In a recent mailing list discussion, a colleague queried the online translation of the German Civil Code, because they thought that ‘charge’ meant to charge a person with a criminal offence, whereas in the context used, it meant ‘encumber’ – quite correctly. This is a good illustration of the uncertainty of some translators when faced with legal texts!
There are a large number of translations of statutes into English available online, many of them ‘official’, whatever that means. Whether they have serious problems or not I usually only notice if I happen to be dealing with a specific part of a statute and especially if Iwant to use the terminology of the translation so my customer can consult the whole thing. I have definitely recorded complaints about some of these translations, as readers of this blog will know.
It seems to me that a particular problem with the Civil Code is that a lot of vocabulary is used consistently throughout, even where in everyday German one might vary it. I think the verbs relating to real and personal property are the same, for example. But many translators simply find a translation and follow it slavishly without considering its reliability (because they aren’t in a position to judge it). But a translation into English that closely follows the German wording may not work as well as a more discursive one.
That’s when I pointed out that a really useful BGB translation would have footnotes.
Now it seems that Professor Gerhard Dannemann and Reiner Schulze are publishing such a version.
. It should be out in July and will cost 280 euros. Intended for German and British lawyers.
In its first edition, this article-by-article commentary covers books 1 to 3 of the code, i. e. General Part, Law of Obligations, Law of Things. The commentary takes into account all the changes up to December 2018 and provides a consolidated version of the BGB.
The commentary of each article is headed by the current version of the article both in the German original and an English translation followed by a clearly and uniformly structured analysis of the provision. Focus is laid on the understanding of the meaning of the provision in the context of the code and the proper use of the terminology both in German and English. As the meaning of the BGB does not always follow from the wording of its provisions, especially if translated into another language, they need further explanation. Taking into account the origin of the BGB in 19th century Germany and the difficulties inherent in any legal translation, the proper use of terminology is the real challenge of the commentary.
Facing this challenge, the commentary meets the expectations both of German and foreign lawyers by providing the proper terminology and explanation in English to lawyers and translators and by offering a systematic overview on the BGB to lawyers who are not very familiar with the German civil law.
Professor Dannemann is responsible for the German Law Archive site and there are some bilingual BGB translations there.