ä,ö,ü,ß - unique in German only?

twinklestar

Senior Member
Chinese
Hello,

Are those characters/letters unique in German?

I find a reporter named David Böcking from der Spiegel.

If yes, I might be able to assume people who have such surnames with those characters are native speakers of German or the descendants of Germans, Austrians, etc.


Thank you!
 
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  • bearded

    Senior Member
    Thanks, Hutschi. I would be curious to know in what other languages the ß was formerly used. I know that it has nothing to do with the Greek Beta/Vita (although in Italian we call the ß ''esse-beta'' due to its shape), which corresponds to a different sound (b/v).
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The shape ß in antiqua types is of Italian origin. It is an ſ + s ligature (long s followed by round s). The German "esszett" (you may know it as "scharfes s" as the letter is called in Austria and southern Germany) is a ſ + ʒ (long s followed by a tailed z) ligature indicating geminate deaffricate z in contrast to tʒ, the geminate affricate z. With the phonetic merger of s (s) and ʒ (deaffricate z), ſʒ got sometimes replaced by ſs in antiqua types. That is probably the cause of the confusion. In black-letter always ſʒ and ſs had remained distinct and the modern ß might be graphically a ſs ligature but its meaning is ſʒ ("esszett").
     

    bearded

    Senior Member
    I'm grateful to berndf: although I knew most information he has supplied, some details were still unknown to me. But since Wikipedia says: ''The letter ß has been used in other languages, and is now only used in German'' I was wondering whether in the past the letter was used in other languages (which ones?) in a similar way as it is nowadays in German, e.g. for voiceless s after long vowels... Dutch perhaps?
    Or was it just a graphic sign/font combination without a specific function in those 'other languages'?
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    That must be referring to the ſs ligature. A ſʒ ligature might have existed in other languages as well, I don't know. But the meaning the sign has in German is unique to High German dialects that had the need to distinguish the sounds of s and ʒ and of ss and ʒʒ (in modern learned literature, "z" denotes the affricate z and "ʒ" the deaffricate z of Middle High German). Dutch did not undergo the High German sound shift and therefore had no need to distinguish between s and ʒ as in e.g. MHG hûs vs. ûʒ (modern Haus and aus).

    The only remnant of the former distinction between s and ʒ is that s underwent the allophonic split s=voiced initially and intervocalically and s=unvoiced elsewhere while ʒ remained unvoiced in all positions. This produced distinguishable minimal pairs like wiese and weiße (MHG wîse and wîʒe) whereas in other contexts former s and ʒ became indistinguishable as in Haus and aus that now rhyme perfectly while MHG hûs and ûʒ did not rhyme.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    From the Typograpy.Guru website Typographic Myth Busting: What’s a Ligature, Anyway?
    It is true, that there is an ſs ligature in (usually cursive) Latin writing and printing, that has been used for centuries. And today’s type designers often use this old design principle for designing their modern ß characters. Looks like a modern ß, doesn’t it? But this Latin ligature is not the source of the German ß character.

     
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