Spoken English, like most languages, makes great use of semantic and pragmatic vowel length. It is not phonemic, meaning that the word you are saying will not become a different word if you lengthen one vowel, but it’s clearly a part of the way we communicate because most of us actively represent it when we text. In most writing systems, a long vowel is represented by emphasizing a vocalic sign, whether it is a glide consonant that stands for a vowel—such as in Abjads like Hebrew, most Aramaic varieties, and Arabic (these letters are called matres lectionis) — or a character that represents a vowel itself — which is either repeated or somehow embellished with a diacritic or other mark, as is the case in most Roman-based orthographies.
For some time, Jewish people throughout the world have been known for their consistent use of the same writing system to produce written content in a variety of languages. Although, for the most part, this practice has declined in the modern age; these texts were once common to almost all Jewish communities, and their material spanned both religious contexts and every-day ones.
I know that we’ve just passed Purim and are nowhere near the season of Hanukkah, but trust me, this is a perfectly good time to talk about this topic. That’s because this article isn’t actually Hanukkah-themed at all. Today, we’re going to talk about what I call orthographic domestication: the process by which an orthographic system converts lexical items from another system by making them fit cleanly within its own norms.