Can legal translators be replaced by machines?

In recent months at least, it seems that machine translation, based on huge databases of sample translations (neural networks), has massively improved. DeepL is one example. Professional translators would avoid using this as their translations might be integrated into the system, which would be a breach of their client confidentiality. But I do suspect that any law firm processing a huge pile of exhibits in a foreign language and wondering which pages would be worth translating can have the whole lot rapidly machine-translated, then zoom in on the most relevant bits and have them machine-translated.

Peter Winslow, a legal translator with a penchant for Karl Kraus, has posted in a Beck Verlag forum three translations of a sentence, two of which are machine translators and the third by a human translator with to me dubious qualifications:

Nur eine der nachstehenden Übersetzungen ins Deutsche wurde von einem menschlichen Übersetzer angefertigt, die anderen zwei stammen von maschinellen Übersetzungssystemen (vor mindestens sechs Monaten). … Erkennen Sie, welche Übersetzung der menschliche Übersetzer angefertigt hat? Der Mensch ist Deutscher und deutscher Muttersprachler. Er ist Diplom-Übersetzer – sogar für die englische Sprache allgemein beeidigt und öffentlich bestellt – und gibt an, mehr als fünf Jahre Berufserfahrung als freiberuflicher Übersetzer zu haben.

Presumably most readers of this quiz will be German lawyers, and of course they will ask themselves how to know whether a translator can be relied on. It isn’t easy. Someone who has studied translation at a German university will probably have learnt little about legal translation, although you may need to show legal knowledge to be qualified to translate for the courts. It would be better to find a translator with specific legal experience or qualifications, and experience in doing legal translations. But I think one problem is that lawyers specialize, whereas legal translators tend to specialize only in law, not in a narrow area of law. They may have years of experience in a particular area of legal translation, or they may not. I hope most big law firms that do a lot of international work will have inhouse translation teams including trained translators, who will know how to evaluate any software systems used for translation. With smaller firms it is less likely.

The sentence taken as an example is “This policy defines the specific server roles required to implement the server program.” This sentence is hardly typical of legal translations.

(I am guessing, like Prof. Dr. Müller, that the second version is the native speaker of German – the answer has not yet been revealed).

One problem at the moment seems to be that agencies are using MT and the occasional sentence is quite wrong. They then require “proof-reading” from a freelance, but if only the final product is reviewed, in English for example, the error may not be evident, although the review will be cheaper than if it were compared with the original.

(With thanks to Igor Plotkin for posting this on a mailing list)

Aldi’s ‘London’ cheese cake

Aldi really has a lot of very British things in its selection, but I had not seen this cheesecake. This is the ultimate British product!

I remember this cheese cake as a regular item at the bakery in the 50s and 60s. It is sometimes called ‘London cheese cake’ to distinguish it from cheesecake that contains cheese. This one, as I remember it, was round and consisted of layers of flaky pastry topped with (usually dry) icing and coconut ‘shreds’. In between pastry and icing there was a blob of sponge cake. The strings of coconut must have been from a paste that was extruded in some way.

The Aldi version is rectangular and has luscious fondant icing and jam under it.

Following this, I decided to try the Greggs’ one, and on the way to Greggs I passed Kingcotts bakery, where they had their own.

The Kingcotts one was as I remember them, round, dryish but relieved by a plug of sponge cake i the middle.

The Greggs one was squarish and had jam but no cake. It was rather thin and meagre.

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The coconut shred/strips on top vary. The Greggs ones do look like desiccated coconut, very dry.

Kingcotts are the makers of the famous ‘real’ bread:

It is actually real bread. I recommend the cloudy white sandwich tin (sourdough).

Recommendations: the Kingcotts is the genuine cheesecake (£1), but only if you are in Upminster. You may have to try a local baker. The Aldi is delicious (I have forgotten the price) but not authentic: the puff pastry is slightly moist (in the direction of baklava) and the fondant icing with coconut dominates. I am sorry the Greggs is not quite right (80p). I must next find out why Godfreys in Hornchurch say theiir Tottenham cake is not the real thing, and whether Greggs is: I believe the pink colour has to come from a particular mulberry tree in Tottenham.

Legal Integration and Language Diversity: book on translation in EU lawmaking

Legal Integration and Language Diversity: Rethinking Translation in EU Lawmaking, by C.J.W. Baaij – Oxford University Press, coming out in February

This book should be interesting. It comes to the conclusion that particularly after Brexit, it would be a good idea for English to be the original language of all legislation.

