Legal and linguistic aspects of translatingenglish
Т.Б., ассистент кафедры гражданского права, процесса и основ предпринимательской
Active interaction of Russia with countries of the
world community raised a wide range of issues concerning international business
activities. Foreign and multinational corporations as well as domestic
companies are involved in international deals all over the world. With rapid
growth of international business transactions and, consequently, international
commercial disputes, the problems of legal translating acquired vital
Nowadays the English language has become the language
of choice for conducting an international business. In addition, the English
language has become prominent as the operational language of many law firms and
multinational corporations. Thus, interest in studying English legal
terminology and legal translating has recently grown up. In this context, the
article reviews general peculiarities of legal terms and focuses on linguistic
and legal aspects of translating English legal terminology.
While exploring legal terminology we have to determine
the unit of this terminological system. In this article we define a term as a
word or a word combination belonging to the specific field of usage, either
specially created or borrowed for determining a specific concept and based on a
definition. In that way, "a legal term is a word or a word combination
which stands for a general name of a legal concept, has a specific and definite
meaning, and is often used in legislation and legal documents" [6; 7, p.
Contemporary language of law makes several requirements
relating to legal terms that should be taken into consideration in the process
of translating. The legal term should meet the following important
a) satisfy the rules and norms of a corresponding
b) be systematic,
c) correspond to a certain definition oriented to a
d) be relatively independent of the context,
e) be precise,
f) be as concise as possible,
g) aim at one-to-one correspondence (within the
certain terminological system),
h) be expressively neutral,
i) be euphonical.
The language of law as a special sublanguage has its
own content and a set of specific characteristics which vary depending on a
language system. However, irrespective of a language, the major part of its
distinctive features and peculiarities are explained by the influence of
historical, cultural, social and political factors on the language community.
The English legal language is characterized by a
specific set of terms. First of all, it comprises numerous Latin words and
phrases (ex. lex loci actus, res gestae, corpus delicti, lex domicilii, etc.).
It also has words of the Old and Middle English origin, including compounds
which are no longer in common usage (aforesaid, hereinabove, hereafter,
whereby, etc.). Besides, the English legal language includes a large amount of
words derived from French (appeal, plaintiff, tort, lien, estoppel, verdict
etc.). The language of law also uses formal and ceremonial words (I do solemnly
swear, Your Honour, May it please the court...) and technical terms with
precise meanings (defendant, negligence, bail etc). Thus, the present content
of the English language of law is due to the influence of different languages
and that has a historical explanation [2, p. 386; 3; 5, p.187 ]. Considering
Russian legal terminology, we should keep in mind that it comprises fewer
borrowings and compounds than the English one. A considerable part of legal
terms is of a national origin including Old Russian (for example, истец, ответчик, право). This may be
explained by the history of Russia and its legal system development as well. At
the same time, contemporary Russian legal language has been enriched by the new
law terms derived from English (лизинг - leasing, антитрестовский - antitrust, корпоративный - corporate, факторинг - factoring etc.)
[1; 3; 4]. Thus, English and Russian legal languages are characterized by their
own specific features which are explained by the historical, political, social
and cultural influences.
Dealing with the language of law implies two forms of
transferring from one language to another – legal interpreting and legal
Legal interpreting is meant for people who come before
the courts (litigants, defendants, witnesses etc.) and who cannot communicate
effectively in the language of legal procedures. According to the law,
individuals who do not communicate in the language of legal proceedings have a
right to speak their native language in court and use the interpreting
services. Similar regulations are provided by the new Russian legislation -
Arbitration Procedure Code (2002), the Civil Procedure Code (2002) and the
Criminal Procedure Code (2001). The interpreter's goal is to interpret from one
language to another everything what is said in court, preserving the tone and
level of the original language, adding and deleting nothing. The legal
interpretation should be adequate, complete and correct. Legal translating
first of all implies translating legal documentation (laws, acts, judicial
decisions, legal rules, contracts, agreements, administrative papers and other
law-related documentation). This kind of translating has been recently
prevailing in the process of international relations development.
Faced with a legal text to translate, a legal
translator must deal with the dual challenge of language and law, which he or
she must reproduce as correctly as possible in the target language. This
complex procedure of transferring from one language to another involves a
number of risks inherent in language. That is why it is rather difficult to transfer
the entire message of the source text from one language to another. Legal
translation requires reproducing both form and content of the legal text. The
latter also implies transferring text from one legal system to another.
