Sharp S can appear at start of word

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  • Scott-Martin Kosofsky
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    I’m grateful to @Helmut Wollmersdorfer for furnishing the reference works. I have to admit that I never paid much attention to the post-WWII German Yiddish reference books, though I have read many scholarly journal articles on various Yiddish subjects by authors associated with German universities. It should be noted that the excellent Yiddish dictionary by Solon Beinfeld (an acquaintance of mine) and Harry Bocher was based closely on the superb Yiddish-Frantsoyzish Worterbukh (Dictionnaire Yiddish-Français) by Yitskhok Niborski and Bernard Vaisbrot (Paris: Bibliothèque Medem, 2002).

    I’ve begun to think that there is very reasonable phonological sense to the use of the initial eszett for transliterating Yiddish, at least in the German context, and I hereby withdraw my earlier remark.

    Some typographic matters: the Hebrew cursive in the Ave-Lallement Das Deutsche Gauntertum is a very odd outlier, so much so that I can compare its oddity only to Eric Gill’s very willful Hebrew inscriptional letters and Hugh J. Schoenfield’s “New Hebrew Script” (1932). The Rashi and Vaybertaytsh scripts are NOT the same. Vaybertaytsh (“Ladies’ German” [i.e. Yiddish]) was used exclusively for the Yiddish language in 16th- and 17th-century printed books, except in early 16th-century Prague, where it was also used for the rabbinic commentaries that are customarily set in Rashi (the rabbinic semi-cursive).

  • Franz Gratzer
    Franz Gratzer Posts: 26
    edited January 2022
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    Franz, are you Austrian or German?
    Ok, this might be part of the problem. I am Austrian.
    I want to thank you for your post, as it inspired me first to update a page on my site about keyboard arrangements
    Interesting. Did the media not report on it and didn't this actually change the devices with keyboards yet? At least my questionable boldness did serve as a reminder. I suspect most people wouldn't want to give someone like me the power to define standards ... especially in this subject. I guess I should refrain from making suggestions when ever I feel very passionate about things. (I have the impression more often than not convictions are based on ignorance rather than on competence.)
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,092
    edited January 2022
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    I suspect most people wouldn't want to give someone like me the power to define standards ... especially in this subject.
    It would not hurt the world if Austrians used a different typewriter keyboard than Germans. Although if the difference in the importance of the eszet in Austria and Switzerland versus Germany led to a different German orthography in each country, that might be undesirable, as it would limit the range of printed works.
    In my study of typewriter keyboard layouts, I had come across the Valley keyboard, used in Belgium for the same purposes as the Dvorak keyboard for English, the Bepo keyboard in France, and the Neo keyboard for German.
    It seemed to me that it was intuitively obvious that the Valley keyboard would be an efficient one, perhaps preferable to the Bepo keyboard for French, and with minor adaptations, likely also better than Dvorak for English, and so on. Yet, the Valley keyboard passed out of use in Belgium some time before World War II.
    At least, it seemed to me that the Valley keyboard was definitely preferable to the old ZHJAY keyboard of Albert Navarre, which is the one I had originally compared it with.
    And if Belgium made a valuable contribution by having an ergonomic keyboard different from what was considered of value in France, for Austria or Switzerland to come up with an ergonomic keyboard different from Neo for the German language might also be of value.
    As the news that the French were searching for a new keyboard layout that would "respect the French language" by allowing capital letters with accents to be typed was humorous, at least to English speakers, it got picked up in the news, and so I saw it, but when the standard was issued, that didn't get much attention, so I had to look for it.
  • Nick Shinn
    Nick Shinn Posts: 2,152
    edited January 2022
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    Perhaps written English might also be improved, to distinguish between phonemes of the digraph “th”.
    And it wouldn’t even require new characters, as ðese days so many fonts already have boþ.
    (Go ahead and Disagree!)
  • Mark Simonson
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    @Nick Shinn Gee, I hope not. The eth is a horrible character in so many ways from a type design standpoint. Fortunately, I think it's highly unlikely that it will ever replace th in English, if only because no one seems to have trouble with th as it is. English has a lot of room for orthographic improvement, but I think th would be pretty low on the list of things to fix.

