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Is there any difference between the following sentences? Does the position of "ja doch" matter?

(a)...weil ja doch zwei Cellisten in diesem Hotel abgestiegen sind.

(b)...weil zwei Cellisten ja doch in diesem Hotel abgestiegen sind.

In a book that I'm reading, it is explained that you would say (b) if the existence of "zwei Cellisten" is presupposed (for instance in a situation where there is a large group of cellists, and these two are in the hotel, two others are in a B&B, another is staying at a friend's house, and so on.), while you would say (a) if you want to assert the existence of the two cellists (the person to whom you are talking still does not know the existence of these cellists). Is this interpretation correct? I would greatly appreciate your answer!

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    By the way, "ja" and "doch" are filler words which for the most part should be avoided.
    – Paul Frost
    May 30 at 9:00
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    @PaulFrost: The dismissal of modal particles as mere «Füllwörter» is still a common view. Grammar research only focused on them in the 1980s. Consequently, German teachers who got their formation before the 2000s would not know anything about them. It takes at least a generation for new grammar research to trickle down.
    – mach
    Jun 3 at 22:54
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    @PaulFrost Says who? This sounds like the type of advice that fit into a "How to write a concise report", but has no value for literature.
    – Helena
    Jun 5 at 7:25
  • @Helena "No value for literature" - says who? But you are right, literature should ja doch not be forced into a corset and not every word should be weighed. I am saying this - with apodictic certainty ;-) Jun 5 at 9:28
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Words like «ja», «doch» used as in these example sentences are called modal particles. They serve a double function:

  • First, German modal particles add a nuance to the meaning of the entire sentence, reflecting “the mood or the attitude of the speaker or the narrator”. (Very roughly speaking, the modal particle «ja» adds a notion that what the sentence says is commonly known, and the modal particle «doch» adds a notion that what the sentence says is unexpected – their combination thus means something like “it is unexpected, but everybody knows it”.)
  • Second, the positioning of German modal particles is a means of highlighting a sentence’s focus: the focus normally is on the constituent that follows them.

It is this second function of focus highlighting that differentiates the two sentences. In the first sentence, the modal particles highlight the constituent «zwei Cellisten» as focused:

  1. weil ja doch zwei Cellisten in diesem Hotel abgestiegen sind

In English, there are no focus highlighting words. Instead, the focus could be expressed by stress. So sentence (1) with its focus on the cellists could be translated to as follows:

  1. because TWO CELLISTS have lodged in this hotel

In the second sentence, the modal particles highlight the constituent «in diesem Hotel» as focused:

  1. weil zwei Cellisten ja doch in diesem Hotel abgestiegen sind

Using stress for hightlighting the focus in English, this could be translated as follows:

  1. because two cellists have lodged IN THIS HOTEL

Basically, the explanation in the book you are reading is correct, if a bit obscure. The focused constituent is the one that “contributes new, non-derivable, or contrastive information” (as the Wikipedia article focus says). The non-focused constituents, by comparison, are previously known.

Addendum: There is a third position where the «ja doch» can be placed, that is, before the verb. This placement will highlight the verb as focused:

  1. weil zwei Cellisten in diesem Hotel ja doch abgestiegen sind

Again, using stress for hightlighting the focus in English, this could be translated as follows:

  1. because two cellists HAVE LODGED in this hotel
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Both orders are possible, but more context would be needed for a decision, which one fits better.

The first one is the more universal one. It could mean but at least two cellists chose that hotel anyway (doch meaning anyway) or express a mild surprise of the narrator, that they did so.

In the second order doch has a meaning more close to despite: the hotel could have been an earlier choice and turned out to be too expensive, too far from city centre, whatever, so all other agreed to chose a different hotel, but those two (stubbornly?) insisted...

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I, as a native speaker, would say that the explanation in your book is roughly correct. By postioning the these words at different places, you can stress different things, as already has been pointed out. (I cannot upvote answers yet.)

However, let me also add that this combination of "ja" and "doch" right after another is a bit 'overkill'. One of these two words would already be enough to have something analog to the emphatic use of "do" in english. ("... two cellists do have lodged in this hotel.")

Also, a bit off-topic, "Ja doch!" is something my father usually says as a stand alone phase, when he is really ennoyed, after someone pointed out / asked / commanded something more than just once in a row, as if saying "Yeah yeah, I'm already on it!"

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