Conjunction agreement after neither/nor and weder/noch clauses in English and German

I have been doing some translating recently and have been having difficulty rendering sentences like this in English:

Weder die Historie, die beweist, daß Jesu tatsächlich gelebt hat, noch die Tradition der Kirche, die solches immer schon gelehrt hat, kann und soll dieses Paradox einsichtig machen.

I tend to settle with something like this:

Neither the history that proves that Jesus has actually lived nor the tradition of the church that has taught this all along can or should make this paradox comprehensible.

That is, where the German uses an und to coordinate the conjunctions following the weder/noch clause, I think this is best rendered in English with an or, rather than an and, the latter being the most common and obvious translation in pretty much all instances.

As far as I can tell, in English an or is required to coordinate verbs that have their subject in a preceding neither/nor clause. Though I have not been able to find information about this on the internet, it seems that translators have already noticed this. Take this sentence from Barth:

Wie wir selbst keine Fähigkeit zur Gemeinschaft mit Gott haben, und also keine Fähigkeit, Gott anzuschauen und zu begreifen, ihm gegenüber wahrhaftig Empfangende und Schaffende und also Subjekt jener Erkenntnis zu sein, so gibt es an sich weder eine Notwendigkeit noch auch nur eine Möglichkeit, daß Gott zur Stelle sein müßte und könnte als Gegenstand unseres Anschauens und Begreifens.

Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, 2/II (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1980), 231-32.

This is translated as follows:

Just as we ourselves have no capacity for fellowship with God and therefore no capacity to view and conceive God, and, in relation to Him, to be true receivers and creators and therefore subjects of this knowledge, so there is in itself neither a necessity nor even a possibility that God must or can be present as the object of our viewing and conceiving.

Karl Barth, The Church Dogmatics, 2/II, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. by T. H. L. Parker, et al. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), 206.

And another:

Indem Mann und Frau miteinander und in ihrem Gegenüber Menschen sind, ist dafür gesorgt, daß weder er noch sie sich an ihrer Geschlechtlichkeit einfach genügen lassen und je ihre besonderen, mit ihrem Geschlecht gesetzten Fähigkeiten, Bedürfnisse, Interessen, Tendenzen, Freuden und Nöte besinnungslos ausleben können.

Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, 3/IV (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1980), 186.

Translated as:

As man and woman are human in their co-existence and mutual confrontation, neither the one nor the other can be content with his own sexuality or heedlessly work out his sexually conditioned capacities, needs, interests, tendencies, joys and sorrows.

Karl Barth, The Church Dogmatics, 3/IV, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. by A. T. Mackay, et al. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1961), 167.

I can’t yet say that these two examples of translation settle the problem. But I find it interesting that my translation instincts were confirmed when I searched for what others had done. The reason I chose Barth is because the Digital Karl Barth Library has a great search function in which you can look for multiple words that appear together in the same sentence, without them being paragraphs apart. I chose to search in English using neither, nor, can, and or, and then compared these in German. I chose can as a common verb, and one that I had come across myself in Moltmann (the example used at the beginning of this post). I found no instances where an und used like it is in the examples above is translated as an and. It is translated as an and though, in many similar constructions that are not to be confused with the one under discussion here:

  • We and our colleagues can’t and shouldn’t apply
  • Neither we or our colleagues can apply, and/but we shouldn’t either
  • Because we can’t and we shouldn’t, neither we nor our colleagues will apply
  • BUT: Neither we nor our colleagues can or should apply

With the last example, surely there are instances where people will nonetheless use an and. After all, there it is not ungrammatical. What I am arguing for, however, is what is natural. My guess is that this convention arose through allowing the preceding neither/nor clause to do too much work. It’s role was extended to other clauses that it was not related to, because it had already made its impression on the speaker or writer’s mind. Of course, this not wrong. Indeed, it is probably “right” now as regards style because of widespread usage. Finally, note that my speculation on the origin is just guesswork and I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has looked into this in greater detail. Also, if anyone has any more translation examples, especially those that differ from the general rule I am advocating here, I would love to see them.