Re: Uppercase ß is coming? (U+1E9E)

From: Adam Twardoch (
Date: Mon May 07 2007 - 07:53:37 CDT

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

    Marnen Laibow-Koser wrote:
    >> 4. Lowercase ß is graphologically derived from the ligation
    >> of long s and z. (And also has at least two distinct
    >> shape traditions, one of which is known as the "3" shape.)
    > Yes.
    That is plainly untrue. "ß" developed in a two-wise way: as a ligation
    of long s and round s, and as a ligation of long s and z. German adopted
    unified spelling rules only in 1901. Before that, both in the middle
    ages and in the humanist period, German spelling differed much. For
    example, "Thor" and "Tor" were equal variants of spelling the word
    meaning "gate".

    Short S was denoted by different writers differently (as ſs or ſz, which
    looked like ſʒ). The graphical shape of the ß ligature developed
    independently in these two ways.

    This dichotomy still shows itself in a small minority practice of
    uppercasing ß as "SZ" rather than "SS". Incidentally, this practice is
    understandable for most German readers (though not actively practiced),
    i.e. "GROSZMAUL" or "MASZGEBLICH" is understandable as the uppercasing
    of Großmaul or maßgeblich.

    One interesting issue is that in the 1996 spelling reform the status of
    ß as a single letter has been finally confirmed. In the previous
    spelling, the general rule was that short vowels are denoted by
    following them by doubled consonant letters while long vowels are
    followed by single consonant letters. So writing "met" always indicates
    a long "e:" while "mett" indicates a short "e".

    In case of "s"/"ß", it was confusing. Following a vowel with a single
    "s" always denoted a long vowel, following a vowel with a doubled "ss"
    indicated a short vowel, but following a vowel with "ß" did not give
    clue whether the vowel was short or long. So "Ruß" was actually
    pronounced "ru:s" as if the "ß" stood for a single consonant letter, but
    "Nuß" was pronounced "nus" as if the "ß" stood for a doubled consonant

    The 1996 spelling removed this uncertainty by changing the spelling of
    all "ß" into "ss" when the preceding vowel was to be pronounced short.
    Today’s spelling of "Nuss" or "dass" underlines that the vowels are to
    be pronounced short.

    The uppercasing of "ß" as "SS" but also as "SZ" defeats this clear rule.
    If I uppercase the word "Rußpartikel" into "RUSSPARTIKEL", suddenly the
    natural way of pronouncing the "U" changes from short to long, so the
    reader is confused. The confusion is even bigger now, after the reform,
    because the special "undefined" treatment of "ß" no longer exists, so
    readers are used to "ß" being always treated as a single consonant
    letter, not as a ligature of a doubled consonant.

    As I said, even writing "SZ" does not help. To remain logical,
    consistent and reader-friendly, "ß" needs (at some point) to assume a
    single graphemic shape in the uppercase.

    I believe that it should be an exciting task for type designers now to
    come up with a new form. In my opinion, this issue is definitely not one
    that is completely solved. We’re in the middle of a slow transition
    period for "ß". The 1996 reform started it and showed the direction.


    Adam Twardoch
    | Language Typography Unicode Fonts OpenType
    | | |

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon May 07 2007 - 07:57:42 CDT