What makes legal translation different?

Indeed for a long time, legal translation was considered not to be so special and used to fall within a much broader term Translation of LSP (Language for Specific Purposes) texts. It has been the last decades when legal translation and other fields had taken an importance of its own, with an international community taking a new approach to how they are handled.

There are many factors that have contributed to this general shift: the globalization that brought that happened due to a rapid increase in international contacts, the trends towards a gradual economic and political integration of some regions (i.e. European Union), and also from a theoretical point of view, new approaches have appeared and they are more communicative and pragmatic focused on. That is translation has seen a grown in its importance due to the boost in international commerce and the very same translators have come to understand translation as intercultural and communicative action.

But what makes legal translation claim its own field?

There three features that define legal translation and set it apart from the rest of the fields of study:

  1. The language of the law is formulaic and archaic, not just from a word per word point of view, but also, sentences, and paragraphs, and even the structure of text itself. Indeed we find this constrictions in other areas, such as software localization, but those constrains do not reach the text level.
  2. The discourse is culturally mediated. Common Law, Civil Law, and Sharia Law are separated systems and each of them is based and works with concepts that do not exist in the other two. The translators have to be well aware that similar names do not imply similar or identical concepts, but the existence of false cognates. The search of equivalent way to bridge the gap between legal systems is an arduous work that theoretically can prove impossible. Nevertheless, transposition of the legal concepts is done on a daily basis at places like DTS proving that theory does not always translate in practice.
  3. Law has special pragmatic status, and that resides in its performativity. Legal texts do not only report or describe but perform legal actions.

But is it really so hard?

This makes the work of the translator go through the process of the search for meaning, and its transposition to a different linguistic and legal system, and final adaption to the general text.

In a monolingual context, there are several figures and institutions that try to help citizens understand the law and tis texts. And in those cases a direct functional and pragmatic approach can be taken, but translators can’t allow themselves to stop at that point, but they have to take as a cornerstone to reach the other legal, and successfully transposition the concept.

DTS translators understand that a pragmatic approach is a very helpful tool, but in and all itself not a solution. To provide the most suitable legal translation, it is necessary to use it in conjunction with clarity, attention to stylistic and conceptual differences, cultural sensitivity, and high regard towards confidentiality.