33(1) - 2021

Simonnæs, I. & Kristiansen, M. (Eds.). (2019). Legal translation. Current issues and challenges in research, methods and applications. Frank & Timme

Book review by Leona Van Vaerenbergh


This publication on legal translation, edited by Ingrid Simonnæs and Marita Kristiansen, consists of eighteen chapters divided into four parts: “Legal translation in an EU and international setting” (Part I), “Interdisciplinary approaches to legal translation” (Part II), “Recently adopted translation training curricula and didactics” (Part III), and “Specific features of legal language” (Part IV).

Part I consists of four chapters (Chapters 1-4), three of which deal with legal translation in international institutions. Łucja Biel explores variables that may contribute to creating a model for research on EU legal translation. She proposes to look for affinities between languages and language families and to study “the mutual impact of language versions on each other, in particular the impact of procedural languages (English/French) on other EU languages” (p. 33). Karen Luttermann and Claus Luttermann argue for a European model with two reference languages, which they refer to as the European reference language model (“das Europäische Referenzsprachenmodell”). The translation from the reference languages into the official languages of the member states would be undertaken by the member states that are responsible for rendering European content into national legal semantics. Fernando Prieto Ramos and Albert Morales Moreno analyse the Spanish translation of four new terms representative of three areas of international law (“governance”, “tariff peak”, “tariff escalation” and “hedge fund”) in order to identify the impact of three international institutions – the UN, WTO and EU – on patterns of translation. In Barbara Pozzo’s chapter, the approach to the international setting is a historical one. She describes how the evolution of legal systems is determined by the domination of languages and/or reasons of intellectual prestige, for example she refers to the power “of the Roman Empire, of the Napoleonic Army and of British Colonialism” (p. 65), and to the intellectual prestige of the German School of the Pandectists.

Part II consists of three chapters (Chapters 5-7). In Chapters 5 and 7, an ‘interdisciplinary approach’ means that legal translation implies comparative law and thus a thorough knowledge of law systems. Elena Chiochetti, Flavia De Camillis and Isabella Stanizzi outline how reforms in the domain of family law in Italy and Germany impact the terminology in different legal systems in Italy (Italian), Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy/South Tyrol (German) (see Table 1, p. 125). Gianluca Pontrandolfo investigates the difficulties and constraints of legal translation by giving examples taken from criminal judgements in three legal systems, including common law versus civil law differences in England/Wales (common law), Italy and Spain (civil law). He not only points out constraints on the lexical/terminological level but also differences on the morphosyntactic, the phraseological and the pragmatic levels. The ‘interdisciplinary approach’ in Rosario Martin Ruano’s chapter consists in going beyond Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) and Descriptive Legal Translation Studies (DLST). She interprets legal translation as a “social practice” and as “political acts” (p. 142) and claims that even translation research cannot be neutral.

Part III consists of six chapters (Chapters 8-13). These chapters present initiatives to adapt and innovate training curricula and to deal with problems of legal translation that merit attention in didactics. Anabel Borja Albi and Robert Martínez-Carrasco point out that, in the light of developments in the translation market, the competences and profiles of legal translators will need to be reconsidered. Future-oriented curricula must not only include technological competences but also knowledge of disciplines such as marketing and computational linguistics. Catherine Way also stresses the importance of a dialogue between training and the translation industry. She is of the opinion that adaptation to the needs of the market requires Continuous Professional Development (CDF) (p. 276) and reports on a 15-week introductory course on legal translation that she organised. Her study shows that the course resulted in a positive development of the participants’ translation competences as reflected in the way they perceived and commented on their own weaknesses and difficulties. The other chapters of Part III broach various translation issues: doubts when translating legal collocations mainly due to para-synonymy and polysemy (Christina Dechamps); the understanding of lexical and phraseological units in Italian and German notarial deeds (Eva Wiesmann); the reception of text structuring markers in court decisions rendered by the Cour de Cassation in France and their impact on inference processes (Cornelia Griebel); and the choice of the appropriate translation strategy that should be clarified in the translation brief that informs us about the target and target group of the translation (Juliette Scott). Translation problems present a challenge to translation didactics. Christina Dechamps and Eva Wiesmann both stress that it is important that corpora of authentic legal texts are compiled and available for didactic purposes, with Christian Dechamps focusing on comparable corpora, and Eva Wiesmann on monolingual diachronic source language corpora.

Part IV consists of five chapters (Chapters 14-18) that shed light on specific characteristics of legal language and the translation problems to which they give rise. Two chapters are devoted to the characteristics of Chinese legal language. Deborah Cao discusses the translation of legal terms between English and Chinese and concludes that in many cases equivalent concepts and terms are lacking, and that Chinese legal language is characterized by “imprecision and vagueness” (p. 304). Michele Mannoni has investigated the legal and pragmatic meanings that the phrase “Improper Rights and Interests” has in judgements by the Chinese courts and shows that the phrase should be translated differently depending on its meaning in the given context. Emilia Lindroos focuses on legal phraseological units in legislative texts used in codes of law and reproduced in other legal text genres such as judgements and contracts. These phrasemes are bound to a legal system, so the translator has to search for functional equivalence between legal systems. In her chapter, Ada Gruntar Jermol highlights a feature of legal language usually not associated with the language of law and normative legal texts, that is, the expression of emotions. In the final chapter of the book, Radegundis Stolze pays attention to a series of linguistic specificities that give rise to translation problems, such as speech acts, collocations, standard formulae and structuring elements.

Through its multi-perspective approach to legal translation, this book will reach a diverse group of readers. Translators, lawyers, linguists, translator trainers, as well as researchers in the field of comparative law and translation studies will find interesting insights and challenges.
The division of the eighteen chapters into four parts does not hamper thematic coherence, as certain subjects occur in more than one of the parts. A prominent example is the subject of interdisciplinarity, which is dealt with in each of the four parts. Other recurrent subjects, such as terminology, phraseology and intertextuality are all discussed in the context of the interdisciplinary character of legal translation. In addition to linguistic and translational competence, future (legal) translators are expected to also have technological and marketing competences (Chapter 8) and the training of translators has to take place in cooperation with the translation industry (Chapter 12). This is one aspect of interdisciplinarity. However, in most of the chapters, interdisciplinarity is interpreted as entailing collaboration between the disciplines of law and language. The legal translator is expected to have a thorough knowledge of legal systems with respect to content as well as with respect to legal language (Chapter 7), and legal professionals and translation professionals should collaborate as partners with equal status (Chapter 11). Many chapters pay attention to differences between legal systems and to the need for comparative law on the macro- as well as the microstructural levels. On the microstructural level, the need for comparative law is repeatedly discussed with respect to terminology and phraseology (e.g., chapters 5, 7, 9, 13, 16, 18). A thorough knowledge of legal systems is also required in order to recognize the interconnection between texts, that is, intertextual relations, for example between codes of law and other text genres which reproduce terminology and phraseological units (chapters 1 and 16).

This book addresses readers of different disciplines and professions. It contains practicable recommendations for training and terminological work and opens up interesting perspectives for future research.

April 25, 2021
  33(1) - 2021