Translation blogging

I think this year I will probably ignore this blog’s birthday (early April, 15?). When I started there were a few translation blogs, although probably no other legal translation blogs. I thought that after I stopped teaching legal translation, I still had a lot of things to say about it. But nowadays I am more likely to post interesting links to Twitter. Goodness knows how many I am missing.

A websearch brings up a lot of posts on ‘Best translation blogs’. I am fond of this description of mine:

  • Transblawg is dedicated to German-English legal translation. The posts, written by Werner Patels, are full of humor and entertainment, which makes his blog fun and quite useful at the same time. It offers help and information to translators on a variety of topics and specializations.

This should teach me not to be so full of myself.

Here’s a new legal translation blog: Language with a Pinch of Law.

Like many, it’s the offshoot of a legal translation firm. It’s run by Paula Arturo and its languages are US English and Spanish (Argentina) and Portuguese (Brazil). There is an active Twitter feed too. It goes into US legal usage quite a lot (often quoting  Ken Adams or Bryan Garner (Black’s Law Dictionary)). There is also apparently a Facebook group called Legal Writing and Translation, (‘For those who passionately pursue linguistic excellence’), but I haven’t investigated it. The main emphasis of the blog is probably translating US contracts (common law) into Spanish (civil law).

Nikki Graham in her Tranix blog (My words for a change) started a translation and interpreting BLOG survey in January of this year, and she has now published a first post on the results: Blogging is not dead.

She had 190 responses. One finding was that over 84% of those replying do read blogs (but then why would they fill in a survey about blogging if they didn’t?). The next question: is blogging good for your business? The majority did not think so.

I had a problem with that question because I did not create this blog directly to be good for my business, although it might appeal to other translators, and if legal translation is not their special field they might recommend me to their clients. But then again I seem to have enough work.

There are a lot of quotes from survey answers. There is to be a second part:

In part 2 of the survey results, we’ll look at the reasons why people do and don’t blog.

I will be interested in that. When I started this blog, the world of advertising yourself as a translator was very different.

From another blog: Martin Crellin, in false friends, good and bad translation, posts on becoming a German. He writes in German, despite the English title. I was amused to read that one of the places he had to apply to asked for a handwritten c.v. – although he found out later he could have done it on the computer. I remember handwritten cvs!

Translating a German judgment – Project Gutenberg case

Here are the two texts I am about to discuss:

Original German judgment of Frankfurt am Main Regional Court

English translation of the judgment

Here is an IPKAT post on the case.

I apologize in advance if I seem to be nitpicking in the following, since the translation is excellent and reads very well in English, although the latter is not a 100% requirement in legal translation. I assume the translation was commissioned by the Cologne law firm Wilde Beuger Solmecke, who represented both Project Gutenberg and its managing director and CEO Dr. Gregory Newby.

A commenter on my earlier post is interested in a discussion of the US English aspects of this translation. I had not thought about that. It is very similar to a British English text. However, I suppose that people might be interested on what strikes me, so I will report on that at the end.

The following are just a few remarks out of many that could be made!

Use of reported speech

Anyone translating a German judgment into English must make it clear when a statement is direct speech (the words of the court) and when it is indirect speech (the submissions of the parties). This translation does that very well.

An example: in the section of the judgment setting out the facts of the case, the words of the parties often have to be summarized, and it must be made clear in German and English that these are what the parties state.

p. 7  Die Beklagten behaupten, dass die Beklagte zu 1) keine Kenntnis von der Nationalität ihrer Nutzer habe.

Tr: The defendants claim that the first defendant has no knowledge of the nationality of its users.

No problem here.

p. 8 Die Beklagten seien nicht zum Schadensersatz verpflichtet, da sie weder vorsätzlich noch fahrlässig gehandelt hätten.

Tr. The defendants claim they are not liable for damages as their actions were neither willful  nor grossly negligent.

Here it was necessary to make it clear that this was a party’s statement, and also which party stated it.

This may seem elementary, but it is something that inexperienced translators often overlook. It also surprises me that native speakers of German who translate into English (quite common not only in Germany but in the USA, where Germans may have lived so long that they feel more comfortable with English than with German) do not always realize that this is reported speech: they learnt it from hearing it, rather than from being taught the grammar.

There are various ways of indicating reported speech. One possiblity is to write ‘The defendants submitted as follows” and then make it clear typographically that several paragraphs are the defendants’ statements. I don’t myself use ‘allege’ or ‘allegedly’, unlike the translator here, because I find it suggests that there was something suspicious about the statement – here is an example:

Die Handlungen der Freiwilligen könnten den Beklagten nicht zugerechnet werden.
The actions of the volunteers can allegedly not be attributed to the defendants.