  • Introduces the first comprehensive quantitative analysis of the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, spanning 50 years, focusing on interpreting and solving discrepancies between language versions of EU legislation

  • Integrates a variety of analytic methods and gathers data from both policy document analyses, interviews, and quantitative and qualitative examination of the EU’s Institutional Multilingualism

  • Builds a normative theoretical framework from legal translation studies and comparative law, general translation theory and language philosophy, and European studies

  • Proposes three EU policy changes that question mainstream thinking, from both political and theoretical vantage points

  • Argues that Brexit provides an additional reason in favor of rather than against recognizing English as the primary official language of the EU

(Via Wildy & Sons newsletter)

Simplifying contract language

The Case for Plain-Language Contracts, by Shawn Burton, Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2018

I’ve read a lot of arguments about the use of plain English, and I haven’t often been convinced by them. Now this article by Shawn Burton is at first glance an interesting one (thanks to Inge for recommending it on Twitter), but contains some problems.

Are pages of definitions; words like “heretofore,” “indemnification,” “warrant,” and “force majeure”; and phrases like “notwithstanding anything to the contrary herein,” “subject to the foregoing,” and “including but in no way limited to” necessary for an agreement to be enforceable? Is there some counterintuitive value in useless boilerplate language? Does a contract really need 15-word strings of synonyms; all-cap, italicized, bolded sentences that span multiple pages; awkward sentences containing numerous semicolons; and outdated grammar to be worthy of signature? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding no.

Of course, it would be a good idea to remove archaic words like ‘heretofore’, but what about words with a legal meaning like ‘force majeure’. (The ’15-word strings of synonyms’ are one of the reasons some legal translators prefer to translate from German to English even if German is their native language, because German contracts are simpler, partly because terms are backed up by the Civil Code and other legislation.)

Burton writes: ‘Business leaders should not have to call an attorney to interpret an agreement that they are expected to administer.’ I have my doubts about that. And the ‘litmus test’ was whether a ‘high-schooler’ could understand the contract. Maybe this worked with simplified contracts for customers, but surely not for every type of contract.

Here’s an example from the end of the article:

That article contains other useful links.

Merry Christmas

Here’s wishing a partially completed Merry Christmas to all readers.  (Ebor Street)

Here is some information on VAT on Christmas trees in Germany:

Plastic tree: 19%

Real tree sold on the market 7%

Real tree not deliberately grown, sold by farmer 5.5%

Real tree deliberately grown, sold by farmer 10.7%

Private sale or sale by small non-VAT-registered business: 0%

(Corrections to this translation may be added in the comments)

Die Höhe der Umsatzsteuer, die Sie für Ihren Tannenbaum bezahlt haben, hängt ab von der Herkunft und dem Verkäufer des Baums:

  • Der ganz normale Umsatzsteuersatz in Höhe von 19% wird fällig bei künstlichen Bäumen, das dürften meist Weihnachtsbäume aus Plastik sein.

  • Der ermäßigte Umsatzsteuersatz von 7% wird angewendet, wenn es sich um einen echten Baum handelt, der zwar artgerecht aufgewachsen ist, aber durch einen Gewerbetreibenden (zum Beispiel einen Baumarkt) oder einen nicht-pauschalierenden Landwirt verkauft wird.

  • 5,5% Umsatzsteuer will der Fiskus sehen, wenn der Baum zufällig irgendwo im Wald aufgewachsen ist und von einem Landwirt verkauft wird, der sich für die Pauschalierung der Vorsteuer entschieden hat.

  • Kaufen Sie bei einem pauschalierenden Landwirt, der den Weihnachtsbaum in einer Sonderkultur großgezogen hat, fallen 10,7% Umsatzsteuer an.

  • Falls der Weihnachtsbaum-Verkäufer Ihres Vertrauens Privatverkäufer oder Kleinunternehmer ist, zahlen Sie gar keine Umsatzsteuer.

Amerikaner/black and white cookies

I always thought Amerikaner were a German thing and wondered where they got their name from, but it turns out they are a New York cookie (via smitten kitchen).

 


 

(Image by Ben Orwoll, public domain)

Amerikaner certainly used to be made with a form of ammonium carbonate called Hirschhornsalz (Salt of Hartshorn/baker’s ammonia) in German. This is widely sold in Germany, especially at this time of year. I saw it being used by London Eats, who posts Christmas cookies from abroad at this time of year:  Fedtebrød.

If you don’t want to make do with baking powder or bicarbonate of soda, the German Deli sells Hirschhornsalz, and also potash and Lebkuchen spice.

German Döner Kebab

German Döner Kebab shops are apparently everywhere.

Of course, it is a German thing. I think this is ‘Mile End coming soon’.

If you want to find out what meat they use, you have to click on the Location tab, which gives a choice of UK, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Sweden and Bahrain.

For the UK, you get Chicken, Beef or Mix. In Germany it was virtually always Turkey, sometimes beef if you were lucky.

Where’s the lamb? I think it’s because Germans don’t like it.

Misdirected emails

I use a Gmail address with my name, margaret dot marks, but not followed by the usual number like 261 or 53, because seemingly I am the first of the many Margaret Markses to get a Gmail address.And so I often receive email not meant for me. I usually get invited to some kind of children’s parties in the USA, but sometimes it is a report from Australia.

