Use of scharfes s in German

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by dihydrogen monoxide, Jul 15, 2008.

  1. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    Is scharfes s completely eradicated in German language or is still in use. I'm asking because there was a reform for German writing system about 5-8 years ago and I've heard that "Austrian version of German" or Austrian German if you'd like doesn't use it anymore. However, I wonder if Luxembourg,Liechtenstein and Switzerland use it?
  2. Doppelrahmstufe

    Doppelrahmstufe Senior Member

    Austria, German
    I think there is no difference between Germany and Austria here.
    In Switzerland and Lichtenstein ss usually replaces every sharp s.
    Since April 4, 2008 there is also a capital letter sharp s.

  3. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    If someone could confirm that at some time after the German language writing perform scharfes s was used in some cases in German German and was completely eradicated in Austrian German or am I utterly wrong? At least that is what I was told.
  4. Freche New Member

    German - Germany, Saxon
    I can't speak for Austrian German, but in Germany the ß is still used in some cases.
    Normally after long vowels like in "Fuß"
  5. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    And what does scharfes s have to do with long vowels?
  6. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    If you see a letter "ß" in texts following the reform of spelling, the vowel in front of it is long in the standard pronunciation.
    A long vowel is followed either by "s" or bei "ß", but not by "ss".
  7. Toadie

    Toadie Senior Member

    I don't think there is really any reason behind it. Being an English speaker, you should have no problem with random rules with no reasoning ;)
  8. Freche New Member

    German - Germany, Saxon
    Good question. I'm not an expert. It's just a (simplified) rule. Kids at school, for example, are tought to use the ß after long vowels.
  9. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In the Germanic languages, long and short sounds alternate, in the sense that a syllable either contains a long vowel, or a long consonant (never both).

    This fact is exploited to symbolize vowel length in their orthography (including in English, to an extent): after a long vowel, you write single consonants; after a short vowel you double the consonant. In order for this rule to work for the sound /s/ in German, "ß" is written instead of "ss" after long vowels.

    Anyway, I believe this is the sketch of the idea. Naturally, there are exceptions and special cases; and the German orthography has recently gone through a reform which made some changes to the spelling rules for the "ß".
  10. Freche New Member

    German - Germany, Saxon

    Do you have an example for a long vowel folled by "s"?
  11. Toadie

    Toadie Senior Member

    I'm terrible with long and short vowels, but I believe "Häuser" is an example.

    Like I said... I don't really know what makes a vowel considered long or short. For the most part, they all sound the same to me.
  12. Savra Senior Member

    The reform was 1996, the reform of the reform 2004, and the reform of the reform of the reform 2006. I think this insanity is possible only in Germany. Nevertheless the ß rule is the same since 1996.

    In Germany and Austria the ß is still in use, in Switzerland you have to write ss instead of ß — but this was already true before 1996.

    Hase, Nase, Masern, Husten, Musik, Glas, Gas, Miesepeter, Kies.

    The “new rule”, which is called Heysesche s-Schreibung, isn’t simpler or easier than the traditional rule, the Adelungsche s-Schreibung. The Heysesche s-Schreibung was used until 1901. It was a good rule with a good readability for Fraktur, in which you had a long s (ſ) and a round s (s). Now it has a bad readability, because there is only one s and you have to write Schlosssommer (vs Schloſsſommer), Schlussstrich (vs Schluſsſtrich) or Passstraße (vs Paſsſtraſʒe). The Heyse rule produces mistakes and was replaced by the Adelung rule in the second Orthographischen Konferenz in the year 1901.

    Now, after we have 95 years experience with the Adelungsche s-Schreibung and know that it is better — at least with Latin letters —, some idiots dig out the Heysesche s-Schreibung and made it to the new rule in a undemocratic way.

    By the way: They said that the new rules are easier and in one point of view this is right: there are fewer rules. But in another it is wrong: the new rules are longer than the old ones.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  13. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    There are a lot of examples:

    Rasen (meadow), rasen (pass quickly), lesen, las, Besen, Wesen, böse, Nase ...

    If we consider the development:

    Before the reform, "ß" was used both after short and after long vowels in many cases.

    Naß (short), daß (short), Maß (long)
    In all these cases it was changed according the rule: long vowel - then "ß", short vowel - than "ss".

    So we have now:
    Nass, dass, Maß.

    This does not help, if you do not know the old rules.

    It does not apply to the single "s".

    This is an example where the "u" may be long or short, depending on region and sometimes on the kind of music.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  14. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    In English the difference seems to be between tensed and non-tensed vowels (if I understood Chomsky correctly).

    But a model might be:

    House (the vowel is similar to a long vowel)
    consider (the vowels are similar to short vowels.)

