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Translating Legalese

Source: felix_w

Translation covers a huge array of fields in which translators find themselves short of breath at the beginning of their career, intimidated by the immensity of each field containing umpteen technicalities awaiting to be acquainted with. Some translators pick a favorite subject to specialize in, while some are devoid of the opportunity to make a choice at all, since their career is shaped by demands from clients rather than offering services only in their preferred expertise. 

One of these fields is legal translation, which deals with the professional writing style used in legal documents, sometimes called Legalese. Although some translators may feel frightened with legal translation, it is contrarily much easier, and it brings in some advantages to translators. Here are some of these advantages.

It is a general rule for most texts to aim for clarity so that the reader is provided with an understandable mesh of words, some texts intend completely otherwise for various reasons though. When it comes to business, it is wise to avoid ambiguity, and business documents should and do try to achieve full comprehensibility. Allowing room for varying interpretations does not yield  the best outcome, so, writersespecially legal writersstrive for precision to prevent any possible misinterpretation, which is any interpretation other than the desired one. 

So, translators do not get confused as to what the original text does mean to say, and their job is simply to render the exact equivalent statement in the target language. While precision is what technical texts also aim for, legal writers enjoy the privilege of having the centuries old experience at their disposal in their efforts to create texts with a specific terminology tailored for an explicit purpose. It is also worth noting that translators have the same advantage in the target language, so the legal traditions of two cultures avail convenience to translators in both languages.

Stability in Terminology 
With the rapid advent of technology, we have new systems and terms popping up every day in every industry, and that makes a translator’s job more difficult as the need for enriching and managing vocabularies becomes an additional part of the translation business. In legal documents, however, terminology branches out relatively more slowly. A legal document written 50 years ago can remain almost up-to-date in terms of lexical effectiveness, in comparison with a technical text written 50 years ago. So much so that an old technical text can even evoke feelings of nostalgia.

Source: Gellinger

Much as every field has its own peculiarities, legal translation remains to be distinct from others with its traditionality, rather than just being excusively complicated or requiring deep expertise. No doubt all areas of translation require expertise in a specific profession, however, when compared to another field, say, technical translation, which corresponds to a wider range of specialties, legal translation is distinguished with the historicity of its terminology, dating back to centuries ago, thus, giving translators a solid background to have a command of the old style in the language. 

Low Learning Curve
Just as in any profession, experience is acquired with hard work over a long period of time. The leftover habits from long term efforts make skill, seasoned with many diverse endeavors exerted into a set of works. In the translation profession, each field presents challenges with their distinctive terminology, and it takes translators some time to familiarize with the functions and background of a given field. In translation of legal documents, translators can enjoy the advantage of a low learning curve in reaching a certain level in their profession, which facilitates building a career more efficiently, and allows translators the chance to be more productive. 

Always in Demand
Industries are born and die out as the science continues to make things more comfortable for us. Many ancient crafts perished, many are forgotten, and many are getting closer to be a thing of the past. But law, it seems, remains the strongest one surviving centuries. Since the time of Sumerians making business with words inscribed on clay tablets to this day, people need commitments to be kept safe against oblivion. With the globalization of almost everything under the sun, translation of legal and commercial documents will maintain its indispensable position. 

Source: Vural Yavaş

Translating legal documents does not offer only advantages, but also some challenges, and it is worth talking about them too. If you are translating a legal document from the English language, your target language is most likely one used in a country where the Roman Law (also known as Continental Law or Civil Law) is in effect, rather the Common Law. Sometimes you will encounter cases where a direct equivalent of a term in English is not available in your native language, or a term that looks similar will qualify as something completely different than what is intended in your country. 

This is not because lexicographers omitted nuances or did not pay sufficient attention to details, but because different legal systems function with their own versions of legal terms. Reading basic literature on this divergence will gain you an insight into the difference in terminology, and with time of course, you will master your trade to the extent that both sides seem to be equally simple, or perhaps, equally complicated.


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