Pronouncing the alphabet

Derek Thornton (former blog here) reports in the FLEFO forum of CompuServe (click on Nachrichten, then English/ESL/EFL):

bq. As the French Ambassador to the United Nations said in English today in New York on the subject of a prime minister for Iraq:
“We are not going to speculate on a Mr. ‘icks or a Mr. E. Greck.”

Comments and a brace of vole


On language log, Sally Thomason asks what pattern governs the following list of mammals found on a farm in north-eastern Oregon:

bq. Mammal sightings: black bear, bobcat, cougar, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, chipmunk, ground squirrel, flying squirrel, snowshoe hare, mice, and vole

As she says, animals you hunt often take no plural -S, e.g. a brace of duck. But you wouldn’t talk about shooting a brace of vole (Wühlmäuse), although I imagine they’re difficult to hit.

bq. What’s interesting is the zero-plural-for-game-animals usage in this list, except for those mice — which aren’t game animals, of course, but then, neither are voles and chipmunks. That is, as is typical in discussions of game animals, all the terms are treated as if they were structurally parallel to deer, with plural identical to singular. Surely those animal sightings are multiple, not a single member of each species (well, except maybe for rarely-seen animals like cougars).

I think the idea is: if I’ve seen one, that’s sufficient. The lister is not interested in how many chipmunks he saw, just that he saw a chipmunk (is it the generic ‘the chipmunk’) at all. Still, I would be happier with ‘chipmunks’ and ‘voles’, but of course as it’s not a text about hunting, the bears should be plural too. Perhaps the writer was avoiding -s plurals for some reason or other and then the mice did not seem to break the pattern either, so voles and chipmunks remained singular too. Was it not Tom, of Tom and Jerry, who said, ‘I hate those meeses to pieces’? (In this connection, I have been translating something about Azerbaijan and see that you can shoot a lot of ducks there).

Anyway, I can’t post this as a comment on language log, because it allows no comments. An apologia for this has just been posted by Geoffrey Pullum. Actually, I would have thought it safe to allow comments provided you close posting of comments after a certain date. I get scarcely any comments since I closed posting on old posts. I still have a good six weeks open (this is a guess). There is one persistent poster, presumably automatic, who is constantly turned away by MT Blacklist. But that I could delete myself on the recent posts if I had to.

Translating ‘creative commons’/Übersetzung von “creative commons”

I heard my name mentioned on Blogalization, where iggy has been discussing the difficulty of translating the term ‘creative commons’ into Spanish, quoting this note from the Spanish translator of a Cory Doctorow essay on E-Books:

bq. This text originally dealt with what in North American law is called the “public domain,” the place where texts whose copyrights have expired end up. The meaning of “dominio público” in Spanish law, however, which follows the European tradition of authorial rights, is different from that of “public domain” …

iggy wonders:

bq. Is the notion of the “creative commons” Anglocentric? Does it presuppose the framework of the English common law, and is it translatable into the terms of other legals systems (such as Brazil’s Roman and Napoleonic legal system)? How do such questions affect the ongoing project for the international commons, which aims to “port” the Creative Commons license in collaboration with local initiatives such as International Commons Spain and International Commons Brazil?

This is quite clearly a question for Professor Lenz, who teaches German law in Japan and has weblogs in English, German and Japanese, and who is my authority for us being cautious about creative commons.

I don’t know this area. But this is my feeling: it isn’t a common law / civil law question, for all the term ‘commons’ is used (I’ve already pointed out today that there are several meanings of ‘common law’, and here’s another term). Well, it is, but not because the difference between the copyright systems is rooted in the two legal systems and could never be changed. But there is a difference in that I think you can’t 100% give your copyright away in German law – that’s what they mean by ‘authorial’. I don’t even know what the situation is in England; hasn’t it changed in that direction too (asserting one’s ‘moral rights’, for instance). Anyway, that doesn’t really matter, because you can still give the rights of use, give as much as you can. If you call it creative commons, it just won’t go quite as far as it would in the USA (is that correct, experts?). The problem was that under creative commons you remained liable for throughput. Professor Lenz highlighted

I see there are new creative commons licences out today (2.0), incidentally.

But the main point of this late – or early – post is to publicize the translation question.

Legal terms hard to translate/Schwer zu übersetzende Rechtsbegriffe

In the legal section of the Times Online today (registration free), on the Legal Diary page, there is a paragraph on terms that translators out of English found hardest to translate:

LEGAL verbiage can be hard enough for English speakers to understand, but it can be a nightmare for translators. An agency specialising in work for the legal sector, Today Translations, has surveyed 1,000 of its linguists, asking them which words were hardest to translate. Top of the list was “leapfrog” as in “leapfrog appeal”, followed by “toxic tort” then “sectioned under the Mental Health Act”. Other words in the Top Ten were chambers, probation officer, trustee, common law, barrister, Michaelmas Term and Court of Appeal.

