Ius et Translatum: English-Greek / Greek-English Legal Glossary – A review
Marta Chromá has written that “legal translation implies both a comparative study of different legal systems and an awareness of the problems created by the absence of equivalent concepts, legal institutions, terms and other linguistic units. As pointed out by Kischel … ‘the question in legal translation is not which translation is right, but more modestly, which one is less wrong’”. Legal translators are engaged in a “jurilinguistic battle”, as Chromá puts it, and the bilingual legal dictionary/glossary/terminological tool –call it what you will– is their main weapon. Academics have regularly identified legal translators among the principal users of legal dictionaries and terminological tools, since they need “to understand the legal concepts present in the source text, their legal implications and the way the concepts influence the meaning of the text”. In that context, Sandrini suggests too that dictionaries or terminographical products should function to “provide as much information as possible”, offering accurate “information useful for the understanding of the source text and helpful for the decisions to be taken with regard to the situation-dependent communicative factors while composing the target text”. The question, though, is whether the “weapons” on the market are in any way fit for that purpose.
A few years back I had occasion to write about the paucity of good (reliable) Greek-English/English-Greek legal dictionaries for translation purposes. Building on a model for assessing the quality of legal dictionaries developed by Gerard-Rene de Groot and Conrad J.P van Laer, I proposed a couple of extra criteria that translators –as users of the dictionaries– would be interested in looking at when assessing whether a particular dictionary is useful to them or not. The basic upshot was that most of the existing dictionaries didn’t perform well in this benchmarking process. Hardly surprising, since de Groot and van Laer found pretty much the same results for nearly all the dictionaries they had looked at back in 2008.
Back then, I wasn’t aware of the Ius et Translatum series of glossaries. The series now consists of 4 works: a Greek-German / German-Greek civil law glossary, a Greek-German / German-Greek public law glossary, an English-Greek / Greek-English legal glossary and, most recently, Greek-German / German-Greek criminal law glossary. For the purposes of this review, I’ll focus on the English-Greek / Greek-English Legal Glossary (Ius et Translatum Press, ISBN: 978-960-93-8419-3, Price: €/£/$ 70) since that’s the language combination I work with.
The book covers a broad spectrum, featuring terms/phrases from civil, commercial, criminal and public law and is quite long at 656 pages, with each language direction accounting for roughly half the book. All the works in the series have the same structure and layout. The brains behind the series is Eleni Nanaki, a Greek lawyer and translator who lives and works in both Greece and Germany, whom I interviewed back in 2018 about her series of glossaries. Her motivation in creating this series is that, “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. … 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”. In taking this approach, Nanaki clearly sets herself apart from the authors of typical GR-EN/EN-GR legal dictionaries. As I said earlier, there are quite a few of those legal dictionaries on the market, most of which are not really fit for purpose from a translator’s viewpoint. Most are mere wordlists. And, whether she knows it or not, the author of these glossaries, appears to have rectified quite a few of the problems associated with your typical Greek-English/English-Greek legal dictionaries. Most of them were not written specifically with the translator in mind, nor are they particularly well structured, organised or thought out. By contrast with the existing offerings on the market, it’s very clear that the author of the Ius et Translatum series has devoted considerable time and thought to how the materials are to be arranged, and how her works can be practically useful for a working translator, possibly because she has experience as a translator herself. So they are a considerable improvement on what has been available thus far; of course, there’s room for improvement too –there always is– and I highlight some of those areas below.
The glossary I’m reviewing consists of the following sections: (a) An introduction to general law terms, (b) Civil law, which reflects the way the Greek Civil Code is divided up into books, so each part in that section here contains the terminology relevant to that book of the Code, (c) Commercial law, (d) Criminal law and (e) Public law. Coverage of civil law terms is very adequate but I’d like to see more entries for criminal and public/administrative law in any subsequent editions. I’d also like to see more terminology related to procedural law; it creeps in everywhere and my experience of existing GR-EN/EN-GR legal dictionaries is that they ignore it to a large degree. It’s vital in what legal translators do, and should be in any great legal dictionary. There’s some of it here (especially in relation to criminal law) but more is always welcome, particularly for civil procedure. A wide number of different sources have been used in compiling the glossary. They include other dictionaries and glossaries (listed at the end), court judgments, law reports, legal monograms.
