In German orthography, the grapheme ß, called Eszett () or scharfes S (, ), in English "sharp S", represents the phoneme in Standard German, specifically when following and , while ss is used after short vowels. The name Eszett represents the German pronunciation of the two letters S and Z.
It originates as the sz digraph as used in Old High German and Middle High German orthography, represented as a ligature of long s and tailed z in blackletter typography ( ſʒ), which became conflated with the ligature for long s and round s ( ſs) used in Roman type.
The grapheme has an intermediate position between letter and ligature. It behaves as a ligature in that it has no separate position in the German alphabet. In alphabetical order it is treated as the equivalent of (not ). It behaves like a letter in that its use is prescribed by orthographical rules and conveys phonological information (use of ß indicates that the preceding vowel is long).ß (as well as ä, ö and ü) taught as "letters of the alphabet" in Germany, which is taken to consist of 26 letters. Traditionally, it did not have a capital form, although some introduced de facto capitalized variants of ß. In 2017 the Council for German Orthography ultimately adopted capital ß (ẞ) into German orthography, ending a long orthographic debate.
While ß has been used as a ligature for the digraph in early modern printing for languages other than German, its use in modern typography is limited to the German language. In the 20th century, it has fallen out of use completely in Swiss Standard German (used in Switzerland and Liechtenstein), Leitfaden zur deutschen Rechtschreibung (English: Guide to German Orthography), 3rd edition 2007 from the Swiss Federal Chancellery, retrieved 22-Apr-2012 while it remains part of the orthography of Standard German elsewhere.
ß was encoded by ECMA-94 (1985) at position 223 (hexadecimal DF), inherited by Latin-1 and Unicode (). C1 Controls and Latin-1 Supplement. glossed "uppercase is “SS”; nonstandard uppercase is 1E9E ẞ; typographically the glyph for this character can be based on a ligature of 017F ſ with either 0073 s or with an old-style glyph for 007A z (the latter similar in appearance to 0292 ʒ ). Both forms exist interchangeably today." The HTML entity &szlig; was introduced with HTML (1995). The capital variant () was introduced by ISO 10646 in 2008.
The spelling survived into Middle High German even after the merger of the two phonemes s and ɕ. In the Gothic book hands and bastarda scripts of the high medieval period, would be written with long s and tailed z, as ſʒ. The development of a recognizable ligature representing the sz digraph develops in handwriting, in the early 14th century.Herbert E. Brekle: Zur handschriftlichen und typographischen Geschichte der Buchstabenligatur ß aus gotisch-deutschen und humanistisch-italienischen Kontexten. In: Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, Mainz 2001, 67–76. This ligature was also adopted as a separate type in the early blackletter types of the 15th century.
ſs ligature is in origin separate from the development of the ſʒ ligature. It developed in early 16th-century humanist Latin manuscripts representing the digraph of ſ (long s) and s (round s). Brekle (2001) cites as the earliest appearance of the ligature the handwriting of Lodovico Vicentino, dated 1515. This ligature was adopted into Antiqua typefaces.
There was thus, in early printing, no direct contrast between an ſʒ and an ſs ligature in any single typeface: blackletter fonts designed for printing German would have an ſʒ but no ſs ligature (German being rendered as ſſ), while Antiqua fonts intended for printing Latin or Italian would have an ſs but no ſʒ ligature. When German texts began to be printed in Antiqua (see Antiqua–Fraktur dispute), the Antiqua ſs (i.e. ) ligature came to be used as an equivalent of the ſʒ (i.e. ) ligature in blackletter fonts. Thus, the modern (Antiqua) German letter ß is in some fonts derived from ſs graphically although it represents the historical sz digraph continued from Middle High German and Early Modern High German orthography.
Roman type (Antiqua), typesetters looked for an exact Roman counterpart for the blackletter ſz ligature, which did not exist in Roman fonts. Printers experimented with various techniques, 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 for sz.
Since then, German printing set in Roman type has used the letter ß. The Sulzbacher form, however, did not 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.
The letter ß proper has thus only been used in German typesetting. The use of ligatures similar to ß representing not a letter but the digraph ſs can be found in early modern printing in other languages (Italian and Latin); in English-language typesetting, the spelling ſs occurs mostly as two unligated letters.
In Austria, Heyse's rule of 1829 prevailed from 1879 until the second orthographic conference of 1901, where it was decided to prefer Adelung's rule over Heyse's. The German orthography reform of 1996 reintroduced Heyse's variant, but without the long s.
|+Rules of Adelung and Heyse|
Heyse's argument: Given that "ss" may appear at the end of a word, before a fugue and "s" being a common initial letter for words, "sss" is likely to appear in a large number of cases (the amount of these cases is even higher than all the possible triple consonant cases (e.g. "Dampfschifffahrt") together). Critics point out that a triple "s" in words like "Missstand" feature less readability than spelling it "Mißstand". Even in cases where the second word of a compound does not start with "s", "ß" should be used to improve the readability of the fugue (e.g. "Meßergebnis" over "Messergebnis" (measurement), which suggests the unrelated word "Messer" (knife), and "Meßingenieur" over "Messingenieur" (measuring engineer), which suggests the unrelated word "Messing" (brass)).
