Uppercase Eszett

Thylacine's picture

In many newer fonts I've been noticing uppercase eszetts (Unicode 1e9e) — even in fonts with smaller character sets. Have these crept into written German over the past few years — replacing the double uppercase S? Are people actually using them, or is it just a typographical oddity?

I'm asking because I just finished designing the two UC weights below with the same sense of unease as when I reluctantly began including interrobangs.

gverweyen's picture

The link collection by eliason give a good idea of the discussions going on. With gazillions of unicode slots it's fine to have a slot for upper case sharp S …
BUT: you asked for actual use of the letter, and I'd say it is still the exception while the rule remains of turning ß into SS when capitalizing a word.
Usually uppercase ß is used only in proper names /not/ in common words where spelling is well known and easy to reconstruct. It is a niche market, but it is not totally negligible any more.

Nick Shinn's picture

Sure, it’s extra work, but it is quite interesting, IMHO, compared to math symbols.

hrant's picture

I love the cap eszett, and can only think of uncomplimentary reasons some people don't believe it should be supported.

What do your "B" and lc ezsett look like?

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Usually uppercase ß is used only in proper names /not/ in common words where spelling is well known and easy to reconstruct. It is a niche market, but it is not totally negligible any more.

This is about the most balanced and sensible statement I have encountered on the subject of the uppercase eszett.

hrant's picture

I would actually think that being easier to "reconstruct" would make a cap eszett more acceptable; in a proper name there is typically a higher potential for confusion.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I remember reading that the German language underwent a spelling reform recently; one of the results of this was that it is now possible or more common for S to occur three times in a row in some words.

However, be that as it may, going from an eszet to letters is trivial; the eszet becomes ss. (Although maybe it can also become sz as well, but even if that is the case, that is not likely to confuse native German speakers.) What is uncertain is which pairs of "s"s can become an eszet and which cannot, which would lead to a need for using the eszet even under unfavorable conditions (i.e. all caps text) when there is ambiguity, as with proper names.

hrant's picture

Oh, are we talking about methodical decomposition to "ss"? Now I understand the proper/common difference mentioned (which is not to say I agree with such decomposition). I myself was considering its readability.

hhp

Thylacine's picture

I read through all three of the links posted by Eliason (thank you) before posting here. There's lots of useful background information, but I couldn't help but wonder whether actual Germans are starting to use this new character.

It is a fun one to design, though, as Nick mentioned (most definitely more interesting than math symbols and most punctuation). Although, I'm struggling to make it distinctive from the lowercase eszett, but a few conventions for its design seem to be emerging.

Hrant asked what the B and lowercase ß looked like, so I've posted the regular and bold versions below, along with the lowercase Greek β.

hrant's picture

In this context I'd worry about the cap eszett looking like a lc. So I'd make its top-left or top-right a hard corner (although not necessarily a right angle).

hhp

Thylacine's picture

I was debating the same thing about the upper right corner of UC eszett, and designed one of each earlier today. The harder corner didn't seem to match the character of the rest of the face, but I think I might play around with it a bit more since it would serve to differentiate the lc from the UC.

_savage's picture

Might I chime in, being German and all? :-)

Until I stumbled upon this thread I didn't even know that there was a cap eszett. Huh, I thought to myself; then huh again. For all-cap text the rule has always been to replace all occurrences of a lc eszett with "SS". The example of a cap eszett — to me — looks just odd, and I don't really see this used because it's mighty confusing. The eszett is a lc only letter, and something feels "wrong" about seeing this too-similar-looking uc version.

quadibloc, you're right in that there was a much debated reform of spelling and grammar, which seemed to have gotten rid of what I consider lovable German quirks (like the use of umlauts and eszett). You can tell I'm not a fan of that reform...

