Is German Not in Need of a New Letter?

I vaguely remember that in discussions of the new capital form of the eszet, it being pointed out that German has recently undergone an orthographical revision which leads to the sequence sss often being present in words, which leads to awkwardness.

Surely the obvious solution is:
a double-eszet!


  • Yes, I suppose that might be the obvious reply!
    However, there is perhaps worse to come.
    This led me to revisit the question of what a capital eszet should look like. It occurred to me that before one can even begin to think of what a capital eszet should be, one first must answer the question of what a capital long s should look like.
    By analogy with the resemblance between the long s and the lowercase f, it seems like a capital long s should look like the capital Greek letter gamma.
    And thus, I came up with this idea for a capital eszet:
    I do not know how it might look to a native speaker of German, but it does have the virtue of fitting seamlessly into the tradition of Roman monumental inscriptions.
    Since the horizontal stroke of a capital F, unlike that in the small f, does not extend to the left of the vertical, the spur I have included might be deemed... spurious (groan), but something to distinguish it from the Greek gamma and from a capital F somehow missing a part seems desirable.
  • Actually, though, I see that this form for the capital eszet is not too far from one already proposed, the "Berlin" variant of Twardoch - although it differs in two respects, one being the spur, and the other being that the two components of the glyph are not joined.
  • Florian PircherFlorian Pircher Posts: 92
    edited November 2021
    In context, the ẞ is readable. But that is true for many \/j⚡️␣α1 forms, so I would still recommend using a shape that is close to the lowercase.
  • edited November 2021
    Sorry to be a spoilsport, but this isn't actually an option in German. 
    The eszett isn't just a ligature, it denotes a difference in pronunciation and therefore is only applied where it is needed. Words that contain sss do so because the preceding vowel is short, and needs to stay that way. You can't just take two of those s and replace them with an eszett. Basssaite != Baßsaite or, even worse, Basßsaite.

    And John: your idea for a capital long s will get you burned at the stake toute suite. Or at least as soon as I have found some matches 😄
  • so I would still recommend using a shape that is close to the lowercase.
    In general, that is absolutely true. However, the form of a capital eszet that I presented could still prove useful in some specialized cases. As an example, take a typeface such as Trajan, which, as its name indicates, is intended to very closely adhere to the appearance of Roman monumental inscriptions.
    There, a capital eszet which is based on the lower-case simply wouldn't fit, and so what I've presented is an alternative for the extreme case where any letterform including influences from outside the tradition of the Latin capitals is not admissible.
  • Florian PircherFlorian Pircher Posts: 92
    edited November 2021
    Maybe. To me, it still looks like one of those Latin digraphs that Unicode is now regretting having added. A wide lowercase-style shape with a flat top should fit in similarly for classical designs, but that depends on the individual typeface, of course. As for the sss ligature, it only ever happens across subword-boundaries. Some say ligating such places is a no-no for German, others dismiss that rule as outdated. Still, you will find InDesign plugins and TeX packages that suppress ligatures at German subword-boundaries (InDesign script, selnolig). As @Oliver Weiss (Walden Font Co.) pointed out, ß is not an ss ligature anyway. Again, words from Eſßall to Kurzschluſßtrombegrenzungsdrosseln would be understandable to most German readers in context, but not conforming to any mainstream orthography.
  • ß is not an ss ligature anyway.

    Indeed, and I do have to admit that, for that reason, the notion of a double-eszet is not really defensible.
    To be more specific, though, the eszet is not regarded as a ligature, but as a letter in its own right, by German native speakers; but the character has the form of a ligature of long s and short s in Roman typefaces, and of a ligature of long s and z in Fraktur typefaces.
    So it is partly a ligature, but that is an irrelevant pedantic distinction. The people who typeset German-language texts are German native speakers, and things like breaks between syllables are sufficiently important to them that a possible aesthetic improvement by turning sss into a single symbol is of no interest.
  • edited November 2021
    (Take the following in context with the edit at the end)

    A ligature most definitely should be used so that compound words can be read easily.  Take "Esssaal" for instance. It's put together from "Ess" (eating) and "Saal" (hall). So the double s occurs in the first word. It can't be replaced by ß, because "Eß" is not a word, and would be pronounced with a long "E" anyway. 
    Instead, it should be "Eſſsaal", and that's exactly what you find in Fraktur. As the long s is no longer in use, German could very much do with an "ss" ligature. I wonder if that exists already? 

    Edit: I left Germany thirty years ago, and I am again reminded that my knowledge of the language is somewhat fixed in time. A quick Google search reveals that "Eßsaal" is indeed a thing. I don't know if that's a technically incorrect convenience, or actually correct. I have launched inquiries and hope to be educated. Ideally I just chose a poor example and my point stands, as I really like my idea of an ss ligature. Otherwise, I retract my statement. 

    Edit 2: "Esssaal" is indeed the currently correct form, following a reform back in the 90s. 

  • As fare as my understanding of the matter goes it should be: Eſsſaal. The round (not long) ‘s’ is also called „Schluss-s“ (End-s). It only ever happens on the end if a word (including the end of the parts of compound words). 
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 885
    Having now learned the truth of the statement that the eszett (ß) is not at all an ss or sz ligature in its origin, from documentary evidence...
    I have in another discussion proposed a more authentic form for the eszett and the capital eszett...
    and now to the eszett and two possibilities for the capital eszett, I add two ligatures, one ligature representing sß and the other representing ßs, it being important in German to make the distinction.

  • John, I don't know if you speak German, but to me as a native speaker, these suggestions are about as useful as the pope's balls.
  • I am a native German speaker. But I guess a bad one. I'm practically unable to differentiate between the kinds of "s" we have. The "ß" seemed always unnecessary to me. Using more than one type of the letter is very hard for me to apply because I can only remember which to use where but it isn't at all clear to me from hearing how it sounds. I would be happy to just drop it.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,802
    Three identical glyphs in a row?
    English can top that, with four! —for instance, in the word “mllllon”.
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 581
    edited January 8
    Not just in English mllllon, but also the wellll-known Wellllsh placename Llanfairpwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.

    Of course, these are no match for Swift’s lllllputlans.
  • RichardWRichardW Posts: 61
    Clearly you guys haven't hear of the Thai sisters called รรรรร and รรรรรร - apparently pronounced /ran rɔːn/ and /ra rɔːn ran/ respectively.
  • @Franz Gratzer Based on your comment, I assume you roam the linguistic flatland north of the Main river? There is a distinct difference in pronunciation between s, ss and ß in other regions of Germany ;)
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,165
    Franz is Austrian!
  • Ah, he really should know better, then  :D
  • Well, unfortunately "should" doesn't help much. But maybe it would be sensible to find some course on phonetics and dig deeper in order to widen my horizon by cultivating my ear and tounge. (My limited capacity to distinguish sounds didn't help with studying Chinese. That much is clear.) It however doesn't seem to matter in everyday life in Austria as long as I can remember how the words I write down are spelled since others don't seem to notice my lack of proper accuracy in spoken language either.

  • @Franz Gratzer Based on your comment, I assume you roam the linguistic flatland north of the Main river? There is a distinct difference in pronunciation between s, ss and ß in other regions of Germany ;)
    You might be thinking of the dialect where everything gets voiced, which is indeed a bit of an oddity. On the other hand, de-voicing everything is standard in the entire southern half of the German-speaking lands (including Austria).
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