Changing terminology

In another mailing list last week, I was struck by the question of how to translate the term divorce decree into German.

One would normally write Scheidungsurteil, but recently the term Urteil has been removed from German divorce law, apparently because it makes divorce sound like a fight (haha!). Indeed, all family law cases now end in a Beschluss, which sounds more harmless, allegedly.

See Es gibt keine Scheidungsurteile mehr in Thomas von der Wehl’s blog.

Wir haben nur durch das neue FamFG eine neue Begrifflichkeit erhalten. Aus einem schwer nachvollziehbaren Grunde hat der Gesetzgeber den Begriff Scheidungsurteil abgeschafft und durch den Begriff Scheidungsbeschluss ersetzt. Er wollte damit ausdrücken, dass es sich bei Scheidungsverfahren um angeblich weniger streitige Verfahren handelt und dieses Weniger an Streit mit dem etwas geringerwertigen Begriff “Beschluss” kenntlich machen. Ich halte das für Unsinn, zumal die Vermutung, Scheidungsverfahren seien weniger weniger streitige Verfahren, häufig falsch ist.

So the colleague’s question was: do we change the translated term to suit new German practice? The answer on all sides was ‘no’.

And yet when English law removed the term plaintiff and replaced it by claimant, translators in the UK followed suit, even though the term plaintiff is used in Ireland and thus in the EU, and also in the USA and other common-law jurisdictions. And similarly, in family law, it’s common to use contact instead of access in translations, just because the term has changed in English law.

Of course one has to consider how close the concepts are in German law and English law. And also whether the audience is from one specific jurisdiction – it’s statistically more sensible to use plaintiff unless the readership are purely from the UK.

I’m trying to think of other cases where changes in terminology might affect translations. One area is the introduction of ‘politically correct’ usage, which may occur in the USA and UK before it does in Germany. Should a German institution use non-sexist language in its English documentation even if it doesn’t in German? I think so.

The names of courts, court personnel and lawyers often change. So do forms of companies and partnerships.

Of course, many concepts are not close and the target language needs a definition. It’s only terms like Scheidungsurteil and plaintiff that are close enough that one wonders whether to follow changes in the target language.

 

2 thoughts on “Changing terminology

  1. Surely, divorce decrees in German ending in a ‘Beschuß’ = shoot-out, as reported in the German mass media week after week, would be more to the point, namely apt, apposite and appropriate. Yours in ‘Waffenstillstand’.

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