This problem of Adelung's rule was solved by Heyse who distinguished between the long s ("ſ") and the round s ("s"). Only the round s could finish a word, therefore also called terminal s ( Schluß-s resp. Schluss-s). The round s also indicates the fugue in compounds. Instead of "Missstand" and "Messergebnis" one wrote "Miſsſtand" and "Meſsergebnis". Back then a special ligature for Heyse's rule was introduced: ſs. Amongst the common ligatures of "ff", "ft", "ſſ" and "ſt", "ſs" and "ſʒ" were two different characters in the Fraktur typesetting if applying Heyse's rule.
Regardless of prescriptive or orthographical concerns, types for capital ß were designed in various typefaces in the 1920s and 1930s even though they were rarely used. In the 2000s, Andreas Stötzner, editor of the typographical magazine Signa campaigned for the introduction of the character. Stötzner deposited a corresponding proposal with the Unicode Consortium in 2004. The proposal was rejected at the time,Andreas Stötzner: Vorschlag zur Kodierung eines versalen ß in Unicode ( n2888.pdf PDF). Unicode Consortium: Rejected Characters and Scripts. online (englisch); und als Kommentar dazu: Michael Kaplan: Every character has a story #15: CAPITAL SHARP S (not encoded) Michael Kaplan (englisch). but a second proposal submitted in 2007 was successful and the character was introduced in 2008 (Unicode version 5.1.0), as (Latin Extended Additional block).Cord Wischhöfer: Proposal to encode Latin Capital Letter Sharp S to the UCS. ( n3327.pdf). Resolutions of WG 2 meeting 50. Unicode 5.1.0 In 2016, the Council for German Orthography proposed the introduction of optional use of ẞ in its ruleset (i.e. variants STRASSE vs. STRAẞE would be accepted as equally valid). 3. Bericht des Rats für deutsche Rechtschreibung 2011–2016 (2016), p. 7. The rule was officially adopted in 2017.
In the orthography of the German spelling reform of 1996, both ß and ss are used to represent /s/ between two vowels as follows:
Thus it helps to distinguish words like Buße (long vowel) 'penance, fine' and Busse (short vowel) 'buses'. It is also consistent with the general rule of German spelling that a doubled consonant letter serves to mark the preceding vowel as short (the consonant sound is never actually doubled or lengthened in pronunciation).
In words where the Word stem changes, some forms may have an ß but others an ss, for instance sie beißen (‘they bite’) vs. sie bissen (‘they bit’).
The same rules apply at syllable coda, but are complicated by the fact that single s is also pronounced in those positions. Thus, words like groß ('large') require ß, while others, like Gras ('grass') use a single s. The correct spelling is not predictable out of context (in Standard German pronunciation), but is usually made clear by related forms, e.g., Größe ('size') and grasen ('to graze'), where the medial consonants are pronounced and respectively. Many dialects of German however have an even longer vowel, or an audibly less sharp s, in cases single s is used.
The spelling reform affected some German-language forms of foreign place names, such as Rußland ("Russia"), reformed Russland, and Preßburg ("Bratislava"), reformed Pressburg.(in German) Wortschatz, Uni Leipzig, Searches for 'Rußland' and 'Preßburg'. Accessed March 20, 2008 The orthography of personal names (first names and family names) and of names for locations within Germany proper, Austria and Switzerland were not affected by the reform of 1996, however; these names often use irregular spellings that are otherwise impermissible under German spelling rules, not only in the matter of the ß but also in many other respects.
The traditional orthography encouraged the use of SZ in place of ß in words with all letters capitalized where a usual SS would produce an ambiguous result. One possible ambiguity was between IN MASZEN (in limited amounts; Maß, "measure") and IN MASSEN (in massive amounts; Masse, "mass"). Such cases were rare enough that this rule was officially abandoned in the reformed orthography. The German military still occasionally uses the capitalized SZ, even without any possible ambiguity, as SCHIESZGERÄT (“shooting materials”). Architectural drawings may also use SZ in capitalizations because capital letters and both Maß and Masse are frequently used. Military teleprinter operation within Germany still uses sz for ß (unlike German typewriters, German teleprinter machines never featured either umlauts or the ß letter).
This ss that replaces an ß has to be hyphenated as a single letter in the traditional orthography. For instance STRA-SSE (‘street’); compare Stra-ße. In the reform orthography, 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., p. 5.
In Switzerland, ß has been gradually abolished since the 1930s, when most cantons decided not to teach it any more and the Swiss postal service stopped using it in place names. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung was the last Swiss newspaper to give up ß, in 1974. Today, Swiss publishing houses use ß only for books that address the entire German-speaking market.
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, such as Ctrl key+Alt key+s, on some keyboards such as US-International also AltGr key+s in Microsoft Windows or Option key+s on the US, US-Extended, and UK keyboards in macOS. In Windows, one can also use alt code 0223.
Some modern virtual keyboards show ß when the user presses and holds the s key.
'ß' has also occasionally been used for transliterating Sumerian /ʃ/ ⟨standard transliteration š⟩.
The Sulzbacher Form of ß is somewhat similar in shape to the unrelated lowercase Greek alphabet letter "β" (beta). As a consequence, ß has occasionally been used as a surrogate for Greek "β", notably in reference to beta test versions of application programs for older operating systems, whose character encodings (notably Latin-1 and Windows-1252) did not support easy use of Greek letters. Also, the original IBM DOS code page, CP437 (aka OEM-US) conflates the two characters, assigning them the same codepoint (0xE1) and a glyph that minimizes their differences.