Legal Translator: The translation, The Whole Translation and Nothing But…

legal translator

Legal Translator and Challenges

Technical language in a foreign language is always a big challenge, particularly for a legal translator. With the increasing collaboration between countries in the commercial and economic spheres, the exchange of information flows very quickly.

Having good Dictionaries and Reference Material is Essential

Imagine a French doctor who has the opportunity to take a specialization course in an English-speaking country. Studying the technical terms in English is of paramount importance and a great challenge. This professional will have to study how to say “head”, “surgery”, “scalpel” and other expressions in English. Having good dictionaries and reference material is essential. Once the doctor learns these and other key terms in the English language, he is prepared to take classes in a foreign country.

A Legal Translator Challenge: No Equivalence between Legal Terms in French and English

Let us now look at the example of a lawyer who has the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in law (known as LLM) in the United States. Like the doctor in the paragraph above, he will have to study the technical language in English, in this case, the technical-legal language.

In addition to all the challenges faced by the physician in the search for the acquisition of technical language, the lawyer will face yet another obstacle: the fact that, in the vast majority of times, there is no absolute equivalence between the legal terms in French and English. One of the classic examples given in this situation is the translation, into English, of the term “Dépayser”. While French people describe it as the sensation of being out of place in a foreign country, for a legal translator, it describes the dismissal of a case to be tried in another court.

The Legal Translator must know the Structure of Foreign Law – at least

The legal translator, however, will never be able to meddle in shedding the concept he needs to use in order to express himself correctly.

An essential instrument is the use of comparative law to approximate concepts between legal systems in different countries, that is, with prior knowledge, in this specific case, of the French legal system, the legal translator must dedicate himself to know, at least, the structure of foreign law, only then to start the process of shifting concepts from one language to another.

Comparative Law = know a Term in each Legal System and Distinguish the Common Elements

According to Soares “[…] ‘Comparative Law’ has a reality in the universe of law science, since it will always be possible to carry out a comparison of legal systems in different countries, with scientific methodology, to establish common and differentiated principles, including even a general theory of legal comparativism (in the manner of a universal grammar of all existing languages).

In Comparative Law, the aim is to make a comparison and once this is done, go on to a double task: a) know each term, in isolation, in its individuality and specificity, in each face-to-face system and b) of the approximation of both, distinguish the elements that exist in common and, from the discovery of common values, carry out the comparison.

Comparative Law should provide value judgements of the type ‘are equivalent’, ‘produce similar effects, given the same circumstances’, ‘are comparable, provided that such or which factual elements are disregarded’, judgements that should lead to a final decision that, deep down, it would lie in ‘recognizing an unknown institute’ in its effects, in a certain legal system.”

Dictionaries for the Legal Translator

An emphatic suggestion is the use of legal dictionaries recognized in the market. One of the most respected French – English dictionaries on the market is the Dictionnaire juridique Dahl français-anglais; Dahl’s law dictionary french-english.

A question that many translators ask me is the following: “Is it essential to have a law degree to be a good law translator?”

My answer is: it is not essential to be trained in law to be a good legal translator, however, it is essential, yes, to have basic knowledge of comparative law. Besides, this task is really fun!

Search everything on the Net – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Search everything - the good, the bad and the ugly

Search everything – Let the Duel Begin

The Web is a double-edged swordgun: the same ease of access offered by millions of texts on the most varied subjects allows you to search everything : the good, the bad and the ugly.

Yet, it also allows the publication of all kinds of nonsense, whether intentional or not. Therefore, Internet searches should be done with the upmost care and confirmed at least once more in a relatively safe way. Discovering the missing information out there, replicating it and justifying it because it is “live on the Internet” is like saying, “a stranger on the street once told me”.

Zero reliability.

Techniques to search for the right terminology

Several blogs have made references to Translation and Web Searching by Vanessa Enríquez Raído, in which she gives tips for searching and confirming the translation of an expression on the Internet. In summary, the method consists of:

  1. Search for the original expression requesting results in the other language and/or restricting the search to governmental sites or that inspire confidence.
  2. Take note of the translations (usually more than one).
  3. Review the translations found and compare their number of occurrences.

Searching for the right expression

When searching for expressions with more than one word and between quotation marks, the number of occurrences is much smaller than searching for single words. Therefore, this type of search is more reliable than single words. If one of the words in the expression is wrong or is not the most common use, very few occurrences will be found. Few occurrences, to me, are in the tens and a few hundred. Even something rather obscure appears at a minimum in about 1,000 texts on Google.

In fact, two forms of “classic” research using the Internet corpus are expressions or “collocations” in biology/zoology, for example. The first occurs as explained above, looking for quoted expressions and comparing the number of results. The second is done in a very similar way to the above method:

  1. Research the animal or the plant in the original language and obtain the scientific name.
  2. Search everything by scientific name and get results in the target language.

The hypothesis of all these methods, of course, is that most texts are written by native speakers and are correct. Still, as with any corpus search, the results need to be properly interpreted.

Unfortunately, Google does not have a simultaneous search engine for different queries. The most practical way is to open two browser windows or tabs in Google Chrome or Firefox, one for each search.

Clint Eastwood, search everything and fight

Term1 vs. Term2 – Ready, set, fight!

There is an external mechanism, apparently developed for entertainment purposes, that makes this simultaneous search: Googlefight. Simply fill in the two search boxes and the program searches the two at the same time on Google. After a fight between two little figures, the number of occurrences of each search is displayed.

Two points against: first, the search is done in English. Results can be totally distorted if words are inserted in other languages, as there is no way to report this except adding site domains as filters (e.g. “site:. Fr”) in the search window. Second, only the number of occurrences is provided, without further information. That is, we cannot interpret the results.

Still, it’s an additional tool, which can complement the search on Google itself.

But since I found out about it recently, I would expect something similar offered by Google itself very soon – then yes, this should bring us an interesting gunfight!