What is the reference of der and seiner as occurring in this passage from Freud's Totem and Taboo*; or, if the question cannot be answered to satisfaction, do we perhaps have a corrupted copy of the passage?

Aus äußeren wie aus inneren Gründen wähle ich für diese Vergleichung jene Völkerstämme, die von den Ethnographen als die zurückgebliebensten, armseligsten Wilden beschrieben worden sind, die Ureinwohner{pl} des jüngsten Kontinents{m}, Australien{n}, der uns auch in seiner Fauna soviel Archaisches, anderswo Untergegangenes, bewahrt hat.

*Full text is found here

My Thoughts

I have marked the number or gender of potential antecedents.

On der. Since Kontinents is the only masculine, der presumably refers to it? However, wouldn't it be more natural to start the relative clause with das as referring to Australien since it is closer and more definite in meaning?

On seiner. I would have expected seiner to refer to the same thing that the relative pronoun did, but that seems impossible because seiner after a dative in would be a reference to a feminine noun. But the only feminine noun in the whole sentence is Vergleichung, which makes no sense. Vergleichung does not have fauna!

In sum I would have liked to see das and seinem.

I am beginning to think that I might have a bad copy of the text.

Question Restated

Please let me know if there is a way to make grammatical sense of the passage. If I have a bad copy, please let me know what the book says on a good copy.

  • Des Kontinents, der ... - kein Grund sich Sorgen zu machen. Die Einwohner Australiens, das ... wäre aber auch gegangen. Jul 17, 2015 at 5:18
  • 2
    I don't get the problem. "Der" and "seiner" both refer to "Kontinent". They correspond to the capitalised words in the following: "the continent, WHICH with ITS fauna..."
    – Ludi
    Jul 17, 2015 at 5:26

1 Answer 1


Both do indeed refer to Kontinent. The name Australien is only given as an additional explanation (grammatically an apposition, which is also why it is separated from the remainder of the sentence by commas).

Regarding seiner, you seem to misunderstand how it works. Sein behaves like an adjective and agrees in number, case and gender with the following noun: sein Aussehen, seine Tierwelt, in seiner Fauna, mit seinen Augen. It is the word sein itself that conveys a reference to an owner of masculine or neutral gender, in singular; otherwise, ihr would be used: Die Ureinwohner der jüngsten Landmasse, die uns auch in ihrer Fauna soviel Archaisches bewahrt hat.

  • Thank you. Yes. "Sein" (like "ein") would have to agree with what it modifies! Once in a while I am tripped up like this by what never gave me a problem before. I almost want to delete the question as too stupid. I need an emoticon of someone crying...
    – Catomic
    Jul 17, 2015 at 6:11
  • @Catomic Note, that it is perfectly acceptable to write the sentence as ‘die Ureinwohner Australiens, des jüngsten Kontinents, das uns auch in seiner Fauna …’ This would assume Australia to be more known than the fact that it is the ‘youngest’ continent. To Freud’s time, it is understandable that maybe not everybody had heard of Australia yet.
    – Jan
    Jul 23, 2015 at 9:31

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