The Oxford comma

Why do US American sources refer to the Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma)? My old copy of the Chicago Style Manual doesn’t call it that. It’s the standard thing in the USA. In the UK, the Oxford University Press famously differs from the many in permitting -ize as well as -ise (subject of another rant since someone in the EU has decided it must always be -ise) and in supporting the use of the serial comma.

Court cases about punctuation are always fun. The latest one was in the USA and concerns the following text:

(Overtime rules do not apply to:)
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Should it be packing for shipment or distribution, or packing for shipment, or distribution? that is, does it refer to distribution, or just to two kinds of packing?

The New York Times reports:
Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute

It refers to the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual, which says this about commas:

Commas are probably the most misused and misunderstood punctuation marks in legal
drafting and, perhaps, the English language. Use them thoughtfully and sparingly.

A. Series. Although authorities on punctuation may differ, when drafting Maine law or rules, don’t use a comma between the penultimate and the last item of a series.

Do not write:
Trailers, semitrailers, and pole trailers
Write: Trailers, semitrailers and pole trailers

The Maine Legislative Drafting Manual does not call it the Oxford comma. What British person has been influencing the US media this week?

LATER NOTE: Lynne Murphy says ‘Oxford comma’ is the more common term in USA and there is a song by Vampire Weekend, ‘Oxford Comma’. Wikipedia has more:

On January 28, 2008, Michael Hogan of Vanity Fair interviewed Ezra Koenig regarding the title of the song and its relevance to the song’s meaning. Koenig said he first encountered the Oxford comma (a comma used before the conjunction at the end of a list) after learning of a Columbia University Facebook group called Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma. The idea for the song came several months later while Koenig was sitting at a piano in his parents’ house. He began “writing the song and the first thing that came out was ‘Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?'” He stated that the song “is more about not giving a fuck than about Oxford commas.”

It looks to me, but what do I know, as if the term was taken up because it seemed weird. Lynne says (on Twitter) that the Chicago Manual would not call it the Oxford comma because OUP is a rival publisher. I’m not now going to research how long the term has been used in the USA because it is very low on my list of things to do.

LATER STILL NOTE:

I see I actually posted about this song in 2010.

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:

DaF-Extras
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.
Solution:
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

Jurtrans blog

In connection with the Words to Deeds Conference 2017 I discovered a legal translation blog by John O’Shea, who does Greek to English translation. The latest post lists upcoming legal translation conferences, of which there are a few:
Round-up of forthcoming legal translation events
There are interesting links on the site too.

Also a fuller report on the conference by Jennifer Whitely on her blog Lakesidelinguist’s Blog. This probably does not refer to our local Lakeside Thurrock though:
Reflections on theWords to Deed Conference #W2D2017

Brexit is an opportunity to reverse the tragic decline of marriage in Britain

Yes, I was amazed by this heading too. It is over an article by Paul Coleridge in the Telegraph.

Fortunately Lucy Reed has done the ground work of ridicule in the Pink Tape blog: Who knew? The EU destroyed the traditional nuclear family. I will quote the same bit she quotes:

And this “State will provide” attitude infected our national domestic life too. The generous welfare system did nothing to discourage family breakdown and it became economically possible for a woman to support children without financial support from herself or a husband. More and more items of our household expenditure were picked up by the State. Notions of individual family self-reliance faded.

and here’s her comment on that:

Dammit, how I *wish* we could go back to those good ol’ times when it was economically impossible for a woman to support children without financial support (and permission) from her husband. If only it weren’t for women’s pesky notions of individual self-reliance we could go back to those happy days where people were forced to stay in unhealthy and abusive relationships that damaged themselves and their children.

Paul Coleridge is a retired judge, born 1949. While still acting, he was disciplined for an article that was presumably similar. From that 2013 article:

Sir Paul, 64, has said he would have continued sitting as a judge for several more years had he not met opposition towards him expressing his beliefs on marriage.

Universities and translators

At the Words to Deeds Conference it struck me how many academics are writing about legal translation nowadays, and the texts they sometimes deal with are more what I think of as real-world translation texts, rather than bilingual Canadian statutes, for example. These texts sometimes even have the names of the parties blacked out, just the way I used to use real divorce documents with blacked-out names with my students in 1982 (before legal translation was a thing).

I chose a table workshop entitled Managing conceptual differences across legal systems. Our discussion made me think of Juliette’s mantra Building Bridges Between Academia and Practice, which I see has now been extended to include & Between Translation, Interpreting, and Legal Practitioners. Academics actually need non-university legal translators, and non-university legal translators would like to see their research. But maybe academics are mainly interested in building up their list of publications, and those publications appear online on sites which are very expensive to access – unless your university provides them. So that is my first problem about building bridges: what is the toll charge?

