Category: Legal Translation

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.

 

 

“Legal translation has been regarded as the ‘ultimate linguistic challenge’, ‘combining the inventiveness of literary translation with the terminological precision of technical translation’ … It is marked by a strong conflict between accuracy and naturalness. …  This conflict is widespread in all types of translation; however it is escalated in legal translation. Accuracy is of primary importance in legal translation and takes precedence over stylistic considerations.”

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Lucja Biel, Lost in the Eurofog: The textual fit of translated law, Peter Lang Editions (2014), p.  49

Translated law, legal translation and textual fit 

“… legal terms  tend to be incongruous, the degree of incongruity depending on the affinity between the systems and languages… The differences are greater between the common law system and the civil law system … than between two civil law systems … Some areas of law are more prone to globalisation and a harmonisation of concepts, for example, business law tenders to show higher affinity between legal systems than criminal law, subject to the culture-specific axiological and moral assessment of what is socially unacceptable and punishable. The incongruity is one of the major challenges in legal translation: it is found not only at the level of terms but more importantly at the level of concept systems, which affects how conceptual networks and conceptual fields are organised…. In legal translation it is unavoidable for recipients to access the unfamiliar (source language concepts and knowledge structures) through the familiar (target source language concepts and knowledge structures) by establishing epistemic correspondence between incongruous structures.”

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Lucja Biel, Lost in the Eurofog: The textual fit of translated law, Peter Lang Editions (2014), p.  50

 

 

 

“Experts Talk About Legal Translation” is a series of interesting quotes from some of the world’s leading academics and writers from the field of legal translation. The series highlights some of the complexities and difficulties involved in legal translation and seeks to raise awareness among clients, translators and the general public about legal translation which is proving to be one of the fast-growing, most interesting segments of the translation market.

 

“Because of the system-bound nature of legal terms, full equivalence between terms from two legal systems is rare: translators most often deal with partial or zero equivalence / conceptual voids. Kjaer argues that ‘non-equivalence is the rule rather than the exception’ .. When searching for an equivalent, the translator should first decide whether it is possible to use a functional equivalent, also known as a dynamic or natural equivalent, that is a term which exists in the target legal system. This technique is regarded as the ideal solution …; however, Sarvcevic emphasises that its acceptability depends on the degree of incongruity between source language and target language concepts … functional equivalents are possible when incongruity is relatively small …”

Lucja Biel, Lost in the Eurofog: The textual fit of translated law, Peter Lang Editions (2014), p. 42

 

The Athens Bar Association will host an event about “Legal translation: problems and prospects” from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday 7 June 2016 at its premises. Speakers are Professor P. Krimpas who will talk about the translation of legal texts in Greece and P. Alevantis, head of the Athens Office of the Commission’s DG Translation who will talk about the Greek Terminology Network.

 

Source: http://goo.gl/mk2PaI

In the world of legal translation, getting the translation right is vital. Poor quality translation can be costly for the parties involved as a recent case from India indicates, when the court imposed a fine after one of the parties filed a text packed with poor grammar, incorrect sentence construction, wrong choices of words and inappropriate punctuation.

NDTV reported a few weeks ago that the Indian Supreme Court imposed a fine for a poor quality translation of a judicial order from a lower court on the grounds that it was ungrammatical and difficult to comprehend. The report indicates that the judges had to spend considerable time attempting to figure out the intended meaning of the court order because of the grammatical errors in the translation. It appears that the lawyer in the case failed to check over this specific legal translation before submitting it to the court and was reprimanded by the court for failing to do so.

The moral of the story: commission people skilled in legal translation to do the translation for you, and ensure your documentation is proofread by someone else, or at the very least reviewed by you before using it.

 

 

“The fuzziness of the category of legal translation derives from the fuzziness of the category of legal language. Legal translation is unquestionably a type of specialised translation and, as demonstrated by Asensio, is notoriously difficult to define through traditional criteria applied to specialised translation … As to the degree of specialisation, legal translation is not only a communication between experts but also may be addressed to citizens (e.g. judgments, legislation). In respect of the subject matter, it should be treated as a category with fuzzy boundaries, as law regulates various fields and areas of life and the ‘legal frame of activity’ may sometimes be decisive in classifying a text as legal translation.”

Lucja Biel, Lost in the Eurofog: The textual fit of translated law, Peter Lang Editions (2014), p. 50-51

“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

Not translating legal content can be costly

Legal translation is becoming increasingly important in a globalised economy,

Legal translation: not translating legal content can be costly

A recent German court ruling highlights the importance of legal translation in an increasingly globalised market. Social media apps have a massive user base. App developers understand the importance of localising their content for the markets they operate in, but terms and conditions of use, privacy policies and other legal content may not necessarily be translated into the local language, as this case indicates.

The language industry blog Slator reported the other day that WhatsApp faces a potential € 250,000 fine for failing to translate the applications’ terms and conditions of use from English into German so local users could comprehend them.

Proceedings were brought before Berlin’s Kammergericht court by a local consumer organisation (VZBZ) because key terms and conditions of use of the application and the privacy policy had not been translated into German and had been left in English.

While WhatsApp content is available in German, the consumer organisation which launched the case complained that the terms and conditions contained “technical legal language”, meaning it was mostly incomprehensible to German users of the app.

Berlin’s Kammergericht court acknowledged that many Germans are capable of getting by in everyday English but that legal English is not something they are familiar with. The VZBV’s press release on the ruling states that “The court noted that no customer should have to face ‘an extensive, complex set of rules with a very large number of clauses’ in a foreign language,” thereby highlighting the importance of translating key legal terms when localising apps for other markets.

VZBZ’s press release also points out that “in the absence of a German translation, all the clauses lack transparency and are therefore legally void”.

The cost of legal translations is often minimal compared to the costs that can be payable in the event of litigation or administrative proceedings. Slator points out that WhatsApp would have paid around € 1,500 to get the documentation translated before publishing the content, but the cost could now be a € 250,000 administrative fine.


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