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 #

    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 #

    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 #

    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 #

    Thanks!
    The code 1E9E

  5. Gabi #

    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 #

    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 #

    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 #

    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 #

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

  10. Göran #

    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 #

    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 #

    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 #

    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 #

    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 #

    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 #

    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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