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2. Legal English.

A translation-oriented perspective

Danet (1984:3) frames the linguistic field of the legal language as formal, frozen and
consultative involving a specific register and style which highlight the idea of correctness,
conciseness and clearness of intentions and actions for as it must contain a high capacity of
information, strict logic and a clear rhythm of sentences as endorsed by Crystal and Davy in
Investigating English Style (1979: 34). It is thus plainly clear that lay persons find it
difficult to comprehend such a language, despite the numerous efforts at simplification,
among which the Plain English Campaign is worth mentioning. Therefore, even nowadays,
legal English still stands as a highly specialised and distinctive field of English.
Described by Tiersma (2008:7) as an "archaic, formal, impersonal and wordy or
redundant" language which can be relatively precise or quite general and vague, depending on
the strategic intention of the drafter, legal language is also defined by Melinkoff (1994:26) as
being characterised by an extraordinary precision and ambiguity.
Any discussion of the concept of English legal language should be premised by the
perception that [our] law is a law of words (Tiersma) inasmuch as law, as a body of rules,
while aiming at ordering human relations and restoring social order (as endorsed by Danet) is
closely connected to the language that it uses being further subject to its constrains. However,
due to the complex nature and functionality of law, legal language has developed particular
socio-linguist features as well as lexical, syntactic, pragmatic and discursive particularities to
fulfil the demands of the law and accommodate the idiosyncrasies of law and its application
according to Cao (1996: 20).
Featured by such particular sociolinguistic features and highly specialised
occupational practices, legal language has been accounted as attaching profound implications
to the task of translation, broadly defined as an interdisciplinary special and specialised area
of translational activity. Thus, a central question that may arise when featuring legal language
is to what type of translation is legal translation attributable. With reference to this
perspective, a fundamental approach to translation typology highlights two main categories,
i.e. literary an non-literary translation, while parallel terminologies such as ideational
(technical and non-technical) and interpersonal (fictional and non-fictional) have been also
introduced and used within the field of Translation Studies by House (1977). Furthermore,
Delisle (1988) distinguishes between the translation of pragmatic texts and the translation of
literary or artistic texts. In the same spirit, Sager (1993) proposes a classification model based
on language use and the division of natural and artificial language, thus he distinguishes two
types of translation, i.e. literary and industrial translation.
Regarding the differences and especially the similarities that may occur among the
various types of translations postulated by prominent scholars within the field of Translation
Studies, Snell-Hornby (1998) puts forward the so-called natural categorization that is, in the
form of prototypes that have a hard core and blurred edges (1988: 27). Thus, need to
acknowledge that the categories of translation involve different language uses which display
both specific particularities as well as common features. Admittedly, Snell Hornby (ibid:51)
highlights that translation typology is not a polarised dichotomy but a spectrum that admits
overlapping, a question of quality and intensity, and not one of fundamental differences, as

differences between general and specialised translation are of degree not of kind, as
postulated by Vermeer in Starting to Unask What Translatology is About (1988:35).
In this context, Cao (1995) characterises legal language as prominently linked, on the
one hand, to the normative, performative and technical nature of the language use and, on the
other hand, to the inherent interdetermined nature of the language in general. Thus, based on
the general/literary and the specialised/technical classification of translation, we could
envisage that legal translation falls under the specialised or technical category of translation.
The adherence of legal language to this category involves the use of special language, i.e. LSP
in the context of law or of language for legal purposes LLP. Cumulatively, legal language has
the characteristics of technical translation, though it also shares some features of the general
translation. Admittedly, Joseph (1995:14) endorses that the translation of legal texts of any
kind, from statutes to contracts and courtroom testimonies, is a practice that stands at the
crossroad of legal theory, language theory, and translation theory.
Legal translation can be further classified according to different criteria, even though
most of the sub-classifications proposed by various scholars are operationalised in terms of
the subject-matter of the source language text. Cao (ibid: 21) mentions various such
classifications as for example: - translating domestic statutes and international treaties; translating private legal documents; - translating legal scholarly works; - translating case law.
From the perspective of the functions of the legal text in the source language, Sarcevic (1997)
distinguishes between: - primarily descriptive texts, e.g. law, regulations, codes, contracts,
treaties as regulatory instructions; - primarily descriptive and an prescriptive texts, e.g.
judicial decisions and legal instruments such as actions, briefs, appeals, requests and purely
descriptive texts: scholarly works, legal texts books, articles, etc. Such classifications are
highly relevant and useful when featuring legal translation, yet, not without flaw.
Accordingly, Cao highlights the fact that they are based on the function or use of the original
legal text in the source language, without due regard to the various target language factors,
excluding at the same time communication between layers and non-lawyers, since such texts
types make up a large part of the legal translators workload in real life, as postulated by
Harvey (2000). In the same spirit, Trosborg (1991: 78) advocates the importance of the
cultural variable in legal translations emphasising the importance of the cultural awareness on
behalf of the legal translator beside his ability to manipulate over the linguistic barriers of the
two languages.
Rendering translation of legal texts in the light of the purposes of the target language
texts, Cao (2006) proposes a tripartite classification:
legal translation for normative purposes, i.e. the production of equally authentic legal texts
in bilingual an multilingual jurisdiction of domestic laws and international legislation, for
example the translation of the multilingual laws of the EU, here the communicative purpose
of the SL and of the TL texts is identical;
legal translation for informative purposes, i.e. the translation of statues, court decisions or
scholarly works where the translation is intended to provide information to the target
readership. Here the SL is the only legally enforceable language;
legal translation for general or judicial purpose. Such translations are primarily
informative, descriptive, used in the court proceedings as part of the documentary evidence.
The translation of such documents is used by clients who do not speak the language of the