Thylacine: Looking at your samples, I can distinguish between the cap "B", the Greek "beta", but the last two letters both look like lc eszett to me.

hrant's picture

looks just odd

But hopefully your kids will be OK with it. :-)
More seriously: Things change, and any writing system can use at least a little bit of reform. Sometimes quite a bit.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I see, though, that I was mistaken about the contents of the reform. Before the reform, sss might be converted to ßs, which creates a potential for ambiguity (meaning that proper names need the eszet to show where the eszet belongs), but now that's fixed, because it stays as sss.

dberlow's picture

"Might I chime in, being German and all? :-)"

You could, but this is all apparently for the FRENCH!;)

Té Rowan's picture

I do not know much about the German spelling reform, but it seemed to me it aimed at deleting the old space-saving quirks, like shortening three-letter runs to two letters. Flusschiffahrt v Flussschifffahrt is a common example of this. Perhaps the idea was to make German more palatable to translation engines.

quadibloc's picture

From what I read, the ostensible reason for the reform was to make it easier for foreigners to learn how to spell German properly.

This, at first, seems odd. Isn't English the only language that people speaking other languages want to bother to learn? (And, of course, the alphabetic language whose spelling is the most irregular.)

But while it's true there aren't all that many people moving to Germany from France, Britain, or the United States, one is forgetting about all those other people who have been coming to Europe from adjacent areas to seek opportunity - and whose presence there has resulted in occasional frictions that even make the news.

But it also seems odd for a spelling reform to take place in 1996. One tends to think of spelling reforms as events of a bygone era, like the nineteenth century, when various nations sought to emerge from their slumber, and energize themselves for industrialization. Germany certainly hasn't been slumbering economically; it is the powerhouse of Europe.

Martin Silvertant's picture

But it also seems odd for a spelling reform to take place in 1996.

Why do you find that weird? Language is continually evolving, so it doesn't surprise me if there are spelling reforms at certain intervals.

I suspect the reason you find this to be strange is that indeed the English language hasn't had a spelling reform in a long time, because it doesn't seem to need it. English spelling almost couldn't be easier. This is not the case for languages like German and Dutch, which I would argue are a lot more sophisticated, rich in content but also at times unnecessarily complex. The last Dutch reform was in 2006. The last German one as well I think. In InDesign you can set the language of your text to Dutch: 2005 Reform (I'm not sure why it says 2005), Dutch: Old Rules and for German the following:
German: 1996 Reform
German: 2006 Reform
German: Old Rules
German: Swiss
German: Swiss 2006 Reform

What actually surprises me is that I don't see any other reforms in InDesign, so I suppose the Dutch and Germans having such recent reforms is quite an oddity after all.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

What actually surprises me is that I don’t see any other reforms in InDesign, so <…>

I wish they offered the Russian “pre-1918 Orthography” option. Russian “old-style” spelling imparts a totally different flavour to the typeset text: to see for yourself you may wish to try a simple on-line Slavenic converter. Sure, this is not a perfect tool but still, better than nothing.

Martin Silvertant's picture

The word that was in there by default looks very nice. I tried translating English first so I could then translate larger pieces of text from Russian new ortography to Petrine ortography but I couldn't get it to work. I can't find sources comparing both versions either. Anyway, based on one word, I prefer the old ortography. Old Cyrillic manuscripts I've seen look awesome.

I just checked out of it's possible to add more languages to InDesign. I think this source may offer you what you want: http://blog.typekit.com/2011/11/04/how-to-enable-more-languages-in-indes...
I can see a mention of Russian compared to Serbian already, so...

By the way, I thought the language options were there mainly for proper hyphenation. What else does it do? I think when you link it to dictionaries it can check your test for spelling errors, but it doesn't replace certain characters, does it? Could you tell me more about what the Russian old-style spelling entails? Do Cyrillic fonts tend to have both versions of a glyph, or are they targeted at specific languages (like Russian or Serbian)?

Maxim Zhukov's picture

As you can see from the sample below, there was a lot more to the Russian orthographic reform of 1917–18 than the simplification of spelling. In my earlier post I have provided a link to a nice article on the particulars of that ambitious and radical endeavor.

