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I am not a German speaker but I am working on a software program that is used by German speaking users. So here is the question:

In a software application that displays and stores data to a DB in "upper case" only, how should 'ß' be handled?

For example in English, if a user types an address of "101 Main Street", the text box will actually display "101 MAIN STREET". How should this work in German?

Would a German speaking user expect to be able to store 'ß' if all the other letters are forced to upper case?

If a user needs to store the value "101 Goethestraße", would they expect to type "101 GOETHESTRAßE" or "101 GOETHESTRASSE"?

Should they not be able to input the letter 'ß' at all, forcing them to use 'SS' instead? Or should they be able to type 'ß' but the program would automatically replace it with 'SS'?

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Keep in mind collation (sorting) sequence as well. If your application involves sorting in any way, learn the various rules (and some conflict depending on when they were established) and use them in your application, rather than relying upon the Latin-1/UTF8/etc. ordering. For example, ß sorts as "ss", which may involve more work if you take a "naïve" approach to sorting. The US State Department used to publish guidelines on translating software into foreign languages (and may still), but I suspect Wikipedia plus review by a person with native-level reading ability will suffice. State also of –  Art Taylor Sep 19 '11 at 19:11
    
I would rethink the idea of storing something in upper case only. In the german language, a 'ß' is never the first character of a word, so there is no need for an uppercase letter - hence, there is no. A double 's' leads to wrong pronounciation rules. –  user unknown Sep 21 '11 at 3:05
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Whoever downvoted this very clear and interesting question might want to reconsider what is asked here, i.e. what to do in case only upper case letters are accepted by a software. If that was a good idea in the first place would be another debate. –  Takkat Sep 21 '11 at 6:21
    
@Takkat: Exactly, thank you. Unfortunately that ship has sailed and I have to determine the best way to handle this case. –  auujay Sep 21 '11 at 14:08
    
@auujay: I don't envy you. In general, ß is just one incarnation of failing to pass the Turkey test. Internationalization is not easy, especially as an afterthought... Interesting question anyway. –  OregonGhost Sep 22 '11 at 20:28
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4 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Since there is no capital "ß", the convention for all-caps text is to use "ss" instead. An automatic one-way* conversion to "ss" would definitely be understood and expected.

I wouldn't force them to write "ss" by not accepting "ß" in the first place though - for Germans, "ß" is a normal letter and people would get confused as to why that letter wouldn't be accepted by the system.

Also, street name and house number are reversed from English notation, i.e. the correct form to display an address in Germany would be "Goethestraße 101". The same is true for zip codes, so it's always "70469 Stuttgart", and not "Stuttgart 70469".


*one-way because you can always substitute "ß" for "ss" when going all-caps, but you cannot generally infer "ß" from an occurrence of "ss" when converting back from all-caps text.

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@Takkat sorry 'bout that ;-) –  Jan Sep 19 '11 at 14:28
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Apart from the actual ß/ss issue the question is actually about, everything mentioned here is the same for Dutch/the Netherlands. Also, why store adress info in upper case and "through away" information on storage? You probably want upper case on output, but that is a GUI/reporting/printing issue. Just let people enter the address, store it with ß and all, and do upper casing on output. Right? –  peSHIr Sep 20 '11 at 4:51
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The appropriate capitalization of 'ß' ist 'SS'Duden. Therefore upper case addresses would be:

GOETHESTRASSE 101

Note that the number of the building in a given street is put at the end in Germany.

Most Germans are used to type SS instead of ß when capitalizing but to avoid data inconsistencies that may come from different user habits a simple method to replace ß by SS would be a nice feature we miss here in most applications.

The ISO/IEC 10646 and Unicode from 5.1 define a capitalized 'ß' but this is not yet a valid character in German orthography (source: Focus)

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How do you translate "JAN-GRASSER-WEG 7"? Nobody misses such a XXXXX feature. Capitalizing is a bad idea in the first place. –  user unknown Sep 21 '11 at 3:10
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@user Still, if we do need capitalization for other reasons we will have to know what to do - even if we feel bad about it. –  Takkat Sep 21 '11 at 6:35
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In upper case, 'ß' is usually replaced with 'SS'.

How you handle 'ß' in the input is really a design question and as such up to you, but be sure to handle it somehow cause people WILL write it. If you accept Umlaute (ä,ö,ü) as input, it would be consistent to accept 'ß' too and convert it to double 'S' in your application. By the way, be aware of encoding issues!

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Just because nobody mentioned this yet:

An acceptable – albeit becoming outdated – alternative to “SS” as capital-ß is “SZ”. This used to be the common form; it’s seen much rarer now but particularly in street names it’s still seen.

That is, “GOETHESTRASZE” would be a correct capitalisation of “Goethestraße”. Personally, I prefer this form but I wouldn’t actually advise its usage in most applications. It creates a distinctive old-fashioned feeling.

Whatever you do, never use “ß” as a capital letter, this looks very unprofessional. An election poster in the recent Berlin elections (I won’t mention the party name …) made this embarassing blunder. It’s usually associated with poorly-spelt greengrocers’ signs (e.g. “SPAß MIT SMARTIE ` S”, cf. greengrocer’s apostrophe).

Finally, Unicode databases might even handle the conversion from “ß” to “SS” in capitalisation automatically. Try it with your database software.

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The use of 'SZ' is no longer valid (see Duden. –  Takkat Sep 20 '11 at 10:54
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@Takkat What do you mean, “valid”? The Duden doesn’t prescribe correct usage, it describes common usage. There are very few places where adherence to the Duden is required, but this is a thing between you and your employer. –  Konrad Rudolph Sep 20 '11 at 11:03
    
I was quoting the Duden: "Um solche Missverständnisse zu vermeiden, ließ die frühere Regelung neben SS auch SZ zu (...) gilt die Darstellung durch SZ nicht mehr, es bleibt bei SS." Duden is not a bad source for recommendations here. Sidenote: Unicode >= 5.1 can handle uppercase 'ß' (without conversion). –  Takkat Sep 20 '11 at 13:40
    
@Takkat that leaves the font designers then to come up with an acceptable glyph to match the unicode field. And that's the real challenge ;-) –  Jan Sep 20 '11 at 14:06
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@Takkat The magazine "Signa" has even devoted a whole issue to this topic in 2006: signographie.de/cms/signa_9.htm –  Jan Sep 20 '11 at 15:36
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