages has a lot of interesting variants, and I can only go into some in detail.


There are two different types of variation that go on in Hebrew. At any given time, the syntax of Hebrew users tends not to be too different, because most Hebrew users were in contact with other Hebrew users through extensive letter correspondences and book transmission even to very geographically separated communities, except when intentionally trying to emulate older versions, which happens a lot. In terms of pronunciation, very far apart communities had their version of Hebrew pronunciation evolve very differently. Ashkenazi Hebrew, Sephardi Hebrew, Yemenite Hebrew, Mesopotamian Hebrew all have different pronunciations for the same texts.

For time periods, even within the bible, there is a lot of variation between the oldest texts in the Bible and the later ones. The book of Esther has a style at least 4 centuries out of sync with the Torah (depending on how you date the books) and it shows.

Another big source of documents with a distinct style is Mishnaic Hebrew (found in the Mishna, which was compiled across the first few centuries of the first millennium CE). And after that, even though Hebrew was not used as a first language, the texts written in an active Medieval Hebrew showed some fascinating innovations.

In the late 18th C CE, you start seeing a new Modern Literary Hebrew emerge mostly in Central Europe. It is heavily tied to the Haskalah movement, which sought to emulate the European Enlightenment. Because its main use was in treatises and novels, it tends to combine rabbinic grammar, biblical flourishes, and styles borrowed from European novels, scientific works, and the like. This is not the same as Modern Spoken Hebrew, which arose more as a contact variety between multiple Jewish groups in areas we now would consider Israel and Palestine, and unlike literary Hebrew, is a first language for many people.


There are broadly three main clusters of varieties of Latin - "Classical Latin," "Vulgar Latin," and "Church Latin." There are preclassical texts that are clearly different than Classical (for example, the works of the playwright Plautus), and a distinct style that arose in the Renaissance. The most Classical works are from about the 1st C BCE, so that is usually the focus of Classical. It was the style people (especially those with money and ties to political power) wrote in, but not necessarily spoke as a day to day language. Because, especially as time wore on, later writers still wrote in a style emulating classical, while the spoken kept on changing, we refer to the spoken varieties as "Vulgar Latin," and there were variations within that, of course. Medieval Latin was not a first language, but was used as a medium of communication between different communities that did not share a language, and so still saw use and therefore linguistic innovations.


Quranic Arabic is one form, and there is a "Modern Standard Arabic" that people learn in, but it is not the native language of most people who think of themselves as Arabic speakers. Modern spoken Arabics are very diverse, and frequently not mutually intelligible. Some large clusters of dialects are Maghrebi (Moroccan, Algerian, etc.), Egyptian Arabic, Gulf Arabic, Levantine Arabic (Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian), Iraqi Arabic, and Sudanese Arabic. There also are (now mostly moribund) varieties of Judeo-Arabic, which tend to be similar to but distinct from the non-Jewish Arabic varieties spoken in the same regions.


Ancient Greek texts cluster into about 3 main varieties - Doric (the Spartan dialect was Doric), Aeolian, and Ionic-Attic (2 similar but distinct styles). Homer wrote in a dialect that was mostly Ionic, which was considered archaic by the time of Classical Athens writing in an Attic dialect. The interlanguage of the later Hellenistic world was Koine, and later works were in a distinct Byzantine Greek. Modern Greek is an evolution of Byzantine varieties.

Other languages on your list

All the languages you chose have many sources written over centuries in wide geographic areas, and the main point I am trying to make is that you can choose a lot of different "key varieties" and still miss out on important parts of their literary traditions. I think it can be useful to find clusters within the history, but horrifically reductive to think of the clusters you use as clearly defined monoliths. For your very ambitious project, I would recommend reading up on the histories of each of these languages in greater detail, to figure out what the right balance of capturing their nuances with a simple to code scheme.

  • Thank you for putting this together. I'm sure it will help not only me but future googlers too. I spent several hours thinking about this but my searching never revealed this information so clearly. – Lance Pollard Mar 17 '20 at 6:09

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