    There is a paradoxon: the new rules are only easier if you know the old rules. The prove is that much more errors occure on this area.
  15. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    There is a lot to be said against some of the decisions of 1996 but I think the new rules concerning ss and ß are perfectly logical in itself. The rationale is the following:

    General rules in German:
    - A single s is always voiced (except in words of foreign origin where the original spelling is and pronunciation are maintained like in Headset).
    - A double ss is always unvoiced.
    - A double consonant always shortens the preceding vowel, i.e. a double consonant cannot follow a long vowel or a diphthong.

    From this a problem arises: German has unvoiced s sounds following a long vowel or a diphthong. Examples are Straße and heiß. For this reason a letter or a combination of letters is needed to represent an unvoiced s following long vowels or diphthongs. The original convention was to use a ligature for s and z which in black letter looks roughly like the modern letter ß which explains the shape of this letter and its name in German: esszett.

    Pre-1996 rules had ß following short vowels under certain circumstances. The new rules have abolished these "oddities". The new rules are entirely phonetic and crystal clear:
    - Following a long vowel or diphthong, an unvoiced s is represented as ß.
    - Following a short vowel, as unvoiced s is represented as ss.
    In native or assimilated German words there are no other cases where an unvoiced s could occur (N.B. the sound ts a represented by the letter z in German).

    If you could show me an example of a native or assimilated German word which violates these simple rules (these rules are of cause based on standard pronunciation) I should be very surprised.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  16. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    This is only true for words written with "ß" before the reform.

    The problem is that many unvoiced s-sounds are written with "s" rather than "ss" after a short vowel as well as after a long vowel.

    I agree for the combination of "ss" and "ß", but this does not consider the simple "s".
    For the combination of "s", "ss" and "ß" it is not logical.

    This is not correct.

    Some Examples: "das" and "dass" have the same sound.
    I do not see any voiced "s" in "Mist". So it would have to be written "Misst" but isn't.
    "Fies" has an unvoiced "s" after a long vowel and would have to be written "fieß" when following your rules.

    For a voiced "s" there is a clear rule: It is written with "s". An unvoiced "s" can be represented by "s" and "ss" after a short vowel and by "s" and "ß" after a long vowel. You have to memorize which one is used.

    There is another problem, too: Vowels spoken short in one area may be spoken long in another area. For some of such words, two variants are allowed. Example: Maß Bier, Mass Bier.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  17. Suilan

    Suilan Senior Member

    Germany (BW)
    Germany (NRW)
    Not so crystal-clear if you grew up in the Rhineland, where Spaß is pronounced with a short a. Many a Rhinelander has been spelling it Spass since the reform. ;)

    Reforming the orthography to gain perfect symmetry between pronunciation and spelling (as the reformers once claimed was their goal) is impossible, and this should have been obvious right from the start.

    The old rules were mostly phonetic and crystal clear too: if you have a sharp s belonging to one syllable, it is ß (that's why it's called scharfes s.)

    Haß = ß belongs to one syllable.
    haßerfüllt = dito.
    hassen = the ss belongs to both syllables. If you pronounce the word slowly, to show the syllables, you say hass -- ssen.

    Today, you have "oddities" like hasserfüllt. The ss here can't be pronounced the same way as hassen, you have to pause after ss -> that was a lot clearer before the reform. So the new spelling is no more phonetically correct than the old one, only different.
  18. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I have to apologize for forgetting the case with the final s. There you have indeed an ambiguity between s and ss. This is because, like the Auslautverhärtung of "voiced" (in quotes because most speakers do not really pronounce them voiced but simply non-aspirated) plosives the voiced s becomes unvoiced at the end of the word. But this can usually resolved by looking at inflected forms where the voiced s will reappear. If das is the only case where this rule doesn't help, I think we can live with that. And, this ambiguity existed in the same way already before the reform!

    You are right, I should have mentioned s in consonant groups where the s is always pronounced unvoiced. But this can also be resolved by referring to other inflected forms of the word: musste->müssen. If the consonant group is part of the stem like in Mist the is no place for either an ss or an ß. Again, all this hasn't changed with the reform.

    As I said the phonetic rules apply to standard pronunciation. Non-standard pronunciation will always produce problems with phonetic spelling rules.

    I would contest the view that true long consonants exist in German the way they do in Latin and many Romance languages (See this thread:, in particular the quotation at the end). I see the logic, why the old rules required an ß in hasserfüllt but I wouldn't have an issue with abandoning it.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  19. Freche New Member

    German - Germany, Saxon

    But the pronunciation of "s" in these words is totally different from the "ß" in Fuß. You can hear the difference and don't need the "long vowel rule".
  20. Suilan

    Suilan Senior Member

    Germany (BW)
    Germany (NRW)
    So what's non-standard pronunciation? Does anyone pronounce every word in the dictionary correctly, regarding so-called "standard" pronunciation? Nope. So my point was: the attempt to achieve symmetry between spelling and speech for all of Germany (not to mention other German-speaking countries) was/is pointless, and doomed from the start.

