With the spelling reform of 1996 "daß" was replaced with "dass". I am wondering if somebody knows of any references explaining this decision?

In detail, I have the following problem: In school, I learned to pronounce "daß" with a long vowel; however, "dass" is — in my opinion — rather spoken short (cmp. Hass, krass, Bass). It becomes more complicated if you want to differentiate "dass" from "das". So how should I pronounce "dass" then? And what was the reason to replace "daß"?

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    Wo hast Du das denn in der Schule gelernt? – Carsten S Dec 27 '16 at 23:36
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    Ja, ich spreche „das/dass/(daß)“ mit kurzem a. Ebenso „Hass“ (früher „Haß“), aber nicht „Fraß“. Kurze und lange Konsonanten unterscheide ich nicht, ich spreche ja nicht Finnisch ;) – Carsten S Dec 28 '16 at 0:52
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    Vielleicht ist die spannendere Frage: Wo bist du zur Schule gegangen, d.h. welchen Dialekt/Akzent sprichst du? – Jan Dec 28 '16 at 1:55
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    The word »daß« never was spoken with a long vocal. All three words (»daß« in old orthography, »dass« in new orthography and »das« in both sets of rules) was al the time spoken exactly the same way as [das]. – Hubert Schölnast Dec 28 '16 at 12:29
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    @Thomas: Es herrscht hier weitgehend Konsens darüber, dass die Antwort, falls irgendwie möglich, in derselben Sprache zu schreiben ist wie die Frage. Die meisten Antworten werden aber aus naheliegenden Gründen von Leuten geschrieben, deren Muttersprache Deutsch ist. Wenn nun ein deutscher Muttersprachler auf Englisch fragt, läuft dann die gesamte Konversation (Frage, Antwort, Kommentare) in einer Sprache ab, die für alle Beteiligten eine Fremdsprache ist. Und das in eine ziemlich unsinnige Situation, vor allem, weil die deutsche Sprache ja das Grundthema dieses Forums ist. – Hubert Schölnast Dec 28 '16 at 19:23

I have heard exactly one person systematically, non-ironically and non-mockingly pronounce dass as /da:s/, i.e. with a long /a:/. However, that person also systematically pronounced the /a/ sounds in ein nasses Glas identically: as /a:/. Thus, this person is not a good source aside from giving anecdotical evidence.[1]

Every single other person I spoke to pronounced dass with a short /a/ systematically. Now the difference between short and long /a/ is not always phonemic in every dialect and accent of German, but there have been people who distinguish /a:/ and /a/ and those that don’t among those I listened to. Thus, I suspect that you have been taught incorrect German to better rationalise the pre-1996 spelling of dass at school.

There is no etymological reason for the spellings of das and dass to differ; the Grimm dictionary notes:

DASZ, conj. gebildet aus dem neutr. des pronom. der in seiner relativen bedeutung, wie im griech. ὅτι, lat. quod, franz. que, engl. that. im goth. wird das relative bedeutung wirkende suffix ei angehängt, þatei, in Muspilli daʒî 12. im ahd. und mhd. gilt daz für die conj. wie für das pronomen: im nhd. hat man eine unorganische, für die aussprache gleichgültige unterscheidung eingeführt, indem man die conj. dasz, das pron. das schreibt.

The two stem from the same root and differentiating the spelling is solely to help determine whether the word in question is a conjunction or a pronoun (including a relative pronoun). Since they derived from the same stem, there is no reason to pronounce them differently.[2]

The question does remain why daß was the correct spelling pre-1996 and dass post-1996. The former spelling rules used the Adelung s-spelling while the ones currently in effect use the Heyse s-spelling. They differ in the question whether ß or ss should be used after short vowel sounds at the end of a morpheme. The Adelung spelling — which requires ß at the end of morphemes strictly — has its roots in blackletter typing, which coincidentally is also the root of the ß ligature. Blackletter, which also distinguished between ſ and s, had its own reasons for following what would later become the Adelung rules.

Since a distinction was sought between the conjunction dass and the pronoun das, it only made sense to use a different depiction of the s sound — and blackletter and Adelung only allowed ß as a variant. Hence there was no discussion, the length of the vowel remained obfuscated and it was probably systematically pronounced with a short a. In the 1996 reform, it was decided to keep the distinction between conjunction and pronoun — not only had it already been established in German writing but it also proves to be a slight aid to the reader. However, the pronunciation of the a in dass was obviously short so the only way to keep up the distinction was to turn daß into dass.


