The letter ß (Unicode U+00DF) is a letter in the German alphabet. Its German name is Eszett (IPA2|ɛsˈtsɛt, lexicalized expression for sz) or scharfes S (sharp S), and is pronounced as an unvoiced s (IPA2|s).

Origin in Blackletter as ligature of long s and z

Blackletter, or Gothic script, was common in all of Europe from 12th to early 16th century. Then Antiqua script quickly replaced blackletter in most European countries. Only Germans continued to write in blackletter until the early 20th century. In print, Germans preferred Fraktur fonts for several centuries. In handwriting the script evolved more strongly over time. It is important to note, that the 19th century German Kurrentschrift looks completely different from the English Cursive.

The letter ß originated as a ligature of long s (ſ) and z in these handwritten blackletter scripts. The resemblance between "ß" and "ſz" is obvious in any blackletter font. This ligature had been used since the Middle Ages.

The origin of "ß" from long "ſ" and "z" is reflected in the name Eszett.

Origin of long s and s as ligature in roman type

Essen" with ſs-ligature reads "Eßen". (Latin Blaeu Atlas, set in Antiqua, 1650s)]

In the late 18th and early 19th century, when more and more German texts were printed in roman type, typesetters looked for a roman counterpart for the blackletter "ſz" ligature, which did not exist in roman fonts. Printers experimented with various solutions, mostly replacing blackletter "ß" in roman type with either "sz", "ss", "ſs", or some combination of these. Although there are early examples in roman type of a "ſs"-ligature that looks like the letter "ß", it was "not" commonly used as Eszett.

It was only with the "First Orthographic Conference" in Berlin in 1876 that printers and type foundries started to look for a common letter form to represent the Eszett in roman type. In 1879, a proposal for various letter forms was published in the "Journal für Buchdruckerkunst". A committee of the Typographic Society of Leipzig chose the so-called "Sulzbacher Form". In 1903 it was proclaimed as the new standard for a letter sz in roman type. [Zeitschrift für Deutschlands Buchdrucker, Steindrucker und verwandte Gewerbe. Leipzig, 9. Juli 1903. Nr. 27, XV. Jahrgang. Faksimile in: Mark Jamra: "The Eszett" (no date) http://www.typeculture.com/academic_resource/articles_essays/ (checked 17. April 2008)]

Since then, German printing set in roman type has used the letter ß. The Sulzbacher Form, however, didn't find unanimous acceptance. It became the default form, but many type designers preferred (and still prefer) other forms. Some resemble a blackletter "sz"-ligature, others more a roman "ſs"-ligature.

To the reader unfamiliar with German, the ß's "s" origin may be obscure or nearly undetectable, particularly in the Sulzbacher Form. Long s itself was frequently confused with "f," which led to its demise in English writing. This is the main reason ß is not used in English.

Alternative representations of ß in Antiqua

There have been four typographical solutions for the form of the antiqua ß. Currently, most antiqua ß are shaped according to the second or the fourth solution. The first and third solution are seldom found.
#letter combination ſs (not as a ligature, but as a single type),
#ligature of ſ and s,
#ligature of ſ and a kind of blackletter z that looks similar to an "unicode|ʒ" (ezh) or a "3", though it might rather be described as a "hooked z" (unicode|ȥ) (this solution resembles the original blackletter ligature),
#The "Sulzbacher Form"

Usage in German

Since the German spelling reform of 1996, either "ß" or "ss" is used for the representation of an /s/ in a syllable onset (where a normal "s" would be pronounced /z/) as follows:
# "ß" is used after long vowels, for instance in "grüßen" (‘to greet’) or in the related words "grüßt" (‘greets’), "grüß!" (‘greet!’);
# "ß" is used after diphthongs, for instance "beißen" (‘to bite’) or in the related words "beißt" (‘bites’), "beiß!" (‘bite!’), but not in those word forms with a short vowel, e.g. "biss" (‘bit’) and "Biss"/"Bissen" (‘bite’);
# "ss" is used after short vowels, for instance "küssen" (‘to kiss’) or in the related words "küsst" (‘kisses’), "küss!" (‘kiss!’).

Note that in words where the stem changes, some forms may have an "ß" but others an "ss", for instance "sie beißen" (‘they bite’) vs. "sie bissen" (‘they bit’).

Some instances of /s/ immediately following a long vowel or a diphthong in a syllable coda require "ß", such as "groß" ('large'), and others require "s", such as "los" ('away', several other uses). The correct spelling is not predictable and must be learned for each case.

Substitution and all caps

If no "ß" is available, "ss" is used instead. This applies especially to all caps or small caps texts because "ß" is not generally considered to have majuscule form. Excepted are all caps names in legal documents; they may retain an "ß" to prevent ambiguity, e.g., "HANS STRAßER".

