Doch alle sind sich einig, weil das klingt falsch.

Is the different sentence-structure used for weil-clauses due to two different semantics of the word?

The sub-standard use of SVO-order in weil clauses has been pondered here before, multiple times. Only one comment had pointed out that this is not a recent development. How old exactly - nobody can say?!

It's notable that the related English while has quite different semantics (ca "während"), but can still be reasonably used as logic conjunction as in German. So I am using it as such, while it works for me. The literal translation sounds substandard, thus I came to wonder whether the minor variant in German was directly related.

The word order in English is sadly indistinct, if subject-verb-inversion doesn't happen at all. I see no other hint for a temporal sense underlying that structure, so I should not focus on it. The basic question, whether different structure reflected originally different semantics remains, though; perhaps t'was not a conjunction at all.

I'm hoping there's an easy answer. Otherwise I will have to dig deep and come back to improve the question (that could take a while).

Update: Grimm has a lot to say about weil, deems it German's most important conjunction, even. The meat is in section III:


A. die entstehung der caus. conj. weil aus dem acc. der zeit die weile läszt sich an folgender beispielreihe veranschaulichen. auszugehen ist von zwei selbständigen hauptsätzen: 'der meister verliesz eine weile die werkstatt. die weile arbeitete der gesell lässiger'. mit ersparung des gemeinsamen satzglieds, inversion und schärferer betonung der gleichzeitigkeit wird ein zus.-gesetzter satz hergestellt: 'die weile, die der meister die werkstatt verliesz, arbeitete der gesell lässiger'. der relativsatz wird zum temporalsatz, die ihn einleitende formel zur conj., die aus inhaltlichen gründen (s. o. II) causalen sinn erhält: 'weil der meister die werkstatt verliesz, arbeitete der gesell lässiger'.


Über den Satzbau wird nicht eindeutiges gesagt, nur dass der weil-satz ursprünglich wohl voranging, später erst dem Hauptsatz folgte.

  • The example sentence would sound very capable of being misunderstood. The sentence Doch alle sind sich einig, während das falsch klingt . would have a completely different meaning than (the more usual) Doch alle sind sich einig, weil das falsch klingt . – πάντα ῥεῖ Feb 28 '20 at 17:03
  • I think etymology is the wrong approach for this (as so many times asking about etymological similarity of English and German). "I'm hoping there's an easy answer." Unfortunately not. – πάντα ῥεῖ Feb 28 '20 at 18:04
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    I think this was influenced by foreigners speaking "wrong German". E.g. you'll do this 'cause I say so! Du machst das, weil ich sage das" is parallel to normal English sentence structure. – infinitezero Feb 28 '20 at 19:54
  • oh, i had labeled it "origin", turned "etymology" – vectory Feb 28 '20 at 23:36
  • @pantarhe of course not – vectory Feb 29 '20 at 0:21

I wouldn't call this phenomenon substandard. It certainly does not conform to the prescriptive standard for written language, but its quite standard in conversational Austrian German at least, not much restricted by formality.

Anyway, Nübling et. al., Historische Sprachwissenschaft des Deutschen, 2008, has the following to say about conversion of conjunction to discourse markers in a chapter about pragmatic change (shortened a bit):

Konjunktionen haben die Funktion, (Teil-)Sätze miteinander zu verknüpfen. weil verknüpft kausal: Der Nebensatz liefert den Grund für den Hauptsatz (Sie kommt heute nicht, weil sie krank ist). Als sich daraus eine neue Funktion als Diskursmarker entwickelte, wurde die Verknüpfungsfunktion von der Satzebene auf die Ebene der Text- und Gesprächsorganisation übertragen. Bei weil wird das vorausweisende Potential der Konjunktion genutzt (etwa "Achtung, es folgt eine Begründung"). Die Brücke bilden Verwendungsweisen, bei denen nicht mehr der Inhalt des Teilsatzes begründet, sondern eine Begründung dafür gegeben wird, dass der Satz geäußert wurde:

Sie ist wohl daheim, weil ihr Fahrrad steht vor dem Haus.

This goes on to the explanation of weil developing into a turn-keeping marker.

Note that in this kind of sentence, the intonation is different from usual weil usage. There is a (often) pause after weil, and the "causal information" is stressed like a standalone declarative sentence:

Sie ist wohl daheim, weil: ihr FAHRrad steht vor dem Haus.

(I suspect that the part after weil forms its own intonation phrase, as I am even tempted to start it with a glottal stop, but that's just a feeling.)

Now, this unfortunately answers only the how and why, not the when. Since it is a (spoken) standard nowadays, and the syntactic structure of modern German with frame and position rules of the verb started to stabilize in its current form from Frühneuhochdeutch (about 1600) on, that confines it pretty much to a range of about 200-300 years (taking into account the growing standardization and decreasing variation).

In Middle High German, weil was still grammaticalizing into a causal subjunction from de wîle (~ derweil), and could until Frühneuhochdeutsch also be used in a temporal sense. I hypothesize* that the discourse usage emerged out of this temporal variant, from ambiguous examples like

brüder! last uns lustig seyn, weil der frühling währet

(From Wikipedia, which essentially confirms the observations above.) Cf. also the English while.

I find it also interesting in that context that derweil can in my dialect (southern Austrian) be used in a similar "discourse concessive" sense: Sie ist schon gegangen -- daweil steht ihr Rad noch da...

* Note that I really made this up from my native Sprachgefühl. I have no sources other than examples.

  • a) Nübling resonates well with me, all the while that's how I would intuitively interpret it, too. But, indeed, without dating information I am at a loss. I'll see what Grimm had to say ([DWB: weil III.C.4] "der nebensatz begründet … die fassung des hauptsatzes"). b) I could have known about "derweil", but WT only links *hwilo directly and I missed that that's a noun. DWDS has more, but my understanding of these older constructions is poor. Grimm mainly treats examples after 1500; SVO is evident throughout but not dominant. Grimm seems to insinuate the SVO was lost, not gained [III.B.1] – vectory Feb 29 '20 at 16:25
  • Right, there still remains the question whether the orders diverged after the verb-last form was firmly established, or they developed along each other - is that what you mean? – phipsgabler Feb 29 '20 at 20:45
  • @phipsgabler Yes, the example you quote refers to epistemic causality (the reason for inferring something). Besides, the same behaviour is displayed by "weil" in the so called speech-act causality, where the utterer provides a reason for his/her utterance: "Ich sage das, weil du nervst total!" – Nico Mar 1 '20 at 10:42
  • @phipsgabler I want to say yes, that would be mighty interesting. Although, my question was based on assumptions that seems untenable in light of your response, so I have to consider it effectively answered. – vectory Mar 1 '20 at 12:24
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    @phipsgabler Also in English contrastive "while" developed out of its temporal use (see various articles by Elisabeth Traugott, which unfortunately I cannot retrieve now). – Nico Mar 1 '20 at 15:01

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