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How much legalese is OK?
Thread poster: Reed James

Reed James
Chile
Local time: 20:06
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
Apr 21, 2006

I once submitted a ES-EN test translation to an agency and I was not accepted because according to the independent reviewer, it had too much legalese in it. In addition, the reviewer said that it is a "beginner's mistake" to render a Spanish legal document into its American/British counterpart.

I am not sure I agree with this. Can anyone shed some light on the matter? Thanks.

Reed


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
Holly cow! Apr 21, 2006

And here I thought that when we are given a document written in English legalese to translate, the logical way to do it was to translate it into Spanish legalese.

Otherwise, we are no longer translating, we are "adapting" or "dumbing down" the original. Never heard of such a thing.

Let the record show that the undersigned, to the best of her knowledge and belief, will not aid or abet any party to change the register of a translation, or any other type of fallacious undertaking.

teju


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:06
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Adapt the amount of legalese according to the readership Apr 21, 2006

Hi, Reed!

Well, firstly, it cannot be a "beginner's mistake" to translate a Spanish legal document into its BE/AE counterpart, because localization is supposed to be a good thing, and, if you translate the document into its cultural counterpart, you are surely localizing it?

My own approach to anyone and everyone (some may regard it as slightly insulting) is to make absolutely sure of clarity, and of the message being communicated, even if it means assuming a lack of knowledge on the part of the reader (who, in that particular instance, may have the required knowledge). When I converse with people who speak English as a second language, I try to avoid turns of phrase which may only be clear to a native speaker of English. Therefore, I do not speak English in the way that would come to me naturally. I usually do the same when I am translating: I try to write the sentences neutrally and clearly, and avoid any word or expression which is exactly the right one, but which I cannot be 100% sure the reader will understand.

The legal documents I translate are not usually intended to be read by members of the legal profession. They pass through the hands of members of the legal profession, and are intended to be read by lay persons. Those lay persons ought to be able to understand the story.

I have to admit that I have at times been criticised for the lack of legalese. The criticism, however, comes from the members of the legal profession who read the translation before their clients do. I am not convinced they are right, so I keep on erring on the side of simplicity.

In the end, I suppose you should first find out who is supposed to benefit from the translation, and then adapt the amount of legalese accordingly.

Astrid


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María Teresa Taylor Oliver  Identity Verified
Panama
Local time: 18:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
Beginner's mistake my foot! Apr 21, 2006

Agree 100% with teju.

The nerve!

No, really, if the client wants us to "adapt", and expressly says so, then we should.

But I've always thought we're supposed to render a translation in the same style as the original.

That hasn't changed, as far as I know...


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Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:06
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Their loss Apr 21, 2006

Gee, what comes next? The client doesn't like the word "hippopotamus" and thinks it should be "horse" instead? The fact that they don't like "legalese" in a legal document is a good indication that you should avoid them. Better to find this out now than when you have a really short deadline.

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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:06
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Astrid Apr 22, 2006

I tend to do the same as Astrid and to back this up I refer to the Plain English Campaign:
http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
"Plain English Campaign is an independent pressure group fighting for public information to be written in plain English. We have more than 10,000 registered supporters in 80 countries.

'Public information' means anything people have to read to get by in their daily lives.

'Plain English' is language that the intended audience can understand and act upon from a single reading."

The thing I hate most are incomprehensible abbreviations and acronyms.


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Pedro Coral Costa  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:06
English to Portuguese
The client's opinion is usually important Apr 22, 2006

Dear Reed,

There is not much consensus about what a good legal translation is and, in my opinion, not many people (including reviewers) know about this subject. However, agencies normally know what is best for them and for their clients, and, unless they are totally wrong or put us at risk, we should consider their opinions.

I do not know what happened in your case, nor do I know what type of legal document you translated, but what I can tell you is that in the US and UK there seems to be a tendency among clients to prefer more careful, literal, translations of official documents (certificates, powers of attorney, contracts, etc.), even if the target text ends up looking like a translation and not as an original text. And, knowing how clever American and British lawyers can be when interpreting a text, I guess they might have a point. (Please note that this does not apply to those cases where both the target and source text are simultaneously binding, like in the case of EU legislation or in the case of contracts where both versions are binding – here both versions should normally look like originals).

