Category: English legal language and terminology

It is not just legal language that can be difficult to comprehend for the layman and legal translator alike. Often, it is the very content of legal texts that is strange. And the UK has no shortage of bizarre British laws if authors and journalists are to be believed.

From time to time books are published about England’s weird and wonderful laws. Nigel Crawthorne’s The Strange Laws of Old England (2004) is a hilarious case in point. And today the Guardian published a short story about a study commissioned by an insurance company that looks at whether obscure legislation is really needed. It offers a list of the 10 most bizarre British laws “to highlight the complexity and antiquity of statutes that remain in force”. The study has been prepared by a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge and -as is normally the case with lists or compilations of this type- contains some truly odd stuff.

Here are some short excerpts from the article:

“Section 12 of the 1872 Licensing Act declares that “every person found drunk … on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty”. It was enacted to reduce consumption of alcohol and to encourage sobriety among the poor. It remains in force within England and Wales as a rule prohibiting public drunkenness.

The Metropolitan Police Act 1839 makes it an offence for any person to carry any cask, tub, hoop, wheels, ladders, planks or poles on a footway “except for the purpose of loading or unloading any cart or carriage”. It was passed to ensure people could move freely along public thoroughfares without obstruction.

MPs are prohibited from wearing armour in parliament by the Bearing of Armour Act which dates back to 1313. It was an attempt by Edward II to prevent nobles from threatening to use force when parliament was called. The Earl of Lancaster, it was reported, still attended parliament carrying weapons until at least 1319.

… a different part of the 1872 Licensing Act … outlaws being drunk in charge of cattle; the 1986 Salmon Act – intended to ban poaching – makes it illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances; a 19th-century law bans the beating of carpets after 8am on streets in London.”

To read the full article about these bizarre British laws, click here.

 

 

In one of our previous posts we talked about the cultural inconsistencies in legal translation that often come up and specifically about inconsistencies in the realia. In this post, we are going to talk about the ways in which the legal translator can tackle these inconsistencies.

We gave an example using the term “fiduciary” and its Greek translation, but we concluded that there isn’t an equivalent term that has the exact same meaning and an identical content in the Greek legal system. What needs to be stressed here is the fact that the legal translator is able to reach this conclusion only if he is familiar with the law of both the legal systems involved: the legal system from which the source text comes and the legal system from which the target text comes. Familiarity with the first will enable the translator to have a clear grasp of the meaning, the content and the function of the concept, the term or the realia that he needs to translate. Familiarity with the second will enable him to look for the respective concept, term or realia in the target language.

As in the example that we used in our previous post, in the case where there isn’t an equivalent concept, term or realia, the translator should embrace the interpretative approach, aiming at the same time to ensure that the final recipient of the text will be able to understand it. The target text will be used in the context of a different legal system by people familiar only with their own legal system. The translator’s aim should be to clearly present the foreign legal system, without altering the structure and the legal effect of the text and of course without adding to or subtracting from the amount of information that the final recipient will draw from his translated text.

Hard? Yes. Impossible? No.

In any case, the legal translator should contact his client and advise him about the implications that arise from the inconsistencies of the two cultures involved, as well as about the ways in which he is planning to tackle those cultural inconsistencies in legal translation.

In our example I chose to translate the term “fiduciary” as “διαχειριστής αλλότριας περιουσίας” (administrator of another’s affairs), drawing my inspiration from the concept of “management of another’s affairs/voluntary agency” (διοίκηση αλλοτρίων) in Article 730 of the Hellenic Civil Code. The reason that the English term couldn’t have been translated as “διοικητής αλλοτρίων” (manager of another’s affairs/voluntary agent) is because there is a crucial difference between those two concepts: the agent mentioned in Article 730 of the Greek Civil Code manages the affairs of another person, but acts without authority, while the fiduciary acts under a mandate.

Just like any translator, the legal translator should also cultivate his multiculturalism, as this is a necessary professional tool. Since any form of cross-language communication is also cross-cultural communication (Vlachopoulos, p. 36) and every legal system is created within a specific culture, it is more than necessary for the legal translator to be aware of and be exposed to his own, as well as the foreign culture. This is the very heart of the role of the professional legal translator, as he is the person responsible for transferring the message and the content of the legal text from one culture to the other and finding solutions to the legal inconsistencies in his legal translation.