From discussions with the author, it’s clear that considerable effort has been made to correspond equivalent terms to each other. Since legal systems differ tremendously, equivalence across legal systems can vary dramatically; in many cases there may not even be any equivalent for the source term in the target language. “The selection of ‘proper’ equivalents … is one of the most important requirements for compiling a good (reliable) bilingual legal dictionary [glossary]”. And “although there no exact computational means of measuring the degree of equivalence” de Groot and van Laer recommend some sort of indication of equivalence on a scale ranging from full equivalence, through approximate and partial equivalence to no equivalence at all, and I agree with that that such an approach is useful for the working translator. Likewise, Sandrini suggests that simple symbols like = for full equivalent, +/- for partial equivalence and ≠for no equivalence can be very useful in this regard. I’d strongly recommend that the author consider this in any subsequent version of the work because it would improve the day-to-day usefulness of the book. Take for example leasehold as an English translation of the Greek term μίσθιο. The concept of leasehold doesn’t exist in the Greek legal system strictly speaking, because it is a child of the common law. If leasehold is to stay in the glossary, it could be marked with +/- to indicate to the translator that there isn’t an exact match here, and some additional explanatory material would be useful, though a gloss like leased premises/leased property, would work much better. Without such information “translators of legal terminology are obliged to practice comparative law in order to find an equivalent in target language legal system for the term of the source language legal system”. Including additional information like that means the translator has less comparative law research to do, and busy translators are ideally “looking for ready-made equivalents to insert into their translations” given the time constraints they often work under.
Another interesting feature of the book is that it groups terms / phrases from areas of law all together, which helps contextualise terms/phrases in the legal translator’s mind, which can help considerably with the choice of right term. So if we come back to the same of leases/leasehold, most of the terms relevant to leasing property and typically found in a lease agreement are together in one place. You won’t find everything, but the grouping of such terms together is useful indeed for the working translator; and hopefully future editions will see the relevant terms added to, thereby further improving its usefulness.
Thankfully too, numerous options aren’t presented for each term, as is common in the wordlist style of GR-EN/EN-GR legal dictionaries. That certainly makes this book more user friendly and is in line with the “one concept – one entry” approach espoused by Sandrini. Anywhere alternatives are presented they tend to focus on alternative adjectives in the phrase (current/present prices, brisk/lively market), rather than presenting a list of possible alternative terms.
Looking at the strengths and upsides, we have the good layout and structure, excellent organisation and terminology that corresponds to the relevant sections of the Codes or areas of law all grouped together in one convenient place. Plus the index is well done, making it easy to search between language versions. Important acronyms and abbreviations used in the legal systems concerned are presented in separate sections making it a good reference tool in that regard. Any important differences in terminology between jurisdictions are flagged up with UK and US as markers, though it’s often useful to flag up the fact that certain terms may be antiquated, or no longer in current use (say claimant and plaintiff); again that’s something the author can consider for future editions. More markers of this sort in future editions would be very useful.
As mentioned above, the glossary also comes with some examples of legal documents in the different languages. According to the author, this helps users of the book become “familiar with how [terms are] used in actual legal documents” but from experience and from discussions with other translators few ever actively refer to such documents, so I’m not convinced they really need to be included, though some of the examples provided are useful.
Overall, this glossary is a clear departure from the style of existing GR-EN/EN-GR legal dictionaries and definitely much easier to use than say Hiotakis’ Greek-English Law Dictionary. The glossary may not be anywhere near as comprehensive as Hiotakis’ work, in terms of entries –and according to the author this is due to the time spent on working out equivalences as best as possible- but the very strong focus on “useability” and “user experience” are steps in the right lexicographical direction. I’d say the strong points far outweigh any weaknesses, and the author should look addressing the latter as a way of improving any future editions. Definitely a useful addition to a GR-EN/EN-GR legal translator’s armoury.
 M. Chromá, Translation and the law dictionary, p. 117, in Legal Lexicography: A comparative perspective (ed.) M. Mac Aodha.
 M. Chromá, op. cit. 125.
 P. Sandrini, Multilingual Legal Terminology in a paper dictionary, p. 145, in Legal Lexicography: A comparative perspective (ed.) M. Mac Aodha.
 id. p. 148
 de Groot, R. and van Laer, Conrad, The Quality of Legal Dictionaries: An Assessment (October 21, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1287603 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1287603, see too De Groot, Gerard-René and Laer, Conrad J.P. van (2006) “The Dubious Quality of Legal Dictionaries,” International Journal of Legal Information: Vol. 34 : Iss. 1, Article 6. Available at: https://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/ijli/vol34/iss1/6
 M. Chromá, p. 129
 M. Chromá, p. 129
 P. Sandrini, p. 149
 C. Van Laer, Bilingual legal dictionaries: Comparison without precision? in p. 75 Legal Lexicography: A comparative perspective (ed.) M. Mac Aodha.
 M. Chromá, p. 130
 P. Sandrini, p. 145
Sounds like an invaluable tool. Well done, Eleni Nanaki. Now, to find 70 euros!