Launching a new series of interviews with legal translators and experts in the field of legal translation, we have an interview with Eleni Nanaki, Attorney at Law LL.M – author and publisher of the bilingual legal glossaries in the ius et translatum series who talks to us about challenges in legal translation as seen by an international lawyer…
Welcome Eleni, to this first in our new series of interviews. Tell me a little bit about your background.
|I am a Lawyer with a LL.M, and have been practising since 2004. I studied law at the Democritus University of Thrace and the Free University of Berlin. After my studies in law, I started practising as a paralegal with the Greek Consulate in Berlin, the District Attorney’s Office and the Law Office of Nikolaos Hatzimichelakis in Chania on Crete, in order to prepare for the Bar Exams. I did my Masters at the University of Potsdam in Germany focusing on Public, European and International Law under the supervision of Prof. Dr. E. Klein, a former ad hoc judge with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and also a former judge with the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.|
By the time I had completed my studies and I was admitted to the Bar, I was already fluent in English, German, Spanish and French, I held a license to teach English and I was already translating legal documents for other attorneys and institutions in Greece and in Germany and I was an appointed interpreter at the Court of Chania for the English, German and Spanish languages. Later, in 2012 I followed an online course in Project Management with the National Kapodistrian University of Athens in cooperation with the International Project Management Association, as well as an online course with Shanghai University in Intercultural Communication and I got a license to teach German as a foreign language (Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom). In 2012, after having worked with various companies and institutions in Greece, Germany and France in Law, Project Management and Communication, I launched my current projects, Ius et Translatum (Law and Translation, www.ius-et-translatum.com) and Competent Consultancy for Internationals (www.eleninanaki.com). Ius et Translatum is a series of bilingual legal glossaries that I write and publish, and Competent Consultancy for Internationals offers legal consultancy to individuals and legal persons in the fields of international private law, international commercial law, real estate and insurance law in Greece, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. For the past two years I have been Human Resources Manager and Operations Manager for an award-winning Startup in Berlin and a Legal Consultant for Migrants in the Greek, English, Spanish, French and German languages in Labour Law and Social Insurance Law for the Federal German Association of Workers (DGB) and their association, Arbeit und Leben e.V.
You mentioned you deal with a lot of international cases. What is legal translation seem from the perspective of an international lawyer?
Legal translation in legal cases with international aspects is vital since the original document is not considered, as it cannot be read. The translated document replaces the original. Therefore, when handling cases with international aspects, most of the documents are translations of the originals.
Legal documents are all documents referring to legal issues, that have legal effects, such as claims, demands, certificates and the like. Also whatever document is brought before the courts or public offices that can influence or form legal relationships is a legal document.
How do you view legal translation today with international relations as they stand?
First of all, one has to understand, that despite globalisation, there is still no dominant language for legal terminology or one language that guarantees a passport to understanding others. Latin and Greek used to be the key languages in understanding the basic terminology of all the sciences in the past; a sort of lingua franca. Even if a basic common Latin legal terminology exists and is still used in many legal systems, there is still no unified terminology at international level or one language. Seen from a cultural perspective, that is natural and more than welcome. Seen from the perspective of an international lawyer, there is still a lot to work to do in the field of legal translation.
Our global economy has given birth to new international legal relationships, where different legal systems coexist and translation plays a fundamental role in coping with these relationships. Of course, we are much more advanced than in the past and there is a lot of progress being made, but judging by the translated legal transcripts and translated legal texts I regularly see, we are still far from achieving the best result possible, in the sense of whether these translations can really be used in a case, if they are not accurate.
Translation studies at university is a new field of study, having only been added in recent years. This has started to bear fruit. Young translators connect via forums and online groups, they attend online international seminars and exchange ideas and the quality in legal translations has improved significantly. Around ten years ago, it was really difficult for professional translators to exchange ideas and opinions, research the terminology and accurately translate legal terms that were not in legal dictionaries and glossaries. Nowadays, universities make extensive use of student exchange programmes, organise international seminars and forums and work on the creation of database tools that can be used broadly. Studies nowadays reflect the spirit of our era. The key in all areas –and in legal translation in particular– is to research and to connect.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges in legal translation?
The main challenges in legal translation, as in most professional fields, are efficiency and accuracy. Nowadays, we need to keep pace with modern technologies, be fast and effective, and above all, cost effective, if we want to be competitive.
When it comes to legal translation, the translated document has to make sense in the target country. It has to be read as an original; even better, one should not notice the difference at all. In order to achieve this result, we need professional legal translators or lawyers with expertise in legal translation.
