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This post is on sollte as found in this excerpt from from chapter 'Weg nach Ramses' of Amerika (Der Verschollene) by Frankz Kafka.

Sie [Delamarche und Robinson] hatten die Absicht, in das zwei Tagereisen von New York entfernte Städtchen Butterford zu marschieren, wo angeblich Arbeitsstellen frei waren. Sie hatten nichts dagegen, daß Karl mitkomme, und versprachen ihm erstens, zeitweilig seinen Koffer zu tragen, und zweitens, falls sie selbst Arbeit bekommen sollten, ihm eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen, was, wenn nur überhaupt Arbeit vorhanden sei, eine Leichtigkeit wäre.

QUESTION

  1. If the narration were in the present tense, would it go like this (in relevant parts):

    Sie versprechen, falls sie selbst Arbeit bekommen sollen, ihm eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.

  2. If Delemarche and Robinson were speaking to Karl, would it go:

    Wir versprechen, falls wir selbst Arbeit bekommen sollen, Ihnen (dir) eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.

  3. (For question 3, I will assume that the answers to 1 and 2 are both yes.) What is the meaning of sollen in the three sentences (including the original)? If possible please also provide some sentences using the word in the same sense.

  4. Would this be actually wrong, bad or not as good as the version with sollen in it or have a different meaning:

    Wir versprechen, falls wir selbst Arbeit bekommen, Ihnen (dir) eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.

  5. If the answer to 1 or 2 is no, then that would mean sollen was not part of the original speech to Karl, but somehow got into the narration as part of narration or shifting of tenses. In this case, please explain at what stage sollen goes into the narration and what is its meaning.

BACKGROUND

For question 3, my difficult is this. I understand that sollen has a range of meanings from obligation to expectation. See items 1 through 7 in the "sollen" section of this Dartmouth University post. But the quoted promise seems to connect two (straightforward) events: The two men's finding a job for themselves and finding an apprenticeship for Karl. In other words, they seem to be saying, "When we find a job we'll get a place for you too." Not, "When we are expected or obligated to. . . ." Nor does item 8 of the Dartmouth list, "further development," seems to fit our case.

  • 2
    Have a hint: The subclause "...falls sie selbst Arbeit bekommen sollten." is in present tense subjunctive. Thus, a lot of your assumptions simply don't apply. You might want to re-write the question based on this hint. – tofro Apr 24 '18 at 9:05
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Sie versprachen ihm, falls sie selbst Arbeit bekommen sollten, ihm eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.

This is tricky, because it's both indirect speech and a conditional. The conditional alone commands Konjunktiv II though. Indirect speech would have called for Konjunktiv I, but because the forms of first person plural are identical to Indikativ, the Konjunktiv II forms had to be used instead.

Wir versprechen, falls wir selbst Arbeit bekommen sollten, Ihnen (dir) eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.

This isn't indirect speech anymore. BUT it's still a conditional. This is why the Konjunktiv II form sollten is still needed.

The meaning of sollten in both examples is should this happen.

Ich rufe an, falls ich Hilfe brauchen sollte.

Ich rufe an, sollte ich Hilfe brauchen.

I will call, should I need help.


Consider the Indikativ instead. Sollen (and English shall, too) has a different meaning in that mood:

Ich rufe an, falls ich Hilfe brauchen soll.

I will call, shall I need help.

"I will call, if a third person requires me to accept her help."


Wir versprechen, falls wir selbst Arbeit bekommen, Ihnen (dir) eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.

This is fine in Indikativ, because bekommen does not have the side effects of sollen and the falls is enough to mark the conditional. If you go without falls you again need Konjunktiv II:

Wir versprechen, sollten wir selbst Arbeit bekommen, Ihnen (dir) eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.

Wir versprechen, bekämen wir selbst Arbeit, Ihnen (dir) eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.


Concluding, sollte is a helper for Konjunktiv II as würde is for Konjunktiv I. This is pretty similar to should and would in English.

  • Thank you. A question on the last bit. It seems sollte is a "helper" for KII in the sense that sollten bekommen can do the job of (replace) bekämen. But in the same sense wouldn't we want to say that würde helps KII (not KI)? For example: Wenn ich schneller führe, hätte ich bestimmt einen Unfall. Wenn ich schneller führe, würde ich bestimmt einen Unfall haben. (This example, from the Dartmouth page I linked in the main post.) – Catomic Apr 25 '18 at 1:50
  • Würde is mainly the helper for indirect speech, because many Konjunktiv I forms are indistinguishable from the Indikativ forms. It's also used for Konjunktiv II, along with more helpers. In the above sentence, that helper is bestimmt, which turns würde into an irrealis helper. If you left it out, the clause could be understood as indirect speech. There are German dialects which prefer sollte instead of würde bestimmt. (Other words instead of bestimmt: sicher, vielleicht, unter Umständen, etc.) – Janka Apr 25 '18 at 7:12
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Question 3 and 4: The word "sollen" can be used in a conditional sentence to "amplify" the condition (see here), in the sense that in

Wenn sie Arbeit bekommen, verschaffen sie ihm eine Lehrstelle.

it is more likely that they find a job than in

Wenn sie Arbeit bekommen sollten, verschaffen sie ihm eine Lehrstelle.

Equivalently,

Falls sie Arbeit bekommen, verschaffen sie ihm eine Lehrstelle.

is more likely than

Falls sie Arbeit bekommen sollten, verschaffen sie ihm eine Lehrstelle.

while they are both less likely than the first two examples.

When used in this sense, "sollen" is always written in Konjunktiv II Präteritum.

Question 2 and 5: In direct speech the sentence would be

Wir versprechen, falls wir selbst Arbeit bekommen sollten, dir eine Lehrstelle zu verschaffen.

Question 1:

Sie versprechen, falls sie selbst Arbeit bekommen sollten, ihm eine Lehrlingsstelle zu verschaffen.



In case anything stayed unclear, please let me know.

  • You completely missed (like the OP) that this is indirect speech. – tofro Apr 24 '18 at 11:11
  • Neither of us missed it, as indicated in OP's question 2 and my answer to it... – RoyPJ Apr 24 '18 at 11:20

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