Re: Capital Sharp S in the News

From: Otto Stolz (
Date: Tue Jul 01 2008 - 13:10:49 CDT

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    Jeroen Ruigrok van der Werven schrieb:
    > In Dutch though...

    My Dutch is a bit rusty, and I haven’t got a dictionary at hand.
    Nevertheless, I venture a translation -- so take it with a grain of salt.
    Enclosed are also some personal remarks (not indended, in contrast to
    the quote and its translation).

    > Duitse alfabet krijgt 27e letter
       German alfabet acquires 27th letter

    Wrong: If you count Eszet as separate letter, you must count Ä, Ö and Ü,
    as well. So it should rather read: “30th letter”.

    The conventional count of 26 “letters” really counts the 1st-level
    equivalent classes of the collating algorithm, where “Ä”, “Ö”, “Ü”,
    and “ß” are equivalent to “A”, “O”, “U”, and “SS”, respectively.

    > Na vele discussies hierover in de afgelopen 130 jaar,
    > wordt er een nieuwe letter aan het Duitse alfabet toegevoegd.
    > Tot nu ontbrak de hoofdlettervariant van de ß (spreek uit: eszett)
    > in het Duitse alfabet.
    > Deze lacune wordt nu dus opgevuld.
    > De hoofdletter is een opgepompte versie met een hoekige bovenkant.

       After many discussions on this issue, during the past 130 years,
       a new letter is added to the German alfabet.
       Hitherto, the capital variant of the “ß” (pronounce: “Eszet”)
       has been missing from the German alfabet.
       This gap is now closed.
       The capital letter is a blown-up version with a pointed upper vertex.

    Not entirely to the point:
    · It is not an (entirely) new letter, as the Eszet is firmly rooted
       in the German orthography.
    · It is still debated whether there was really a gap; some people indeed
       did perceive a gap, other people did not, as no German word can commence
       with an Eszet (cf. infra), and all-caps typesetting is not as common in
       German as elsewhere, due to the history of the Fraktur which cannot
       sensibly be set in all-caps.
    · The exact glyph form is still under debate, hence you cannot (yet)
       describe it in this way.

    > Hoewel er geen woorden zijn die met een ß beginnen,
    > verwacht men dat de hoofdletter toch zeker van pas kan komen.
    > Het komt immers voor dat, bijvoorbeeld in krantenkoppen,
    > alle woorden in hoofdletters worden weergegeven.
    > Als alternatief voor de ß wordt dan een dubbele hoofdletter S gebruikt.
    > Dit kan echter weer tot verwarring leiden,
    > zoals bij het woord 'MASSE'.
    > Bedoelt men dan 'Die Masse' (massa, hoeveelheid) of 'Die Maße' (de maat)?

       Though there is no word commencing with “ß”,
       you still expect that the capital letter can occur.
       It happens all the time that, for example in headlines,
       all words are rendered in capital letters.
       In this case, a double capital “S” is used as a replacement for “ß”.
       However, that can lead to confusion,
       e. g., with the word “MASSE”:
       do you then mean “die Masse” (mass, multitude), or “die Maße”

    Note that “Masse” and “Maße”, and some of their deflection forms,
    are the only minimal pairs known for ss-ß quasi homographs.
    Note also that “die Masse” is singular, whilst “die Maße” is
    plural, so you can disanbiguate these words easily by means
    of the verb in the sentence at hand. Only the dative plural
    forms (if set in all-caps) could really be confused , as in:
    · Er trank Bier und Schnaps in Maßen. (He drank beer and spirits, in moderation)
    · Er trank Bier und Schnaps in Massen. (He drank ... in large quantities)
    · Brigitte Bardot mit ihren beachtlichen Körpermaßen
       (BB, and the hear noteworthy bodyly measurements)
    · Brigitte Bardot mit ihren beachtlichen Körpermassen
       (BB, and the hear considerable bodyly asses)
    Even the respective derivatives of “Masse” and “Maß” differ in
    more than just “ss” vs. “ß”, e. g., the derived adjectives are
    “massig” (bulky, massive) vs. “mäßig” (moderate, modest, temperate).

    So the quasi homography is only a problem with proper names
    set in all-caps, not with regular German clauses.

    > Opmerkelijk genoeg komt deze aanpassing trouwens op een moment
    > waarop de ß sowieso al steeds vaker wordt vervangen door ss.
    > Deskundigen hopen dat door deze aanpassing de ß weer aan populariteit zal winnen.
    > "De mensen zullen bepalen of zij de letter gebruiken",
    > aldus Kerstin Güthert, directeur van de Duitse Raad voor de spelling.
    > Er zal geen nieuw spellingsadvies worden opgesteld.

       Remarkably enough, this amendment comes in a point of time,
       when the “ß” is more and more being replaced with “ss”, anyway.
       Experts hope that, by this amendment, the “ß” will again gain
       in popularity.
       “People shall decide themselves, whether they will make use of that
       character”, sayd Kerstin Güthert, managing director of the
       “Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung” (Council for German Otrthography).
       There shall be no new spelling rules issued.

    I repeat: The “ß” is firmly rooted in the German orthography.

    I am quite sure that Mrs. Güthert’s remark pertains not to the
    “ß” character proper, but rather its capital counterpart which
    is currently not backed by the official German orthographic rules.

    > Het wachten is nu op de toetsenbordfabrikanten
    > om de ß als volwaardige 27e letter aan het toetsenbord toe te voegen.
    > Dat is minder eenvoudig dan het lijkt,
    > omdat de traditionele toetsenbord lay-out dan op de schop moet.
    > Inmiddels zijn er overigens wel toetsenborden op de markt
    > die via toetsencombinaties de hoofdletter ß op het scherm kunnen brengen.

       We now have to wait for the keyboard manufacturers
       to include the “ß” as a full-fledged 27th letter with the keyboard.
       That is less easy than it may seem to be,
       as the traditional keyboard layout would have to be scrapped then.
       Meanwhile, there are keyboards on the market
       that can bring the capital “ß” on the screen via key combinations.

    Re the “27th letter”, cf. supra.

    All capital letters are input via key combinations, viz. Shift + letter key.

    The problem with the German keyboard layout is that Shift + “ß”
    already has been assigned to the question mark. However, the
    AltGr + “ß” is still unassigned, hence could be used for a capital “ß”.
    Given that, in the forseeable future, the uses for a capital “ß”
    will be rare (as all-caps typesetting is rare, in German), the
    AltGr + “ß” combination will be good enough. In any case, the whole
    keyboard layout need not to be scrapped: some minor modification will

    There is no new keyboard neccessary to accomplish this layout,
    a new (or amended) keyboard driver would suffice.

    Best wishes,
       Otto Stolz

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