Thormann/Hausbrandt: Rechtssprache – book on legal German

Isabelle Thormann and Jana Hausbrandt, Rechtssprache – klar und verständlich für Dolmetscher, Übersetzer, Germanisten und andere Nichtjuristen, BDÜ Fachverlag 2016 – 446 pp. plus keyword index

Let me start by saying that this is a very full and thorough book with a variety of contents and I think anyone dealing with legal German will like to have it. It is intended for those who know nothing about legal German, so experienced legal translators will not need it, perhaps unless like me they are interested in how legal German is taught and explained. The authors have been running seminars on legal German for several years now, so they know what problems non-lawyers have in practice. (The BDÜ runs webinars on the subject by the authors too).

If you are a BDÜ member, you can consult and search online a library of all the books you bought from this publisher (provided the authors agreed to electronic searchng, including this one, together with past issues of MDÜ. I don’t know if it works for non-BDÜ members. I don’t think you will want to use the book as a dictionary – it would make more sense to work through it first – but electronic searching is very useful.

1. Who is it for?
The authors describe the book as both a reference work and a textbook, and they say it is ‘also’ suitable to prepare for the exam ‘Nachweis grundlegender Kenntnisse der deutschen Rechtssprache’, which many German Länder require court interpreters and translators to pass. In Bavaria the equivalent is or was part of the exam for court interpreters and translators called ‘Gerichts- und Behördenterminologie’. In that connection there is another book from that publisher:
Arbeitsbuch zur Gerichts- und Behördenterminologie, Auflage 2013
Autor: Ulrich Daum, Ramón Hansmeyer

The fact is that in order to pass an exam in Bavaria to be a court interpreter or translator, you do not have to choose law as your main subject, so there are a lot of candidates who ought to know something about legal German and fortunately training in this is increasing. So the legal German in these books is not the language of contracts or intellectual property or even judgments. But it’s still useful stuff.

But the subtitle adds ‘Germanists and other non-lawyers’. And parts of the book are said to be particularly suitable for those with German as a foreign language:

Dieses Buch enthält Hinweise und Teile (z.B. das Kapital “Komische Wörter und Ausdrücke”), die besonders für solche Dolmetscher, Übersetzer und Jurastudenten konzipiert wurden, die Deutsch nicht als Muttersprache, sondern als Fremdsprache gelernt haben.

Does anyone else find this ‘komische Wörter’ a bit condescending? Let’s look at them. First comes a long section of words with a different meaning, like anklagen vs. verklagen vs. einklagen, or bestandskräftig vs. rechtskräftig, then come Vertraute Wörter mit anderer Bedeutung, Fachausdrücke der Rechtssprache, Lexikalische Besonderheiten der Verwaltungssprache and at last Komische Wörter und Ausdrücke. I’m not sure why a non-native speaker should be more surprised than a native speaker by abbedingen or einer Sache keinen Abbruch tun. But anyway, I’m quibbling – the contents of the book are very useful.

2. What’s in it?
You can find details of the book here, together with a PDF sample – click on Leseprobe. I would recommend downloading this as it has a full table of contents and you can see how very full it is. The aditional material alone is very useful, closing with police grades, occupations at court, and much else.
The main parts are 1. Characteristics of legal language (about 200 pages), 2 Legal terminology – actually an introduction to law (about 160 pages) and 3 – Appendix – Additional information and solutions to the exercises.

3. Exercises
There are execises, which seem to crop up rather unexpectedly (to me) in the first part. Thus for example:

Umwandlung eines Relativsatzes in eine Linksattribution.
Formulieren Sie die folgenden Sätze so um, dass der Relativsatz in Form einer Linksattribution ausgedrückt wird.
1. Die Verzögerung, die im November 2015 auf Grund der Klagebegründung entstand, war etwas anders als von Ihnen in Ihrem Schreiben dargestellt zustande gekommen.
Die im November 2015 auf Grund der Klagebegründung entstandene Verzögerung war etwas anders als von Ihnen in Ihrem Schreiben dargesellt zustande gekommen.

I’m not sure what the point of these exercises is, but it looks as if the authors want to encourage more comprehensible legal language, perhaps even plain German, which includes converting sentences back and forth. The exercises probably useful to get a feel for legal German, although I wouldn’t have the patience to do 18 of them. I admit this kind of exercise was always very appealing to me as a teacher (I remember a set of sentences on hereinbefore and so on that caused a lot of problems).

At the very end of the book there are 130 questions testing understanding or memory of the text.

4. German legal language

The first part of the book deals with the characteristics of legal German, starting with sentence patterns and continuing inter alia with prepositions, tenses and
At all events, the first 200 pages of the book give a very detailed analysis of legal German which is also clearly set out and comprehensible. I could learn from them myself. They might also form the basis for a comparative analysis of how to translate legal German into English, whether that was legalese or the kind of less heavy English that some jobs need.

5. Lists of legal terms

Still in Part 1, there are long lists of legal terms, in a number of categories:
Bedeutungsunterschiede: over 40 examples, mainly pairs of words such as Anerkenntnis vs. Geständnis, anhängig vs. rechtshängig, Erbe vs. Vermächtnis. Many of the terms are dealt with in a bit more detail later in the book.
Vertraute Wörter mit anderer Bedeutung
Fachausdrücke der Rechtssprache: ‘Diese Ausdrücke sollten Sie kennen’. A long list with definitions, starting with abdingbar, abgängig, Adhäsionsverfahren, ahnden, Akt, aktenkundig.
Komische Wörter und Ausdrücke: “mit Verlaub”, abbedingen, Abbruch, Abkömmling, Absehen, absprechen and so on.
Stilebenen, Register, Soziolekt: colloquial expressions contrasted with legalese, e.g. Adresse/Anschrift, ansehen/in Augenschein nehmen.

6. Legal terms in the context of an introduction to German law
A nice introduction to the elements of German law, both substantive and procedural. There are also lists of abbreviations and Latin expressions.

At the back, following the final exercise, there is a brief bibliography and also a list of internet links.

That concludes a summary of most of the book. Again, look at the table of contents on the website linked above for a full impression.

One problem of a book like this is searching in it. It does have an index of the keywords at the back, fortunately. Not every word given special treatment counts as a keyword, though. The ‘komische Wörter’ for us foreigners are not included in the index.

As a final comment I have some difficulty in using the definitions of words. But I am not the intended audience for the book. I would be more inclined to go to a statute or to Creifelds or anywhere else I could find a serious legal definition meant for lawyers. But this would not be possible for many of the words dealt with. German general dictionaries exclude legalese (Fachsprache) so we translators are quite dependent on the help of colleagues. Take the word nachlassen in the sense of ‘permit’, for which see Corinna Schlüter-Ellner (below). The bibliography also contains other books that may be helpful; in addition to the volume by Ulrich Daum mentioned above I would add:

Schlüter-Ellner, Corinna: Juristendeutsch verständlich gemacht. Treffende Verben in der deutschen Rechtssprache (same publisher; the book comprises two sections and is not restricted to court vocabulary)
Simon, Heike and Funk-Baker, Gesela: Einführung in das deutsche Recht und die deutsche Rechtssprache