4 Issues in Translating Legal Texts

4 Issues in Translating Legal Texts

Dennis P. Claypool

Legal translation services are always in high demand because there exists a large variety of documents that require translation. These include and are not limited to: personal documents such as marriage and divorce-related documents, licenses & other certificates, corporate litigation, patent & commercial litigations, mergers and acquisitions, international disputes which are typically resolved by the intervention of intergovernmental bodies and trade disputes, applications and deposition records.


Click this link to find out which agency is best suited for your legal translation needs. With millions (or billions) of dollars, the reputation of individuals, organizations, or countries at stake, the ramifications of even the slightest of mistakes could prove costly in terms of the delay and the costs involved. Here we look at 4 issues that crop up while translating legal texts:


Legal systems evolve:


Laws are dynamic in nature, constantly evolving and changing according to the needs of people and businesses. This change is also heavily influenced by the culture of a region. These changes tend to render your earlier work obsolete. Legal translators must constantly update their templates and guidelines. They must also subscribe to the latest legal magazines in the region and keep themselves abreast of all developments especially with laws pertaining to their work.


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Maintaining the tone or register:


It becomes imperative to retain the tone or register of a legal document after it has been translated to the target language. This can be a challenging area to navigate as English typically makes use of a formal, impersonal tone in passive voice whereas other languages use active voice more frequently. Changes in the tone of a legal text may bring about variations in meaning and the seriousness of the document.


Translation of ambiguous text:


Translation of ambiguous text is difficult, and the translation of an ambiguous legal text is even more so. This occurs because the terminology in question might be too generalist or vague. The key point to be noted here is that the legal translator is not a lawyer and his role is limited to understanding the linguistic and legal nuances of the documents and translate it in such a manner that it remains faithful to the source document. He must understand the linguistic uncertainty that has occured and replace the ambiguous words or phrases with concrete language, for instance replacing "heavy vehicles" with "trucks over 40 tonnage"


Variations in Punctuation


Legal documents are hard to read because they make use of a certain sentence structure and vocabulary. These documents generally tend to be in the passive voice, punctuated by commas, semicolons, and apostrophes. Punctuations rules vary from one language to the other, and one misplaced punctuation can dramatically alter the intended meaning from the source text and cause havoc. It is necessary that the document is proofread by another person or the final translated version be cross-checked by a legal specialist before it is sent to the client or presented in court.


The 4 challenges described above drive home the importance of precision and accuracy in legal translation.