3

In standard German (of Germany and Austria) we use the spelling difference between ss and ß to signal whether the preceding vowel is short or long. A short vowel is followed by ss, a long vowel is followed by ß.

In Swiss standard German (N.B. I really mean Swiss standard German here, and not Swiss German), there is no ß letter, and words which would include it in Germany and Austria are always spelt with ss.

Is this just an orthographic fact, or does it also mean that the vowel before ss is always short? In other words, in Swiss standard German, would you read Strasse with a long or short a?

  • 1
    Only in case you are not aware of that: It is perfectly fine to ask questions in German here. – Carsten S Sep 13 '16 at 14:15
  • Your assumption is not correct. ss and ß are not used to indicate whether the preceding vowel is short or long (even though you can guess from that). Rather, it is the other way: the length of the preceding vowel decides whether you need to use ss or ß, which is an important difference and already answers your question. In "de-DE" German, the decision is short vowel => ss, long vowel => ß. As there is no ß in "de-CH" German, the decision is short vowel => ss, long vowel => ss. The problem is the other direction. Does Massen refer to Massen or Maßen? – Thorsten Dittmar Sep 14 '16 at 13:05
  • @CarstenS: I know, thanks, but unfortunately my German is not good enough, for now. ;-) – fdierre Oct 11 '16 at 18:45
5

Thankfully, Swiss Radio and Television (Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, SRF) have audio and video news available online. These news broadcasts are often spoken in Swiss standard German rather than in Swiss dialects. I opened the first article I saw and listened in until I heard a word that would be written with ß in German. Well, to be honest, I waited for two words, as the first one was Massnahmen and there is no clear difference between long and short a (the feature the same vowel sound but in different quantity; all other quantity differences except for long ä also feature a different quality).

The word I heard was Verstoss as written in the article. The o in Verstoss was clearly a long one ([oː], not [ɔ]).

Thus, it is a purely orthographic feature that does not influence pronunciation.

1

Although I know it's not always the most accurate resource, the Wikipedia article on Swiss Standard German says:

The Swiss keyboard layout has no ß key, nor does it have the capital umlaut keys Ä, Ö and Ü. This dates back to mechanical typewriters that had the French diacritical marks letters on these keys to allow the Swiss to write French on a Swiss German QWERTZ keyboard (and vice versa).

And that is what I've also been taught during my German lessons in Switzerland.

Conclusion: the use of ss instead of ß is caused by mere technical reason and has no influence on the pronunciation of the words.

  • Your conclusion is right, but today Ä, Ö and Ü can be produced on a Swiss German keyboard using Caps Lock. – Ralph M. Rickenbach Sep 14 '16 at 8:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.