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You are here: Home / Conferences / 2011 Reykjavik / Programme

The German letter ß

When Fri 16 Sep 1150
Where Track 1
What Presentation
Who Ralf Herrmann, Nadine Rossa

The German letter Eszett (ß) is a troublemaker in German orthography and graphic design. But not only that, it is also unique in many ways. Being used only in Germany and Austria, banned from Swiss language, having a lot of different names and no uppercase counterpart, there is a lot to investigate in its history.

Until present day its origins are uncertain. Several theories have been proposed, but none of them is without doubt or widely accepted as the one and only origin of today’s ß. So this letter had to experience many discussions about its right of existence.For a long time it was only a lowercase letter, having no uppercase counterpart and since no word begins with an Eszett there was no urgent need for it. But since German isn’t set in blackletter anymore and uppercase text setting is quite common, there is an obvious gap in the German alphabet.

In 2008 the lowercase Eszett finally got a “big brother”—an uppercase Eszett has been added to the Unicode standard but still: the discussions continues. Its use and design remain highly controversial, especially among type designers. This presentation will discuss the issues of that character, the theories of the origin of the letter ß, its various possible design principles, its phonetic significance and the modern usage of this special letter.

The presenters—Nadine Roßa and Ralf Herrmann (born in a town called Pößneck)—have personally experienced the trouble around this character all their life.

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