Einheimische zu gewinnen, das habe er zehn Jahre lang versucht - doch es sei unmöglich, meint Chambers.

I'm not that experienced in grammar and i'm just trying to make sure. Albeit few, haven't seen an example of Linksversetzung with a infinitive clause with zu on the web. I can't see what else it could be... thanks

  • Could add a bounty to that. I looked in multiple sources as well and could not find it either. I've found non-zu-infinitiv ones in left dislocation though, and Duden says that secondary clauses can be dislocated to the Vorvorfeld. But an example with "zu-infinitiv"? Would like to know the logic as well. Jun 18, 2023 at 19:27
  • you can only start a bounty in 3 days after you post, and reward it 1 day after you place it
    – Srmuiel
    Jun 18, 2023 at 19:32
  • oh, duden says nebensätze can be dislocated to the vorvorfeld? well a infinitiv+zu is a nebensatz... may i know where to look?
    – Srmuiel
    Jun 18, 2023 at 19:51
  • 1
    @Srmuil My bad, it was Vorfeld, not Vorvorfeld. So it was not helpful. Jun 18, 2023 at 20:08
  • apparently its two days... i dont know why i thought it was 3
    – Srmuiel
    Jun 18, 2023 at 20:15

2 Answers 2


It is surely a left dislocation ...

It is a left dislocation for sure. According to Glottopedia left dislocation is defined by Lambrecht (2001) with following criteria:

  1. extra-clausal position of a constituent,
  2. possible alternative intra-clausal position,
  3. pronominal coindexation,
  4. special prosody.

Since "das" and "Einheimische zu gewinnen" can't possibly be a single Satzglied and German only allows one Satzglied before the predicate, 1. is fulfilled. Removing "das" would make a correct sentence, so 2. is also true. The use of "das" is 3. and I'm sure the sentence has to be spoken with special prosody.

... but of what kind?

But "left dislocation" is a inter-linguistic definition not adapted to German. According to Frey (2004) there are actually two distinct phenomena:

  1. The "German (constrastive) left dislocation (GLD)" is pronounced without pause and uses a d-pronoun (der, die, das)
  2. The "Hanging Topic Left Dislocation (HTLD)" is pronounced with a pause and the resumptive element can be a personal pronoun, demonstrative pronoun or even a definite description.

Another difference is that, concerning binding, GLD is part of the sentence, while HTLD is not. So

Seinen1 Doktorvater, den verehrt jeder Linguist1.

can only be GLD because "seinen" in it refers forward. That means that in

Den neuen Artikel von Peter , → den will er in LI veröffentlichen.

"Peter" is not "er" (Principle C).

In written sentences and without pronouns, the both constructions are hard to distinguish. I would say that for the given example both are possible. Speaking the sentence with or without the pause, both are possible and have slightly different meanings.

For more, I would refer to the article.

Regarding reservations about the dislocated phrase being a zu-Infinitive phrase: Such phrases can be put in the Vorfeld and can be topics and I have never found an indication there were to be treated different than other topics. I can also find no way in which they behave differently.

Frey, Werner. "Notes on the syntax and the pragmatics of German Left Dislocation". The Syntax and Semantics of the Left Periphery, edited by Horst Lohnstein and Susanne Trissler, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 2004, pp. 203-234. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110912111.203

  • Zu-infinitiv phrases are not even mentioned in this context of Linksversetzung. Not in duden, not on ids-grammis. It's weird to me, how nobody even mentions it. While you concluded that it is one. Even though it is a very intuitive, well-known, natural thing to do - putting a zu-infinitiv in Vorvorfeld/Nullstelle/Linkes Außenfeld... Jun 19, 2023 at 23:41

Syntax and phonology are intimately related in mysterious ways. Let's start with morphonology.

Einheimische zu gewinnen, […] habe er zehn Jahre lang versucht - doch das sei unmöglich, meint Chambers.

Es is parasitic in High German varieties. See the absurd Es sind dies ... construction for example. In my humble opinion it is exceedingly likely that e- reflects *h1 or was geminated to maintain phonotacticts.

Cp. ist < PIE *h₁ésti; sind < PIE *h₁sénti (Ringe 2006, From Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, pp. 30, 195, 262). See similarly s'regnet "es regnet" The stark difference being zero onset vs. glottal stop. The vowel follows because prosodic syllables cannot be entirely voiceless.

The root is *h₁és- ~ *h₁s-; or "*es-, schwundstufig *s-" in older works (Pfeifer/dwds.de)

As a referential pronoun, both das and es are available.

Einheimische zu gewinnen, […] habe er zehn Jahre lang versucht - doch (das, es) sei unmöglich, meint Chambers.

Once es is interpreted as dummy pronoun, it creeps in anywhere, the reference has to move to another place. This explains fairly little about the actual question of "left-dislocation" if course. The diachrony of it must be quite complex. The joke is, you can remove the dummy pronoun: "? Einheimische zu gewinnen, das habe er zehn Jahre lang versucht - doch [… is] unmöglich, meint Chambers."

This is prodrop and quite usual in spoken informal registers. It is permissable at the very least under the fast connected slurred speech rule, i.e. assimilated *abbas unmöglich < aber es ist, intuitively speaking. aber is required for its final vowel, which doch does not have, which is why another vowel may be added to it as I have argued.

In result, transposition works out: "? Einheimische zu gewinnen ist unmöglich. Das, meint chambers, habe er zehn Jahre lang versucht," The fact is Chambers only claims to have tried, so the head of the clause which vb. meinen has to connect to has to be das, irregardless where it stands, unless the intermittent space is far too long. This too implies fast speech, simply because the time space is shorter in that event, leaving room for even longer arguments before the stack overflows.

Since the derivation of the modern auxiliary verb paradigm is much more complex, I have not found sei per-se in the mentioned material. Chances are there are bigger fish to fry.

  • 5
    . Could you try to to give some different structure to your thoughts such that it becomes possible to follow? Diving into pronounciation details does not seem immediately related to this grammar question,so that it would imho need some better motivation and explanation why it is relevant. Jun 19, 2023 at 1:40
  • I would if I could but I can't. I'd lied if if I said I tried.
    – vectory
    Jun 19, 2023 at 5:47
  • it is technically an answer; but not suitable for me, whose end goal is to utilize the language, and not to become a linguist or a German professor. I'm rather looking to know how come the verb is not directly after the comma , as its usual and my closest explanation is left dislocation; but then my confidence is super fragile as a learner. Thus even a simple yes/no(and why) answer from someone who is confident on the matter will do.
    – Srmuiel
    Jun 19, 2023 at 12:35

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