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I can think of three different reasons why ⟨ß⟩ was discontinued in Switzerland. However, I do not know which one to prefer, and there may be other explanations. That is why I am asking.

Here are the three reasons I know:

1. Geistige Landesverteidigung

The modern antiqua ⟨ß⟩ was only introduced in the 1876/1901 spelling reform – unlike the blackletter ⟨ß⟩ (or ⟨ſʒ⟩) which had existed long before. That spelling reform was initiated in the early years of the German Empire (founded 1871), a time of great national enthusiasm and unification: one German victory, one German nation, one German Kaiser, one German constitution, one German currency. It was only logical that there should be one German orthography.

Swiss institutions (various cantons, the Swiss Post) discontinued the ⟨ß⟩ in the 1930s during the time of «Geistige Landesverteidigung» or Spiritual national defence, another time of national unification when Switzerland closed ranks against the raising Nazi Germany. The importance and independence of Swiss culture was stressed: the free mountain farmer, the direct democracy, the multilingualism, the watchful selfdefense against foreign powers.

I suspect there may have been a relation between Geistige Landesverteidigung and the discontinuation of ⟨ß⟩: since the antiqua ⟨ß⟩ was introduced in the wake of the German Empire’s foundation, it may have been associated with Germany. In the time of Geistige Landesverteidigung, the Swiss rejected everything related to Germany. Therefore, the antiqua ⟨ß⟩ was rejected as well.

2. Swiss typewriters

According to many sources on the internet, the reason for the discontinuation of ⟨ß⟩ was the lack of this letter on Swiss typewriters, which needed to accommodate for typical French or Italian letters as well.

I think this explanation is not very convincing. It could have been the other way round: Swiss typewriters might lack the letter ⟨ß⟩ because it had been discontinued. Also, given that the antiqua letter ⟨ß⟩ had only been introduced in the 1876/1901 spelling reform, it might have been too recent to be included on typwriters. I do not know the history of Swiss or German typwriter keyboard layouts.

3. Swiss German pronunciation

According to Peter Gallmann, the reason for the Swiss discontinuation of ⟨ß⟩ is in the syllable structure of Swiss German dialects: in the spelling of Swiss German dialects, the doubling of consonant letters is independent from the length of the preceding vowel.

Swiss German dialect spelling can have single consonants letters after short vowels (e.g. «sibe» ‘seven’ or «Ofe» ‘oven’) or doubled consonant letters after long vowels (e.g. «Huuffe» ‘heap’ or «Straasse» ‘streets’). This is unlike standard spelling German (with ⟨ß⟩) that does not allow single consonant letters after short vowels or doubled consonant letters after long vowels. Given this difference, the lack of ⟨ß⟩ in Switzerland is no longer a surprise according to Gallmann (see Warum die Schweizer weiterhin kein Eszett schreiben).

I think this explanation is not very convincing either. It may describe the conditions for the discontinuation of ⟨ß⟩, but it fails to explain why the discontinuation really happened. Blackletter ⟨ß⟩ had always been used, whether or not it fit Swiss German pronunciation, and antiqua ⟨ß⟩ was being introduced. Also, Gallmann adventurously equates ambisyllabicity (a concept of syllable analysis that does not have any phonetic correlate) with fortis consonants (a concept of phonetics), which makes his analysis rather confusing.

  • 2
    Schade, dass du diese Frage auf Englisch stellst. Du hast in anderen Fragen und Antworten bereits mehrfach bewiesen, dass dein Deutsch sehr gut ist, daher frage ich mich, warum du jetzt Englisch verwendest. Wenn du auf Deutsch gefragt hättest, hätte ich mir die Mühe gemacht, mein Halbwissen durch Recherchen zu verbessern und dann eine Antwort zu schreiben, aber wenn ich dann auch noch die Antwort in einer Fremdsprache formulieren müsste (weil ja die Antwort wenn möglich in derselben Sprache zu geben ist, in der auch die Frage gestellt wurde), dann ist mir das leider zu mühsam. ... – Hubert Schölnast Feb 28 at 15:48
  • ... Ich bin aber ziemlich sicher, dass sich ohnehin andere finden werden, die dir auf Englisch antworten werden. – Hubert Schölnast Feb 28 at 15:48
  • @HubertSchölnast: Eine deutsche Antwort wäre natürlich auch sehr willkommen. – mach Feb 29 at 9:19
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I think that there does not exist a really convincing explanation.

