The question is on dessen as highlighted in this excerpt from the translation of Camus’s The Stranger by Georg Goyert and Hans Georg Brenner.

Als ich die dunkle Treppe hinaufging, stieß ich mit dem alten Salamano, meinem Flurnachbarn, zusammen. Er hatte seinen Hund bei sich. Seit acht Jahren sieht man die beiden immer zusammen. Der Spaniel hat eine Hautkrankheit, ich glaube den Brand; er verliert dabei fast alle Haare und ist voll brauner Flecken und Schorf. Weil die beiden dauernd in einem kleinen Zimmer zusammenhausen, sieht der alte Salamano aus wie sein Hund. Er hat rötliche Flechten im Gesicht und schütteres gelbliches Haar. Der Hund wiederum hat von seinem Herrn dessen gebeugte Haltung angenommen, indem er Schnauze und Hals nach vorne streckt.

Question

  1. Is dessen the genitive of der, the demonstrative pronoun, here referring to and replacing Herrn?

  2. If yes to 1, can you generate the following clause by restoring Herrn?

Der Hund wiederum hat von seinem Herrn die gebeugte Haltung des Herrn angenommen.

  1. Would the following be an acceptable alternative?

Der Hund wiederum hat von seinem Herrn seine gebeugte Haltung angenommen.

Here seine would refer to the master. The reader would have to rely on the context to see that seinem and seine refer to two different things.

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes, "dessen" is genitive of "der" and it does indeed refer to "Herrn".

Der Hund wiederum hat von seinem Herrn die gebeugte Haltung des Herrn angenommen.

Yes, this sounds correct, albeit a bit repetitive.

Der Hund wiederum hat von seinem Herrn seine gebeugte Haltung angenommen.

I've got a bit of a problem with this sentence. The "seine" in this sentence has to refer to "Hund" if I'm not mistaken (at the very least it's ambiguous), which implies a slightly different meaning: The sentence now says that the dog took his crooked posture from his master, while the original sentence says that the dog took his posture from the crooked posture of his master. The change in meaning is maybe irrelevant, though.

In addition, if I were to say such a sentence, I'd change the order:

Der Hund wiederum hat seine gebeugte Haltung von seinem Herrn angenommen.

That doesn't say that your sentence is wrong, it just says that as a native speaker I'd find it slightly odd once I think about it.

Der Hund wiederum hat die gebeugte Haltung seines Herrn übernommen.

Dessen is a genitive of Herr and you can reinstate the Herr in the way you did although any and all style manuals will strongly suggest not doing so.

The final question is about whether seine would work. The problem with the word seine here is that it can refer to either the dog or the master: To the master if it is a posessive pronoun deriving from er and to the dog if it is a reflexive one. Switching to dessen, it is clear that the reference point is the master and not the dog because the master was the last thing labelled with a masculine noun.

Of course, from a semantic point of view it makes no sense to assume that the dog acquired its posture from itself. But it seems like the reflexive interpretation of seine is simply stronger here, potentially causing confusion.

On that note, compare this modified text using a cat:

Als ich die dunkle Treppe hinaufging, stieß ich mit dem alten Salamano, meinem Flurnachbarn, zusammen. Er hatte seine Katze bei sich. Seit acht Jahren sieht man die beiden immer zusammen. Die Siamesin hat eine Hautkrankheit, ich glaube den Brand; sie verliert dabei fast alle Haare und ist voll brauner Flecken und Schorf. Weil die beiden dauernd in einem kleinen Zimmer zusammenhausen, sieht der alte Salamano aus wie seine Katze. Er hat rötliche Flechten im Gesicht und schütteres gelbliches Haar. Die Katze wiederum hat von ihrem Herrn seine gebeugte Haltung angenommen, indem sie Schnauze und Hals nach vorne streckt.

Here, the reflexive version would be ihre, which resolves the ambiguity so seine is possible.

  • Thanks, but I am not sure that seine would be reflexive here. If we accept that, are we committed to saying that my in I brought my book is also reflexive? I think we can begin to use the term that way. But is that standard terminology in German grammar? – Catomic Jun 1 '16 at 7:23
  • @Catomic I took reflexive to mean referring to oneself. It may well be non-standard usage but it conveys the meaning well here, I feel. – Jan Jun 1 '16 at 7:32

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