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I've been trying to translate lyrics of the song "Sonne" by Rammstein, and I've found an interesting line:

"Die Sonne scheint mir aus den Augen"

which translates to: "The sun is shining out of my eyes"

And I've been wondering why so? Why it is not translated as: "The sun shines upon me from eyes?" Shoudn't it be something like: "...aus meine Augen"? And how can I detect such cases where "mir" would stand for mine? As far as I know "mir" is dative declension, and to denote posession we would use "mein" instead of "mir, no?

UPD: I think I need to clarify some things, since this question looks so similar to others - I am a native Russian speaker and we have such thing as dative case. All other examples of this kind, like "I washed me my hands", posted on stackexchange proved to be quite simple cases to understand if you translate them to Russian literally word-by-word, but this case is different. If you translate "sheint mir aus dem Augen" literally to Russian, it would be something like "светит мне из глаз", and that was confusing me, because right translation would be "светит из моих глаз". That's what was causing me trouble.

I'm also aware of "victim/beneficiar" thing a bit, but if the light/sun shines upon me, I am also a beneficiar/victim of the action, am I not?

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This usage of dative case is called »Dativ der Beteiligung« ("dativ of participation" or as latin term: dativus commodi). It determines someone who is affected by the action. It marks the beneficiary or aggrieved party.

without mir:

Die Sonne scheint aus den Augen.
The sun is shining out of the eyes.

Note, that this sentence doesn't tell to whom the eyes belong. Now we use meinen:

Die Sonne scheint aus meinen Augen.
The sun is shining out of my eyes.

Here we say clearly, that the eyes belong to me. It's my eyes from where the sun is shining out of.

But this is different:

Die Sonne scheint mir aus den Augen.
The sun is shining out of the eyes, and I am the beneficiary or aggrieved party of this shining.

Note, that here again the grammar makes no statement about the ownership of the eyes. The grammatical construction is just talking about any eyes, they might be anybodies eyes. But the grammatical construction says: I am affected by the action that is going on in this sentence. The sun is shining out of me.

In the case of body parts both constructions mean the same on a semantic level, because you never can have eyes in your head that are not yours. So it must be your eyes.

But in a different setting this can make a different meaning:

I don't own a car. But I have a driving license and I can ask a friend to lend me his car. I do so, and drive. I stop at a traffic light and then a truck crashes from behind into the car that I am driving, but which is not my car. Now I can say:

Der LKW ist mir ins Auto gekracht.
The truck chrashed into the car, and I am the aggrieved party.

But this would be wrong, because the car is not mine:

Der LKW ist in mein Auto gekracht.
The truck chrashed into my car.

Back to the shiny eyes:

Of course you can combine mir (who is affected?) and meinen (who is the owner?):

Die Sonne scheint mir aus meinen Augen.
The sun is shining out of my eyes, and I am the beneficiary or aggrieved party of this shining.

And of course you can use this kind of dative also for other grammatical persons (not just only for 1st person):

Barbara ist eine sehr hübsche Frau. Die Sonne scheint ihr aus den Augen.

And again the truck-crash:

Ich hoffe, dass dir nie ein LKW ins Auto kracht.
I hope, that you never are affected by a truck crashing into the car. (I am worried about you.)

Note, that this is different from:

Ich hoffe, dass nie ein LKW in dein Auto kracht.
I hope, that never a truck crashes into your car. (I am worried about your car.)


Addendum

A question from a comment was:

Can

Die Sonne scheint mir aus den Augen.

also mean

The sun shines upon me from the eyes, and i am victim/aggrieved party/beneficiary.

?

No. You can't say "the sun is shining on/upon me" using dative case in German. You need a preposition and a personal pronoun in accusative case for this. And if you use accusative case for a part of speech, you can't use dativus commodi at the same time for the very same part of speech.

  • upon me = auf mich

"The sun shines upon me from the eyes" is:

Die Sonne scheint auf mich von den Augen.
or (better word order)
Die Sonne scheint von den Augen auf mich.

