Miscellany / Vermischtes

1. John Wells, professor (or ex-professor) of phonetics and author of my favourite pronunciation dictionary, has a blog (via Mark Liberman at Language Log).
The discussion there on the mispronunciation of Blaenau Gwent reminds me we were right in the family always to refer to Bluenose Ffestiniog – no-one could believe we thought it was correct (which it isn’t).
Among other things, Wells links to sound clips of Judge Judy.

2. Some time ago, Arrogant Polyglot considered the origin of the middle finger gesture. I was surprised to see that Wikipedia offers exactly the same story for the middle finger as for the British two fingers (V, but not victory V) gesture (scroll down for V sign as an insult). Both entries have links to German Wikipedia entries.

bq. “The finger” is traceable to Roman times [citation needed], but may be unrelated in origin, as the insulting V sign is largely restricted to the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and Spain, where it is popular among taxi drivers in Madrid. The insulting V sign is not widely recognized in other countries.

3. The BBC has pictures of Boy George doing community service in New York

4. Julio Juncal’s Transnotes is a wiki of Translation Notes – more information here. (via Carlos Ferrero Martín at Las palabras son pistolas cargadas)

Building mystery solved/Kraftwerk in München


In April I posted a photo of an egg-shaped building going up near Fröttmaning in Munich. I couldn’t find out what it was.

In July I photographed a later stage of development. I also established on a Munich online map that there were a Klärwerk (sewage plant) and Biologische Versuchsanstalt marked there. In view of the local wind power plant, I didn’t think the biological experiments were recreating Frankenstein’s monster, but even Googling got me no further.

But now Brian has written to tell me (see comment under Döner Kebab Killer entry) the following:

bq. The domed buildings are being erected above the city’s water treatment plant to trap gasses that rise from the huge ponds where waste water is rotated to aerate it and mix in the algae.
The gas is then used as a source of energy. The technology is fairly new, so expect to see towers like that everywhere eventually.

I may even need to know this one day (I have been translating contracts about wood chip power plants and green electricity, where the energy and the greenness are sold separately).


English law as seen by a German/Englisches Recht aus deutscher Sicht

Henriettes Inselbote is a German weblog written either by Henriette or her granddaughter, on the subject of living in Great Britain.

I can see at once that Henriette and I are both in the wrong country when I read that she actually misses white asparagus.

By the way, here’s another little idea for what to do with it:


Someone seems to have been telling her very strange stories about English law, however. They told her there are no statutes and no delegated legislation, only case law. And they didn’t fill her in on any similarity to German law, in particular under the EU.

bq. Wenn also z. B. ein Sisalteppichverleger (nennen wir ihn Fred….) den Sisalteppich falsch verlegt, i. e. in various bits and pieces (besonders on the staircase), die sich jetzt schon auflösen, statt in einem Stück, wie in Auftrag gegeben – jemand (nennen wir sie mal H.) daher nicht einsieht, den vollen Preis für diese Glanzleistung zu zahlen, und selbst nach dem Hinzuziehen dreier alternativer Sisalteppichleger völlig evident ist, that Fred Mist gebaut hat, dann kann sich H. nicht auf irgendwelche gesetzlichen Grundlagen beziehen. Fred kann erstmal so lange auf vollständige Bezahlung pochen und herumnölen, bis ein Anwalt in alten Rechtsfällen den Fall eines Sisalteppichverlegers herausgefiltert hat, der zwischen dem Beginn der Zeitrechnung und Juli 2006 mal einen Sisalteppich falsch verlegt hat. Dann erst gäbe es erste hints bezüglich der Antwort auf die Frage: muss Fred eine reduction seiner Rechnung akzeptieren, oder gar den Sisal neu verlegen (worst case scenario kann ich nur sagen), oder……?!

I wonder what would happen in Germany?

(Via Obiter Dictum)

Parents jailed for daughter’s truancy/Eltern erhalten Gefängnisstrafe wegen Schwänzen der Tochter

Mr and Mrs Haine had already had a suspended sentence for failing to ensure their daughter attended school, reports the Independent. She attended for ‘the equivalent of six days over seven months’.

What really caught my attention was the fact that Chris and Deborah Haine can call their children Shlaine Haine and Caine Haine.

Their defence lawyer was Tristan Clappe.

Easements and servitudes / Dienstbarkeiten

Juristisches und Sonstiges (Wolfgang Auer diesmal) hat sich die ganze Woche mit Sprache befasst. Unter anderem ging es darum, dass es die Servitut, nicht das Servitut heißt. Der OGH führte aus (Geschäftszeichen 3Ob125/05m):

bq. Die irrige Auffassung, „Servitut” sei grammatikalisch sächlichen Geschlechts, kann wohl nur auf schwindende Lateinkenntnisse einerseits und die leider auch bei Verfassern von Wörterbüchern bestehende Unkenntnis der österreichischen Rechtssprache, andererseits zurückgeführt werden.

Siehe Filip-Fröschl und Mader, Latein in der Rechtssprache, Wien 1993, ISBN 3 7003 0991 0, eine 1999-Ausgabe gibt es auch:

bq. Servituten oder Dienstbarkeiten (servitus, -utis f.; Verbum: servio 4: dienen, belastet sein). Inhalte des Rechtes: der Eigentümer der belasteten Sache (meist Grundstück) muß eine bestimmte Einwirkung des Berechtigten dulden oder eine bestimmte eigene Einwirkung unterlassen. Die Belastung liegt auf der Sache, ein Eigentümerwechsel ändert an der Rechtstellung des Berechtigten nichts.

But why are servitudes (civil law) so often translated as servitudes and not as easements (common law)? What is the difference?

