1

I suspect that the word "sir", when used in a translation from English to German, is intended to remind the reader that the conversation is taking place among English-speaking people. Thus we have the following, excerpted from a translation by Heinz Nagel, of a story written in English by Robert Heinlein, published in 1958:

[Der Generalsekretär] schüttelte mir die Hand und sagte: "Wie ich höre, sind Sie Dr. Samuel C. Russells Sohn."

"Kennen Sie meinen Vater, Sir?"

"Ich habe ihn vor Jahren in Den Haag kennengelernt."

Dr. Bruck drehte sich um -- dem Generalsekretär hatte er nur kurz zugenickt.

"Du bist Sam Russells Junge?"

"Äh, kennen Sie ihn auch?"

"Natürlich. 'Über die statistische Interpretation imperfekter Daten.' Brillant!" Er drehte sich um und beschmierte sich den Ärmel noch mehr mit Kreide. Ich hatte weder gewußt, daß Dad so etwas geschrieben hatte, noch angenommen, daß er den Spitzenmann in der Föderation kannte. Manchmal glaube ich wirklich, daß Dad ein Exzentriker ist.

Does my surmise about the use of this word have some connection with reality?

And how does one pronounce this word in this context?

  • 3
    One does pronounce it as in English. I'd say the purpose is less to remind the reader that the conversation is taking place among English-speaking people, but to translate a polite form of address that has no equivalent in German, so one option is to simply leave it as it is. – dirkt Mar 5 '17 at 8:36
4

Sir is a peerage, that has no exact counterpart in other languages.

In German you address aristocrats as

  • Graf
  • Baron
  • Fürst

Another fact is, that in English you use this peerage also as a honorific address for non-aristocrates. This is unusual in German. You use the words listed above only for aristocrats, never for "normal" people.

In German you could say something like this:

Kennen Sie meinen Vater, mein Herr?
Kennen Sie meinen Vater, verehrter Herr?

But this has not exactly the same meaning as in English. The German word "Herr" is like "mister" in English, not like "sir". So if you want to avoid an English term, I think this would be the best solution, but in this specific case »... meinen Vater, mein Herr« is not a very pretty sequence. It sounds bumpy and rough. Also the version using "verehrter" sounds crancy.


Grammar of this part of speech:

Grammatically the phrase »mein Herr« (or »Sir«) is a rudiment of vocative case that exists in German. It is not one of the four standard cases, and linguists discus, if in German language it really should be considered to be a grammatical case or just a syntactic phrase. If it is just a phrase, then the grammatical term is "Anredenominativ" (Sorry, I don't know the English term. Maybe "addressing nominative"?)

This part of speech usually is built in German by using "mein" (singular) or "meine" (plural):

German: Meine Damen und Herren
English: Ladies and Gentlemen

You could also use "(sehr) verehrte(r)":

Sehr verehrte Damen und Herren
Ladies and Gentlemen

Kennen Sie meinen Vater, verehrter Herr?
Do you know my father, sir?

Also "mein(e)" plus "(sehr) verehrte(r)" is possible:

Meine sehr verehrten Damen und Herren
Ladies and Gentlemen

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    In Austria and Germany, Aristocracy had been abolished in 1919. So you don't address Aristocrats at all. "Graf", "Baron" etc simply became part of the surname. – Janka Mar 5 '17 at 9:42
  • @Janka: In Ö und D dürfen seit 1919 keine Adelstitel mehr verliehen werden. In D durften aber Personen, die bereits einen Titel hatten, diesen auch nach 1919 noch weiter führen. Diese Personen dürften heute bereits alle verstorben sein, aber es ist dennoch denkbar, in älteren Schriftstücken noch solche Anreden zu finden. – Hubert Schölnast Mar 5 '17 at 10:31
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    Well, there is another more idiomatically German way to express what "sir" in dialogues sometimes does (albeit not necessarily in the one shown by the OP), and which is not so much tied to aristocracy: A German dialogue would usually mention the exact rank or title, for lack of a generic address like "sir". Thus, "Yes, sir." could become "Jawohl, Herr Kapitän.", "Zu Befehl, Frau Kommandantin.", "Ja, Herr Generalsekretär.", etc. – O. R. Mapper Mar 5 '17 at 23:03

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