The Jibber Jabber of Precision in Legal Translation

Written by J.D. Ian Barton & Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano;
© (2017)

We have a growing sense of intolerance for many a spineless definition in the legal translation arena. We have to say that every time somebody spits out the nonsensical idea of a given precision in the domain of legal translation we wonder if they have ever known the meaning of the word Beaudoins! (1) In this respect, the relationship between the languages is of only secondary importance in comparison to the relationship between the legal systems.

De Groot (2) had in fact already advised that when no equivalence can be established – and you cannot imagine how many times this will occur – the alternatives are; citation of the non-translated term, paraphrasing and the creation of neologisms or a combination thereof.

By way of example let us take the following criminal law terms:
– German: Straftat;
– Italian: reato;

In point of fact the German Straftat is today classified as Verbrechen or Vergehen while the Italian reato is divided between delitto and contravvenzione (3). It follows that legal translation is not something that can be learned with the words falling into a precise category.

(1) Beaudoins: “absence of universal operational referents”, Legal Translation in Canada, in: Mattila (ed.), The Development of Legal Language, Helsinki (FIN), 2002, at 119.

(2) De Groot “Das Übersetzen juristischer Terminologie” in: De Groot/Schulte (eds), Recht und Übersetzen, Baden-Baden (D), 1999 and “Een tweetalig juridisch woordenboek” [1990] De Juridische Bibliothekaris.

(3) Arntz, The Roman Heritage in German Legal Language, in: Mattila (ed.), The Development of Legal Language, Helsinki (FIN), 2002, at 49.

Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano
Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano

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