You can say Sprungrevision for leapfrog appeal in German: they have something similar. I see no problem with toxic tort, although there may not be a neat term. Lister/Veth have regresspflichtige Gesundheitsschädigung durch Giftstoff (z.B. Asbest). Sectioned is a similar case. Chambers is a problem because there are judge’s chambers and barristers’ chambers, and the latter can be used to refer both to a building and to the group of barristers who have their offices there (I’m sure AMM will wish to opine on this). Probation officer is Bewährungshelfer, trustee is Treuhänder, common law has four or five different meanings – perhaps I should set that out in a separate entry – all of which are translatable. I personally say der Barrister in special cases, where Anwalt is not precise enough, and for Court of Appeal I would also cite the English name once. For Michaelmas Term, Romain has (obs) Herbstsitzungsperiode (der englischen Gerichte). – Thisis all just off the top of my head except where I looked it up.

I’m not trying to disprove the article, which in any case refers to several languages and what’s more probably includes interpreting.

Of course, some of these terms are quite straightforward in some contexts. You don’t always need the precise term. And as long as you understand the English, you should be able to fit something to the text in question.

Thanks to Lanna Castellano for spotting it!

Brochure on cultural differences/Broschüre “Andere Länder, andere Sitten”

Der ADÜ Nord (Assoziierte Dolmetscher und Übersetzer in Norddeutschland e.V.) hat eine Broschüre “Andere Länder, andere Sitten” veröffentlicht (auf “Publikationen” klicken). Die Broschüre kann kostenlos als PDF-Datei, oder Teile davon als PDF-Dateien, heruntergeladen werden. Länder, die behandelt werden, sind Großbritannien, USA, Frankreich, Spanien, Russland und Kasachstan.

ADÜ-Nord has a brochure (in German) on cultural differences in various countries: the UK, USA, France, Spain, Russian and Kazakhstan. It’s very useful and fills a number of gaps in cultural knowledge.

Germany is missing, but there is a constant comparison with Germany that is very useful.

Here is a remark on Britain and Germany that is useful:

bq. Viele ehemals eiserne Regeln verlieren allmählich an Verbindlichkeit, beispielsweise der Grundsatz, dass als Gruß am Ende eines Briefes Yours faithfully statt Yours sincerely stehen muss, wenn die Anrede Dear Sir/Madam lautet. Im Zweifelsfall ist es jedoch besser, den Partner mit vornehmer Zurückhaltung zu amüsieren, als ihn durch übertriebene Lockerheit zu verprellen. Während – vor allem in E-Mails – auch in Großbritannien eine informelle Freundlichkeit immer üblicher wird, dürften die in deutscher Korrespondenz um sich greifenden betont fröhlichen Grußformeln wie Mit freundlichen Grüßen aus dem sonnigen Ottensen nach London für das britische Gegenüber noch gewöhnungsbedürftig sein.

(Some rules are less strictly observed nowadays, e.g. ending with Your sincerely only if you address the recipient by name at the beginning. But it’s better to be amusingly stiff than over-friendly. Informal friendliness is becoming more and more common in email in Great Britain [becoming? I thought email had always been friendly], but British people will have difficulties getting used to the emphatically friendly ‘Best wishes to London from sunny Ottensen’).

I think I have serious problems because I don’t write these greetings. On German mailing lists you see ‘Mit hungrigen Grüßen’ if the topic is food, and often ‘Liebe Grüße’. I tend not to do this, although probably I should adapt to the country’s customs. Having learnt to be brief and address people by their name alone in English-speaking Usenet groups, I was shocked to see, in the probably deceased that if people don’t have an especially friendly, i.e. typically German, address and closing, they are often flamed by other users. A serious cultural dilemma.

This follows the general rule, stated earlier, that the lack of a du/Sie distinction does not mean that there is no distance between people.

I haven’t read much of the brochure but on glancing through it I was disappointed to see the old chestnut about the car called Nova not being saleable in Spain.

There’s a quiz at the end. One of the points I wonder about: Germans use their forks like a shovel, but British people ‘spießen die Speisen mit der Gabel auf’. Well, you certainly can use your fork to spike bits of food, but with things like peas you will not spike them individually but are supposed to push them precariously onto the rounded side of the prongs. (I also learnt to eat soup differently from the Germans, letting the soup into the spoon on the far side and drinking it from the near side, and I had to learn in Germany to leave my hands visible on the table all the time).

Courses in American English for foreign lawyers

Rainer Langenhan points to a 3-week summer course on American legal English in Poland.
The course is one originating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and has been ‘on the road’ before. There is an accompanying book for $35 by Teresa Brostoff and Ann Sinsheimer.

The main aim of the course is to prepare foreign lawyers for a one-year LL.M. course in the USA, and it includes training on how to raise your hand in class. I suppose the Socratic method is not inflicted in full on foreign lawyers, but it seems they need a warning. Here’s an extract from the table of contents (but it gets more meaty later).

Conversation Skills
Your Role in the Law School Classroom
Listening to a Lecture
Matching Exercise
Active Listening
Participating in Classroom Discussions
Defining/Explaining a Term or Concept
Techniques for Defining/Explaining a Term or Concept
English Stress Patterns
Stress within words and phrases—Exercise
Stress within English Sentences—Exercise
Using Stress for Special Purposes—Exercise
Article Exercise
Preparing Presentations
Presentation—Peer Review
Exam Taking
Culture Shock
Stages of Culture Shock
Culture Shock and Law School
Understanding Your Needs and Motives
How to Fight Culture Shock
Law School Slang Vocabulary
Law School Vocabulary

I would be interested in Law School Slang Vocabulary.

