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

Als ich Salamano auf der Treppe begegnete, schimpfte er gerade seinen Hund aus. Er sagte zu ihm: «Du Schwein, du Aas!» Und der Hund winselte. Ich sagte: «Guten Abend», aber der Alte schimpfte weiter. Da fragte ich ihn, was der Hund angestellt habe. Er gab mir keine Antwort, Er sagte nur: «Du Aas, du Schweinehund!» Ich ahnte es, denn er beugte sich über den Hund und machte sich am Halsband zu schaffen. Ich redete lauter. Ohne sich umzudrehen, antwortete er mir in verhaltener Wut: «Immerfort ist er da!» Dann machte er sich auf den Weg und zog das Tier hinter sich her, das auf allen vieren rutschte und winselte.

Question

What is es here referring to?

Background

I don't have any trouble understanding what I am supposed to visualize, or how the sentence might have gone, thanks to another translation (by Uli Aumüller):

Ich ahnte, daß er, über seinen Hund gebeugt, dabei war, etwas am Halsband zu richten.

Therefore, the question is a strictly grammatical one. What grammatical or syntactic role does es play here?

Because everything has been put into a denn clause it would appear there is nothing left for Ich to ahnen, meaning that there is nothing for es to refer to.

Here's the French original:

Quand je l’ai rencontré dans l’escalier, Salamano était en train d’insulter son chien. Il lui disait : « Salaud ! Charogne ! » et le chien gémissait. J’ai dit : « Bonsoir », mais le vieux insultait toujours. Alors je lui ai demandé ce que le chien lui avait fait. Il ne m’a pas répondu. Il disait seulement : « Salaud ! Charogne ! » Je le devinais, penché sur son chien, en train d’arranger quelque chose sur le collier. J’ai parlé plus fort. Alors sans se retourner, il m’a répondu avec une sorte de rage rentrée : « Il est toujours là. » Puis il est parti en tirant la bête qui se laissait traîner sur ses quatre pattes, et gémissait.

I suspect that the translator may have simply mimicked the surface structure of the French sentence, rendering le as es.

According to this answer in a French Language beta post, le there refers to Salamano.

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The es fulfills the role of supplying the verb etwas ahnen with its mandatory second argument. Generally, ‘Ich ahnte es’ without any further information means that whoever spoke suspected something — they know what they are suspecting (hence es and not etwas) but they are not telling us and/or we are able to figure it out by context.

We as a reader do not know per se, what the first-person narrator is suspecting. We can think of clues as in the earlier sentences (‘… was der Hund angestellt habe …’) but we cannot be certain we know it.

The subsequent denn-clause then explains the narrator’s reasoning why he was able to suspect what there was to be suspected but it does not form a definite reference point for es or anything like that.


The Aumüller translation gives this sentence a different meaning. No longer does the first-person narrator suspect what the dog did wrong; rather he is perceiving (seeing) Salamando do something to the dog’s collar. His view must have been well obstructed. The subordinate clause functions as ahnen’s second argument.


It took me two readings of the French original to realise what is written there. Initially, I imagined ‘je le devinais’ to mean ‘I suspected it’, much like in the Goyert-Brenner translation but then I realised that I would be missing a second main clause. Only then did I notice the second meaning of deviner in the dictionary that would allow the sentence to be like that (in my humble understanding of French) and also correspond to the Aumüller translation.


To conclude, I suspect a mistranslation in the Goyert-Brenner translation where they defaulted to the wrong (read: unintended) meaning of deviner and then constructed the sentence accordingly so it works in German. Aumüller captures the original intent but has the er (corresponding to the French le) as part of the dass subordinate clause.

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I don't speak french, so I cannot comment on the quality of the translation. In the 2 translations ahnte is refering two different things. In the first translation the speaker is guessing what the dog did:

Da fragte ich ihn, was der Hund angestellt habe. Er gab mir keine Antwort, […] Ich ahnte es

The es is linked to was der Hund angestellt (hat).

[edit] On the second thought, the es could also refer to something completely different. Something which is going on with Salamando and resulted in his bad mood or gave rise to the anger he is expressing towards the dog. It could also have something to do with the collar.

In the second translation however ahnte refers to what Salamando is doing to the dog.

Ich ahnte, daß er (Salamando) […] dabei war, etwas am Halsband zu richten.

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In my opinion, the translation "Ich ahnte es, denn er beugte sich über den Hund..." does not match the French original "Je le devinais, penché sur son chien...".

"Je le devinais" can mean "I guessed/sensed/suspected it" or "I guessed/sensed/suspected him (for example doing something)". But if it would mean it, then the rest of the sentence would not make sense any more. It would then translate as "I guessed/sensed/suspected it, leaning over his dog, arranging something at its collar" and essentially mean that the narrator, not Salamano, is holding the dog.

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