German orthography [wasTECH: Formats]

Jim Rader jrader at M-W.COM
Thu May 13 16:39:08 UTC 1999

I don't know what NPR said last summer, but the German orthographical
reform regularized rather than eliminated the use of <Eszett>, so that
the ligature would only be used after a long vowel or diphthong, and
<ss> only after a short vowel.  The presumed goal was to make
spelling easier for German-speaking school children. There is a huge
amount of information on the reform (in German, of course)
available on-line.  A good starting point is at the website of the
Institut fuer Deutsche Sprache in Mannheim
(, which has many links to official
documents, etc., etc.  Hyphenation rules and the spelling of some
compounds have also been changed.

Jim Rader

> Dear ADS-Listers,
> According to a report I heard on NPR's "All Things Considered" (10 July
> 1998), the Germans were going to replace ess-tset with "ss" when it
> officially revised its spelling and punctuation last summer. Even before
> the reform it was customary to use "ss" as a substitute (e.g., gross
> 'big'), but I prefer a capital B (e.g., groB). German writers in
> Switzerland have always used "ss."
> Ess-tset (represented here by "B") was a hold-over from Fraktur, the
> old-style German type. It was a ligature formed by combining the medial "s"
> with a "z." (There were two different characters used to represent "s"
> depending on where it fell in a morpheme. The medial "s" looked like an "f"
> and appeared only in the middle of a morpheme. A more traditional Gothic
> "s" appeared in initial or final position.) If "ss" appeared at the end of
> a morpheme, it was written as "B," though I don't know the historial
> connection between "ss" and "sz."
> Until the reforms this past summer, "B" was still used in final position on
> morpheme boundaries (e.g., ausschieBen [= aus + scheiB + en] 'to lock out').
> Yours,
> Charles Carson
> Managing Editor, ADS Publications

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