Machine Translation and legal texts

Fabio Said has a good summary of the BDÜ conference last week – which I did not attend. – with an emphasis on the presentations dealing with legal translation.

Patrik Mustu, he reports, presented on English-to-German machine translation of legal texts, giving examples of places where DeepL was not precise enough. On the screen behind Mustu one can see the parties hereto rendered in various ways, for example die Parteien hierzu, and the best solution, die Vertragsparteien, which DeepL presumably did not deliver.

Translators are increasingly using DeepL – it’s possible to use the Pro version, which means your private texts are not imported by DeepL – but they need post-editing. This is all a bit outside my current experience but needs keeping an eye on.

In the old days, when MT was rule-based and not statistical, it was recommended to use an MT program in-house and adapt it to one’s texts. Can this be done now with problem terms mentioned (damages, equity, quantum meruit)? Just wondering.

Toque

I find the word toque useful in Scrabble (as is roque).

Toque is a French lawyer’s hat, though. It now refers to the lawyer’s ‘letterbox’ at court, which used to be a pigeonhole to put the hat in – similar to the German Gerichtsfach – did those once hold hats too? (Take this with a pinch of salt, as I don’t do French law).

La Toque

Here is a picture of toques.

I’ve been thinking of this after reading the Guardian’s recap of the series Spiral (Engrenages), and in particular the comments. The recap article specifically refers to the commenter auroreboréalis, who is very informative on the law. Here, for example, most recently, on whether Joséphine Karlsson could become a juge d’ìnstruction:

There are 4 different types of passerelles (access routes between professions/occupations) between the profession of avocat and juge d’instruction, depending on your situation, age, years of experience, previous studies etc. It’s all detailed here: Avocat, magistrat, huissier, notaire… les différentes passerelles entre les métiers du droit and here)….

The comments are an excellent aid to watching or rewatching the series.

George Skeggs

Time for some local trivia again. In August I was at an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and unfortunately I did not have my camera in my hand when I saw this gentleman rushing up the stairs in my direction – I only saw the crown of his hat, the shoulders of his suit and his cream chrysanthemum (I think) buttonhole. I managed to get a shot of him shortly afterwards but he was moving very fast so I could not imagine getting him to set up the photo again. Not many people make a good photo from the bird’s eye view.

George Skeggs, as I later discovered

More recently, I have learnt (from the Web) that this is George Skeggs and so I may see him again at more leisure.

George Skeggs, more commonly known – although there’s nothing even remotely common about him – as ‘Soho George’ is one of the last true Soho legends. Self-described as a ‘heterosexual Cockney artist, Hogarthian rake loves individuality,style, sleeps in front of a mirror, ex-gigolo old man held together with polygrip & rubber bands’, George has more style in his big toe than most of us will ever have in our entire lifetimes. Not only possessed of a unique and sophisticated elegance, he’s also a brilliant surrealist artist and chronicler of the history of Soho on twitter @SohoGeorge.

The translator’s lot is not a happy one

May I have a word about … the translator’s unhappy lot. An article in The Guardian by Jonathan Bouquet – thanks to Paul Appleyard for linking it on Twitter. And pointing out that the comments are probably the most interesting bit!

I’d never given much thought to the travails of translators, but a recent email from a reader changed all that.
It kicks off: “In addition, for Designated Window Personnel, purchases or sales of Company Securities made pursuant to, and in compliance with, a written plan that meets the requirements of Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (a “Trading Plan”), may be made without restriction to any particular period provided that (i) the Trading Plan was established in good faith, in compliance with the requirements of Rule 10b5-1…”
I think you get the drift. The sentence continues for another 245 words. And the translator’s lament? He had to render this brain shredder into Welsh.

My first reaction is that this is the kind of legalese the equivalent of which in German I deal with all the time. And the translator into Welsh may be a generalist who is not used to legal texts.

Of course, translators between German and English often specialize, but someone who translates solely between English and Welsh may be obliged to take a wide range of topics, if they are trying to make a living. I feel sorry for interpreters too – constantly performing at high speed on a variety of topics they will not have time to absorb.