According to Vlachopoulos, who in turn refers to the research of Maddux & Galinsky in the field of business administration (Vlachopoulos, p. 37), simply knowing the language, as a sum of finite linguistic units and syntactical mechanisms, without being aware of the cultural elements reflected in the usage of a specific word or in the usage of a specific syntactical mechanism and without being conscious of the significance these elements bear in the foreign culture, dooms every effort of cross-cultural communication to failure. In other words, lack of awareness of the cultural parameters defeats creative understanding and leads to a linear and uncritical transfer of structures of the source language to the target language. It leads, above all, to an uncritical transfer of the thought structures of the source culture to the target culture. Vlachopoulos then he goes on to say that it is necessary for the translator to be familiar with the cultures with which he is working, so that, firstly, he can possess the knowledge and the experience that will support his understanding of the target culture and secondly, to be able to assess the acceptance criteria and in this way be able to converge to the highest possible extent with the communication standards that he is required to respect.

In the context of cross-cultural communication, therefore, the skilled legal translator should possess an awareness of the legal culture of both countries and keep himself constantly informed about new legislation, new case-law and the changes taking place in his own, as well as in the foreign legal system.

 

By Eva Angelopoulou

Translation of legal documents and complicated legal language

On 29 June, I attended an interesting afternoon about the drafting of legislation and some of the difficulties it poses, with some discussion of the translation of legal documents thrown in too and a lot of interesting input from the audience from legal interpreters who often have to deal with the complexities of legal language and explain them to the ordinary man.

6 speakers presented different issues relating to law and language (and raised the topic of legal translation). Brief summaries are set out below that highlight the key issues of interest in the translation of legal documents.

Hayley Rogers, a UK legislative drafter, outlined the UK legislative drafting process and some of the difficulties it presents. She argued that legislative drafters tend to see themselves as ‘architects’ but often the practicalities of the drafting process mean they are actually more akin to ‘cowboy builders’ creating chaotic-looking legislation because of a series of constraints (primarily political and policy-related) imposed on the drafters.  So instead of striving for perfection they often just have to cope with the world ‘as it is’. This may resonate with legal translators who face demands for perfection from clients, but are constrained by real world factors like short delivery deadlines.

Prof. Maria De Benedetto spoke about how the language of the law is often incomprehensible to the layman, how it is a language of the elite, and outlined some of the techniques those who speak the language of the law utilise to maintain their elite status, such as reliance on Latin when ordinary people are unlikely to comprehend it.

James Hadley is new to legal translation as a discipline but comes from a strong background in translation theory. He is currently involved in a project being run by the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) in partnership with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) exploring some of these key questions that arise when laws and legal documents need to be translated from one language to another. His presentation looked at equivalence and legal translation and his working hypothesis is that equivalence (defined as “the notion that a translated text produces the same effect for its readers as the source text did for its own” may be demonstrable in legal language.

He posited that those who are capable of doing legal translations properly will need to have a very specific skill set, represented by the following Venn diagram:

The skill set need for the translation of legal documents

The skill set need for the translation of legal documents

 

Nothing original here, but it is always good that key issues in the discipline are presented to new audiences and that more people become educated about legal translation and what it entails, who can do it, and so on.

It will be interesting to hear more about his research as it becomes available.  According to the School of Advanced Studies website, the larger project that Hadley’s research relates to will look at who legal translators should be, how to assess the quality of their work, and what issues reading a legal document may raise from a language / law viewpoint.  Legal translation is taking place all the time, and may entail the translation of laws that have the same effect as the original language version in bi- and multi-lingual jurisdictions. Outside of an institutional context, that sort of legal translation is a rarity. Much more common is the translation of legal documents for other reasons: international commerce, the purchase of land, employees working in other countries needing to know their rights. Legal language is complicated though; often dubbed negatively as ‘legalese’ which is difficult to understand even for native speakers of the source language. To quote the School’s announcement about the upcoming project, “That being the case, and legal traditions around the world being so variable, it is easy to see how translating legal documents from one language to another would be no mean feat. Even if you do happen to speak both languages, you also need to understand, and be able to reproduce the respective forms of legalese with an extremely high degree of technical accuracy.”

