Legal Translation Equivalence? Just QUATSCH!


Cambridge International Legal English Certificate
Salvatore Ivan Italiano. Accreditation Number 500/4287/7.

by Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano;
© (2017)

During my years of professional experience with the legal translation, I came to the thought that discourses such the equivalence of legal translation are just mere Quatsch (1)!

How is it ever possible to postulate an equivalence theory in the legal translation when even in the same language the meaning of a legal term differs from system to system to country to country? Thus, “domicile” has one meaning in English British Law and quite different meanings in American jurisdictions”. (2).

Going further we do have another clear truth evidence of what is stated in this article – that is, the polysemic (3) nature of words. For instance, the English word information, when reported by the article 785 of the Canadian Criminal Code, does not have a meaning of ‘information’ in the sense of denouncing something publicly, rather of ‘pressing charges’ or ‘to report’.

After all, Law taken as science is not an exact science at all. In fact, even the very well known term of ‘right’ can refer to different meanings according to the context in which it is embedded. Not to mention that as a linguist, translator and simultaneous interpreter I cannot avoid but to consider that any legal system is made of words reflecting the civilization and the soul of that society within which that legal system was born and progressed. I even have witnessed lawyers fighting over the meaning of ‘should’ lined up in contract clauses … is it an imperative? Or just a conditional tense? The answer to that question would certainly give a different legal output in a given court decision.

However, there is also another element to be taken into account. I am referring to the pusillanimous geist (4) of many a legal translator. I can only suspect that such small-minded embedded thinking derives from a lack of proper knowledge – but that’s not their fault. In fact, in no translation and interpreting Universities are Ancient Roman Law and Comparative Law mandatory exams for one to graduate as a legal translator. That does mean that if one does not really recover such a gap on one’s own, there’s not any hope of having the right weapons to perform properly a professional legal translation.

It seems, instead, that some language Universities are more interested in squeezing the dollar, euro, out of the pocket of students, instead of taking care of their professional training. And I am not talking primarily about American (dollar) Universities!

Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano
Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano

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(1) I love the sound of this German Quatsch word for the American rendering What a crock!

(2) Nadelman (1966, 195).

(3) Polysemic (adjective): capable of having several possible meanings. The polysemic nature of television – the factors which enable different viewers to make different senses of the same text. Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers. 

(4) Spirit. Aha! Have you understood it before having read this footnote? Heilige Geist (Holy Spirit)!