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To which extent can I expect German-speakers to understand Sütterlinschrift? In which of the following situations would it be fine to use it?

  • Written exam in German
  • Written exam in physics
  • Residence application and other offical forms
  • Letter to a company
  • Postcard to a friend, <30 years old
  • Postcard to a friend, >50 years old
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Out of curiosity, can you read or write Sütterlin? – OregonGhost Jun 17 '11 at 14:54
But you should wait for Tom Au's opinion. It is totally possible that German-Americans that immigrated in the 1920s continued to use it. – Phira Jun 17 '11 at 14:58
Your friend >50 may just be one of the last who learned it at school. – Takkat Jun 17 '11 at 15:21
@Tim N Learn Kurrent if you want learn a really calligaphic style. Sütterlin is kind of a simplified kurrent. – FUZxxl Jun 17 '11 at 16:04
LOL +1 for suggesting to write exams in Sütterlin :) – Felix Dombek Jun 18 '11 at 11:30

7 Answers 7

up vote 33 down vote accepted

Actually, I would never expect anyone to understand Sütterlin, independent of the situations you describe. There are exceptions, of course, and within the older age group, you may actually find people to read it easily. My grandparents learnt Sütterlin in school, while my parents did not. Me neither, of course.

To answer your question, you should only use it if you are sure the addressed person not only understands Sütterlin, but wants to read it. This restricts the use to some personal settings and communication with linguists, basically.

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Some things to add to this good answer: Sütterlin like similar forms of Kurrent is extremely hard and frustrating to read when you are not used to it. Nowadays, almost nobody can read it easily because it stopped being taught in first form in 1941 and it stopped being taught secondarily (so children could read their parents' writing) a few decades later. The eccentricity of writing German in Sütterlin would be similar to that of writing in Middle English. Some letters survived a bit longer in mathematical formulas (written equivalent of blackletter) - until computer typesetting. – Hans Adler May 10 at 12:17
My grandparents (born between 1901 and 1912) learned this kind of handwriting (which - at least in Austria - was not named Süterlinschrift but Kurrentschrift) in school, and they never used any other kind of handwriting, because they didn't learn any other handwriting. I'm not sure if my parents (born 1933 and 1942) learned it in school, but they could read it fluently (maybe they are out of praxis now), but they didn't use it for writing. I (born 1965) never learned it, but slowly can decipher it. I am not abel to write it. – Hubert Schölnast Oct 14 at 8:42
@HubertSchölnast, Kurrentschrift is not another name for Sütterlinschrift, it is a different, although very similar, kind of German handwriting. – Walter Tross Oct 15 at 7:15
@WalterTross: This is true, but it is also true that the names are not always used correctly, so when one says Kurrent it could be that Sütterlin was meant. This gets even more complicated, because many people say, that Sütterlin is a kind of Kurrent (meaning that there are more variations of Kurrent, where Sütterlin is one of them) – Hubert Schölnast Oct 15 at 10:34

As OregonGhost wrote, Sütterlin is completely out-of use in Germany, and I would expect people to be able to read Sütterlin only in special areas, for example archives or libraries (old library catalogues are partly written by hand using Sütterlin). Using Sütterlin in written exams nowadays would be a certain way to annoy the examiner severely...

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The examiner may even refuse to correct your exam because he can't read it. – FUZxxl Jun 17 '11 at 16:05
@FUZxxl: I think he won't even consider correcting your exam unless you're very lucky. – Hendrik Vogt Jun 17 '11 at 21:28
Sütterlin letters are sometimes used in mathematical symbols. – Max Ried Jun 19 '11 at 21:10
My math book at school (from Klett Verlag, if I remember well) of around 1980 used Sütterlin characters for vectors. So at school we had to learn part of the Sütterlin alphabet (mostly lowercase), but not all of it. – Walter Tross Oct 14 at 6:33

None of these situations would be appropriate if your friend does not share your language interests (regardless of age).

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A late answer, I just now found the question.

Despite what the others said, we were actually told by several teachers at high school that Sütterlin is still strictly speaking accepted when handing in a test or homework (as in, the teacher has to accept it, and pretty much regardless of the subject). I’m not entirely sure if this is actually true but since several teachers told us this, I, being a smart-ass, obviously had to try this claim. It worked.

For context, I went to school in the 90s. And yes, I learned Sütterlin in elementary school but at high school I was one of the only ones who had.

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Not attempting to contradict any of the other answers, which in my humble opinion have nailed most of the issue, but none have addressed the question of companies and official forms.

A handwritten letter to a company in Sütterlin would be very weird. Unless you’re really 90+, learnt it at school and never used any other handwriting, the company would (as soon as it has figured out the meaning of the text, because they likely can’t read it) ask themselves what actually just happened. It’s anybody’s guess what they would think, but it’s not worth the trouble — especially since computers with printers are now widely available.

Not even bank transfer forms would qualify. My grandmother once tried to fill one in — frankly I never saw the form, just read on the account statement »50 Mark für Jan, 50 für Kalus, Rest unleserlich«. Yes, granted, she had pain in her fingers, but she likely also wrote in a very old-fashioned handwriting.

On official German forms (and likely Austrian and Swiss ones, too), Sütterlin would, in my opinion, have to be accepted. Reasoning: There are those people 90+ that have never used any other handwriting. It might take a little longer for the civil servant to read it, (see above) but they can’t really reject it.

However, if the official thinks you’re pulling their leg, things might change, and you might still be required to write it properly. Remember that Sütterlin hasn’t been taught as a handwriting for over 70 years.

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I don't think there's a rule that forms in some weird, long out-of-date handwriting have to be accepted. In this day and age of data processing most forms ask you to print letters anyway. If people processing it can't read it, they'll ask for clarification or order you to redo (Verbesserungsauftrag in legalese.) – Ingmar May 9 at 8:24

I never saw Sütterlin before and could read it without any external help. There are only a handful of characters that are really hard (S being the worst) Sütterlin letters _S s_, but if you read the whole sentence you will know what it means.

The handwriting I saw was a very clean one. Just like any other handwriting it really depends on the writer.

If you write me a letter in Sütterlin or apply for a job at my company (which I don’t have) … go on! You get the job!

I was born in 1969: we never had that stuff at school.

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Written exam in German - not unless it were an analysis of historical handwriting forms or something.

Written exam in physics - God, no.

Residence application and other offical forms - nope.

Letter to a company - only if it's the "Bund für deutsche Schrift und Sprache"

Postcard to a friend, <30 years old - no. Plus, no one under 30 sends postcards anymore. And Facebook and Twitter don't use Sütterlin.

Postcard to a friend, >50 years old - how about >80? Viele Grüße aus der Weimarer Republik...

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I send postcards. Luckily, I’m still under 30. All my friends whom I send postcards send some back. They’re well under 30. Your point is invalid. – Jan Oct 19 at 9:52

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