1

It's usually easy to work out who an occurrence of selbst refers to, but I have run into a situation where it's not clear, at least to me.

Source

Die Firma Bayer vertrieb seit den fünfziger Jahren die kuschelige Kunstfaser unter dem Slogan „Eine Faser für Europa“. Nicht weniger als der Kunststoff selbst stand sie für den Optimismus der Nachkriegszeit, den Aufbruch und eine Revolution der Werkstoffe.

Questions:

  1. Is the translation of the second sentence "no less than the plastic itself, the company stood for the optimism... etc" or "no less than the plastic, the company itself stood for the... etc"?

  2. How can you tell?

3

The reference point of selbst is unambigous and depends whether it means even or his-/her-/itself:

(a) If it means even, it refers to the word or sequence that comes directly behind.

(b) If it means his-/her-/itself, it refers to what comes before – just like in English.

Since in your example it means itself, it refers to the word before, plastic:

Nicht weniger als der Kunststoff selbst stand sie für den Optimismus der Nachkriegszeit

If it was refering to the company, it had to be behind that:

Nicht weniger als der Kunststoff stand sie selbst für den Optimismus der Nachkriegszeit

| improve this answer | |
1

The sentence is indeed unclear, I find. It may be the fibre that stood or the company. I can't tell just from grammar alone. Including the context, I tend to be a little more inclined to assume that the fibre is meant, also becaue the "Faser" comes after the "Firma" in the preceeding sentence. It can't be the "Slogan" because wrong gender.

That'll be then something along the line either

"No less than the plastic itself, the company stood for the optimism ..."

or

"No less than the plastic itself, the fibre stood for the optimism ..."

I think we can discard the version "company itself" because the "selbst" clearly belongs to the "Kunststoff".

| improve this answer | |
  • You in fact point out an ambiguity of the sentence. The question, however, was only about the reference point of selbst, not of sie, so the actual answer is your last sentence. – amadeusamadeus Apr 25 at 20:31
  • Of course not, but since the questioner wrote he doesn't know how to tell what selbst refers to, somebody might relate the sentence is indeed unclear to this question. Apart from that, I was wondering if plastic is used as synonym for cuddly synthetic fiber here, then it would be clear… – amadeusamadeus Apr 25 at 20:42
  • You're nitpicking, but you get +1 from me for your answer. Just because. – a_donda Apr 25 at 20:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.