I would rather know who ‘alleges’ this, although it is probably clear from the rest of the paragraph.

Translating court names

Landgericht Frankfurt am Main
District Court of Frankfurt am Main

I prefer Frankfurt am Main Regional Court (recommended by German authorities).
District Court: this is unclear – does it mean Landgericht or Amtsgericht? On page 10 (and elsewhere) reference to a decision by ‚Regional Court of Hamburg‘.


…hat das Landgericht Frankfurt am Main – 3. Zivilkkammer –
durch Vorsitzenden Richter am Landgericht Dr. Kurth,..
… the District Court of Frankfurt am Main – 3rd Civil Division –
through Dr. Kurth, Presiding Judge at the District Court

I would say the court is ‚sitting with (judges)‘ or ‚composed of‘…

IV Von den Kosten des Rechtsstreits haben die Beklagten jeweils die Hälfte zu tragen.
The defendants shall pay half of the costs of the proceedings respectively.

The defendants shall bear half of the costs of the proceedings each.

What I would do differently

Bezug wird genommen
reference shall be made

Me: Reference is made

Es wird festgestellt, dass die Beklagten als Gesamtschuldner verpflichtet sind, der Klägerin Schadenersatz zu leisten…
The court finds that the defendants, as the joint and several debtors, are obligated to pay damages to the plaintiff

Me: The court finds that the defendants are liable as joint and several debtors to pay damages to the plaintiff

nach §32 ZPO
pursuant to §32 ZPO (German Rules of Civil Procedure)

Me: under section 32 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Zivilprozessordnung)

§ 97 Abs. 1 UrhG
§ 97 sec. 1 UrhG

Me: section 97 (1) Copyright Act

I would not translate Rechtsanwälte as attorneys-at-law, but just as attorneys. The former sounds too much like part of the common-law system.
I would not use authorized proxy for Prozessbevollmächtigte – I would reserve proxy for someone representing another at an AGM. Maybe attorney of record or counsel.


What makes this translation US English?
There aren’t many differences from British English here.
The usual: obligate (rather than oblige, which is less common in BrE than be under a duty)
not proven


Translating judgments – Project Gutenberg blocks German users


Following a dispute on copyright between Project Gutenberg in the USA and S. Fischer Verlag – German copyright still covers some works by Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann and Alfred Döblin, but they are in the public domain in the USA – the Frankfurt am Main Regional Court (Landgericht) has ordered Project Gutenberg to block access to 18 texts to users in Germany, following which Project Gutenberg has blocked all access to Project Gutenberg in Germany, as Chris Meadows on TeleRead reports:

Project Gutenberg blocks German users after court rules in favor of Holtzbrinck subsidiary

Here’s a better summary than mine: Court Order to block access in Germany.

This case has been going on for a while and there will presumably be an appeal.

Incidentally, there is a German Projekt Gutenberg, run by Spiegel Online, which is not involved here and which I am sure complies with German copyright law.

At all events, the articles quoted give links to the original judgment and the English translation. I don’t think we often see such a good chance to comment on translating judgments (I’ve done much more translating of decisions than of contracts over the years) so in a separate post I will comment on the translation.

Draußen nur Kaninchen – miscellaneous

1.A thread on Twitter had English speakers recount their mistakes speaking German. Two of them had understood Kännchen Kaffee as Kaninchen Kaffee. Another remembered being in a restaurant and saying Die Reinigung bitte. There was also a request for Ein Glas Leistungswasser – no one mentioned that you would be looked at oddly in Germany even if you asked for Leitungswasser. There was a request for a Crevettenhalter. And someone used to nod to indicate she understood the other speaker even if she could not speak so well; later she replaced the nod by saying Ich verstecke.

2. The German American Law Journal (American edition) reports that a German court recently held that it is OK for tax purposes in Germany for invoices to be in electronic form. I still have two clients who want paper invoices rather than PDFs. Let’s see if this changes now. Invoicing Germany – AirMail or EMail

A customer had claimed a right of retention based on the alleged insufficiency of an emailed scan of an invoice, arguing that only the original could render the invoice due and payable. The Aachen District Court disagreed and on January 9, 2018 issued its de­cision under docket number 41 O 44/17, available in German from the North-Rhine-West­fa­lia justice portal. The court lists the applicable tax regulations as well as court de­ci­si­ons including a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court for Tax Matters.


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.


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.