Martin Silvertant's picture

Yes, I saw the article but I couldn't find text samples. Seeing both together now, I have mixed feelings about the old ortography. The details are more gracious and I very much prefer them, but some letters are more detailed than others which makes the color more uneven. I suppose it could be due to the font as well, but it's a bit obtrusive. In that sense the new ortography seems better. On the other hand, I'm not sure if the ortography is an improvement when it comes to word spacing; there are more and bigger gaps in the new ortography. In conclusion, I think both have their merit. I think I would feel very nostalgic towards the old system though.

quadibloc's picture

I think that one change from the Russian old orthography to the new orthography was valid, and should be retained - dropping use of the hard sign at the end of words. It was wasteful to always use either a hard sign or a soft sign after a consonant that would otherwise end a word.

But adding four letters to all the keyboards is just not going to happen, so I doubt there's any appetite on the part of Russians to go back. Incidentally, I had to dig energetically via Google to find out how the letters were arranged on Russian typewriter keyboards back when the old orthography was in effect.

Thylacine's picture

"English spelling almost couldn't be easier. This is not the case for languages like German and Dutch, which I would argue are a lot more sophisticated, rich in content..."

I'm unable to decide whether you're being serious or facetious.

English spelling is easily one of the most irregular of the European languages. Cases in point: blue, shoe, flew, through, to, you, two, too, gnu — just to name several examples out of several thousand.

Also, what are your arguments for German and Dutch being more sophisticated and richer in content than English?

Maxim Zhukov's picture

I doubt there's any appetite on the part of Russians to go back.

In fact, there is certainly an interest to the pre-1918 Russian orthography. There are Web sites (like this) offering the works of the Russian 19th- and early 20th-century classics using the contemporary spelling—the way Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, et al. wrote them. And the number of those sites is growing.

I had to dig energetically via Google to find out how the letters were arranged on Russian typewriter keyboards back when the old orthography was in effect.

You mean this kind of thing?

The bottom picture comes from a web page which traces the evolution of the Russian keyboard layout, “from ЙІУКЕН to ЙЦУКЕН”.

Martin Silvertant's picture

It was wasteful to always use either a hard sign or a soft sign after a consonant that would otherwise end a word.

I'm sure there were very good reasons for the reform. I have no insight into Russian so all I can judge is the design aspect. It's rather unexpected that a spelling reform has such severe implications for the texture and color of the text.

I'm unable to decide whether you're being serious or facetious.

I'm serious. I've always scored 9s for English and 6s for Dutch even though I am Dutch. Dutch spelling is complex as there are so many exceptions to the rules. I must say though, I couldn't conclusively say whether English grammar really is easier, but it is to me. The fact that I consistently score higher at English than at Dutch is rather telling.

English spelling is easily one of the most irregular of the European languages.

Perhaps so. It's strange to me that native English speakers tend to make a lot of errors (like mixing up "their" with "they are" and "its" with "it's") I couldn't dream of making. Obviously my English isn't flawless, but I do think it's an incredibly easy language. I learned Dutch, English, German and French and English is by far the easiest—to me.

Also, what are your arguments for German and Dutch being more sophisticated and richer in content than English?

I often find there are more ways to describe something in Dutch and apply subtle nuances than what is possible in English. In Dutch it seems it's more important HOW you say something than it is in English. In Dutch it's easier to sound sophisticated using certain flavors of words which are not present in English.

The reason I feel German is probably richer than English is because Immanuel Kant's work just doesn't translate well to English. I've been told if I want to read Kant, I better read it in Dutch or preferably in German, because since English is less nuanced it's more difficult to understand an already difficult to grasp work of literature.

