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June 27, 2008

A Win For Linguistics: The German ß Survives Extinction

eszett.pngWhen I was learning German, there was no question at all about whether to use the Eszett (ß) instead of a double-s. You just did it, same as you used umlauts instead of writing "oe" or "ue" or "ae." It's easy enough to write by hand, after a little practice.

And that was always the point. The ß is what's known as a ligature, a combination of two letters ("s" and "z") into one used by calligraphers to save space and make it easier to copy things by hand.

There are those who argue - with some reason - that there's no more need for ligatures in the digital age. The Internet is hard on special characters like this.

The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) is, by definition, biased toward characters used in American English. And while German keyboards have Eszetts, UK and US keyboards don't, so you have to go hunt in the "Insert: Symbol" dialog if you want to use it.

Eszett_Leipziger_Duden_1957.pngPersonally, I'm rather fond of the Eszett, and of other characters that make a language unique.

And just how much reform do we want to impose? There are major languages not written in Roman characters at all: should we abolish their alphabets?

Somehow I don't see it happening. So I'm glad that ISO has upheld the Ezsett's right to continued existence.

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Posted by Diane Prange at June 27, 2008 1:30 PM
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