The Capital Eszett

Ein großes Problem für Deutsch Typografie!

Because of the diverse additional characters in the alphabets of the Western world, there is a strong need for the inclusion of special characters in typefaces.

Characters such as É/é, Å/å, and Ñ/ñ are already supported in many typefaces. This makes typography in languages like Spanish, French, and Swedish easy to do without losing the meaning and pronunciation of words. Some languages, however, are not always so lucky.

The German alphabet contains additional letters with umlauts, as well as one other character—the eszett. As said in an article on ergonis, “The eszett (sometimes referred to as the esszett or Scharfes S) is a letter that is totally unique to the German alphabet” (German letters, n.d.). The appearance of the eszett is similar to a Greek beta:

The eszett represents a sharp “S” sound—not, as non-German speakers might assume from the appearance, a “B” sound. This means the word “weiß” sounds similar to the English word “vice” (although it means “white”).

There is a problem with the use of the eszett, however. Because it never appears at the beginning of a word, it was not initially created with an uppercase form—only a lowercase one. Because of this, any instance of an eszett has traditionally been replaced with “SS” when rendered in uppercase or small-caps. This can, however, cause confusion between similarly spelled and pronounced words and names. This necessitates the use of a capital eszett character for typesetting (Capital Sharp S, 2011).

German Typographers have had to invent this capital eszett as a new Unicode character. It looks like this:

However, compared to the number of typefaces that exist on our planet, only a few support the capital eszett. Support for the character is especially sparse on mobile devices (Hardly any Support, 2012).

Many people argue that there is no need for this character. However, as Herrmann argues quite thoroughly (2011), there are multiple reasons. More common support for and use of the capital eszett character will reduce confusion in uppercase and small-caps typesetting of all kinds.

Is not conveying a message without confusion the reason for typography? And wouldn’t supporting the capital eszett help that goal in the German-speaking world?

I invite you to share your opinions on the ẞ!

References:

“German letters – umlauts and the eszett” ergonis. n.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://www.ergonis.com/products/tips/german-umlauts-eszett.php >.

“Capital Sharp S – Germany’s new character” Typography.guru. Ralf Hermann, 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://typography.guru/journal/germanys-new-character/ >.

“Hardly any Support for the Character Capital Sharp S (ẞ) on Mobile Devices” opentype.info. Ralf Herrmann, 10 July 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://opentype.info/blog/2012/07/10/capital-sharp-s-mobile/ >.

Image Credits:

“126.gif.” Image. Paratype. Eszett, 2004. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://www.paratype.com/pictures/help/term/126.gif >.

“Capital_ß.svg.” Image. Public domain. Wikimedia, 2008. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e4/Capital_%C3%9F.svg/220px-Capital_%C3%9F.svg.png >.

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