This "ss" that replaces an "ß" had to be hyphenated as a single letter before the German spelling reform of 1996, for instance "STRA-SSE" (‘street’); compare "Stra-ße". After the reform, it is hyphenated like other double consonants: "STRAS-SE". [Peter Gallmann (1997): "Warum die Schweizer weiterhin kein Eszett schreiben. Zugleich:Eine Anmerkung zu Eisenbergs Silbengelenk-Theorie". In: Augst, Gerhard;Blüml, Karl; Nerius, Dieter; Sitta, Horst (Eds.) "Die Neuregelung der deutschen Rechtschreibung. Begründung und Kritik." Tübingen: Niemeyer (= "Reihe Germanistische Linguistik", Vol. 179) pages 135–140. [http://www.personal.uni-jena.de/~x1gape/Pub/Eszett_1997.pdf] , p. 5.]

Switzerland and Liechtenstein

In Switzerland and Liechtenstein "ss" usually replaces every "ß". This is officially sanctioned by the German orthography rules, which state in §25 E₂: "In der Schweiz kann man immer „ss“ schreiben" ("In Switzerland, one may always write 'ss'").

The "ß" has been gradually abolished since the 1930s, when most cantons decided not to teach it anymore and when the Swiss postal service stopped using it in place names. In 1974, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung was the last Swiss newspaper to give up the "ß". Today, Swiss publishing houses only use the "ß" for books that address the entire German-speaking market.

More recently, "ß" has experienced a resurgence in use in these countries for SMS communication. Because of space limitations of the medium (each text message contains a maximum of 160 characters), "ß" (one character) becomes preferable to "ss" (two characters) where it is appropriate. [ [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/ß#In_der_SMS-Kommunikation section "In der SMS-Kommunikation"] in German Wikipedia's ß article]

Other German dialects

In the usual spelling of the Ripuarian German dialect, double eszett occurs, for example "(Watt ėßß datt?)" for "What is that?" ("disambiguation") in page names in , and [1 September 2005 entry in ] "Dißkußßjohn" ("discussion") and "aanjeshtüßße".

Usage before the spelling reform of 1996

Before the German spelling reform of 1996, there was an additional rule that “ß” should be used at the end of a word (e.g., "naß", 'wet') or word-component (e.g., "Naßrasur", 'wet shave'), or before a consonant (e.g., "wäßrig", 'watery'), even if it follows a short vowel, but must otherwise be replaced by “ss” (e.g., "Wasser", 'water'). As a result, "floss" ('flowed') was formerly spelled "floß", and the spelling "Floß" was ambiguous between a capitalised "floss" (with short vowel) and the noun "Floß" ('raft', with long vowel — all nouns are capitalised in German).

The spelling reform also affected exonymic place names, e.g., "Rußland" ("Russia") became "Russland", and "Preßburg" ("Bratislava") became "Pressburg" [(in german) [http://wortschatz.uni-leipzig.de/ Wortschatz, Uni Leipzig] , Searches for [http://wortschatz.uni-leipzig.de/cgi-portal/de/wort_www?site=208&Wort_id=211683 'Rußland'] and [http://wortschatz.uni-leipzig.de/cgi-portal/de/wort_www?site=208&Wort_id=12427812 'Preßburg'] . Accessed March 20, 2008] .

The pre-1996 orthography encouraged the use of "SZ" in all caps texts in cases where "SS" would produce an ambiguous result, as with "IN MASZEN" (in limited amounts; "Maß", "measure") vs. "IN MASSEN" (in massive amounts; "Masse", "mass"). The number of such cases was so small that this rule was more confusing than helpful, since most people used the spelling "SS" anyway; thus it has been dropped. Only in the German military, the capitalization "SZ" is still in occasional use, even when there is no ambiguity — e.g., boxes inscribed "SCHIESZGERÄT" (“shooting materials” ) can still be found occasionally. The same is true for architectural drawings, which often use capital letters and where both "MASZE" and "MASSE" are quite frequent. "sz" is also still used for "ß" in military teletype operation within Germany.

Capital ß

"ß" is nearly unique among the letters of Latin alphabet in that it has no traditional upper case form. This is because it never occurs initially, and traditional German printing in blackletter never used all-caps.

There have been repeated attempts to introduce an upper case ß. Such letterforms can be found in some older German books and some modern signage and product design. Since April 4, 2008 Unicode 5.1.0 has included as U+1E9E LATIN CAPITAL LETTER SHARP S. [ [http://unicode.org/versions/Unicode5.1.0/#Tailored_Casing_Operations Unicode 5.1.0 ] ]

ß vs. β and B

"ß" should not be confused with the lower case Greek letter "β" (beta), which it closely resembles, particularly to the eyes of non-German or non-Greek readers, but to which it is unrelated; indeed the resemblance is "not" close enough to enable the one to replace the other in typeset material. Any such substitution looks extremely unprofessional, comparable to substituting lower case Greek letter "ω" (omega) with lower case "w" in English text. Any typeset material should use the ß; where that letter is unavailable, the substitution of "ss" for "ß" is correct, and clearly preferable to the use of Greek "β".

