The question is on dies as highlighted in this sentence from Amerika (Der Verschollene) by Franz Kafka.

Beim Hervorsuchen einiger Gegenstände, die zuunterst lagen – es waren dies eine Taschenbibel, Briefpapier und die Photographien der Eltern –, fiel ihm die Mütze vom Kopf und in den Koffer.

QUESTION

  1. Which part of speech (e.g. pronoun, adverb) is dies?

  2. What does it mean in the context of the sentence?

BACKGROUND

I know that dies could be a determiner of a noun to follow or a (self-standing) pronoun referring to a neuter noun or some foregoing clause (fact, idea).

It seems clear that dies is not a determiner of Taschenbibel.

Could it be that dies is apposite to the list that follows, i.e. eine Taschenbibel, Briefpapier und die Photographien der Eltern?

If so the clause might be:

there were these things, a pocket bible...

  • I don't know the grammar, but indeed "dies" refers to the "Gegenstände, die zuunterst lagen". – user1583209 Apr 15 at 8:53
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Dies is a demonstrative pronoun that can be used in two ways:

  1. adjective use: Dies[es] Haus ist grün*, like in "this house is green".
  2. substantive use: Here the pronoun refers to something within the context: Ich sah ein Haus. Dies[es] war grün.

What you are seeing here is the substantive use - Dies refers to the Gegenstände in the previous sentence, so your assumption is correct.

dies is a pronoun, or more precise: a demonstrate (Demonstrativpronomen in German).

In your example, it refers back to the (rather unspecific) Gegenstände ('things'), which are then further specified by the following list (eine Taschenbibel, Briefpapier und die Photographien der Eltern).

Dies is a demonstrative pronoun.

But why this complicated construction?

Er kramte sein Zeug zusammen. Es waren zwei Bücher, ein Notizheft und Schreibzeug.

The list is given without special focus or ambition.

Er kramte sein Zeug zusammen. Dies waren zwei Bücher, ein Notizheft und Schreibzeug.

Strong focus on Zeug.

Er kramte sein Zeug zusammen. Es waren dies zwei Bücher, ein Notizheft und Schreibzeug.

Focus on the details.

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