In point 3. you refer to Peter Gallmann who is a Swiss linguist and a long-standing professor for "Deutsche Sprache der Gegenwart" at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena. In his article he discusses various hypotheses concerning the history of printing and technical issues (typewriter), but rejects them all. His favorite theory (his own theory) is that "ß" has vanished due to Swiss German pronunciation.

I am not an expert, but this theory does not convince me. Nevertheless, if a Swiss linguist presents a new hypothesis in 1997 (i.e. long after the vanishing of "ß") and rejects all other explanations, I conclude that there is no commonly accepted explanation at all. But perhaps one should not expect to get a convincing explanation for every phenomenon in the "evolution of spelling". Yes, there is a special path in Switzerland and it would be interesting to understand why, but it seems that all answers are speculative.

Here are some examples showing that the "ß" was in use in the 19-th century, so it seems at that time there has been no conflict with Swiss German pronunciation.

enter image description here

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Concerning the present use you can download the "Leitfaden zur deutschen Rechtschreibung" of the Swiss "Bundesverwaltung". Quotes:

Der Leitfaden zur deutschen Rechtschreibung legt die «Hausorthografie» der Bundesverwaltung fest. Der Leitfaden gilt für die im Bundesblatt, in der Amtlichen Sammlung des Bundesrechts und in der Systematischen Rechtssammlung veröffentlichten Texte.

Worauf stützt sich dieser Leitfaden?

Der vorliegende Leitfaden stützt sich – wie auch die auf dem Markt erhältlichen Wörterbücher zur deutschen Sprache – auf die amtliche Regelung der deutschen Rechtschreibung von 2006 (www.rechtschreibrat. com > Regeln und Wörterverzeichnis). Dieses amtliche Regelwerk, wie wir es im Folgenden nennen wollen, entspricht einem breit getragenen Konsens in Sachen Orthografie. An seiner Entstehung waren neben der Wissenschaft die verschiedensten interessierten Kreise aus dem deutschsprachigen Gebiet beteiligt, so die Schule, die öffentliche Verwaltung, die Verlage, die Nachrichtenagenturen. Die Beteiligten haben es 2006 verabschiedet und sich gleichzeitig verpflichtet, in ihren Zuständigkeitsbereichen für dessen Umsetzung zu sorgen. Damit bildet es die Grundlage für eine im Wesentlichen einheitliche deutsche Rechtschreibung im ganzen deutschsprachigen Gebiet. Das amtliche Regelwerk ist seit 2008 in Kraft.

Ganz vereinzelt weicht der vorliegende Leitfaden vom amtlichen Regelwerk ab:

Dies gilt namentlich für das ß (Eszett oder Scharf-s). Dieser Buchstabe wurde in der Schweiz seit den 1950er-Jahren langsam verdrängt und wird seit den 1970er-Jahren nicht mehr geschrieben. Man schreibt stattdessen Doppel-s: ss. (Vgl. 2. Kap., Sprachgeschichte S. 20 und Rz. 1.7–1.10)

What surprises me is the phrase "Die Beteiligten haben es [= amtliches Regelwerk] 2006 verabschiedet und sich gleichzeitig verpflichtet, in ihren Zuständigkeitsbereichen für dessen Umsetzung zu sorgen." See here for the participants. In my opinion this should also be relevant for spelling - but as we know it is not.

A source of the Geistige Landesverteidigung theory is the book "Letzter Schultag in Kaiser-Wilhelmsland: Wie der Erste Weltkrieg die deutsche Sprache für immer veränderte" (author Matthias Heine):

enter image description here

In my opinion it is fairly absurd to assume that the only reaction to antisemitism, facsism, dictatorship and National Socialist tyranny was to abolish the "ß".

A source of the typewriter theory is the book "Die deutsche Sprache in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz - Das Problem der nationalen Varietäten" (author Ulrich Ammon):

enter image description here

A personal remark concerning the typewriter theory: My mother was born in 1928 in Munich and worked as a secretary. To my surprise she never used "ß" when typewriting (even if it was available on the typewriter), but always replaced it by "ss". In handwritten texts she used it correctly. I do not know the reason, perhaps she was learning with a Swiss model ;-) However, I guess that in some contexts the omission of "ß" was not limited to Switzerland.