I believe in Russian there is a word which means "I love you, but I hate you in this moment". This is just to show that there are languages that are very nuanced, having different flavors of words to mean the same thing or words which take whole sentences to describe in other languages. This is not to illustrate the English language is poor when it comes to nuances, but just to show each language probably has nuances in different areas.

I believe there are some stories going around that in fact English has the biggest vocabulary as it has so many influences. I personally doubt this to be the case. The Dutch tend to borrow more words from French, English and German than English does from other languages.

This quote I also found interesting: "I know that the structure of the language [Chinese] is such that morphemes and words tend to flow together in a way that does not necessarily define individual words (especially since spaces are almost never used). Furthermore, people are always generating new constructs or creating acronyms."

I think the German language has a tendency to combine many words to mean something different even though they're not defined as such in the dictionary. As such, it might very well be that English has a richer vocabulary but isn't as rich in its expression thereof. It might also be that English is very rich, but only few utilize that richness. I suppose it could be that the Dutch just have a tendency to utilize more of that richness, though based on the way people around me talk I have my doubts.

Thylacine's picture

Martin, those are insightful and thought-provoking observations.

Just for the sake of clarification, my references to English irregularities were regarding spelling — not so much grammar. I agree that English grammar is reasonably consistent and largely missing some of the complexities of other languages, like gender designations. I'm certain that you could name others. The spelling, however, is like a hairball choked up by a cat.

I think we're all biased by our native languages in the sense that we easily and intuitively grasp their nuances in ways that might not be possible for languages learned later in life. As a native English speaker, I often have trouble expressing complex thoughts, but it's not the fault of the language so much as it is me being inarticulate.

You made the comment that there are subtle nuances in Dutch that make it easier to sound sophisticated (or not) than in English. I don't speak Dutch, so I can't argue the specifics, but I will point out that in English something akin to that is achieved by using words originally derived from Germanic and Nordic roots for everyday speech, then switching to their Latin- and French-derived counterparts for more formal speech.

quadibloc's picture

@Martin Silvertant:
Some languages, like Tibetan, have very complex rules for their spelling.

The problem with English is not that the normal or conventional spelling of English is complex. It has some odd rules, such as a vowel, followed by a consonant and then a silent vowel, is lengthened, but they are indeed pretty systematic.

Instead, it is that unlike most languages, English refuses to change the spelling of foreign words that it borrows. In the case of Greek words, it uses the Latin convention for spelling them.

A highly literate reader, of course, will recognize Latin and Greek derived words at sight - not to mention words borrowed from Hawaiian and so on - and be able to switch gears.

There are also the Anglo-Saxon words, like "knight" and so on, that have changed in pronunciation a great deal without a corresponding change in spelling over the years. But their number is limited, and they can be memorized.

The trouble is that getting rid of the exceptions, and making English spelling phonetic, would seem to English speakers to rob the language of its dignity. Like this.

@Maxim Zhukov:
Exactly.

Martin Silvertant's picture

The spelling, however, is like a hairball choked up by a cat.

Perhaps it's incidental considering the historical relation between English and Dutch, but Dutch spelling seems similar. For example, in Dutch we use double consonants in nouns when the vowel is short (even though we use single vowels for short sounds already, while we tend to use double vowels for long sounds). A good example is "dommerik" (unintelligent person or dimwit), where we would pronounce it with a long /o if we were to use a single /m. What's confusing about this though is that there is an exception to the rule when you use the plural form, as it's "dommeriken" instead of "dommerikken". Then consider the word "faillissement" (bankruptcy), which has both a double /l and a double /s, yet we pronounce a long /i. Do you see any consistency in that? Both Dutch spelling and grammar is very difficult to learn for foreigners. I've often theorized that the reason English is so easy to me is that I'm very used to all these strange exceptions, and the Dutch language is rather versatile in its pronunciation. This is why it's easy for me to intuitively pronounce many European languages correctly whereas an English native has great difficulty with many pronunciations. I've had a girlfriend from Texas for some years and it would always amuse me when she or her family would try to pronounce Dutch. She just couldn't do it, even though she was half-Italian and visited her Italian family just about every year. She would always say Dutch sounds like gurgling and retching.