Therefore, legal translating is subject to various difficulties of transferring
a meaning of a legal term and a translator must strive for a functional
As it was mentioned before, any kind of translation
has to meet the principal requirements of adequacy, accuracy and completeness.
While accuracy and completeness are mainly aimed at the form of the legal text,
adequacy is referred to its content. Adequacy of the legal translation is
mostly achieved by following the principal rules of legal terminology in the
target language. Translating implies transferring the meaning of the original,
but not only the words. While translating it is important to know the legal
terminology in both languages. The substitution of a legal term of the source
text by its synonym (a word of common usage) in the target language may result
in misinterpretation in terms of law. The distortion of a meaning of a law term
may influence upon legal consequences.
For example, the legal phrase "the party
domiciled abroad" is not equal to its Russian translation «зарубежная сторона» or «сторона, проживающая за рубежом». The correct way to express the same meaning in
Russian legal terminology will be «сторона, домицилированная за рубежом». It should be noted that a domicile as a legal term
means "a place of permanent living" (if an individual is implied) or
"a seat of a corporation /a principle place of business" (if
juridical person is implied), while the general meaning of this word is "a
place where someone lives" [1; 3; 4]. Besides, as the legal term party (сторона) implies either
an individual person or juridical person/entity involved in a legal agreement
or dispute, the second way of incorrect translation mentioned above relates
only to an individual person and hence, is unequal to the legal term used in
the source text. Inadequate translation obviously may influence on the
objective evaluation of jural facts.
Thus, it should be taken into consideration that a
legal translator or interpreter is liable for the correctness, completeness and
adequacy of his legal translating. "The translator must appear before the
court and translate completely, correctly and in proper time" (the
Arbitration Procedure Code of the Russian Federation, 2002: article 57 clause
4). On the one hand, the procedural codes mentioned above provide criminal
liability for a wittingly false translation (the Arbitration Procedure Code of
the Russian Federation, 2002: article 57 clause 6; the Criminal procedure code
of the Russian Federation, 2001: article 59 clause 5). On the other hand,
interpreters are humans and making a mistake is possible. When an interpreter
unintentionally makes a mistake, he or she is obligated to correct it
immediately, and is expected to do the same in case of written legal
translating. The Russian law provides a right of a court interpreter to ask
questions in order to clarify the translation. Indeed, unprofessional (in its
legal sense) translation may cause injustices. Rarely, but some cases have
successfully been appealed because of interpreter issues.
Therefore, it is obvious that the major drawback of
traditional language training and document translation services currently
available is that these organizations have little or no experience and
knowledge of the law. In order to provide the effective communication in
English about specific legal concepts and ideas it is crucial for legal
translators and interpreters to have a profound knowledge of the legal
terminology in both languages. All mentioned above allow us to determine the
essential requirements that provide excellence in legal translating
(interpreting) in the process of international communication. First, one of the
important requirements is a language proficiency which implies ample
vocabulary, knowledge of standard grammar and stylistic components of legal
language. The mastery of the target language must be equivalent to that of an
educated native speaker. Second, the high level of excellence requires
up-to-date knowledge of the subject material and legal terminology in both
languages. These are due to the translator's competence in legal language.
Third, understanding of the procedures used in court as well as familiarity
with principal legal concepts is necessary. In addition, a wide general
knowledge, mental and verbal agility of an interpreter contributes to the
effective legal translation as well.
Taking into consideration the aforesaid, we come to a
conclusion that legal translators and interpreters should meet the essential
requirements mentioned above in order to provide a complete, correct and
adequate translation. Deep knowledge of legal language and proficiency in legal
terminology of both languages are the main factors providing the effective
intercultural communication of legal professionals in the process of
1. BBC English Dictionary. – Harper Collins Publisher,
Ltd. London, 1992.
2. Crystal D. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.
– Cambridge, 1992.
3. Duhaime's Law Dictionary:
4. English-Russian Law Dictionary/ Andrianov S.N.,
Berson A.S., Nikiforov A.S. – Russo Press: Moscow, 1998.
5. Ivanova L.I., Sheberstova T.B. The Peculiarities of
the English Legal Term and Their Reflection in Translation //The Problems of
Intercultural Communication (international conference materials). ISUCT Press:
6. Superanskaya A.V., Podolskaya N.V., Vasilieva N.V.
General Terminology: Theoretical questions. – Moscow, 1989.
7. The Language of Law /Pigolkin A.S. – Moscow, 1990.