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The question is on mehr as highlighted in this passage from Kafka's Der Verschollene.

The passage follows a description of the difficulties Therese and her mother had finding lodgings for the night.

Gewiß hätten sie spät in der Nacht, wo man nicht mehr so achtgab und niemand mehr unbedingt auf seinem Recht bestand, wenigstens in einen der allgemeinen, von Unternehmern vermieteten Schlafsäle sich drängen können, an deren einigen sie vorüberkamen, aber Therese verstand es nicht, und die Mutter wollte keine Ruhe mehr.

QUESTION

  1. Which reading is right?

(a) The wo-clause can be re-written as

wo man nicht mehr so achtgab und wo man nicht mehr unbedingt auf seinem Recht bestand

in which the two instances of nicht mehr perform the same function. Thus we are told that, when night came, people no longer took so much care or absolutely insisted on what was right.

(b) The second nichtmehr modifies unbedingt. Thus we are told that there was no one who insisted on what was right even more absolutely at night time than at day time.

  1. I am guessing (a) is the right reading. Assuming that is the case, is (a) the right one as a matter of context, i.e. because it makes better sense? Or is (a) the only one that is grammatically permissible?
  • Opinion, not knowledge, thus comment: The first interpretation should be correct, I do not even know how the second case should work. – arc_lupus Apr 9 '16 at 14:55
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Your first reading is correct: "nicht mehr" means "not any more" or "no longer" (i.e., something is not the case at the time of interest, but it was the case earlier). The tricky thing is just that the second negation lurks in "niemand" = "nicht jemand" (which could not be expanded as such here; instead your rewriting using "man" is fine - except that the original formulation may be interpreted as laying some more stress on the universality: Compare "Das tut man nicht" vs. "Niemand tut das"). Further similar examples:

  • Das weiß niemand mehr = Das haben alle vergessen (oder alle mit Kenntnis sind verstorben)
  • Heutzutage ist man nirgendwo mehr sicher = Überall gilt, dass man heutzutage nicht mehr sicher ist
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Your assumption is correct. The first reading is definitly right and it is the only reading that makes sense.

I am not sure what you mean by grammatically permissable according to the second reading, but generally unbedingt expresses a final state, means something can not be more or less unbedingt (absolute). Therefore mehr can not modify unbedingt the way you described.

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I am actually not sure if I fully get the differences between (a) and (b) that you are pointing out - I get (a), but not necessarily (nicht unbedingt, [sic]) (b) - see below for an assumption.

(a) For sure they had, late at night, when nobody cared so much any more and nobody absolutely insisted any more on what was right...

You could also translate to

(b) For sure they had, late at night, when nobody cared so much any more and not necessarily insisted so much any more on what was right...

The first one is maybe the more literal translation. The confusion might be caused by the two different possibilities of negation of "unbedingt" - It is not 100% clear (although very likely) that Kafka meant to say (a). Otherwise he might have used "...man nicht mehr unbedingt...".

In my opinion, the sentence is slightly ambiguous to the extent described, but even then the differences are subtile.

If (b) was meant to say "...the second more..." instead of "...the second nicht..." (assumption) - No, there's no way to say "more absolutely" in German using "mehr" and "unbedingt" - The comparative would be "unbedingter" and would not make a lot of sense here (as anywhere else, for that matter).

  • Yes, "second nicht" was a typo for "second mehre"; and so your assumption was correct. I am very sorry about that, and thank you for your answer. I notice that you referred to "Kant," another august figure in my mind. – Catomic Apr 9 '16 at 17:02
  • @Catomic And: "Kant" - that was purely my fingers thinking something else than my brains.... – tofro Apr 9 '16 at 17:19

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