It also seems that the Nazis considered to abolish "ß". See the book "Rechtschreibreform und Nationalsozialismus. Ein Kapitel aus der politischen Geschichte der deutschen Sprache" (authors Hanno Birken-Bertsch and Reinhard Markner). Quote from here:

In den folgenden Kapiteln skizzieren Hanno Birken-Bertsch und Reinhard Markner die hochinteressante und äußerst widersprüchliche Debatte zwischen den Jahren 1933 und 1945. Eine „Gleichschaltung der deutschen Rechtschreibung“ wurde schon gleich nach der Machtübertragung an die Nationalsozialisten gefordert, „Vorschläge zur Vereinfachung der deutschen Rechtschreibung“ nach langem hin und her 1941 verabschiedet, zunächst als nicht kriegswichtig eingestuft und vertagt, bis 1944 dann eine leicht abgemilderte, der Neuregelung von 1996 sehr nahe kommende Reform verabschiedet wurde. Auf dem Weg dorthin wurde darüber gestritten, ob Frakturschrift „deutsch“ oder „jüdisch“ sei, ob man sich aus den Zwängen der lateinischen Grammatik befreien müsse, ob Fremdwörter „unarisch“ oder modern sind. Ging es den einen darum, dass „Großdeutschland die beste und modernste Schreibung der Welt haben“ soll, wollten andere durch die Einführung der Kleinschreibung 35.000 Tonnen Bleimetall in den Setzereien einsparen. Die Beibehaltung des „ß“ in der Kleinschreibung wurde von Adolf Hitler persönlich entschieden, genauso wie die Tatsache, auf die Schaffung eines neuen große „ß“ zu verzichten.

An interesting chronicle concerning the development of orthography can be found here. Look at the years 1900 and 1938. See also this.

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  • These resources are very useful. I am not surprised that blackletter ⟨ß⟩ (or ⟨ſʒ⟩) had always been used in Switzerland (of course, blackletter took a final blow during Geistige Landesverteidigung). I imagine that «Buchstabenmarotte» refers only to the antiqua ⟨ß⟩ that had been recently introduced. – mach Feb 29 at 9:38
  • Why do you say rejecting ß would be the only anti-nazi reaction? «Geistige Landesverteidigung» meant all kinds of anti-nazi reactions. Thanks to the interesting orthografie.ch snippets, I have found Eszett in der Schweiz | SOK, which explicitly mentions the political reason against ß. The counterarguments do not convince me. Lack of ß in the early 20th century is not a sign that it was abandoned, but that it was not yet introduced. And whatever the Nazi party’s spelling habits, the ß was rejected because it was associated with Germany. – mach Mar 1 at 21:17
  • As I said, this is my opinion. I do not claim that I am in the possession of truth. It seems, however, that the link in your comment supports my introductory phrase. Quote: "Mutmaßungen über die Gründe für die Abschaffung des Eszett in der Schweiz (und in Liechtenstein) gibt es viele. Schlüssig erforscht ist das Thema offensichtlich nicht." – Paul Frost Mar 2 at 0:28
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«Erschwerung des Unterrichts»

Dank Wikipedia bin ich auf einen Bericht aus der NZZ vom 20. November 1938 gestossen, wo über die «Abschaffung des Schleifen-S in der Schule» berichtet wird. Darin wird noch ein anderer Grund genannt:

  • «Die Neuerung erwies sich bald als eine Erschwerung des Unterrichts […].» «Gegen die Beibehaltung des Schleifen-S wurde dargetan, daß die S-Regeln eine Qual für Lehrer und Schüler seien, viele Korrekturen und viel Aerger zur Folge zu hätten und daß von den Erwachsenen schließlich doch nur ein kleiner Teil wisse, wenn man das Schleifen-S anwenden müsse.»

Der Artikel weist richtig darauf hin, dass der Buchstabe erst 1902 in die Antiqua eingeführt worden ist. Schreibmaschinen werden auch erwähnt, sind aber nebensächlich im Vergleich zur Erwschwernis des Schulunterrichts. Die angebliche Unterrichtserschwernis relativiert sich allerdings, wenn man bedenkt, dass doch das Fraktur-ſz keineswegs erst 1902 eingeführt worden war.

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There is no big controversy to me. Gallmann "admits" that the practical reasons (typewriter/french) also matter. But to say Switzerland dropped Eszett "because of technical reasons" would really be an simplification. So he argues on the other side also: it didn't fit the needs of Swiss German anyway.

Or as I say: the Swiss have a small fight with almost any word when they want to write it. Instead of helping, the Eszett only makes things more complicated.

