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What are some of the historical reasons why the orthographic symbol ß is not used in Swiss Standard German and “ss” is used instead?

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    spellling is arbitrary - typewriters even more so.... – A. ter Meulen Dec 20 '18 at 18:16
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+50

It is because of the typewriter. A Swiss typewriter needs to support three languages: German, French, and Italian. Therefore on the Swiss typewriter, there was no ß key. It also has only lowercase umlauts ä, ö, and ü. A picture of a Swiss typewriter can be seen here.

The lack of that key has led to a subsequent deprecation of the ß overall.

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    Related: That's also why Swiss town names don't start with Umlauts and use Oe Ae Ue instead (e.g. Oerlikon). – Peter Dec 17 '18 at 8:46
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    @Josef: It does not sound plausible to me that the magic upper limit of the number of types is reached exactly where regional characters come into play. A typewriter from the same epoch e.g. features (roughly) 77 keys: i.pinimg.com/originals/b2/bd/57/… – Sebastian Mach Dec 17 '18 at 10:52
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    It sounds kind of plausible, but do you have any evidence for this claim? – henning -- reinstate Monica Dec 17 '18 at 14:23
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    I hereby claim this: The typewriter has no ß because there's no ß in Swiss. Now, whose claim-without-evidence is more plausible and more true, and why? (don't get me wrong - I am just hopelessly trying to tickle some logic- or evident-based reasoning out of jknappen, which, as my guts tell me, won't happen) – Sebastian Mach Dec 17 '18 at 14:40
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    @fdb this version (from 1911) includes ß (visible on the M key, and on the typewritten example text). – jcaron Dec 17 '18 at 15:11
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The Swiss government has an explanation on p. 18. One contributing factor is typography, namely the rise of use of the Antiqua font, which was claimed to not include ß. I have no evaluation of the truthiness of that claim, for the relevant historical period, i.e. prior to 1901. It is certainly the case that its shape in Antique was not uniform.

The rules for using the letter have been complicated and much of the 1996 German spelling reform was about rules for s. As to why Switzerland was earlier and more radical in eliminating ß, this may be a cultural matter. Pairs like Flosse (fin), Floße (rafts), Buße (penance), Busse (buses) are rare and contextually not likely to lead to confusion. One predicts that Masse (mass), Maße (dimensions) might still be distinguished with ss/ß.

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    "more radical in eliminating ß" - this seems to imply the changes of the 1996 spelling reform had the intention of eliminating ß, which is not quite the case. – O. R. Mapper Dec 17 '18 at 9:17
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    Though it does give confusion with "Alkohol in Massen", which without the ess-tset to disambiguate can mean either "alcohol in moderation" or "alcohol en masse" ;) – Muzer Dec 17 '18 at 10:45
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    @Muzer I think many people would prefer to parse it as "alcohol in 1 liter glass vessels like the ones used at Oktoberfest". You know, motivated reasoning and all that. – rumtscho Dec 17 '18 at 14:52
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    @Muzer you know the story of that health&safety campaign: “Alkohol – weniger ist besser!” Well, this wasn't considered strong enought, so they changed it: “Alkohol – nichts ist besser!” – leftaroundabout Dec 17 '18 at 22:17

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