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:
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..
Hard on the heels of the very interesting event “Legal translation to the next level” held on 4 February here in London come a series of other events and conferences all relating to the topic. The tagline for the London conference was that legal translators should ‘roar to the world’ about their existence. Another 5 conferences happening this year will certainly help get the message out there about what legal translators do and the important role they play. So here’s a quick round-up of forthcoming legal translation events:Continue Reading..
The role of legal translators, and of legal translation as an activity, is attracting increasing attention, with a host of conferences having been organised on the subject or closely related topics in recent years.
I’ve recently returned from a very interesting and productive conference in Seville entitled, “From Legal Translation to Jurilinguistics: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Language and Law” held at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in late October.
Some of the key themes that emerged at the conference for me were:
Prof. Jan Engberg, an expert in knowledge communication, stressed that legal translation is all about the translator being able to communicate specialised knowledge so that people (typically but not always lawyers) in one knowledge community can understand what is being said by people in another knowledge community. Legal translators mediate and broker the transfer of that knowledge and are interested in solving the linguistic problems that emerge in conveying knowledge. Their primary goal should be to create a text in the target situation that can be read in the right way by its audience. He stressed the importance of comparative law in this regard; which brings us to the next major theme at the conference.
Another broad theme at the conference was the importance of comparative law, and the importance of a transystemic approach to the study of law to enable legal translation to occur more easily because of greater understanding on the part of legal translators of what the concepts involved mean in, and across, legal systems; a topic addressed by Prof. Emerich in her keynote address.
Building on the vital communicative role legal translators play, Juliette Scott, emphasised in her presentation the importance of legal translators correctly positioning themselves in the market, and stressed how important it is for legal translators to choose the correct terms when referring to themselves, primarily because of the impact this has on how the market perceives them as professionals.
In her keynote speech Prof. L. Biel examined the historical development of corpuses in translation and discussed the importance of corpuses so far as a research tool. Since legal language is highly patterned and formulaic, corpuses are proving useful in identifying these patterns; though some translation studies have indicated that despite such high formulaicity, translators often have a tendency to use their own phrases rather than the patterns that would typically be used in corresponding target language texts. Somehow “translation as a process” is interfering. It is to be hoped that corpuses can be operationalised to ensure greater consistency across languages to improve translation quality. Gianluca Pontrandolfo also presented interesting corpus-based research on judicial phraseology, and several other speakers provided practical examples of how corpuses can promote better quality legal translations.
On a related point, several speakers analysed the difficulties one often encounters with legal dictionaries and presented projects aimed at creating better quality legal dictionaries or glossaries, presenting some interesting methodologies such as the ‘least bad possible equivalents’ for terms when two legal systems do not have the same concepts (Frison & Gavrilova) or a participative, interactive glossary-development process (Fiola).
Several other papers addressed the progress made so far in adapting the law in various EU countries to the requirements of the recent directive on translation and interpreting in criminal settings, revealing that transposition has not always been a smooth process.
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.
There can be dire consequences from not translating legal content.
The Siemens bribery trial was characterised by many this past summer as a trial ‘lost in translation’. For those who don’t remember or know the topic, this case is about public contract No. 8002 which the German company Siemens secured and signed in 1997 with the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) which was then publicly owned in order to digitise its network. The investigation of the case was launched by Greek judicial authorities about a decade ago and, as a result, 64 suspects were brought to trial. Amongst them were 13 German nationals, executives of the German company, as well as a French-Swiss banker. According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly bribed Greek politicians and public officials to secure the above mentioned public contract.
On the 12th of July the three-member Court of Appeals in Athens suspended proceedings in the Siemens scandal case for an indefinite period, because the subpoena and the bill of indictment hadn’t been translated into the defendants’ native language. The Court accepted the plea filed by the non-Greek defendants and suspended proceedings until the translation could be completed, even though this suspension could lead to the crimes being prescribed under the statute of limitations. Of course, that is the only decision the Court could have reached, since the right to interpretation and translation for those who do not speak or understand the language of the proceedings is enshrined in Article 6 of the ECHR, as interpreted in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and is further specified by the Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council. According to the Directive the Member States should ensure that there is free and adequate linguistic assistance, allowing suspected or accused persons who do not speak or understand the language of the criminal proceedings fully to exercise their right of defence and safeguarding the fairness of the proceedings. Article 3 of the Directive also makes it quite clear that, “Safeguarding the fairness of the proceedings requires that essential documents, or at least the relevant passages of such documents, be translated for the benefit of suspected or accused persons in accordance with this Directive. Certain documents should always be considered essential for that purpose and should therefore be translated, such as any decision depriving a person of his liberty, any charge or indictment, and any judgment.”
So quite rightly not translating legal content essential for the case was characterised as an even bigger scandal than the Siemens scandal. The Translation Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to which the translation of those documents was assigned, initially stated that all the documents sent to it by the Prosecution Service at the Court of Appeals were translated in time, while the Prosecution Service denied that that was so. After a number of further denials of each side’s claims by the other side, as well as disciplinary actions against State Prosecutors, the Translation Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered the translation of the bill of indictment in the German language on the 15th of September.
But what can we learn from this case about the consequences of not translating legal content?
Besides the Siemens case, there are also other cases where not translating legal content had adverse consequences and often incurred extra costs. A recent excellent example we have already highlighted was the WhatsApp
By Eva Angelopoulou
Eva is an English / German to Greek legal translator. She holds a Master’s in Law and a Postgraduate Degree in Specialised Translation. She worked as a legal practitioner in Greece for 7 years and has been bringing her expertise and knowledge to the translation industry for the last 3 years. She is an SDL-certified translator and is obsessed with languages. Besides working with language, she also really enjoys travelling. She has lived in Greece, Germany and Belgium and is now based in Ireland.
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:
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.”
Lucja Biel, Lost in the Eurofog: The textual fit of translated law, Peter Lang Editions (2014), p. 49