  • Franz Gratzer
    Franz Gratzer Posts: 26
    edited January 2022
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    What is actually the reason we don't settle for the IPA everywhere? It would make it much easier to know how to pronounce foreign words.
    I guess most of the included glyphs wouldn't be used in most languages and it probably isn't the most optimized glyph set for visual clarity either. We could use the same (probably horrible) keyboard everywhere and it wouldn't be efficient for any language. Let's make it worse for everyone! >:
    A remark for the case my humour might be wrongly interpreted because I am new here: This is only meant to mock my own suggestions.

  • Nick Shinn
    Nick Shinn Posts: 2,152
    edited January 2022
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    @Mark Simonson
    Yes, \ð is nasty.
    I wonder if native Cyrillic and Greek typedrawers dislike \g as much.
    Anyway, \ẞ is fun to design (just difficult enough to be engaging)—are we agreed on that?
  • Christian Thalmann
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    Agreed both on «fun» and «challenging». It can be surprisingly difficult to get the contrast distribution right. And of course it’s fun to argue about the «correct» design paradigms. 🤓
  • Franz Gratzer
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    Did any of you ever attempt to design the IPA? (It seems to be a moving target since it is frequently changed.)
  • Christian Thalmann
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    It's been a long-term dream of mine to cover IPA with Ysabeau. I still have to finish the basic masters, though, so... long-termn. :/
  • John Hudson
    John Hudson Posts: 3,012
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    IPA is not changed very frequently. The last significant version was 2005.
  • Franz Gratzer
    Franz Gratzer Posts: 26
    edited January 2022
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    I guess it depends on what you call frequent. 2005 seems not that long ago to me. But on the other hand the capital \ẞ was only added to Unicode in 2008. And it was only officially adopted into orthography in 2017. So I probably should call German even more unstable. Even if it certainly doesn't feel that way.
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,092
    edited January 2022
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    How long ago was it that eth and thorn were dropped from the English alphabet? Or was the replacement of "uu" by w something that came later? That's the standard of stability I look for! (Ah, while eth was dropped earlier, w became the standard in the 14th century, and that was also when thorn at least began its decline, according to Wikipedia.)
    Even French, which hadn't changed for a fair amount of time, is now planning to drop the circumflex accent! Ah, as of February 4, 2016, it became official - after being agreed upon in 1990. Ah, I see that the circumflex was only being removed from the letters i and u, because it did not change their pronounciation.
    Of course, though, that is only the English alphabet which remained unchanged for so long. English orthography, in its present state, can trace its origin back to April 15, 1755, the date of publication of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language.
    Because English speakers, not willing to be thought ignorant, accepted his scheme of spelling and pronouncing words of Latin origin as the Romans did, and words of French origin as the French did, and so on and so forth, the result has been that English spelling has led to a writing system that gives its users no justification to criticize the use of thousands of characters by the Chinese. Which somewhat misses the point of having an alphabetic script in the first place.
  • ß is used at the beginning of words in Ripuarian (Colognian) for voiced [s] by some authors but that doesn't seem to be part of the standard orthography.

    @Franz Gratzer The Africa Alphabet is the IPA alphabet of 1928 with uppercase and a few of modifications. A similar World Orthography was proposed for a more general use. Several African orthographies, national alphabets or general ones like the African Reference Alphabet are based on the Africa Alphabet or borrow from later revisions of the IPA.
    The Maître phonétique, the journal of the International Phonetic Association, responsible for the IPA, was published in IPA until 1970 before it was renamed Journal of the International Phonetic Association. Authors were free to transcribe their own pronunciation. In contrast the Africa Alphabet or the African Reference Alphabet were meant to be used for standardized orthographies, where different pronunciations may be spelled the same way when adequate.