In addition to that, one has to be familiar with legal terminology. And therein lies the rub. What makes legal terminology special is that, when using it, one can form or affect legal relationships. One can describe a legal relationship, but unless one names it by its name, which is to say unless one uses the correct legal term, one risks the judge or attorney or civil servant or whoever this document is addressed to, misunderstanding the nature of the legal relationship and the private or legal person to whom this document refers to, being deprived of his/its legal rights or being burdened with unnecessary legal obligations. Therefore accuracy is the cornerstone in legal translation, as it is in legal science itself.
The challenge is not just to be familiar with legal terminology and to understand it, but also to know the legal systems in question. From a lawyer’s perspective, I’m not sure that this is something we can really demand from professional legal translators, since, to my mind, for that one needs to be practising law. What one can expect from a professional legal translator though, is to use the broadest set of resources available when working. That means using professional translation tools in order to be able to search and find the correct term. Even better, after doing the search, one should check actual legal texts to confirm that the term is indeed accurate, in the sense that it corresponds to the same legal relationship in both countries. The internet can be a good starting point for checking the accuracy of legal terminology. One can look things up online, like court decisions and other legal documents; read through them, in order to spot the accurate term being used in specific legal contexts.
While the internet can be useful, one really needs professional tools: dictionaries, glossaries and legal monographs and text books. As in all sciences, the key is to search, to find, to study, and then to apply what you’ve learned in practice. This involves dedicating a certain amount of time and energy to research.
Could you give me a practical example of a challenge you have faced in the documents you translate?
The most common challenges in legal translation for an international lawyer are incorrect translations in public certificates and court decisions. Many times, the translation does not make any sense in the target language, so we need to rephrase it, correct it, send it back to the client and ask him to have it redone correctly, in order to be able to use the document or certificate. This means extra time (which is in most cases very important, since all steps before the courts are tied into timelines), extra money and a lot of diplomacy towards colleagues who have missed the right term to describe the critical legal relationship. One simple and very common example of the above is the term used for purchases of plots of land in the Greek and German languages. Whereas in Greek legal terminology the contract for the purchase of a plot emphasises the element of “sale”, in the German language the corresponding term emphasises the element of “purchase”. Unless one uses the correct term, the contract cannot be classified correctly and registered accordingly. The same applies with most certificates in inheritance law, that differ from one country to the other and are among the most commonly seen civil law documents. Needless to say, courts and their officials tend not to be that flexible and will make little effort to understand any meaning that differs from what they expect to find in a document. We cannot risk losing a case because of a document that is not correctly translated. As lawyers when we refer to documents, its either the right document you need, and you can use it, or you do not present the document at all if there is something not quite right about it. Risk is a factor we take very seriously in law.
How do you think these challenges in legal translation can be overcome, besides acquiring good tools and using them? In what way can legal translation become more efficient?
Education and training is vital in all professions. Translation studies is still a very young field. The discipline is moving in a good direction, though. I would definitely start with education and training.
Of course, translation is one of the humanities. It is not technology, so we don’t really have the same means or funds available to us. We need to support it and help it grow because translation –and legal translation in particular- has such a major role to play in our global world. Translation is not the mediator, it is the means of comprehending.
Seen from the perspective of an organisation, it is the central administration office. People tend not to acknowledge its importance, unless something goes wrong. We need to change that.
You are the author of three bilingual legal glossaries, two of them are Greek-German/German-Greek and the third one is a Greek-English/English-Greek legal glossary. Were the challenges you mentioned above your motivation for writing them?
And a fourth one is coming out, now at the end of October, a Greek-German/German-Greek legal glossary of Penal Law
Indeed, the aforementioned challenges were one of the reasons I wrote the books, since my books include not just terms but also legal texts.
I have always been more a lawyer or someone who handles legal cases and consults on legal matters, rather than a translator. Nevertheless, I have translated numerous legal transcripts, claims, certificates and the like. I’ve always been astonished by the fact that there were only a few dictionaries in the field and no proper bilingual legal glossaries on the Greek market referring to legal terminology. I’m a big fan of legal glossaries and I use them in various languages: English, German, French, Spanish. I thought it is unfair for those working in the Greek language who need to translate legal texts not to have access to such tools since glossaries differ greatly from dictionaries.
In what sense?
A glossary is thematic, it has examples, an annex with documents and certificates, notes, explanations. It is much more than just words set out in alphabetical order, like in a dictionary. What I like with legal glossaries, is that one can navigate through the terminology and can also get familiar with how it is used in actual legal documents. That is how I structured my books; by thematic field.
Tell me a bit more about your glossaries.
The first Greek-German/German-Greek legal glossary covers civil law. In terms of structure it reflects the five books into which the Greek and German Civil Codes are divided, and the chapters within each part of the glossary correspond to the chapters of the Civil Code itself.
