Capital Sharp S explained to Typographers (screencast)

In my talk together with Nadine Roßa at the ATypI conference 2011 in Reykjavík I explained why Germany and Austria need a capital Eszett character today. For those who couldn’t be there, I made a screencast of my talk, which can be seen and commented here. Keep in mind, that this talk was made for a small and special audience of type professionals. Feel free to also check out my earlier articles on this subject.

Capital Sharp S explained to Typographers from Ralf Herrmann on Vimeo.

(And to the people quoted in this video: I didn’t want to offend anyone. But the typical arguments against the capital Eszett reflect the typical misunderstandings that people have concerning this topic. So using these quotes is a good way to resolve these misunderstandings.)

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16 Comments

  1. Colin M. FOrd 2011/09/21 at 7:57 PM #

    Very convincing arguments, Ralf. I think I am convinced of your point. But did you have to record the audio in mono?

  2. Ralf Herrmann 2011/09/21 at 8:00 PM #

    Sorry for die audio quality. I actually remastered it in Garageband but these tracks seemed to have been stripped out by Vimeo.

  3. Sigurdur Armannsson 2011/09/21 at 8:38 PM #

    This lecture was one of my favorite at ATypI this year. Btw: What is the Unicode for the Upper Case Sharp S?

  4. Ralf Herrmann 2011/09/21 at 8:39 PM #

    Thanks!
    The code 1E9E

  5. Gabi 2011/09/22 at 7:29 AM #

    Honestly: I think Germany and Austria should ditch the ß altogether. That would be the easiest solution, and the most contemporary one too. There is no need for this extra character – ss does it quite well, too. Switzerland has been living without it for ages, and it hasn’t hurt anyone. Why go for a complicated solution if there’s an easy one?

  6. Ralf Herrmann 2011/09/22 at 7:37 AM #

    Honestly: I think Germany and Austria should ditch the ß altogether.

    This certainly would solve the problem. But it is desirable? It’s there and used because it has a distinct function in the orthography. Why get red of ANY character with a distinct function? Why a C and a K? We could do without one. Why a difference between I and J? Why a difference between U, V, and W? The Romans lived without them …

  7. Gabi 2011/09/22 at 7:44 AM #

    C and K are both letters which are internationally used in the Latin alphabet. Same with U, V, and W – these, on top of it, have a distinct pronunciation, while ß and ss are in most cases pronounced identically. I am all for keeping ü, ö, and ä – those have a distinctive sound to them. But I fail to see the use of a ß – particularly since part of the German-speaking population already lives without it, and quite well so.

  8. Ralf Herrmann 2011/09/22 at 7:58 AM #

    while ß and ss are in most cases pronounced identically

    Nope. As I have explained in the video. It it would be like you say, I wouldn’t want a cap Eszett.

    And getting rid of any national characters is not something I find desirable. Poland, Czech Republic, Denmark, Island, … All have their special characters and they use it and are proud of it. In times of Unicode, there is no need to ditch any of those.

  9. Jürgen Siebert 2011/09/22 at 8:06 AM #

    A brillant recap, Ralf (and Nadine), well done.

  10. Göran 2011/09/22 at 8:20 AM #

    Since I’m not native german speaking I can’t say if this is really needed or you just have a fix idea you’re promoting like crazy, but I really enjoyed the presentation :)

  11. Ralf Simonis 2011/09/22 at 8:34 AM #

    A big step towards a break-through you mentioned would be the implementation of the capital ß on German computer keyboard layouts. As long as there is the ? on top of the ß I believe no-one will start to use a capital ß in his everyday typing.
    Another thing against a general acceptance certainly is the fact that there exists no German noun starting with ß, so use of a capital ß in uppercase texts will always look like someone used a lowercase ß between the capitals (at least for people who are not typo-related). For the Umlaute, it has been easier, as there are words like “Äpfel”, “Österreich” and “Übergabe”.
    Anyway I agree that implementation of a capital ß in the fonts is a good start in increasing general acceptance and a major help for translations between upper- and lowercase.

  12. Ralf Herrmann 2011/09/22 at 8:41 AM #

    As long as there is the ? on top of the ß I believe no-one will start to use a capital ß in his everyday typing.

    True. But introducing a capital ß is a long-term goal anyway. Will we even use physical keyboards in 30 years from now? I doubt it.
    On my Mac I use a simple text replacement rule: ẞ — simple and fast.

    the fact that there exists no German noun starting with ß,

    As an interesting side-note from this conference trip to Island: The Islandic ð also never appears at the beginning of words. Still, it has an uppercase version (Ð) for uppercase-only text setting.

  13. Holger Scheid 2011/09/22 at 10:12 AM #

    And you even didn’t mention the many cases where people use the ß totaly wrong in uppercase words. I’ve seen it even on gravestones.

  14. Luke Dorny 2011/09/23 at 7:15 PM #

    A wonderful run through, Ralf. Well done to both you and Nadine.
    The expanded explanation of the history was very fascinating, esp. for my favorite european character.

  15. Belles Lettres 2011/09/26 at 4:54 AM #

    Nice presentation, Ralf. But the analogy between ß and the ligatures æ, œ, w and ä, ö, ü is not right, because all of them could have been word-initial from their beginning. The sound /v/ was written in Old High German, thus for instance ‘uuir’ which is ‘wir’ today.

    But this doesn’t weaken your proposal.

    The right analogy would have been right before your window: the Icelandic sound /ð/ can only appear in the middle or the end of a word, so the letter ð (not a ligature) didn’t exist as a capital for a long time, but today, Icelandic has Ð, only for uses you’re talking about.

    As for the genesis of Esszett: Typografers shouldn’t make theories about the question, whether it comes from ss or sz, by having a look at the form of the letter. The orthography and phonology of German in the 14th and 15 century (when ß was created) is very complicated. In the 15th century, ſſ, fs, ſz and ß has been in use similarily. It may come from ſz (this z is an /s/ and not /ts/ as today), but it had been used for ss as well in that time: ‘die finsterniss’ (formerly with double-s) and ‘die finsterniß’. So, it it ambiguous from its beginning. It is designed to be ambiguous by its creators.

    Finally, keep in mind that creating a capital-ß in unicode is one thing, but it still remains wrong until the amtliche rechtschreibung will be changed. It says that ß must be written SS in capitals. Authorities writing surnames of citizens and names of cities must obey the amtliche rechtschreibung. This is not a decision of typographers.

  16. Ralf Herrmann 2011/10/19 at 9:44 AM #

    Typografers shouldn’t make theories about the question, whether it comes from ss or sz, by having a look at the form of the letter. The orthography and phonology of German in the 14th and 15 century (when ß was created) is very complicated.

    Would love to see a Belle Lettres screencast about orthographical and phonological sources of the ß … :-)

 

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