    BTW, I wasn't talking about dialect. It's not dialect to pronounce Spaß with a short vowel. More like a matter of intonation? Something a speaker isn't aware of anyway.
  21. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Thank you, Bernd.

    You showed, and I agree, that there are rules (with some exceptions) but that they are more complicate as just long vowel than "ß" and short vowel than "ss". An additional rule is that at word endings of combined words a duplicate "s" may appear. Example: "diesseits", "Gasstation". In these cases the vowel remains long.

    The complexity of the rules did not change, at least not much.

    By the way: in the Wikipedia I found, that also Liechtenstein does not use "ß" - not only Switzerland.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  22. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    It is an issue in a language with so diverse regional accents as German. But I wouldn't call it doomed. That Spaß with a short a is non-standard is to my reckoning beyond a shadow of a doubt.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  23. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I could agree to that. The reform has only eliminated some complexities with regard to ss vs. ß. There are other complexities around the two s sounds in German which remain just as they were.
  24. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    And it created new ones ...

    For example it is more complicate to find the ending of a word in compound words.

    Example: Messergebnis. This can result in

    Much harder to read. You have to go back to the line and correct to "Mess-Ergebnis" in your brain when reading this.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2008
  25. Suilan

    Suilan Senior Member

    Germany (BW)
    Germany (NRW)
    or hasserfüllt ... ;)
  26. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I fear that probably my German posts may have caused your question. ;)
    (Sorry that I report so late in the thread, I've only just seen it now.)

    Now Austria and 'ß': Austria has adopted the German spelling reform equally as Germany has. In theory there is no difference between 's - ss - ß' use between Austria and Germany.
    (In practice there is, because with Austrian pronunciation the rules who look quite logical from a German [= 'Germany'] point of view do not quite apply here in Austria in all cases: long and short vowel opposition are different in Austrian dialects and colloquial speech, and there is no voiced [z] - therefore Austrians cannot decide from the way they speak if an has to be written /s/ or /ß/. And this means that Austrians still make a great many errors with 's - ss - ß'; probably even more than before the reform. For example someone I know most of the times only uses 'ß' and 'ss', only on the beginning of words he regularly uses 's', but else many times he writes 'ß' for 's'.)

    In Switzerland it is different, 'ß' there is represented with 'ss' because the Swiss typewriter layout does not have an 'ß' but is a mix between French and German layout: no 'ß' is written in Switzerland.

    But I personally never write 'ß' except in threads like this one when we are discussing it; I transliterate 'ß' to 'ss' - and that according to the old spelling.
    This I do for personal reasons (you may take a guess what they are ;)), and as we are supposed to not discuss personal opinions in threads I won't do so here. :)
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2008
  27. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    Then is scharfes s really necessary if German reform almost practically abolished it? But nevermind for being late, as long as you've posted,sokol.
  28. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    They are not in Austria (nor applies the 'long vowel rule' for dialect speakers). ;) Also theoretically in Bavaria and Switzerland (there too no [z] exists), same I would suspect - theoretically - for Baden-Württemberg, but on the other hand in both these German Bundesländer the northern influence probably already has made the [z] possible in colloquial speech, that is for you Germans to say. :)
  29. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    As I see it the German spelling reform did not 'almost abolish' but reinforce the 'ß'. Yes, 'ß' was abandoned in many words - but then 'ß' now represents a phoneme (as far as pronunciation in Germany is concerned, of course), therefore phonology now may support the correct use of 'ß' in Germany (not in Austria however, as explained above).

    Now if you ask me if German 'ß' really would be necessary ... that would be asking about my personal opinion.
    I've also said already that I won't answer that one, but feel free to take a guess.
  30. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    There are some words which are distinguished only by vowel length, e.g.
    Russen (Russians)
    Rußen (to emit soot)
    [I was very amused when I came to Switzerland (where there is no ß) and found in a shop "Kerzen ohne Russen" ("candles which don't produce soot", but a German or Austrian would read it as "candles without Russians").]

    But I agree with Sokol, you can very well live without the letter. These ambiguities are not so frequent. I guess the main reason why people cling to it is that otherwise you would have to break a very firm rule: no double consonants after long vowels.
  31. KnightMove

    KnightMove Senior Member

    The ß-reform was introduced as a step to phonematic spelling.

    In former days, we had Maß and Ruß (long vowel), but also Faß and Kuß (short vowel). You couldn't tell the pronounciation from the spelling. Now you can: Fass and Kuss.

    In fact this was the only aspect of the reform I fully suported.
  32. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I feel the same.
  33. avok

    avok Banned

    Oh my God I still use "ß" hahaha as I started to learn German years... ago and stopped it.
  34. Suilan

    Suilan Senior Member

    Germany (BW)
    Germany (NRW)
    Finsterniss -- 88.500 hits
    Ergebniss -- 1.810.000 hits
    Ereigniss -- 282.000 hits



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