miriamruth11-hp; copyright: Google; based on the original illustration by Ora Ayal

Today the logo appearing at the top of honors Miriam Roth, the author of the famous Hebrew children’s book “A Tale of Five Balloons”. She was born on the 16th of February in 1910.

The Google employee who uploaded the image, made a mistake: the filename is “miriamruth”, but it should be “miriamroth”. That’s what happens when there’s no proper way to write the vowels: Her last name is written רות, which is how the Biblical name “Ruth”, still common in modern Israel, is written. But the German last name “Roth” is written the same way, because in Hebrew “u” and “o” are usually written using the same letter, Vav.

There is a way to differentiate the sounds: רוּת is “Ruth” and רוֹת is “Roth”. Notice the placement of the dot in relation to the letter in the middle. The sign for “u” is called shuruk, and the sign for “o” is called holam; i wrote the bulk of the articles about them in Wikipedia. Most people don’t type these signs; usually it’s fairly easy to guess the correct pronunciation, but people don’t use these signs even when it’s needed, as is the case with Ruth/Roth, because typing them on the standard Hebrew keyboard is very hard.

For years this made me very angry, so i asked the Standards Institute of Israel to develop a new standard keyboard in which it will be easy to type these signs. I was successful at convincing the SII to do it. The work is now underway, and i actively participate in the monthly meetings, together with representatives from Hamakor – the Israeli association for free and open source software, Israel Internet Association, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Google and other companies. I hope that the standard will be published in 2011; the technical implementation of the keyboard layout will take about ten minutes on each operating system, and shortly after that, i hope, it will be distributed to computers using some kind of an auto-update mechanism.

And then, i hope, we’ll start to see at least slightly richer Hebrew typography everywhere. I want it to happen, not just because it’s a nice tradition, but because this will simply make Hebrew easier to read – and will prevent silly mistakes, like pronouncing and writing “Ruth” instead of “Roth”.

See also: Maqaf.

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