The second one focuses on public law, again Greek-German/German-Greek and the third one, the English-Greek/Greek-English glossary, covers all main areas of law.
All have a similar structure.
They are divided into units corresponding to an area of law. Then each unit is divided into chapters corresponding to the provisions of that law and each chapter is divided into paragraphs, according to the terms and their sub-terms, the adverbs/adjectives and the verbs.
I’ve also added examples at the end of each chapter taken from legal texts or the actual legislation. This is the first part of the book.
The second is the annex. In the annex one finds legal documents and certificates from both countries that correspond to each other, so one can familiarise oneself with legal documents which are the same in essence but different in form.
In addition to the legal documents and the certificates I have added common legal abbreviations to all the books since a lot of them are used in law. I’ve also added footnotes, when the same legal relationship is described differently in other languages.
Can you give me an example?
Sure. To focus on how the same legal relationship is described differently, let’s take a simple example from contract law; these sort of things can be a very common cause of confusion in legal translations. The focus in Greek law is on absolute and relative invalidity or nullity of the contract whereas English law focuses instead on the absolute and relative validity of the contract. Or if you look at tort law and negligence and the idea of diligence / duty of care, you see the same legal relationship is being described but with a different name; in essence though the requirements are the same. In Greek law the tort of negligence exists and due diligence as such falls under its ambit. Yet the Greek legal system avoids defining diligence or duty of care. The emphasis is straight on the concept of negligence, since this is the relationship that needs to be regulated from a Greek viewpoint, since this is mostly what society encounters. And let us not forget that law regulates existing social relationships. In the UK, though, it is clearer that the focus is more on the duty of care, on being diligent, since the law starts from the assumption that people are diligent and so describes due care.
And let’s not forget that a major issue with the English language in particular is that there are many differentiations, depending if we are dealing with legal documents from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia or some other English-speaking legal orders. For example, the English legal term guardian is conservator in American legal terminology, so one always needs to bear in mind the target legal system and the terms they use there.
… but coming back to what I was saying earlier about the content of the books … the Greek-English/English-Greek legal glossary also includes legal adages, Latin legal terminology, notes on the different legal systems, laws from the UK and Greece relating to the same topics, and of course again legal documents, like the rest of the books. Plus at the end of all the books, I have added two alphabetical indexes that allow you to search for a term in either language and find the corresponding term in the other language.
What prompted you to write the books?
I wrote the books because I felt I needed to give something back to law as a discipline; they are a sort of thank you, for everything the law has given me. Since I had acquired extensive experience in legal terminology working outside Greece, I thought this was a field I could usefully contribute to. That’s why I created these glossaries … so that anyone working with translation and the law from the Greek language into other languages, or vice versa, could have a useful tool in their hands.
My objective was to offer a holistic view of legal terminology. My wish was to enable one to navigate through the common legal terminology in the two languages in the legal context where that terminology belongs. The terms are not simply translated from one language to the other, rather correspondences have been worked out.
Interesting. Tell me some more about that…
I wrote the books as a legal study between the two legal systems. That means, I was and I am still working using law books as tools. In the continental European Legal System, Codification of the basic legal rules derives from the same roots, therefore most of the legal relationships exist in most of the European legal systems. My task was to examine which legal relationships exist in both countries and then match up their terminology. In some cases I used the Greek Law as a header and searched what the corresponding German legal terminology is, like in my first book, I. Civil Law, whereas in others, I used the German law as a compass and searched what the corresponding Greek legal terminology was, like in the second part of my second book, II. Public Law – B. Administrative Law.
My books have the same format, reflecting the way in which the law itself is structured. The Chapters of the books are the chapters of the law and the provisions of each Law Section forms the terminology of each chapter in the book. I avoided translating by using commonly-employed terms or describing/paraphrasing a term if this does not exist in the other legal system. For that, I have used the footnotes, as noted above, which indicate that there is no correspondence/equivalence or only partial equivalence. The examples at the end of each chapter correspond to Law provisions and the documents I have used are legal documents and certificates of the corresponding Law Section that are broadly used or often translated, like birth and death certificates, tenancy agreements, employment contracts and other documents relevant to the Law Section in question.
My intention was to paint a picture of the law of Greece together with the law of the other country in one frame, to match up the legal relationships, present the provisions of law as they are in the law books in both countries and present practical examples of these law sections. Above all, my purpose was to offer to the translator – lawyer, and the legal translator in particular, an overview of both legal systems, their law provisions, their legal certificates and their legal documents. I wanted to make sure that they know what is expected of them, how the target legal terminology appears in a document, so they can produce an accurate translation.
Thank you very much Eleni for your time.