Making sense of adversarial interpreting – a seminarContinue Reading..
Making sense of adversarial interpreting – a seminarContinue Reading..
Tools of the legal translator’s trade, a new blog by me published today on the IALS Legal Translation hub looking at the various tools legal translators use in their profession. Click here to read more:
Poor or inadequate legal translations can have dire consequences on the legal, financial and personal relations of individuals, companies and legal entities, lead to doubts regarding the rights and obligations of the parties and can often result in great financial losses. The expectations of quality in this field are high, certainly higher than in other translation fields, for the sake of legal certainty and for the avoidance of these adverse consequences.Continue Reading..
Over the years academics in the field of legal translation such as Marta Chroma and Coen Van Laer have been highly vocal about the need for good quality legal dictionaries to assist legal translators in their task. Of course, legal dictionaries can’t provide all the answers but are still an essential tool.
I’ve written extensively about the quality of Greek-English legal dictionaries in the past, indicating that the quality of these essential tools for getting legal translations done is affected by a great many factors. Sadly, existing dictionaries out there tend to score very poorly when judged by their fitness for purpose. Most are mere word lists and lack the sort of information that legal translators need to navigate the difficult seas from source to target language, culture and legal system. That is especially true for the Greek-English language combination.
Academic articles are regularly published on legal lexicography but a relatively new, comprehensive book on the subject is a welcome addition. Prof. Łucja Biel, University of Warsaw, recently published a review of Legal Lexicography. A Comparative Perspective. Law, Language and Communication which was published in 2014 by Ashgate Press and edited by Máirtín Mac Aodha. She said, “Definitely, it is a must-read for legal translation and legal language researchers”. With that in mind, I’ve ordered a copy.
Until the book arrives, let’s take a quick look at Prof. Biel’s review and see what her overview can tell us about state of play.
Firstly, legal lexicography is a complicated field with many aspects, encompassing terminology and translation. It also covers both mono- and bi-lingual dictionaries, as well as printed and online versions of these language resources. It’s a field where technology is important and thankfully technology is starting to play an ever increasing role. Two chapters of the book (by Sandrini and Nielsen) look at the importance of shifting towards digital solutions and how this could improve the quality of legal dictionaries. Prof. Biel concurs, arguing that, “Digital technology makes it possible to better structure masses of data and to retrieve information adapted to user needs (communicative and cognitive functions) as regards its content and quantity”. In my older review of GR-EN legal dictionaries, the dictionary which was also available in electronic format also scored highest.
Secondly, the way in which a legal dictionary is prepared, decisions about the sort of dictionary it will be, and questions of the intended audience (lawyers? judges? translators? the public?) all affect the quality of the final dictionary and determine how the dictionary should be judged and its fitness for purpose.
Thirdly, a point I’ve raised before about the need for GR-EN legal dictionaries to be more descriptive is also raised by Coen Van Laer in his chapter in the book. He argues that bilingual legal dictionaries for translators could be improved by including an optimal amount of encyclopaedic information. Van Laer argues that dictionaries should assess the degree of equivalence between concepts in the source and target language; to do that, he stresses, entries should include source and target legislative definitions to allow for their comparison, especially for core and incongruous concepts. Prof. Biel makes the following comments on this point, “Indisputably, this solution would be of valuable help to translators; however, I have doubts as to its feasibility due to the following constraints: legal systems differ in their reliance on legislative definitions; there are not that many terms that have legislative definitions; legislative definitions of a term may differ across statutes and branches of law and, finally, in the case of languages which are used in various jurisdictions, how many definitions do we place in an entry …? It should be admitted though that this solution offers an ideal to strive towards.”
To sum up, the book appears to offer an extensive overview of the field of legal lexicography, and its importance in legal translation. It will certainly make for interesting reading when it arrives.
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:
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.
“Not only does [legal translation] require basic knowledge of the respective legal systems, familiarity with the relevant terminology and competence in the target language’s specific legal style of writing, but also an extensive knowledge of the respective legal topic in both source and target language.”
Source: Bhatia/Candlin & Allori 2008:17
“Legal texts are translated in vaster quantities than books and in more varied directions. Dreary as it may seem to all but legal eagles, the translation of law is a prerequisite for the construction and maintenance of a global society. Without it, business and diplomacy would come to a stop. But there’s something important to learn from it. Law is the very model of an untranslatable text, because the language of the law is self-enclosed, and refers to nothing outside of itself. In practice however, laws do get translated, because they must.”
David Bellos, Is that a fish in your ear? Translation and the meaning of everything, p. 224
In the field of legal translation, “the challenge is to show the ‘courage of creativity’ within the restraints of the law. This demonstrates the need for a flexible methodology offering creative techniques to translate legal texts and ultimately improve the quality of legal translations. In the age of increasing employment of computer programs also in the legal translation process, the creativity debate is a unique incentive to further strengthen a transdisciplinary approach to the translation task and to develop creative strategies to adequately meet the many and difficult problems arising in legal translation. Concretising the novel understanding of creative freedom in translating legal texts will make the modern legal translator increasingly aware of his creative potential and show him how to make the most of his opportunities to be creative.”
Source: S. Pommer, No Creativity in legal translation? Babel 54/2008, 355-368, 367,
The Transius Centre will hold a Symposium on Corpus Analysis in Legal Research and Legal Translation Studies on 3 June 2016.
As part of this symposium, speakers will discuss how to make corpus analysis more accessible and fruitful in applied research. The advantages and challenges of using different types of corpora and analytical methods will be examined from various interdisciplinary angles.
The symposium will be preceded by a seminar on corpus querying and statistics for corpus linguistics led by Dr Aleksandar TRKLJA (University of Birmingham) in the afternoon of Thursday 2 June. The aim of this seminar is to introduce participants to basic principles and methods of corpus linguistics for the study of interdisciplinary issues in monolingual and multilingual contexts.
For more details please visit the following website:
Registration is now open. Please note that there is a limited number of places to participate, and that they will be attributed on a first-come, first-served basis.