You also might say

Die Sonne scheint auf mich aus den Augen.
Die Sonne scheint aus den Augen auf mich.

because it has a very similar meaning (aus den Augen = out of the eyes; from the eyes = von den Augen)

But you can say this:

Die Sonne scheint mir auf den Kopf.
literally: The sun is shining on the head, which affects me.
usual translation: The sun is shining on my head.

Note, that here the sentence doesn't tell that the beam of light hits you. This sentence says: The light is shining on a head. But the sentence doesn't tell you who's head this is. It says nothing about the ownership. But the pronoun in dativus commodi tells you who is affected by this action. It says: the speaker of this sentence is affected. Everything else is no longer encoded directly in the grammar.

As said before: When talking about body parts there is no difference in meaning on a semantic level. The sun is shining on the speakers head. But a very important information to get to this knowledge is not included in the German sentence. It is the information, that everybody has just one head that can not be changed. For body parts this is always true, so for body parts »mir auf den Kopf« and »auf meinen Kopf« always lead to the same meaning. But for anything else, where owner and beneficiary can be different, there are different meanings.

But again: »The sun is shining on me« can not be said in German using dativus commodi.

This all is possible:

Die Sonne scheint mir auf den Bauch.
The sun is shining on the stomach and I am affected.

Die Sonne scheint mir in die Wohnung.
The sun is shining in the apartment and I am affected.

But:

The sun is shining upon me.
Die Sonne scheint auf mich.

  • Thank you for your thorough answer, that "beneficiary/victim" thing wasn't clear to me, now I get it! But some point is bugging me though - don't you agree that if light shines UPON me - I am also a beneficiary/victim/aggrieved party? This bring another valid meaning that "sun shines upon me from the eyes, and i am victim/aggrieved party/ beneficiary", no? – Romulus Jun 15 '18 at 1:35
  • Thank you for clarification, I think I might have picked not very suitable example, but what about "The sun is shining TO me" case? The choice of prepositions was a bit off, I'm terribly sorry for that! – Romulus Jun 15 '18 at 7:57
  • Yes, this can be said as »Mir scheint die Sonne« or »Die Sonne scheint mir«. But this construction is not usual, because »mir scheint« is a Phrase that means »It seems to me«. (»Mir scheint, die verkaufen hier gar keine Milch« = »It seams to me as if they don't sell milk at all.«) With this in mind, the first try to interpret »Mir scheint die Sonne« is »It seems to me the sun«, which is an incomplete and meaningless sentence. So you must re-interpret the sentence and then you get »the sun shines to me«. So you more likely would say »Die Sonne scheint für mich« (the sun shines for me). – Hubert Schölnast Jun 15 '18 at 9:25
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Ich wasche meine Hände.

Ich wasche mir die Hände.

Contrary to what you may think, the latter phrase is much more common! You could even combine them:

Ich wasche mir meine Hände.

This mir is the person who receives the washing. In your original phrase

Die Sonne scheint mir aus den Augen.

mir again is the person who receives something, the sunshine. A typical phrase would be

Die Sonne scheint mir in die Augen.

The sun is shining at me into my eyes.

and that's the idea of the lyrics: the direction is the opposite of that one everyone would expect after the beginning of the sentence.

  • That is an interesting answer, but this example of "washing hands" is quite easy to understand for me. Please, see my addendum. – Romulus Jun 15 '18 at 1:12
  • So, your question is Why does German use a dative object at that icky place at all? Because we don't like the possessive pronouns too much. It's possible to use them but that would drive the focus to the fact someone possesses something. And "It's my eyes" is usually not the main fact if someone says the sun is shining into his eyes. You can use both at the same time! – Janka Jun 15 '18 at 7:59
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As mentioned in the comments, Die Sonne scheint aus meinen Augen would also be possible. I think Till Lindemann (singer and songwriter of Rammstein) chose mir instead of aus meinen because of the /r/: It is part of his singing-style to strongly pronounce or 'roll' the /r/.

Even for native German speakers it is sometimes difficult to understand the lyrics of Rammstein songs, because of the poetic language; often the word order is scrambled up and a lot of complex figurative phrases are used.

For more information about Lindemann's lyrics visit the German Wikipedia page on his style.

  • Wow, I never suspected that even native german speakers have trouble understanding songs of Rammstein! – Romulus Jun 15 '18 at 1:13

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