This is about a translation of an old text from German. The passage:

Er ließ sich unter den Stamm aufnehmen. (Stamm = tribe)

When I enter this into gTranslate this is rendered as

He allowed himself to be taken under the tribe.

However "unter" is an archaic expression and would be changed to "in" today.

DeepL renders a possible translation as:

He was taken in by the tribe.

When discussing the best way to translate this others came up with the following ideas:

a) He affiliated himself with the tribe.
b) He made the tribe affiliate him.
c) He had himself admitted into tribe.
d) He got himself accepted into tribe.
e) He contrived to have himself accepted into the tribe.
f) He let himself become admitted into the tribe.
g) He was admitted to the tribe.

My understanding of the current passage in the original is that the protagonist has a passive role in joining the tribe, since it is the tribe's decision of letting him join or not. I am looking for the most literal translation, retaining the archaic style of the original that expresses in good grammar what I interpret from the original.

Comparing the machine translations and the human translations the human variants a–e seem to change the meaning, f is probably too stiff and too literal.

Since I might be wrong on my interpretation of the content in the first place, correcting explanations on that are also very welcome.

Which of these translations comes closest to the original, why?

Disclosure: this is the reverse version spun off from another question on another SE. Since not only was I involved in that discussion but also quite puzzled by the answers I would like to gain more insight into what I apparently missed in these nuances. It would prefer it if you write down any answers before having a look at that other question or even completely without looking at it. But of course, there is perhaps more context to be found.

  • I suppose to be able to properly answer this question, we'd need someone who knows fairly well both German and English. I ask that anyone who doesn't consider himself or herself fluent in both English and German to refrain from answering the question.
    – Neil
    Mar 2, 2018 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


Stamm and tribe both imply kinship groups, at least metaphorically; so I find adopt more appropriate than affiliate.

German lassen (like English let, historically) is ambivalent: it may be understood as either permissive or causative. My (admittedly imperfect and unreliable) sense of German idiom tells me that the sense of lassen here is causative rather than permissive: the subject on his own initiative induced the tribe to include him rather than permitted the tribe to go forward with its desire to include him. If so, this is probably the cleanest translation:

He had himself adopted into the tribe.

  • affiliated himself with the tribe implies that the matter lay wholly in the subject's power, without action or assent on the tribe's part.

  • made introduces an element of compulsion which does not appear to be present in the original.

  • got marks the causative/agentive sense more strongly, but is still somewhat colloquial.

  • let is permissive in PDE; the causative sense abides only in quasi-imperatives.

  • contrived has overtones of deviousness which do not appear to be present in the original.

  • The bare passive eliminates the subject's role in the adoption.

The original context you supply appears to support my reading:

Er erlernte die zwei gangbarsten der verschiedenen chinesischen Dialekte und, um sich völlig als Chinese zu nationalisiren, ließ er sich unter den chinesischen Stamm Koë aufnehmen, legte auch sofort chinesische Kleidung an.

He mastered the two most widely current of the many Chinese dialects; and, to embrace Chinese nationality completely, he had himself adopted into the Chinese Koë tribe—and immediately started dressing in Chinese clothes.

The sentence describes actions taken by the subject to create a Chinese identity.

  • Fantastic insights. I indeed read more of a permissive than causative role into the German sentence, assuming a rhythm: active (his sole action), active/passive (both sides), active (he alone again). – Assuming PDE stands for present day English: OED entry 11; " a. to let into: (a) to admit to, give entrance to, allow to enter (lit. and fig.); †also absol. and in indirect pass.;" wouldn't that fit as well as entry 1? Mar 2, 2018 at 14:42
  • @LangLangC I don't have access to the revised online OED, only the original edition; but the OED 1 has the same definition. That sense of let takes an object and a locative complement, not a clausal complement. Mar 2, 2018 at 15:37

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