The day before the conference I was looking at the speakers’ bios and I found an article, just published online and downloadable free of charge, by Dr. Paulina E. Wilson, one of the speakers and heading our table. This is where I got it: Interjural incommensurability in criminal law. I just skimmed it – I don’t do Polish – and found it clear, comprehensible and containing a nice diagram of the definition of going equipped in English law. Now as some of us agreed on the table, it would be great to have access to all the material on comparative law being produced with translation in mind. Because a difficult legal translation requires more hours of research than a client is likely to pay, we are keen to at least see the work done by others. I could imagine collecting a database of articles, not even book chapters necessarily, that I could mine when I needed it. But there is a paywall around a lot of academic research.

Is there a list somewhere of all the sites which charge high fees for downloading? I am sure I’m being naive, because copyright and research funding require materials to be protected. But then what bridges are we going to build?

Words to Deeds Conference 2017

The Words to Deeds Conference, subtitled Legal Translation to the Next Level, was held in Gray’s Inn last Saturday. Many thanks to Juliette Scott for organizing the whole thing so elegantly and thoughtfully.
I have no intention of reviewing the conference. I did, when I first started this blog, review the ATA legal conference in New York, and I realized afterwards that it was a bad idea – you would never have time to analyse and describe all the contributions, you would be bound to leave something important out, and if you did produce something of the appropriate detail, it would be so long that nobody would read it.

Please note in my photo how tasteful the stationery was, and what you probably can’t see: all the pencils were sharpened by hand. You will find video clips on Youtube on how to sharpen a pencil by knife.

However, I will write something about some thoughts I had in discussions, in a following post.

LAWnLinguistics blog on corpus linguistics

I have already given a link to Neil Goldfarb’s weblog LAWnLinguistics – Not about the linguistics of lawns, but that was only in passing. My post then was about Goldfarb’s use of corpus linguistics in an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest post, dated today, is Words, Meanings, Corpora: A Lawyer’s Introduction to Meaning in the Framework of Corpus Linguistics. He writes:

On Friday I will be presenting a paper at a conference at Brigham Young University Law School on law and corpus linguistics. Here is the description from the conference website:
‘Building on the 2016 inaugural Law and Corpus Linguistics Conference, the 2017 BYU Law Review Symposium, “Law & Corpus Linguistics” brings together legal scholars from across various substantive areas of scholarship, prominent corpus linguistics scholars, and judges who have employed corpus linguistics analysis in their decisions.’

That’s quite a coincidence because on the same date there is a talk at IALS A Practical Workshop on using Corpus Linguistics for Law by Dr Gianluca Pontrandolfo.

Goldfarb wants to show lawyers how to judge the meaning of words, and Pontrandolfo’s workshop is said to be of interest not only to legal translators but to those analysing legal language for other purposes.

Anyway, the weblog has a great number of interesting links. It was pretty new when I first linked to it.

With thanks to Stan Carey on Twitter.

Legal translation hub to be launched

Legal Translation hub

Institute of Modern Languages Research
and
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies

An array of activities in the next few days will launch the Legal
Translation hub – a cross-institute initiative by the Institute of
Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) in collaboration with the Institute of
Modern Languages Research at the School of Advanced Study.
The hub will host regular events such as seminars and discussion panels,
and an annual Legal Translation Day. A unique LLM in Legal Translation
is launching in October 2017, and a dedicated library section has been
established within the IALS library.
The hub engages with practice – both legal translators and lawyers – and
with professional bodies and institutions. Additionally, it undertakes
outreach projects.
The inaugural events include three talks at the Russell Square
headquarters of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on 3 February:

* Machine translation and national
security (3 February, 2–3 pm):
Dr Henry Liu, president of the International Federation of Translators,
based in New Zealand and a leading interpreter in English, Chinese and
French, will discuss issues that have implications for UK’s
international reputation and domestic security. He believes British
citizens are being placed at unnecessary risk by a lack of
accountability and absence of quality control in intelligence gathering
operations.
* A practical workshop: using Corpus Linguistics for
Law (3 February, 3.30–5.30pm):
Dr Gianluca Pontrandolfo, a Trieste-based practising legal translator
and academic, will use examples to explain how new technologies can be
used to gain insights into the language of legal texts. Dr Pontrandolfo
worked on the English translation of The Italian Code of Criminal
Procedure and is also the author of a groundbreaking work on compound
terms in criminal law.
* EU legal translation: past, present and
future? (3 February,
5.30–7.30pm): Professor Łucja Biel, from the Institute of Applied
Linguistics, University of Warsaw, Poland and leader of several
international language projects will provide a practically oriented
overview of major challenges and quality parameters in institutional
legal translation in EU institutions.

The launch programme concludes on 6 February at the Québec Government
Office, 12.30–2.30pm, with Louis
Beaudoin, an eminent jurilinguist from Canada, who will explain Québec’s
unique ‘co-drafting’ model to an international audience of legal
translation practitioners, representatives of leading law firms based in
London, researchers and members of the public.

See also at IALS.