Comparative Law for Legal Translators – first look

This is a first look – not a review, because I haven’t read the whole book.

Comparative Law for Legal Translators, by Guadalupe Soriano-Barabino, published by Peter Lang 2016 – also available as an e-book, PDF – volume 17 of New Trends in Translation Studies

This book is by one legal translation academic with shorter contributions from two others. Between them they cover the languages French, Spanish, Italian, German and English. It is part of a series published by Peter Lang called New Trends in Translation Studies – volume 17, in fact.

The title suggested to me that it is a book about comparative law intended for legal translators, but in fact it is a book intended for academics about how comparative law might help legal translators, and help train them, and it contains concrete examples of exercises. It is quite a short book but rather heavy going in parts, as one might expect when the intended audience are academics rather than practitioners. There is frequent quoting from Zweigert and Kötz, for example – an excellent book but not what I was expecting. I was expecting one author’s views, not opinions frequently buttressed with citations. That is not exactly what the introduction says, but it does say it’s addressed to translators-to-be, translator trainers and professional translators ‘who wish to develop their activity in the field of legal translation’.

Not only is the book addressed to a variety of readers, it also contains short chapters on seven legal systems. If I wanted to use this book for legal translation between German and English, I would want more on German law than sixteen pages starting with the historical evolution of the German legal system and then concentrating on sources of law, courts and the legal profession. (The introduction to comparative law also goes back to Plato).

The first of four parts establishes, with much theorization and quotation, that legal translators need to understand source and target legal systems. A taster (p. 21):

To sum up, comparative law and legal translation interact because the former becomes an instrument for the latter. The asymmetry between different legal concepts and systems is a challenge for the translator and comparative law can help translators first to understand and later to explain (and translate) the legal concepts of the source legal system into the target legal system. The actual translation (as a product) can be rendered through the application of different techniques and strategies, which are discussed in detail in Chapter 11.

The second and third parts consist mainly of short chapters on a number of legal systems, concentrating on sources of law and court hierarchies. These chapters are preceded by a discussion on how the major legal families/systems of the world may be classified, and then a few pages on the civil law and common law systems.

The fourth and final part is headed ‘Comparative Law for Legal Translators: From Theory to Practice’, and falls into two sections. Firstly, ‘Training Legal Translators’ is mainly a discussion of what translation competence means and how legal translation competence can be defined. It concludes that legal translators do not have also to be lawyers to be good translators. finally, ‘Legal Translation in the Classroom’ suggests concrete approaches.

First, there is a discussion of how to decide on terminological equivalents: translators need to know the difference between two legal systems in order to decide how similar two terms are – are they equivalents or not close enough? Finally, there are twenty-four suggested exercises of a variety of kinds for students. Students should be encouraged, for example, to look at texts in their source and target languages which are similar, that are different but have the same purpose, that don’t exist in the other language, that have a different structure. Students should rewrite texts in legalese in plain language (an excellent idea). They should look at the same terms that have different meanings, for example in English-language jurisdictions.

This isn’t a review as I haven’t read the whole of the book. I am more interested in practical legal translation and would recommend another book from the series, Legal Translation in Context, edited by Anabel Borja Albi and Fernando Prieto Ramos, a collection of chapters – the first, by Jan Engberg, is incidentally titled ‘Comparative Law for Translation’. There is also Legal Translation Explained, by Enrique Alcaraz and Brian Hughes, from the (originally) St. Jerome Publishing series Translation Practices Explained.

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