Reported speech / Indirekte Rede

(This was not reported speech at all – see the evidence and discussion in the comments. Back to the drawing-board!)

There’s a query on ProZ that I can’t help mentioning. It’s a quote from the judgment of a German court and the asker requests that it should be answered by native speakers of German. I think it’s not always easy for native speakers of German to understand the grammar of their language, unless they’ve taught it to foreigners.

Anyway, the sentence is ‘Durch das der Klage stattgebende Urteil stünde jedoch auch fest, dass das Arbeitsverhältnis mit dem in der BRD ansässigen Arbeitgeber beendet worden und auf einen Arbeitgeber übergegangen ist, an dessen Sitz die EG-Richtlinie 2001/23 EWG nicht gilt. Im Ergebnis stünde der Arbeitnehmer schutzlos dar.’ [MM italics]

The query relates to the meaning of the subjunctive here. This is a sentence typical of German judgments, where the subjunctive makes it clear to the reader that it’s indirect speech, and in English the past tense doesn’t, so it’s worth adding ‘the court held’ every so often, to make it clear this is a quotation of what the lower court said, not the opinion of the present court.

So what did the lower court say, in direct speech? It said ‘es steht jedoch fest’. So you could write ‘the court stated that the judgment in favour of the plaintiff made it clear’, or even, avoiding any backshifting of verbs, ‘according to the court, the judgment in favour of the plaintiff makes it clear’.

Most of the answers are variations on ‘would be clear’. Indirect speech is mentioned in an ‘agree’, but it isn’t really brought out.

Anyone who’s translated a few judgments will recognize this usage. For the use of the subjunctive in reported speech (the form ‘stehe es jedoch fest’ would also be possible), see the nice site on the German language, canoonet.

30 thoughts on “Reported speech / Indirekte Rede

  1. It is hard to tell without knowing the context. You are right that judgments normally use indirect speech to report what someone else has said – parties to the action, witnesses and experts, lower courts or even legal authorities. But there are two forms of subjunctive in German. They are generally known as Konjunktiv I (“stehe”) and Konjunktiv II (“st

  2. Thanks for the reference.
    I agree with Christoph – I don’t think it is a quote from the judgement, I think it is spelling out the consequences of the judgement, but without using any words quoted from the judgement. I think Michaela Sommer gets closest to the sense with her suggestion “would mean”.

  3. I agree that “das der Klage stattgebende Urteil” refers to the judgement of the lower court.
    But I think it really means: “The lower court made the mistake of giving in to the claimant/plaintiff and ruling in its favour, but the consequence of that judgment is that my client is stripped of any legal protection, so the court shouldn’t have fallen for this cheap trick and you, dear honourable judges of the appeal court, will surely redress this injustice.”

  4. Margaret, I’m not a translator, merely a humble lawyer, so I don’t really want to be drawn on those points. I just wanted to point out that “feststehen” may have a more technical meaning. As to “claimant”, I always thought that the terminology was changed because this seemed a more general term and therefore more accessible to a non-legal audience.

    Thanks to all the fancy databases at one’s fingertips these days, I have actually been able to get hold of the judgment in question. It is Landesarbeitsgericht Hamburg, 22 May 2003, 8 Sa 29/03, published at AfP 2004, 377 ff. The case is about an English-language news service which used to be put out from Hamburg but was then relocated to Ireland, with the effect that the plaintiff was made redundant. The lower court (Arbeitsgericht Hamburg) held that the plaintiff’s dismissal was invalid because under

  5. Thanks very much, Christoph. I tried to find the judgment but couldn’t.
    I will do a separate entry on ‘claimant’. I understand the theory, but I don’t think the change was a good idea.
    It’s clear this wasn’t reported speech in the decision. I love the way Ireland’s membership in the EU is kept for the end.
    You say ‘es st

  6. How about belanglos? I don’t know if it’s a term of the German legal language. But it covers the “no consequences” aspect of the ordinary meaning of nugatory.

  7. I agree with St.Ivo and Gary. Having once spotted the term nugatory in an Eng. contract law textbook, I made a note of it and use it for contracts into English from German etc. all the time, esp. when I get fed up with translating rechtsunwirksam and -ung

  8. St. Ivo: Yes, definitely ‘zwecklos’ in the context I usually meet it in. I wasn’t even aware it was used in contracts. As for ‘belanglos’, I have encountered ‘strafrechtlich belanglos’, not that I can imagine using ‘nugatory’ in that context.
    Ghits on searching on: shall be nugatory agreement include ‘nugatory, null and void’!
    It frequently seems to refer to pointless effort.

  9. Oh, the word is used outside legal language. Has been for a long time; see below.
    It’s about as abstruse and recondite a word as, say, “eleemosynary”.

    nugatory, a.

    (“nju;g@t@rI) [ad. L. nGgQtZrius, f. ppl. stem of nGgQrW to trifle. Cf. It. and Sp. nugatorio, F. nugatoire.]

    1. Trifling, of no value or importance, worthless.

    1603 Holland Plutarch’s Mor. 1156 That we may not range too farre, nor use any superfluous and nugatory words. 1674 S. Jeake Arith. Surv. (1696) 613 The Equation is either Nugatory or Impossible. 1692 Bentley Boyle Lect. iii. 106 Too much addicted to this nugatory Art. 1786 Jefferson Writ. (1859) I. 520, I have been obliged+to a nugatory interference, merely to prevent the affairs of the United States from standing still. 1791 W. Maxwell in Boswell Johnson an. 1770, Lord Lyttelton’s Dialogues he deemed a nugatory performance. 1841 D’Israeli Amen. Lit. (1867) 299 The diligence of the editor has not been wasted on trivial researches or nugatory commentaries. 1879 Thomson & Tait Nat. Phil. I. i.

  10. I wish London Bar students, instead of bickering about the pupillage (traineeship)applications merry-go-round – 1,700 applicants nationwide for 650 places – will repair forthwith to the Seven Stars and other choice wine-bar and restaurant establishments at the back of the Royal Courts of Justice, or even other sides of the building.

    There they can hang around between bouts of ‘Law’s grave study’ and try engaging a prospective Pupil Master or Judge in animated conversation over a tipple.

  11. I didn’t realize the Seven Stars predated the Great Fire of London.Trevor: I photographed the wigs first – probably would have deleted the photos later – but I had a feeling I wasn’t alone.

  12. Sorry if I offended your American sensibilities, Gary. I don’t think I used the word ‘pants’, though. That happened to be a well-known tort case.

  13. You didn’t offend me in any way. I was just explaining why I chose to use the phrase “women’s underwear). :-)

  14. Ah – I know who that must be. I thought I was going to need greater powers of detection.
    I had to take several photos of this cat, because I had no polarizing filter and it was dark, and its pupils are slits on all of them.

  15. Thought I’d stick to the theme, but have something less ‘profession’-related than TEFL.

    It’s a Burmese, isn’t it? A friend of mine used to have two of them, both black. Really lovely cats.

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