Translation of legal documents

Translation of legal documents, documents about setting up a company etc. – all these types of documents can make up a term "legal translation".

Language of law – is a very specific sphere. The main difficulty while translating texts of legal character is that from one hand – it is the language of professionals, and from the other hand, usual people shall understand this language. Translation of legal texts is the real art. For example in Russian and Ukrainian there are a lot of impersonal structures, but on the other hand in some documents there are a lot of “I” pronouns. It is really obvious in some documents in French and in some judicial opinions by House of Lords.

The main aim of the legal translation is to transfer meaning of text in one language with the help of another language, and translator shall make it in such a way that the translated text has the same legal effect as the original one. But it is very difficult to use such an approach to everyday activity of the court interpreter or for the work of legal translator: translation of the documents from the police, translation of the statements from witnesses – foreigners.

If we are talking about legal translation as about translation of documents needed during legal procedures (eg., translation of the contract, translation of insurance documents, testament translation, translation of evidences from witnesses etc.), thus the notion “legal translation” should include not only the translation of the documents and translation of legislative acts, but also the translation of personal documents.

All the legal documents, that should be translated, can be separated into three types: descriptive documents, directive documents and hybrid documents combining all two types of the previously mentioned types of documents. At the same time, the function of the legal document largely depends on the communicational situation, which the translator should always keep in mind. For instance, the translation of the agreement is the directive documentation for the parties from this agreement, but for the third parties this agreement has just the informational character.

Legal translation is interesting and difficult because in jurisprudence there is no common data base, as in math. Legislative system – is a mixture of different scientific disciplines that were developing independently and are based on culturological and linguistic borders. That is why, while translating the legal texts, the translator should pay particular attention to identifying the equivalents of concepts, legal procedures, names of organizations and officials. Taking into consideration the increasing role of the international and European law it is possible to suppose that soon the system will be more or less standardized.

While translating the legal documents the accuracy and correctness are of vital importance. In Ancient Rome there was a decree stating that it is necessary to follow to the strict conformity of the original text with the translated texts while working with the texts from Bible and with the law texts. It was provoked by the belief in magic word order. It was considered that if the word order is broken the text looses its magic power. As the result the translators had to strictly follow the original text, even if they had to scarify the euphony in a translated text. Such a translation tradition has been existing till 20th century, until step by step people started to appreciate “the masters of target language”. Now the translator is not considered as a “bilingual typist”, he/she is more like an author of a new legal text that should influence the reader on target language in the same way as the reader of the source text. Actually, the law itself comes from the same sphere as politics, ethics and metaphysics – from rhetoric. That is why from some point of view the legal translation can be compared with the translation of the literature. In any agreement there is a double meaning and any translation of this agreement should preserve this double meaning. Thus, the legal translation is on the crossing of three ways – law, language and translation. Translation of legal documents – a task, that can be done only by professionals and in any case not by amateurs and dilettantes.

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