My latest one came from another MM but contained little information or evidence. It just said ‘Tom’s new clock’ with this image, which I’m fond of. I hope it doesn’t give too much away.

Follow-up to ‘Strafbefehle must be translated’

In a recent post Strafbefehle must be translated I linked to the CJEU case on the subject. At that time, only the Advocate General’s opinion was available in English, but now I’ve called up a bilingual version of the judgment.

I’m treating the German as the original version and only commenting on any elements which may be German rather than EU.

Thus the term Strafbefehl is now penalty order, not penal order
Unfallflucht: failure to stop at the scene of an accident

German law: two sections of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz are transllated. There is an ‘official’ translation online in Germany, by Kathleen Müller-Rostin, but this was not used.

CJEU DE
§ 187 des Gerichtsverfassungsgesetzes (GVG) sieht in seinem Abs. 1 vor, dass für einen Beschuldigten, der der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtig ist, ein Dolmetscher oder Übersetzer heranzuziehen ist, soweit dies zur Ausübung seiner strafprozessualen Rechte erforderlich ist.

Official translation (Courts Constitution Act)
The court shall call in an interpreter or a translator for an accused or convicted person who does not have a command of the German language or is hearing impaired or speech impaired, insofar as this is necessary for the exercise of his rights under the law of criminal procedure. The court shall advise the accused in a language he understands that he may to this extent demand that an interpreter or a translator be called in for the entire criminal proceedings free of charge.

CJEU EN
Paragraph 187(1) of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (Law on the Judicial System, ‘the GVG’) provides that, for an accused who does not have a command of the German language, recourse must be had to an interpreter or translator in so far as that is necessary for the exercise of his rights of defence in criminal proceedings.

I note: Law of the Judicial System instead of Courts Constitution Act – I remember that ‘constitution’ though correct confuses some non-native speakers, who think it refers to constitutional law, so there’s an argument for avoiding it. I like judicial system. Judicature Act is sometimes used, and I think that confuses people too. There are so many words beginning with ‘ju-‘ in legal English and they aren’t always understood. (Is that true of ‘judicial’ too?) I would stick to Act rather than Law.
Call in or have recourse to an interpreter – the latter is a bit pompous. ‘That is necessary’ seems a bit less idiomatic than ‘this is necessary’. I don’t know why ‘rights of defence’ is used rather than ‘rights under the law of criminal procedure’.
Section is really widely used, rather than paragraph, in English translation.

CJEU DE
Des Weiteren bestimmt § 187 GVG in seinem Abs. 2, dass zur Ausübung der strafprozessualen Rechte eines Beschuldigten, der der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtig ist, in der Regel die schriftliche Übersetzung von freiheitsentziehenden Anordnungen sowie von Anklageschriften, Strafbefehlen und nicht rechtskräftigen Urteilen erforderlich ist.

Official translation
As a rule, a written translation of custodial orders as well as of bills of indictment, penal orders and non-binding judgments shall be necessary for the exercise of the rights under the law of criminal procedure of an accused who does not have a command of the German language.

CJEU EN
In addition, Paragraph 187(2) of the GVG provides that, as a rule, a written translation of custodial orders as well as of indictments, penalty orders and non-final judgments is necessary for the exercise of the rights of defence of an accused who does not have a command of the German language.

Not much to say here, but one point that is sometimes overlooked and is handled correctly in boht cases here: if this is a summary of the law rather than a quotation, shall is out of place. It is not used to summarize law or contract. It is used within a statute or a contract with intended binding effect, but it is not customary to us it in reporting texts.

The German law continues with the Code of Criminal Procedure. Official translation: Original translation by Brian Duffett and Monika Ebinger
Translation updated by Kathleen Müller-Rostin and Iyamide Mahdi. However, I don’t have any useful comments on this, but here it is since I’ve collated it:

CJEU DE
Nach § 37 Abs. 3 der Strafprozessordnung (StPO) ist bei einem der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtigen Angeklagten nur das „Urteil“ zusammen mit einer Übersetzung in eine dem Angeklagten verständliche Sprache zuzustellen.

Official translation
If a translation of the judgment is to be made available to a participant in the proceedings pursuant to section 187 subsections (1) and (2) of the Courts Constitution Act, the judgment shall be served together with the translation. In such cases service on the other participants in the proceedings shall be effected at the same time as service pursuant to the first sentence.

CJEU EN
Paragraph 37(3) of the Strafprozessordnung (Code of Criminal Procedure, ‘the StPO’) provides that, for an accused without a command of the German language, only the ‘judgment’ (Urteil) must be served, together with its translation into a language the accused understands.

 

I think these further thoughts on DE>EN legal translation are enough for the time being.