The rest of the article segues into a consideration of business jargon, as if that were the same thing!

To quote one comment (weetam):

The basic problem isn’t the turgid text to translate. What happened is that a generic translator was trying to translate a highly specialist text. 
This translator didn’t “have to” translate it into Welsh, but was rather offered work that he/she should have turned down and then accepted it anyway. 
There are specialist translators who deal with this kind of stuff day-in, day-out and can translate something like this in their sleep. Building up those skills takes many years of training and experience, which makes specialist legal translators more expensive. This translator then turns up and undercuts these high rates, and then pretends it’s someone else’s fault if he/she can’t do the job. 
Get the picture? Welcome to our world!

Some of the comments give advice on how to handle difficult subject-matter. One reports that with contract language you just take it bit by bit, whereas translating a description of a staircase was harder, with all the unfamiliar technical language. Another writes:

The challenge with translations, whether it be legal text or medical disclaimers, is that the translator accepting the assignment is a trained linguist and in most cases not expert in the subject he/she has to translate. 
I have had an assignment/project once where a complete material master (parts) of a blast furnace need to be translated. I can share with you that I never realized how many different type screws, nuts, bolts and ball bearers there were all with there own unique technical description. 

I suppose I’m not a trained linguist. I sell myself on the basis that I am a qualified solicitor. But I learnt about law and legal translation by finding myself teaching it, and attending the classes of colleagues who were German lawyers, and as for deciphering really complex German, reading lots of secondary literature when I did my Ph.D. on German literature was a big help, and so perhaps was doing A Level Latin. And that’s what I love about legal translation – deciphering sentences and intentions. Most people who see the kind of language I like to translate would react like Jonathan Bouquet and his ‘travails’. Travail as work, not travails as suffering.

P.S. I forgot to add, what was in my mind, that researching unfamiliar areas takes a long time, and the translator needs to have an idea of whether the pay for this is worth it.

Divorce

When I first taught legal translation, as a subsidiary subject, I started with divorce. At the IFA in Erlangen and other Bavarian Fachakademien, the legal translation syllabus was based on work done for the courts by certified translators, which our students would be qualified as. Translating divorce papers was very common in those days, for example for US military personnel living in Germany. So expensive was the translation of documents needed by the German courts that there used to be divorce translation weekends, for some reason offered in Copenhagen. In fact after I had taught all the areas relating to court work, it was hard to fit contract translation into the timetable, since I thought it would be necessary to teach both contract law and contract language.

Those unfamiliar with divorce law sometimes thought that, since English law is different from German law, English divorce law must be very strange indeed. Not so: divorce had a similar history in both countries, going back to church law, to times when some kind of transgression permitted a petitioner to be given a divorce. The terminology was sometimes archaic even though the law had been reformed so that you were not punished financially or through harsh custody arrangements if you had committed adultery. English divorce law was reformed earlier than German and the law when I first taught it in 1982 and now in 2019 has unintended consequences. In German law a person can get a divorce after one year’s living apart; in English law it takes longer, so it is quicker to petition that the respondent’s behaviour is unreasonable (that is, that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to tolerate it). What is called no-fault divorce actually seems to be based on fault. This is not to say that divorce plays out as a pleasant and smooth process in practice even in Germany, but we didn’t talk about that. Nowadays you can read all this up on the Web so I don’t need to go into details. Anyway, all these many years afterwards, a divorce bill is going through the courts making divorce much easier – actually very easy indeed. New divorce law to end the blame game (Ministry of Justice – with a good summary of the current law)). The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has almost been passed. Of course, it is threatened by prorogation.

DE>EN translation problems: most frequently encountered are the terms related to the apportionment of future pension rights. Zugewinnausgleich, Gütertrennung, Gütergemeinschaft – marital property is not always straightforward. If you translate US documents into German, you have to be careful not to describe a decree absolute as rechtskräftig, which might wrongly suggest that the ex-spouses could remarry immediately (there may be a six-month waiting period). Not divorce but sometimes comes up in that context: Ehefähigkeitszeugnis – certificate of no impediment.