  • "voiced [s]" should have been "voiceless [s]".
  • But in central and northern Germany, S is very clearly either »z« or (in front of some consonants) »sh«.

    In all variants of German I have come across in my lifetime, S in front of a consonant or at the end of a syllable is always voiceless. A phenomenon called ‘Auslautverhärtung’, which in fact is true for all consonants in German, not just S.

    If someone pronounces it [z], i.e. voiced, it was probably meant as a joke or to mock somebody.


    And this is exactly the reason why the double-S was introduced, from which ß evolved. 

    I hate to be that person. But I am afraid literally everything in this sentence is false. Also because two very different topics are mixed. One is the history of German orthographies, the other is the gradual development of ß, the latter of which predates the former by centuries.

    I recommend the texts by Bollwage if anybody wants to know more about the shape development of ß. Spoiler: no double s. (Skip Tschichold’s famous article, he did not supply sources, and I am inclined to conclude that he just made it up.)

  • Mark Simonson
    Mark Simonson Posts: 1,667
    edited January 2022
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    Interesting! So why did Adobe choose to call it "germandbls"? Because of Tschichold?
  • Andreas Stötzner
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    to put a long story short: the character ß evolved neither as “s-z” nor as “s-s”. It evolved as a ſ-derivate (an ſ with something). Centuries later the glyph representation(s) of it got interpreted as “s-z” (blackletter) or, still much later, “s-s” (italic types) – just due to visual likeliness, not more. Since then there is much confusion about it and the worst part in that confusions was played by Tschichold. Just forget about what he has contributed to the matter, he was just plain wrong. (But his influence caused a great damage to the understanding of the character). One result of the overall confusion is the technical term “germandbls” which is – plain nonsense. Please, bear that in mind.
  • Ray Larabie
    Ray Larabie Posts: 1,385
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    Why is the ß usually SS in all caps fonts?
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,092
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    to put a long story short: the character ß evolved neither as “s-z” nor as “s-s”. It evolved as a ſ-derivate (an ſ with something). Centuries later the glyph representation(s) of it got interpreted as “s-z” (blackletter) or, still much later, “s-s” (italic types) – just due to visual likeliness, not more.

    I can certainly believe this, even though I never knew it before. Since eszet in Roman/Antiqua types has the appearance of a long s-s ligature, I had assumed that was its origin, but that this could have been a back formation from a symbol originally written as long-s plus... an appendage, to indicate it was a sort of s-prime... doesn't sound at all outlandish.
    That the history might have been sufficiently obscure that even an expert like Jan Tschichold wasn't aware of it... is slightly more surprising, but again, entirely possible.
  • Andreas Stötzner
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    Why is the ß usually SS in all caps fonts?
    it is less a matter of fonts (or typefaces) but rather of orthography. For many centuries there was no problem with ß being a minuscule only since a convention of capitalization did not exist in German (exception: GOTT in bibles). During the 19th century German publishing began to utilize Roman type alongside with blackletter – and steadily started to set headlines in all capitals. It was then that the conundrum arose to find a substitute for ß in the majuscules.
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,092
    edited January 2022
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    In looking for the relevant works by the individual who turned out to be Max Bollwage, which were
    Ist das Eszett ein lateinischer Gastarbeiter? from the Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 1999 and
    Bildergeschichte: Kein Zett im Eszett
    I also found a mention of the first of those works being discussed in
    Die Geschichte des versalen Eszetts from Signa, Nr. 9 (2006)
    by Uta Stötzner, who, from further searching, happens to be Andreas' wife, and thus, he should know about this sort of stuff.
    Also, this German-language page,
    appears to show some examples of the evidence of the original form of the eszett.
    While in an earlier discussion, I was inclined to be dismissive of a statement that the Germans did not regard the eszett as an ss or sz ligature, because that was still what it looked to be, from the typographical evidence at my disposal - and because that seemed to me, at the time, to be the only basis available from which to work to design a capital eszett - definitely I must yield to documentary evidence. And actual images of what the eszett really is, also, are a basis to work from to design an authentic typographical eszett.