Here is a diagram of an easement from Barron’s Dictionary of Real Estate Terms:


Here we have a dominant tenement (herrschendes Grundstück) and a servient tenement (dienendes Grundstück), an easement (Grunddienstbarkeit) which is a right of way (Wegerecht) over the servient tenement – all common-law vocabulary similar to the Latin. The easement runs with the land (wirkt dinglich / folgt dem Grundstückseigentum).

(I agree with Francis Davey that the Wikipedia article, though not bad, is a bit confusing)

I can’t offhand find anything explaining why the common-law easement is not close enough to render the civil-law servitude. Horn, Kötz and Leser use servitude. The only thing I can think of is that the wider ramifications of each term vary – there are variant types in both cases, and these differ.

Incidentally, this week I used wayleave to refer to a right for electricity pipes and conduits (Durchleitungsrecht). But I only used it as an alternative in brackets. That’s another term I need to pin down.

LATER NOTE: I forgot to Google. This definition from answers.com looks good:

bq. The term servitude is also used in property law. In this context, servitude is used with the term easement, a right of some benefit or beneficial use out of, in, or over the land of another. Although the terms servitude and easement are sometimes used as synonyms, the two concepts differ. A servitude relates to the servient estate or the burdened land, whereas an easement refers to the dominant estate, which is the land benefited by the right. Not all servitudes are easements because they are not all attached to other land as appurtenances (an appurtenance is an appendage or that which belongs to something else).

Lawyers and attorneys / Anwälte, vor allem in Kanada

Aus Stephan Handschug, Einführung in das kanadische Recht:

bq. In Kanada … hat diese Unterscheidung [zwischen Barrister und Solicitor] nur noch historische Bedeutung. Zwar findet sich die Differenzierung nach wie vor auf den Briefköpfen der meisten Anwaltskanzleien wieder. Dies hat allerdings vor allem traditionellen Gründe, da jedes Mitglied einer Rechtsanwaltskammer der jeweiligen Provinz sowohl die Tätigkeit eines Barristers als auch diejenige eines Solicitors ohne Einschränkungen wahrnehmen darf.

Recently, on a mailing list, a translator who rarely does legal texts asked the meaning of ‘have your signature witnessed by a lawyer or attorney or member of the town council’ (that wasn’t an exact quote). She knew there are two kinds of lawyers in England and Wales and wondered if these were them.

I don’t think I will now define all these terms: lawyer, attorney, barrister, solicitor, advocate, jurist, paralegal, legal executive and what have you.

Suffice it to say that the English division between barristers and solicitors (‘the divided legal profession’) was followed by some former colonies. Some didn’t follow it, some dropped it.

In Canada, there is now no distinction, but all lawyers can call themselves ‘barrister and solicitor’ – I’ve even seen ‘barrister, solicitor and attorney’. This is really confusing. So now I’ve found a picture of one and would like to link it as a reminder. It comes from the weblog of a Canadian lawyer the daily snivel (admirable cat content in the latest entry). Here it is, entitled Barrister and Solicitor.

bq. I’m pictured above in my legal robes, which are required court attire in the Superior Court and every appeal court, and you can’t be Called to the Bar without them. While some people simply borrow or rent theirs, I know I’ll be needing them sooner or later, and I wouldn’t feel like a proper lawyer if I didn’t have them ready for an unexpected trip to the Supreme Court (as happened to one of my mentors within a week of his first being Called). They cost me $500, all told, but I think they’re worth every penny scrimped and borrowed to afford them.

Legal text with punctuation problems/Probleme wegen überflüssigem Komma

Rogers Communications Inc. hatte einen Vertrag mit Aliant Inc, der wegen einem Kommafehler im Vertrag viel früher gekündigt werden konnte, als vorgesehen.

globeandmail.com reports that a comma too many in a contract meant it could be terminated five years earlier than intended.

Rogers thought it had a five-year deal with Aliant Inc. to string Rogers’ cable lines across thousands of utility poles in the Maritimes for an annual fee of $9.60 per pole. But early last year, Rogers was informed that the contract was being cancelled and the rates were going up. Impossible, Rogers thought, since its contract was iron-clad until the spring of 2007 and could potentially be renewed for another five years.

What the contract said:

The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

What it should have said:

The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

The suggestion that lawyers should avoid commas so they can’t be used to change meaning is a fallacy engrained in popular consciousness, and finding an example is like suddenly discovering the eskimos really do have more than three words for snow.

So who better than Mark Liberman at Language Log to consider the language of the contract. He argues that the contract should have been phrased better so the problem didn’t arise.

Given the importance of such ambiguities of interepretation, in construing laws and judicial orders as well as contracts, I’ve always been puzzled that lawyers aren’t routinely educated in basic practical syntax and semantics. In olden times, lawyers would have acquired (an approximation to) these skills in the course of learning dead languages. These days, I suppose that few of them get any educational help at all in such matters, and have to fall back on their native wit, such as it may be.

I found the original report (in nos. 27-30, the Commission refers to more arguments than just the comma).

LATER NOTE: I should have said that it would have been better to draft the clause so that a comma would make no difference. I found a discussion of how to redraft this particular clause at Wayne Schiess’s Legalwriting.net.

I’d simply like to suggest you can make the five-year term clear without worrying about commas–if you’re willing to write in short sentences:

* This agreement continues in force for five years from the date it is made. After the first five-year term, it continues in five-year terms unless either party terminates it by one-year’s prior written notice.

I will probably write up this site in a separate entry, but meanwhile, have a look at it if you’re interested in drafting. The comments suggest that Professor Schiess does not often have time to post.