I think we're all biased by our native languages in the sense that we easily and intuitively grasp their nuances in ways that might not be possible for languages learned later in life.

I think so too, though what's strange to me is that although I feel more restricted in English when it comes to nuances, when I speak Dutch I often don't remember a certain word while I do in English and I have to ask "What is this English word in Dutch again?", even though my Dutch vocabulary is pretty big. I've often been told I tend to use words which are too difficult to understand by others. But as I said, I'm just not impressed with the way people around me tend to talk.

As a native English speaker, I often have trouble expressing complex thoughts, but it's not the fault of the language so much as it is me being inarticulate.

I experience the same, both in Dutch and in English and it only partially has to do with the lack of richness of the languages. My vocabulary is just a lot smaller than my intellectual capacity would require, but I suppose that's inherently true for everyone (though I often do experience it as quite a handicap); this is partially the reason why we have a need for other expressions, like music, art, poetry or mathematics.

By the way, I don't want to derail the discussion here, but I've done Salvia Divinorum a few times and it has been the most awesome (though also most nightmarish) experience in my life; I experienced things which are just not possible to put into words. I made associations which just couldn't be made after the trip. It was then that I realized how severely restricting language is. Language is continually evolving and expanding, but I think we're very far away from being able to accurately describe reality without utilizing mathematics. In a sense it's strange we need a different language to compliment the lack of richness in an other.

I don't speak Dutch, so I can't argue the specifics, but I will point out that in English something akin to that is achieved by using words originally derived from Germanic and Nordic roots for everyday speech

Could you give some examples? As far as my understanding of the English language goes there is indeed some sophistication to be achieved when utilizing older words, but I thought they were actually entirely out of fashion. Like, if you speak old-fashioned Dutch you may sound like an intellectual but when speaking old-fashioned English you just sound pretentious. Perhaps I'm just not familiar with this linguistic bridge between older English and modern English. From my experience the Dutch language has a lexical archaic aspect while the English language has a more literary archaic aspect.

Some languages, like Tibetan, have very complex rules for their spelling.

That's interesting. I didn't mean to imply that the Dutch language is one of the most complex though. I just wanted to make the point that English seems quite simple.

Instead, it is that unlike most languages, English refuses to change the spelling of foreign words that it borrows.

Same goes for Dutch. We particularly enjoy using French words, though half of them are considered to be old-fashioned and do have Dutch synonyms. Might that not be the case in English? Can you think of examples of foreign words the English language has adapted? The only word that comes to my mind at the moment is schadenfreude.

The trouble is that getting rid of the exceptions, and making English spelling phonetic, would seem to English speakers to rob the language of its dignity. Like this.

That's fascinating. The sample text at the bottom strongly reminds me of Afrikaans, which is just bad Dutch. Although it's fun to compare Afrikaans with Dutch, I do think they have spoiled the Dutch language. For example, the name of the popular group Die Antwoord really annoys me, because the Dutch say "het antwoord", and "die antwoord" is something foreigners in the Netherlannds tend to say as they don't have a firm grasp of grammatical articles (is that really the term for it?) in the Dutch language. Also, Afrikaans is a lot less complex than Dutch when it comes to word structure, grammar and spelling. You would think that's a good thing, but it just seems like unintelligent Dutch to me. Here's an example:
Afrikaans: Die geskiedenis word net in ag geneem waar dit prakties moontlik is.
Dutch: De geschiedenis wordt alleen in acht genomen waar dit praktisch mogelijk is.
English: The history is only taken into account where it's practical.

quadibloc's picture

We particularly enjoy using French words, though half of them are considered to be old-fashioned and do have Dutch synonyms. Might that not be the case in English? Can you think of examples of foreign words the English language has adapted?