Example "Strasbourg" (city in Alsace)

In Basel (150 km away) this is called "STROOSBURG". I wanted to take this as an example of how Swiss German even avoids a collision with "Strass" ("rhinestone"). Then I found this on wikipedia:

in the 18th century when the Alsatian jeweller Georg Friedrich Strass had the idea to imitate diamonds by coating the lower side of lead glass with metal powder. Hence, rhinestones are called strass in many European languages.

But of course the city has its name long before:

After the 5th century, the city became known by a completely different name Gallicized as Strasbourg (Lower Alsatian: Strossburi; German: Straßburg). That name is of Germanic origin and means "Town (at the crossing) of roads". The modern Stras- is cognate to the German Straße and English street, all of which are derived from Latin strata ("paved road"),

E     NASSI   STROOSS 
eine  nasse   Strasse
(a    wet     street)

"e nasse strooss" sounds (and is) completely wrong: "e nasse Hund" is the masculine form. "E nassi Stroosse" is also a 100% mistake: "zwei nassi Stroosse" (plural).

There is just no energy left to take care of the Eszett.

And here of course it is (was!) also a political thing. One side calls it "Strasbourg" (STRASBUUR) (they do pronounce the S), the other side "Straßburg" (STRAASBURG). Without trying, Swiss German chooses something in between.


reissen   gerissen    Riese   Reis   reisen
RIISSE    GRISSE      RIS     RIIS   RÄISE

(to tear  torn        giant   rice   to travel)

In Schriftdeutsch it is the additional "s" that makes the only difference here:

"Er reist ab"  = he is departing
"Er reisst ab" = he tears off

In Swiss German this is:

"ÄR RÄIST AB"  
"ÄR RIIS(S)T AB" 

The difference is 90% in the vowels. No need to pronounce a sharp S.

Or:

    Gruss    ich muss      das Mus   die Maus    
    GRUESS     I MUES       S MUES     D MUUS
   (greeting   i must     porridge     mouse) 

(Instead of "MUES" (porridge) it is always diminuitiv "MÜESLI") The (northern) Germans just don't know that "UE" or "ÜE" sound and say "MÜSLI" (from Müslein), which sounds just like "MÜÜSLI" (small mouse, Mäuslein).

They don't know how to say "GRÜEZI" (only "GRÜZI"), and we can't even spell "Gruß" (only "Gruss").

Everything is profoundly shifted.


Herr G.F. Strass from Straßburg might have wanted to keep the Eszett around--- just to prove that he has nothing to do with streets, and Straßburg has nothing to do with his Strass (rhinestone).

But from the Swiss German point of view the Eszett is an academic detail. We are already happy when we know how to spell the country (d Schwiiz, d Schwyz; die Schweiz) in a consistent way.


I was not completely satisfied with wikipedia's etymology of Strasbourg. How much germanicity is in the modern name?

Here is a simple but solid chronology: Stratae burgus

It flourished as Argentoratum, until it turned into a frontier city with the Roman decline. Then, in 451 Attila the Hun destroyed it. At the beginning of the 6th century, the Franks rebuilt it as Stratae burgus.

So it was given a Roman name by (German) Franks.

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  • I am not quite sure what your point is. Sure, Swiss German is pronounced in its own way. Nonetheless, there are Swiss German words that could benefit from an ⟨ß⟩ to signal vowel length, e.g. «Mäß» ‘measurement’ (which forms a minimal pair with «Mäss» ‘liturgical mass/trade fair’), «stoße» ‘push’, «Straße» ‘streets’, «Größi» ‘greatness’. Also, it seems rather unlikely that the origin of the family name «Strass» should be unrelated to «Strasse». – mach Mar 1 at 11:10
  • Point is: Swiss German needs much more than just the ß if it should be written without these funny double vowels or consonants. A name "Strass", spelled like that, is ambiguous in Swiss German, but for ß-aware speakers it is NOT like "auf der Straß'", but with a short "a". I tried to illustrate what Gallmann means. "Schwitß" would be the way to spell "Schwyyz" (to make the syllable long and pointed, most unlike "schwitz!"=sweat!), but I guess the -tß is not allowed. – rastafile Mar 1 at 12:10
  • Strass: this is the new spelling for Straß. Two inventors: G.F. STRAS from Alsace, and STRASSER from Vienna. This gets a liittle bit compicated... – rastafile Mar 1 at 12:34

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