Creifelds on Acolada

At the moment I use only the Dietl/Lorenz law dictionary on the Acolada platform. I more often use Romain on paper (despite the time it takes to look things up). I actually wore out the latest Romain so I bought a copy of the earlier (1994) edition. The later one had feminine and masculine versions of all German nouns where this was relevant, but I didn’t need to look up Anwalt and Anwältin myself.

When there is a new paper version of Dietl/Lorenz (with CD for both directions – currently promised for 2020), I don’t expect it will contain versions of all the latest legal terminology, but that can be found on the Web nowadays – there are quite a few law firms’ sites with a variety of options. Gradually paper dictionaries are whittled down to a few useful ones.

I always used to have an up-to-date version of Creifelds German law dictionary, and now I see that it could be put on the computer and consulted along with Dietl/Lorenz. I read this in the Acolada newsletter. Creifelds Rechtswörterbuch.

I noticed while researching this that Beck Verlag promises another book in the form of a German-English legal dictionary for 2020: This has the perhaps misleading title Rechtsenglisch and is by Rinscheid and Miller. It is as so often for anyone, including judges in (German) English-language courtrooms. It contains sentence examples and is organized both alphabetically and also thematically, so that a lawyer can learn the relevant vocabulary, for example before a client conference. I’d love to be a fly on the wall.

Zum Werk
Die fachgerechte Formulierung deutscher Rechtsberatung in englischer Sprache erfordert mehr als lediglich die Übersetzung einzelner Rechtsbegriffe. Die schnell zugänglichen Online- Wörterbücher scheinen nur auf den ersten Blick eine verlässliche Abhilfe bei der kontextgerechten Verwendung eines Rechtsbegriffs zu bieten. Mit der Vokabel allein ist schließlich noch keine Korrespondenz mit dem Mandanten geführt, kein Schriftsatz geschrieben und auch keine vernünftige Hilfestellung für eine Telefonkonferenz gegeben. Konsequenz ist eine häufig unreflektierte Verwendung von Übersetzungsvorschlägen mit in der Folge fehlerhafter Darstellung.
Die Autoren des vorliegenden Werkes schließen eine wichtige Lücke, in dem sie dem international arbeitenden Juristen eine umfassende Arbeitsgrundlage zur Verwendung der englischen Rechtssprache liefern. Hierzu ist das Werk auf drei Säulen aufgebaut. Erstens enthält das Werk ein alphabetisch sortiertes Glossar mitsamt Beispielssätzen, Erläuterungen und Hinweisen zur kontextgerechten Verwendung (Deutsch-Englisch). Zweitens sind die Begriffe zusätzlich thematisch sortiert – so kann sich der Rechtsanwender mit den in einem speziellen Sach- oder Rechtsgebiet geläufigen Vokabeln vertraut machen, beispielsweise vor einer Mandantenbesprechung. Die dritte Säule bilden Formulierungshilfen und Textbausteine für die Praxis (Emails, Schriftsätze, Telefonkonferenzen etc.).
Vorteile auf einen Blick
Das vorliegende Buch bietet
– ein klassisches zweisprachiges Nachschlagewerk/Wörterbuch mit Beispielsätzen, Erläuterungen und Hinweisen
– zusätzlich die Möglichkeit einer nach Sach- und Rechtsgebieten geordneten Suche
– Englische Formulierungshilfen aus der Praxis
Zielgruppe
Für international tätige Anwälte und Unternehmensjuristen, Richter in englischsprachigen Kammern, Juristische Fachübersetzer, Studierende der Fachspezifischen Fremdsprachenausbildung, Universitäten und Forschungseinrichtungen.

Photos

Some photos from the South Bank.

German tent offering allergens.
Laurence Olivier: Is this a bottle of milk that I see before me?
Trump protest: Welcome not walls, with hair.

Unverzüglich

A colleague recently had the word unverzüglich in a legal text and wondered whether it mattered which of the many alternatives to choose.