I wouldn't call Schadenfreude a word English has adopted - it's still only a German word which is occasionally utilized, not one that the language has borrowed.

Rather, English itself is largely made up of "foreign" words, that is, words that were not derived from Anglo-Saxon. If you took them out of English, what you would have left would not look like English any more. It might look a bit like Dutch (or at least Frisian).

There is the famous quote from James D. Nicoll: "We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." - although that statement is a bit ahistorical, given that the biggest step in this process, the Norman Conquest, was rather more about French on English violence than about English on French violence. But because of the Norman Conquest, English, a Germanic language with a largely Romance vocabulary, is like Romanian, a Romance language with a largely Slavic vocabulary.

Poul Anderson once composed a short piece in the kind of "English" that would remain without borrowed words, an article entitled "Uncleftish Beholding", which many English speakers find highly amusing. You may be able to find a copy on the Web through Googling, even though it really shouldn't be there.

riccard0's picture

A German, comparing it with his own language, where every word in every sentence is governed by at least four distinct and separate rules, tells you that English has no grammar. A good many English people would seem to have come to the same conclusion; but they are wrong. As a matter of fact, there is an English grammar, and one of these days our schools will recognise the fact, and it will be taught to our children, penetrating maybe even into literary and journalistic circles.
[…]
English spelling would seem to have been designed chiefly as a disguise to pronunciation. It is a clever idea, calculated to check presumption on the part of the foreigner.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel

Thylacine's picture

"I don't speak Dutch, so I can't argue the specifics, but I will point out that in English something akin to that is achieved by using words originally derived from Germanic and Nordic roots for everyday speech."

"Could you give some examples?"

The Norman conquest of England a thousand years ago created a language register distinction, with the Norman language being used by the conquerers and the Anglo-Saxon/Old English dialects being used by the commoners. Over time, the languages merged into Middle and Modern English, but that merger retained nuances that gave a higher sociolinguistic register to those word with Norman (or French or Latin) origin.

This distinction has blurred over the centuries, and doesn't always hold true, but the linguistic nuances made possible by this duality of words are still there as an important part of the language.

There are several thousand often-used words in English with dual Romance language and Old English variants, with the Romance words having a higher register than their Old English counterparts. If a person is in a social situation where erudite and intelligent discourse is warranted, that person will use the Romance language-derived words, like erudite, intelligent and discourse instead of their less formal Old English counterparts, like learned, smart and talk.

cerulean's picture

Look up "Uncleftish Beholding", an essay written in a form of English stripped of all Latin/Romance influences, on a subject saturated with them in normal English, i.e., atomic science. As a summary of elements, chemistry, subatomic particles, and mass-energy conversion, the writing is not contrived to be more poetic or simplified than its counterpart, yet to us it sounds very like a primitive wizard explaining magics to his tribe by firelight.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

But adding four letters to all the keyboards is just not going to happen, so I doubt there's any appetite on the part of Russians to go back.

Just forward this discussion to V. Putin ℅ The Kremlin, Moscow and it will probably happen within the next month or so… : )

Bert Vanderveen's picture

If I recall correctly Anthony Burgess wrote about latin and germanic languages (that cover most of the European countries) & one of his observations was that with a basic set of rules (changes of spelling, changes of sounds) and providing the knowledge of just one language of a certain system, you could learn to speak another one in the same system within weeks, or even days.

Worth looking into if you are interested.

quadibloc's picture

Just forward this discussion to V. Putin ℅ The Kremlin, Moscow and it will probably happen within the next month or so…

It's not totally impossible, since most of the extra letters taken away from Russian by the new orthography were used in writing Greek words used in religious texts, and the Orthodox Church appears to be one of Putin's big sources of support in Russia right now.

russellm's picture

An example of the hodgepodge of languages that is English and an illustration of how it got that way is Torpenow Hill, which translates from Saxon, Celtic, Scandinavian and Middle English into modern English as hill hill hill hill.

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