Category: Legal Translation

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.”


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.



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:

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.

“From a legal point of view, adding or subtracting information in legal translation is a high-risk procedure, because of the potential change of legal meaning and/or effect of the target text, and therefore it is reasonable to assume that explicitation and implicitation will be a relatively rare phenomenon in legal translation”

Hjort-Pedersen, M. & Faber, D. (2010), “Explicitation and implicitation in legal translation – A process study of trainee translators” Meta: Translators’ Journal 55(2), 237-250 at 238

The Mau Mau case involving compensation for 44,000 Kenyans tortured in the 1950s while the country was under colonial rule looks like it could be interesting from a legal translation viewpoint.Continue Reading..

“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


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