Romain: prompt, forthwith, without delay

Dietl-Lorenz: (ohne schuldhaftes Zögern) without culpable (or undue) delay

I had wrongly remembered this as without unreasonable delay. Other renderings have been immediately and with all due speed

  1. I note that unverzüglich ist one of the words given a statutory definition (Legaldefinition) in the Civil Code. Here it is:

Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)
§ 121 Anfechtungsfrist

(1) Die Anfechtung muss in den Fällen der §§ 119, 120 ohne schuldhaftes Zögern (unverzüglich) erfolgen, nachdem der Anfechtungsberechtigte von dem Anfechtungsgrund Kenntnis erlangt hat. Die einem Abwesenden gegenüber erfolgte Anfechtung gilt als rechtzeitig erfolgt, wenn die Anfechtungserklärung unverzüglich abgesendet worden ist.(2) Die Anfechtung ist ausgeschlossen, wenn seit der Abgabe der Willenserklärung zehn Jahre verstrichen sind.

Note the way a statutory definition is indicated. Further research reveals that this definition is regarded as applying even outside the Civil Code.

2. Does it then matter how precisely it is translated into English? Immediately seems to suggest more speed, but does that matter? Perhaps not, as long as your translation is for information only and makes it clear that German law prevails. However, without undue delay or without culpable delay does the job well.

3. Dietl wins over Romain here (as so rarely). Von Beseler has:

adj immediate, prompt, instant(aneous);
adv immediately, promptly, instantly; forthwith; at once; on the spot; without delay; at short notice, at a moment’s notice

The BGB meaning is missing, and when it comes to choosing between the other alternatives, legal translators are left to themselves. Nor is there any indication in Dietl of the source of the definition.

LATER NOTE: As Inge Noeninger points out on Twitter (see comment too) unverzüglich contains the word Verzug, delay or default, which is why translating it as immediately is avoided.

Flurbereinigung/Land consolidation

It seems my blog has today been running (running down?) for 16 years so here is a birthday post.

Mittagsstunde by Dörte Hansen (2018), a novel full of Plattdeutsch with the theme of Flurbereinigung reminded me of this strange process. (Hansen’s first novel, Altes Land, has been translated as This House is Mine – one wonders how the dialect was handled). In East Germany small plots of land were joined to form collectives, but in West Germany (and Austria I gather – and also in France and the Netherlands) there was a similar consolidation of small plots but not for socialist reasons.

The process was enabled by a 1953 statute, the Flurbereinigungsgesetz. I don’t think it is done much or at all now.

Very small plots of land resulted from Realteilung, the physical partition of land when inherited by several people – I don’t think the system of inheritance always meant equal partitition, though. Land consolidation was agreed by a group of people and was accompanied by changes to roads and waterways.

Wikipedia (German)

Wikipedia (English)

The effects of this process in practice, both during and after the reorganization of land, are something we didn’t have in the UK.

One aspect that has become known here is the effect of consolidation on vineyards. Wikipedia:

A very negative example of Flurbereinigung occurred in the first half of the 70’s at Kaiserstuhl (Baden-Württemberg), when great terraces where created with an inclination in direction to the hillside. The idea was to store water in the area, but heavy rains in the Pentecost week in 1983 led to flooding. Moreover, due to the inclination of the terraces in springtime (blooming time of the wine) cold air was settles, leading to frequent frost damage to the crops. [3]

And here a 2014 article from the Daily Beast (whatever that is): Germany’s Wine Revolution is Just Getting Started:

Ulli is paving the way for a new wave of wine growers who are ignoring Flurbereinigung and looking to the Prussian tax maps to scout, purchase, and salvage historically great vineyard sites, work them by hand (as opposed to restructuring them to work with machines), and produce dry-tasting wines reminiscent of those created in the 19th century.

I’m afraid that’s all for today, folks.

Pro- and anti-Brexit at Westminster

When I went to the Don McCullin exhition at Tate Britain last Wednesday (includes some photo of the wall going up in East Berlin in 1961 btw), just before midday, I passed the protesters, of whom there seem increasingly more. It was very warm for February.




I love the Che Guevara badge and suspect the man’s style reflects it.

The image settings seem to have changed – must read up on WordPress in an idle moment.

Two minds here.