The differences between "ß" and "β" in most typefaces are:
*β reaches below the line while ß does not
*β connects the vertical part on the left with the end of the horizontal near the bottom; ß does not.
*β uses Greek rules of stroke thickness (slanted strokes are thinnest); ß uses Latin rules (horizontal strokes are thinnest).
*β is often slightly slanted to the right even in upright fonts, while ß is exactly vertical.However, such substitution once was common when describing beta test versions of application programs for older operating systems, such as classic Mac OS, whose character encodings did not support easy use of Greek letters. Also, the original IBM DOS code page, CP437 (aka OEM-US), which was designed by English speaking persons with limited knowledge of German spelling customs, conflates the two characters, assigning them the same codepoint (0xE1) and a glyph that minimises their differences. Though the difference between ß and β is usually obvious in sans-serif typefaces, many serif fonts still use the Sulzbacher design, which renders both characters as near-homoglyphs, with the only noticeable difference being the descender on beta: ß β

Also note that in German handwriting and in Fraktur, the ß is written very similar to β, reaching below the line with the bottom loop connected to the vertical line.

English speakers unfamiliar with German orthography may also confuse ß with B, which is also incorrect.

On keyboards

In Germany and Austria, the letter ß is present on computer and typewriter keyboards, normally to the right on the upper row. In other countries, the letter is not marked on the keyboard, but a combination of other keys can produce it. Often, the letter is input using a modifier and the "s" key. The details of the keyboard layout depend on the input language and operating system.;Mac OS X:Option+s on US and UK keyboards, Option+b on French keyboard;Microsoft Windows:Alt+0223 or Alt+225 or (if not used otherwise) Ctrl+Alt+s, on some keyboards such as US-International also AltGr+s;X-based systems:AltGr+s or Compose, s, s;GNU Emacs:C-x 8 " s;GNOME:Ctrl-Shift-DF or (in GNOME versions 2.15 and later) Ctrl-Shift-U, df;AmigaOS:Alt+S for all keymaps on native Amiga keyboards.

The Vim and GNU Screen digraph is ss.

ß in other languages

'ß' is used by some in romanizing the Sumerian language, to mean 'sh'. Some Sumerian scholars use 'sz' or '$' instead.

'ß' is popular in Hungarian "text speak" used with mobile phones, replacing the grapheme 'sz', thus using one letter fewer in the Short message service. For the same reason, some Swiss Germans also use it for any 'ss' in a mobile phone text message.

'ß' was used to mean 'š' in a German-influenced spelling system for the Lithuanian language which was used in Lithuania Minor in East Prussia: the page section Prussian Lithuanians#Personal names has some examples of Prussian Lithuanian surnames containing 'ß'.


When ordering German words alphabetically, the collation rules say that "ß" should be treated as if it were a double "s". So, for example: "Ruß" < "Russe" < "rußen" < "Russland".

In word processing contexts, the "ß" is sometimes associated with the umlaut, for a purely practical reason: both the "ß" and letters with umlauts (ä, ö, ü) are not in ASCII. Thus they tend to cause the same kinds of problems in all sorts of legacy digital text processing applications. Historically, the development of "ß" is not related to the umlaut, and they are not associated outside of character encoding contexts.

The ß is sometimes used in German writing to indicate a pronunciation of IPA|/s/ where IPA|/z/ would otherwise be usual (in Standard German, initial is pronounced IPA|/z/). The novels "NeuLand" and "OstWind" by Luise Endlich, for example, use an initial ß to approximate the local dialect in Frankfurt (Oder); thus "ßind ßie?" ("Sind Sie?").

The HTML entity for "ß" is &amp;szlig;. Its codepoint in the ISO 8859 character encoding versions 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16 and identically in Unicode is 223, or DF in hexadecimal. In TeX and LaTeX, ss produces ß.

Additionally the "ß" (as well as Ä, Ö and Ü) are widely considered not to be part of the standard alphabet. When asked about the number of letters in the alphabet, most Germans would answer 26 instead of 30Fact|date=July 2008.

ee also

* Capital ß
* Long s
* Sz (digraph)


External links

* [http://typefoundry.blogspot.com/2008/01/esszett-or.html James Mosley: Eszett or ß] - January 31 2008 on typefoundry.blogspot.com
* [http://www.typeculture.com/academic_resource/articles_essays/ Mark Jamra: The Eszett]

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