Legal Translation

Just stumbled on a wonderful blog on legal translation, at the same time as Deborah Cao at Griffith has published a major monograph on Translating Law.

The prolific Michael Kirby explains the book’s appeal.

Law has a vital part to play in reinforcing communication between nations and peoples. Building the international rule of law is a mighty challenge for the 21st century. We cannot achieve this goal by simply talking away to ourselves, confined within in our own legal jurisdictions and linguistic groups. We must cross the barriers of language. For this we need expert translators of language. And, as Dr Cao points out, we must also be ready to cross the barriers erected by history, culture and institutions. We must hope that when the bridges of understanding are built, there will yet be sufficient commonality to bind humanity together. Law has a part to play in the achievement of this goal. That is why this book addresses a problem of great importance for the future of law and life on this planet.

The translation of law has played an integral part in the interaction among nations in history and is playing a greater role in our increasingly interconnected world today. The book investigates legal translation in its many facets as an intellectual pursuit and a profession. It examines legal translation from an interdisciplinary perspective, covering theoretical and practical grounds and linguistic as well as legal issues. It analyses legal translation competence and various types of legal texts including contracts, statutes and multilateral legal instruments, presents a comparative analysis of the Common Law and the Civil Law and examines the case law from Canada, Hong Kong and the European Court of Justice. It attempts to demonstrate that translating law is a complex act that can enrich law, culture and human experience as a whole.

The table of contents sets out the dimensions of the book’s ambitions:

Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii
The Hon. Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG
Preface . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi
Acknowledgements . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xii
1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
2 Law, Language and Translation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Legal Translation Typology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
The Nature of Legal Language . . . . . . .
Characterising Legal Language. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sources of Difficulty in Legal Translation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Legal Translational Equivalence: Possibility and
Impossibility. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3 The Legal Translator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Translation Competence and Translation Proficiency . . . . . . . .
A Model of Translation Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Exploring Translation Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4 Legal Terminological Issues in Translation . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Major Terminological Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Translating Legal Concepts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Legal System-bound Usage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ordinary Meaning vs. Legal Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Legal Synonyms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Linguistic and Legal Uncertainty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5 Translating Private Legal Documents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Purpose and Status of Translated Private Legal Documents . . . .
Linguistic Features of Private Legal Documents. . . . . . . . . . . .
Differences between the Common Law and Civil Law . . . . . . . .
6 Translating Domestic Legislation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Two Types of Translated Domestic Legislation . . . . . . . . . . . .
Textual Features of Statutes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Pragmatic Feature: Illocutionary Force . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Other Common Linguistic Features of Legislative Texts. . . . . . .
Bilingual Statutory Interpretation and Linguistic
Uncertainty. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7 Translating International Legal Instruments . . . . . . . . . . . . .
International Instruments and their Legal Status . . . . . . . . . . .
Designation of International Instruments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Subject Matters Covered by International Instruments . . . . . . .
Textual Features of International Instruments . . . . . . . . . . . .
Verifying Foreign Language Texts in Bilateral Treaty
Negotiation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Arrangements of Less than Treaty Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Multilingual Instrument Drafting and Translation . . . . . . . . . . .
How the Court Approaches Divergence in Multilingual
Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Use of Translation Technology for Translating
Multilingual Texts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

From a Canadian perspective it seems a pity that the early death of Remi-Michael BeaupréSee Construing Bilingual Legislation in Canada robbed us of the most insightful scholar in an area that is prototypically Canadian. I hope the Cao book gains the readership it deserves.

And to keep the ideas flowing two very interesting recent Canadian pieces: Le bilinguisme législatif et la place de la traduction and La Constitution canadienne en traduction

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