William Robinson, Associate Research Fellow at IALS, spoke about the complexities of the EU drafting process, highlighting the important role of translators in the overall process.

Stephen Neale, Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics, examined the question of ‘interpreting’ the meaning of words and highlighted the importance of context in coming up with good and bad faith interpretations of what legal words actually mean. He pointed out that judges, often considered to be the final arbiters of what the law ‘means’ often don’t have a strong grasp of linguistics, and gave some examples of ‘weird’ outcomes in cases where the judges appeared to go against the ‘common sense’ meaning of the words. His assertion is that there is a set of heuristics we use all the time to figure out the common sense meaning intended by others and that intrinsically we all know when an ‘interpretation’ is in bad faith.

Jerome Tessuto provided a data-driven analysis of how writing styles and language conventions from one country can influence those of another, by looking at the impact of English arbitration legislation on Singapore’s arbitration legislation.  He pointed out that while deontic modality, and the use of shall in particular, is on the decline in English legislation because of the impact of the Plain Language movement, his data revealed that it was still important in Singaporean legislation, though an audience member who was a legislative drafter from Singapore pointed out that recently that has begun to change.

 

 

“Why is legal language so complicated? Legislative drafters and linguists compare notes”

Dealing with legal language all day long, legal translators are definitely aware that it is complicated stuff. This workshop, to be held in London by the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on 29.6.2016, takes a look at how the viewpoint of the linguist can be co-opted to help legislative drafters produce better quality texts (and hopefully make legal translation an easier process too).

 

More information: http://www.sas.ac.uk/support-research/public-events/2016/why-legal-language-so-complicated-legislative-drafters-and-lin-1

THE TERMS “SUBJECT TO”, “NOTWITHSTANDING” OR “WITHOUT PREJUDICE”: WHICH ONE SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?

I was recently reading this interesting article by Andrew Nickels about the clauses “subject to”, “notwithstanding” and “without prejudice” and it got me thinking how useful the clarification of these terms would be for the purposes of legal translation.

Every legal translator has encountered one or all of these terms in a contract or some other legal document they had to translate, either to or from English. These shorthand expressions prove to be useful tools in saving time when it comes to drafting a contract and that’s why lawyers and legal practitioners use them often.

What do they really mean though in plain English? Are they always used correctly? Continue Reading..

Translating the workings of a civil law system into English (common law) terminology can be extremely difficult, as all those who have ever attempted it will know. The reason for the complexity is simple; translating from one system to another system is far from straightforward. When, for example a Dutch lawyer has to explain his legal system to a common law lawyer, it is not simply a matter of replacing Dutch words with English words. The Dutch system is not a carbon copy of the English system, which means that there will not always be equivalent English terminology at hand for translation purposes. In order to use English legal terminology correctly and effectively, the practitioner must not only be familiar with his own legal system, but also have a basic grasp of the structure of the common law system.

Source: Helen Gubby, English legal terminology: Legal concepts in language (Boom Juridische Studieboeken)

by Eva Angelopoulou

The University of the Aegean’s Department of Information & Communication Systems Engineering has recently released a GR-EN / EN-GR glossary of e-Government terms.

To view it click here: http://icsdweb.aegean.gr/project/lexiko/

I just came across a Workshop on Precedent in EU Law: the linguistic aspect. Many thanks to the Words to Deeds blog for the information.

Continue Reading..

As mentioned in a recent post, glossaries can be useful aids in legal translation and in legal interpretation. As the number of migrants/refugees entering Greece and other European countries increases, could initiatives similar to the Canadian multilingual glossary outlined below provide a replicable model for improving the quality of legal translation and court interpreting?Continue Reading..

Back in June 2015 I attended the Transius Conference on legal and institutional translation hosted by the University of Geneva.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be summarising some of the main points made by speakers based on notes taken at the conference. The idea is to convey a rough flavour of the main ideas presented at the conference. This is the second blogpost in the series…Continue Reading..


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