LINGUIST List 11.2340

Sun Oct 29 2000

Sum: Appropriate Translation of But/Sondern

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Kristina Kotcheva, but/sondern

Message 1: but/sondern

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2000 12:20:14 +0200
From: Kristina Kotcheva <>
Subject: but/sondern

Dear Linguistis,

several weeks ago, I posted a query on the list - Linguist List
Vol-11-1795. I got a lot of useful information and I'd like to thank those
who answered. Sorry that it took so long!
In my query I asked for evaluation of the following English sentence
translated from German:

Kein Mitglied der IETF vertritt Microsoft oder die US-Regierung, sondern
alle sprechen f�r sich selbst.

No member of IETF represents Microsoft or the US government, ?but everybody
speaks for himself/herself.

I was interested whether but can be used in the meaning 'sondern' in
contexts like the one in the test sentence. Usually, but would correspond
to sondern in sentences like:

Joe is not stupid but lazy.

and to aber in sentences like

Joe is not stupid but he is lazy.

In sentences of this kind it is reduction vs. non-reduction of identical
constituents that renders an interpretation as sondern (reduction) or as
aber (non-reduction). I was interested in how but would be interpreted in
such cases where there is no identical language elements that could be

I got 45 responses, some with a short evaluation of the sentence presented
in the query, and some including longer comments.
The majority of the answers (30) suggest either to replace but with rather
or to add rather:

No member of IETF represents Microsoft or the US government, (but) rather
everybody speaks for himself/herself.

15 linguists suggested to separate the two clauses either with a semicolon
or with a full stop. In such cases can rather still be used:

No member of IETF represents Microsoft or the US government. (Rather)
everybody speaks for himself/herself.

As alternatives to but were named instead (10 ), on the contrary (5),
indeed, in truth, in fact; even so, thus, therefore and because. The latter
would alter the meaning of the sentence. Further suggestions were though,
however, and.

No member of IETF represents Microsoft or the US government, instead / on
the contrary / indeed / in truth / in fact / and everybody speaks for

10 linguists said the original sentence was ok, though a bit odd.

Most interesting was the fact that it seems to be rather that best
corresponds to Ger. sondern, at least in contexts like the one in the test
sentence. There seems to be parallels to Icelandic where the adversative
conjunction heldur 'but/sondern' has developed from an adverb meaning

Kristina Kotcheva

Thanks to:

Fred Baube
Laurie Bauer
Matthew T. Bell
Wayles Browne
Kevin Caldwell
Cassily Charles
Matt Ciscel
Bruce Despain
Cynthia Edmiston
Jed Evans
Bill Fletcher
Bruce Fraser
Georgia M. Green
Charles Gribble
Daniel Hall
Jack Hall
Michael Hughes
Richard S. Kaminski
Larry LaFond
Michael Lewis
Tony Macheak
Trace Mansfield
Betsy McCall
Andrew McIntyre
Fiona Mc Laughlin
Hank Mooney
Bill Morris
Amanda Owen
Don Reindl
Karl Reinhardt
Geoffrey Sampson
Erica Smale
John David Stone
Kirsty Taylor
John te Velde
Kate Torode
Larry Trask
James VandenBosch
Rudy Vonk
Max Wheeler
Doug Wilson
Elijah Wright
Tony Wright
Andrew Wilcox

Kristina Kotcheva
Humboldt-Universit�t zu Berlin
Unter den Linden 6
D-10099 Berlin

tel.:	#49-30-20196-750
fax:	#49-30-20196-626

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