court or by lawyers and courts that otherwise may not be able to access the originals, e.g.
contracts, correspondence, records.
In other words, legal translation refers to the translation of texts used in law and legal
settings. Legal translation is used as a general term to cover both the translation of law and
other communications in legal settings. Therefore, for the legal translator it is important to
ascertain the status and the communicative purpose of both the ST and the TT. In this
context, the translator should be able to resort to both encyclopaedic as well as specific
knowledge, performing the task of a communicator while translating the ST into the TT to
be used by a target audience in another culture, showing appropriate use of language and a
correct organisation and structure of the discourse.
Microscopically, the legal translator should possess grammar competence (also
termed formal competence), sociolinguistic competence (also socio-cultural competence;
context-embeddedness or knowledge of the relationship between language and its extralinguistic context, awareness of language variations - intraspeaker variation as identity
markers - geographical, temporal, social dialects; interspeaker variation with regard to level of
formality/tenor, field and mode), discourse competence (ability to combine form and meaning
to achieve unified spoken or written text in different genres), strategic competence (mastery
of communication strategies to improve communication or to avoid or compensate for
breakdowns), and intercultural competence (roughly equated to awareness of cultural
Within this framework, we mention Cao's (1996) multilayered model of translation
proficiency, based on Bachmans model of communicative language ability. This consists of
three components or sets of variables:
Translational Language Competence (further including four groups of sub-competencies,
i.e. grammatical sub-competence, textual sub-competence, illocutionary sub-competence,
sociolinguistic sub-competence );
Translational Knowledge Structures, accounting for subject matter knowledge. This partly
corresponds to the factual knowledge used by Lrscher (1991), knowledge base used by
Sager (1993) or subject competence described by Neubert (1994, 2000). In short,
translational knowledge structures refer to the knowledge about the world and about the
subject matter necessary for communication to take place in intercultural and interlingual
Translation Strategic Competence, involving a processing and synthesizing ability, in
order to integrate the two other components in the translation process.
To put in a nutshell, we could state that in order to perform the task of legal translation
the translator should adhere to the common common framework competences set up by the
Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) in cooperation with higher education institutions
in April 2007 and officially launched in December 2009, considering that the aim of the EMT
(English Masters in Translation) is to was to produce the following:
a generic description of the tasks and competences of translators to match the needs of the
translation industry and public bodies, such as the EU institutions;
a draft of a European model curriculum that addresses these requirements and could
thereby enhance the status and quality of the translation profession.

According to the EMT framework of competences, irrespective of the translation type,

i.e. broadly speaking, general translation and specialised translation, the translators
competence harmoniously combines multidimensional complex features:
interpersonal dimension : the translators work is not self-contained; it interrelates
interactively, being shaped by internal and external factors alike. Translators initiate and
maintain socio-professional relations; they network and accomplish tasks on translation
events via cooperation.
the product dimension: the end product as the translation deliverable seemed to be
attached overriding importance as readily available for assessment and use. The translator is
committedly-orientated to quality assurance as a career management prerequisite;
language competence as twofold: language mastery (L1 and L2) as well as specialised
knowledge acquisition in order to secure a smooth, natural and an error-free version of the
the sociolinguistic dimension: translation is context embedded; therefore, the translator
has to channel resources and perform accommodation work with respect to language
variation, more specifically in what concerns field-related variation, dialectal variation, etc.
text dimension: the translator should be able to recognise, internalise and produce a
variety of texts in a variety of formats;
thematic competence: the translator should acquire encyclopaedic or protocol knowledge
so as to enhance functional adequacy. In this respect, literature recommends the organisation
of information into thematic maps via top down or bottom up processing of information;
technological competences: undoubtedly, the mastery of IT tools will secure the
translators professional growth-orientation and career management alongside membership to
virtual communities of practices (forums, chat rooms, associations) and interconnectivity.