Re: Uppercase ß is coming? (U+1E9E)

From: John Hudson (
Date: Thu May 03 2007 - 17:08:31 CST

  • Next message: Mark Davis: "Re: Uppercase ß is coming? (U+1E9E)"

    I've been thinking about this, and it seems to me that the proposed encoding isn't ideal.
    What it basically amounts to is a glyph encoding for a variant form that some people like
    to use in place of the orthographically normative sequence SS. Although it is proposed to
    be named as a CAPITAL LETTER, it is deliberately cut off from any standard relationship
    with the lowercase ß, so in this important respect does not operate like a letter at all.
    It is a kind of letter-like sign that can be used by people who don't mind breaking their
    text -- in terms of spellchecking, case, searching, sorting -- in order to display this
    glyph variant.

    It is this breaking of the text that is bothering me, perhaps because I'm a font developer
    and it took a long time to drag this industry away from the hack-text-to-get-glyph-variant
    school of typography and to a place where glyph selection is properly separated from text

    The fundamental problem of the ß in casing is that, in German, the character sequence 'SS'
    does not always equal 'SS' in terms of its relationship to corresponding lowercase
    letters. Frankly, this just looks like bad orthographic practice to me, and I'm not
    surprised that some people over a century or more have attempted to affect a reform of the
    orthography by the introduction of a clean uppercase equivalent to ß. Now we're in the odd
    position of trying to find a way to support that failed orthographic reform in parallel to
    the normal spelling conventions, as a display option.

    I'm wondering if there isn't some way to do this that doesn't necessitate breaking text in
    order to achieve the display result. Let's say that someone has some lowercase text e.g.
    'Schriftgießerei', which he decides he wants to set in all caps and using the uppercase ß
    glyph. This will require either a custom casing algorithm to bypass the standard special
    casing of the ß character, or will require manual intervention. The latter is likely to be
    more common, and it is necessary to affect the change before converting the text to
    uppercase with standard algorithms, in order to catch the ß before it becomes SS. So the
    user goes into the text and converts every occurence of U+0223 to the proposed U+1E9E.
    Then he runs the case conversion function in his software to convert the rest of the
    letters in the string. It is a bit laborious, but in the end he has what he wants...
    unless he wants the result to be searchable as 'SCHRIFTGIESSEREI' or in a caseless search
    as 'schriftgießerei'.

    [The proposal recommends for discussion a possible compatibility decomposition to 'U+0053
    U+0053' to 'provide for the equivalence of the character sequences “capital ß” and “SS” in
    those applications that use the Normalization Form KD or KC for the detection of sameness
    of names etc.' How viable is this?]

    My own line of thinking is leaning towards a different approach, which would still require
    custom casing or manual intervention to achieve the desired display result, but would do
    so without breaking the text or contravening German orthographic rules. Rather than
    substituting for ß a nominal uppercase letter character that doesn't behave like an
    uppercase letter in its relationship to the lowercase, the user would substitute the
    orthographically correct SS but with an intervening, ignorable control character that
    would indicate the desired visual display, which could be resolved at the glyph level as

            S + ZWJ + S

    or perhaps

            S + CGJ + S

    This at once preserves the normative casing of ß for search operations etc. while also
    providing a plain text distinction between capitalised double-s and sharp-s. Vitally, it
    also provides a mechanism that enables clean font switching with existing fonts, which by
    default would display the orthographically correct 'SS' rather than a .notdef glyph in the
    absence of glyph support for the uppercase ß form.

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Gulf Islands, BC
    We say our understanding measures how things are,
    and likewise our perception, since that is how we
    find our way around, but in fact these do not measure.
    They are measured.   -- Aristotle, Metaphysics

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