Here’s an example of culture shock from the first article linked above:

bq. One foreign lawyer studying U.S. law in the University of Pittsburgh’s English for Lawyers summer program bought chocolate milk for his coffee—several times—before hitting on the right choice.
That’s just one example of the kinds of cultural adjustments a foreign lawyer can experience when coming to Pitt for an introduction to American law and legal English.

It doesn’t say why he did this several times.

Other courses are held in Germany and elsewhere, also inexpensive. The DAJV has information.

bq. Auch in Europa werden zahlreiche Sommerkurse veranstaltet, die zur Vorbereitung und Einführung in das anglo-amerikanische Recht sehr gut geeignet sind, wie z.B. die von der DAJV mitveranstalteten “American Law Introductory Courses (ALICS)”, das “Leyden-Amsterdam-Columbia Summer Program in American Law”, der Kurs “American Law and Legal Institutions” des Salzburg Seminar in American Studies oder der “International Summer Course in Modern English Law” der University of London.
Über diese Kurse ist wiederholt in den juristischen Fachzeitschriften JuS und JURA berichtet worden. Nähere Informationen sind beim DAAD, bei der Studienberatung der Amerika-Häuser und bei der DAJV erhältlich.

Incidentally, here’s an excellent book on Introduction to Legal English also for $35. It’s by Mark E. Wojcik and is used by the International Law Institute for similar courses. I only have the first edition.

It has good authentic materials of many kinds. One should be careful not to believe all the hype about any book, though.

bq. “What is so outstanding about Professor Wojcik’s work – for the term ‘book’ fails to do it justice – is that it incorporates notions of U.S. law, reasoning, and writing by explaining these concepts in the context of U.S. language and culture.”
Professor Toni M. Fine
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

bq. Employing a hands-on, structured approach, the author leads the reader through carefully crafted exercises that develop the ability to understand and use Anglo-American legal terminology in both written and oral formats.
(Publisher’s blurb)

Mine certainly looks like a book. I’m suspicious of everything that’s ‘carefully crafted’ and have my doubts about ‘written and oral formats’ (is that like landscape and portrait?)

But the book looks OK.

Program to choose EU party/Wahl-O-Mat für EU-Wahl

Wahl-O-Mat kann heruntergeladen werden bei der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (deutsch, und deutsche Parteien).


A program (script) downloadable from Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung helps you decide which (German) party to vote for in the EU elections on June 13th (questions are in German).

The Bundeszentrale has an excellent collection of publications (in German) that we used to order for students, and many of which can be downloaded nowadays. For instance, there was one issue – it was a magazine – on the UK and one on the USA, full of maps, history, tables, all kinds of background information. If there was one on the German legal system, or German criminal law, I would write off for a set for the class, and they were free of charge for schools. I’m referring to Informationen zur politischen Bildung; there are other series and other publications too. Have a look around the site. I actually thought some of the graphics were online, but I can’t find them now.

IATE central EU terminology project

I’m recording this for my own interest. Last November, a message on the Usenet group sci.lang.translation mentioned the test version of a projected centralized terminology database for the EU, called IATE or Inter-Agency Terminology Exchange. Here is more information.

At that time it was said that IATE would probably be going live in March, at which time the database would be moved elsewhere before going live. But it seems not to have moved yet.

To access the database, go to this site, and use the Username w0300005 and Password w03005.

I had a quick look at Vertragsstrafe, and it wasn’t particularly helpful. There’s a general recommendation to translate this into English as liquidated damages see earlier entry) – also being discussed on ProZ at present.

Translating German contracts into English

Someone wrote to me recently asking for advice and book recommendations for starting to translate contracts DE>EN. I wrote back to say I would probably blog it, and now I can’t find the email, nor my reply. The reason I wanted to blog it was to save myself typing in future, but it’s a big field and there’s no special advice here.


Understand the original contract. That might mean reading the Civil Code or some other statutes, or getting information from Creifelds Rechtswörterbuch or a book on standard-form contracts with footnotes. I’ve got some here, but they’re out of date so I’m not going to recommend one.

See if it’s from Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Is the translation going to a specific English-speaking country, or will it be read by all and sundry in Germany who understand English?

Make sure it says it is governed by German law, and that the German-language version is binding. Converting a German contract into a contract under English or any other legal system is work for lawyers. Even if you’re insured, you’re probably not insured for practising law without a licence.

You can use one of the standard bilingual law dictionaries, but you can’t trust it. You need monolingual German and English references to decide which alternative, if any, to use.

Translate the contract, conveying the meaning of the German in English appropriate in a written style (neither colloquial and slangy, nor pompous and outmoded). Don’t translate word for word, but keep close to the original.

If you want to use the kind of standard-form phrases (boilerplate) used in English or American contracts, you must know what you’re doing. Often, standard expressions will be phrased differently from the original and you need to be certain they have the same meaning as the German before you use them. Continue reading