    However, I do not claim in any way to be qualified to determine if

    this attempt at an "authentic" upper-case and lower-case eszett would be recognizable to native German speakers.

  • Franz Gratzer
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    The article from Georg Salden is as surprising as convincing to me.
    I really wonder how far we could possibly go with a clear representation of phonetic differentiation. Especially because legibility is of great functional importance. The international phonetic alphabet sounds still tempting to me but the more letterforms we need to distinguish, the harder the design problem gets.
    In addition it makes sense to keep the printed language as close as possible to handwritten letterforms. Therefore, I conclude, that distinction can't sacrifice what we can fluently (and quickly) do when writing text by hand.
    Or maybe I am wrong because these days more and more children are growing up never training handwriting anyway. They just start out reading and typing on mobile screens ... or possibly soon watching videos and listening to audio without even having the need to actually learn writing and reading. I actually see no reason why this wouldn't happen rather sooner than later because voice recognition gets better very quickly. In the not so distant future reading and writing might become a skill useful to only very few people. – Even programming doesn't necessarily depend on actually writing code ...
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,092
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    And I have reflected that my designs for an "authentic" capital eszett could be improved by giving up the conceit of using the Greek gamma as a capital long s, either partially or completely:
    However, I am still completely unable to guess if either of the capital eszett forms would be anything but mystifying to native speakers of German.
  • Franz Gratzer
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    Well, just looking at it I would probably not guess that it is meant to be an \ẞ. I of course might get it in context but there are only very rare cases where it occurs at all. Therefore, if for example it is used in a not so common name I probably wouldn't guess that it is meant to be this letter.
    However, the first looks to me the most like an \ẞ but the second might in general be a stronger hint because it at least has clearly something to do with an \S.
    The third version would very likely leave me totally clueless. To me it looks like a horizontally mirrored \2 with something totally obscure attached.

  • Linus Romer
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    @Adam Twardoch Indeed, as a native Swiss (living in the Swiss German part of Switzerland) I would read «Salzburg» with a voiceless S. It seems like this is true for all southern varieties of German.
  • Christian Thalmann
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    John, not only do none of those look remotely like an eszett, but they're horribly unsound constructions regardless of context. :s
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,092
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    The third version would very likely leave me totally clueless. To me it looks like a horizontally mirrored \2 with something totally obscure attached.

    Well, it actually is a vertically mirrored 2, with something attached.

    John, not only do none of those look remotely like an eszett, but they're horribly unsound constructions regardless of context. :s
    That may well be. I feared as much. But the "authentic" lower-case eszett does have a basis in fact. While the Roman/Antiqua eszett looks like a long-s/short-s ligature, the Fractur eszett looks like a long-s/z ligature. But the z is a "false etymology"; the bottom part of the z that looks like a flat-top 3 got added later, and originally, eszett was just a long s with less attached.

    Thus, the "authentic" eszett might look like the character on the left, as opposed to the one on the right:
    even though the one on the right, except for the z part being too small, looks a bit more like some that were actually used. But the one on the left, after being adjusted to be less unsound, now looks too much like f.

  • RichardW
    RichardW Posts: 100
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    Glyphs that according to the main user's grammar should never be word initial can readily end up word-initial when used in other languages.  A non-European example is  U+0EBD LAO SEMIVOWEL SIGN NYO.  In the Khmu language, it has been adopted as an initial consonant.  As some forms of this character partially tuck under the previous 'letter', I can imagine this causing problems with some fonts.

  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,092
    edited January 2022
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    I don't suppose that
    would be any better? ("Authentic" lower-case eszett, followed by various possible forms of the related upper-case eszett.)
    At least here, the lower-case eszett is starting to bear more of a resemblance to the early handwritten forms used as evidence that the eszett did not originate as an sz-ligature. And, in addition, the lower-case eszett is no longer all that likely to be mistaken for f.