[1]: And then there are those that mockingly and ironically pronounce /da:s/ if they are reading texts in the pre-reform spelling and come across daß – much like they will pronounce muß as /mu:s/ in the same context. That this joke works is a strong indication for the correct pronunciation to be with a short /a/.

[2]: But even if they were two different words from two different stems, that does not mean that their pronunciation cannot merge to give a homophone. German has a few homophone pairs that derive from different stems, e.g., Reis (-korn) and Reiß (-leine).

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    Jan, thanks for this nice answer. Indeed it looks like I was taught wrong just for the matter of fact to be able to differentiate the spelling right. So I liked this way of pronunciation. I still think it was a nice idea but obviously was overruled with the reform for obvious reasons, many thanks again for all the references. – Thomas Dec 28 '16 at 15:13
  • There is a language where "a" is pronounced normally exactly as you wrote. – peterh Dec 31 '16 at 5:01

Before the spelling reform, there where three rules:

  • ß after long vowel
  • ss after short vowel
  • always ß at the end of word or at the end of a morpheme

So it was Gruß, Grüße (both with a long u/ü) but Kuß, Küsse (both with short u/ü).

With the spelling reform, the third rule got dropped. Therefore, it is now still Gruß, Grüße (as the u/ü) is long, but Kuss, Küsse.

Similarly, daß was changed to dass as the a is short.

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    A bit short; not only the end of a word required ß, it was also the end of a morpheme, e.g. Küßchen (there is no way to compare that to Kußhand or Kußart or anything where the second part is a word of its own since -chen is only a suffix). – Jan Dec 31 '16 at 16:12

I learned to pronounce "daß" with a long vocal

This is the mistake: "Dass" is spoken with a short "a", just like the words you mentioned ("Hass", "Krass", "Bass", ...)

I know nobody who speaks "dass" with a long "a"; "das" is spoken with a bit longer "a" than "dass".


After deponensvogel's post I did some experimenting by recording some sentences and analyzing the recorded audio file. I recorded two similar sentences like these ones:

Er singt das Lied so schlecht, das ich gerne mag.

Er singt das Lied so schlecht, dass ich mich beschwere.

The results:

  • When spoken at normal speed both "das" and "dass" sound (exactly?) the same.
  • When spoken at a very low speed this is no longer the case:
    • The word "das" can be spoken with a very long "a": 260 milliseconds sound completely normal
    • The word "dass" sounds wrong when the "a" is too long: 240 milliseconds sound like the word "dass" is spoken much slower than the rest of the sentence

So this means that the "a" in "dass" is definitely not spoken longer than the "a" in "das", so the decision that the word is written "daß" instead of "dass" would have been the wrong decision by the Rechtschreibkommission.

Edit 2

After Thomas' comment I have to say that I was already an adult in 1996 so I'm sure my pronounciation did not change since then.

If I would have done the same experiment (260 vs. 240 milliseconds) before the "Rechtschreibreform" my conclution would have been that the "ß" in the word "daß" makes the "a" shorter (like the "o" in "Schloß" which is now "Schloss") and not longer (like the "o" in "Floß").

It was never the intention to change the pronounciation of words with the "Rechtschreibreform" so the pronounciation of the German language today should be exactly the same as the one before 1995.

Obviously the mayority of the people working in the Rechtschreibkommission pronounced the word "daß" as "dass" before 1995 (like I did) and only a minority pronounced it as "dahs" (like you obviously did) so they decided to replace "daß" by "dass".

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    No, ›das‹ and ›daß/dass‹ sound exactly the same. – deponensvogel Dec 28 '16 at 20:51
  • So where do you come from? It seems to be a strange place. – deponensvogel Dec 29 '16 at 13:34
  • @deponensvogel Please see the edit in my answer. – Martin Rosenau Dec 29 '16 at 14:26
  • Martin, you are mixing up totally. "daß" was there before the Rechtschreibreform. Then it was replaced by "dass". My question was related to the time before, wondering how it was pronounced there. Except some small exceptions "ß" always follows a long vocal. – Thomas Dec 30 '16 at 21:35
  • @Thomas Please see my second edit. – Martin Rosenau Dec 31 '16 at 6:55

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