But do not get me wrong. We are talking about legal documents, and I think that legalese (i.e. language used by lawyers and in legal documents, which is difficult for ordinary people to understand) can, and in some cases, should be used. However, one should be extremely careful not to use it unnecessarily or in the wrong places.

This is a very interesting topic, and we could go on for ages talking about it. There are some interesting books on the subject. I would specially recommend “A New Approach to Legal Translation”, by Susan Sarcevic, and “Translating Official Documents”, by Roberto Mayoral Asensio. The first one focuses on the translation of legislation, and the second focuses more on translations that meet the requirements to serve as legally valid instruments in a target country. Their approaches are very different and some of their opinions are debatable, but I think they’re both excellent books.

I hope this was of any help.

Pedro


[Edited at 2006-04-22 01:07]

[Edited at 2006-04-22 08:22]

[Edited at 2006-04-23 17:28]


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Liliana Ayllon  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
Same style as the original Apr 22, 2006

I have always thought we are supposed to render a translation in the same style as the original, except when you are expressly told to adap the original version for the sake of clarity.
But sometimes too much legalese is too heavy to decodify, so we must be very careful when to use it and when to avoid it.

Liliana.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
So who needs them? Apr 22, 2006

Who needs and agency like that? Who needs agencies period?

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Reed James
Chile
Local time: 20:06
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
I need them! Apr 22, 2006

Henry. Agencies are a great way of making a stable living without having to hassle with the intricacies of making business deals. As they say in Chile: "Pastelero a tus pasteles."

Henry Hinds wrote:

Who needs and agency like that? Who needs agencies period?


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Reed James
Chile
Local time: 20:06
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the advice Apr 22, 2006

Pedro,

Thanks. I am definitely going to look into those books.

Reed

Pedro Coral Costa wrote:

Dear Reed,

There is not much consensus about what a good legal translation is and, in my opinion, not many people (including reviewers) know about this subject. However, agencies normally know what is best for them and for their clients, and we have to respect their opinions.

I do not know what happened in your case, nor do I know what type of legal document you translated, but what I can tell you is that in the US and UK there seems to be a tendency among clients to prefer more careful, literal, translations of official documents (certificates, powers of attorney, contracts, etc.), even if the target text ends up looking like a translation and not as an original text. And, knowing how clever American and British lawyers can be when interpreting a text, I guess they might have a point. (Please note that this does not apply to those cases where both the target and source text are simultaneously binding, like in the case of EU legislation or in the case of contracts where both versions are binding – here both versions should normally look like originals).

But do not get me wrong. We are talking about legal documents, and I think that legalese should be used in order to please the intended receiver. However, one should be extremely careful not to use it in the wrong places.

This is a very interesting topic, and we could go on for ages talking about it. There are some interesting books on the subject. I would specially recommend “A New Approach to Legal Translation”, by Susan Sarcevic, and “Translating Official Documents”, by Roberto Mayoral Asensio. The first one focuses on the translation of legislation, and the second focuses more on translations that meet the requirements to serve as legally valid instruments in a target country. Their approaches are very different and some of their opinions are debatable, but I think they’re both excellent books.

I hope this was of any help.

Pedro


[Edited at 2006-04-22 01:07]

[Edited at 2006-04-22 08:22]


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Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:06
Japanese to English
+ ...
Is this what they wanted? Apr 22, 2006

Paul Merriam wrote:

Gee, what comes next? The client doesn't like the word "hippopotamus" and thinks it should be "horse" instead? The fact that they don't like "legalese" in a legal document is a good indication that you should avoid them. Better to find this out now than when you have a really short deadline.


See Jose.
See Jose sue.
Sue, Jose, sue.
....


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Trevor Butcher
Local time: 01:06
English
What is translation, what is language? Apr 22, 2006

What is legalese? Are we talking relevant language or language someone uses just because daddy-lawyer did? If I am presented with a contract full of archaic rubbish then I start to think it is about time to change my lawyer. If a translator presents me with the same then I think it is about time I changed my translator.

While we have to take into consideration the clients needs, we also have to ask what is our roles in society. Are we language experts, or are we passively maintainers of a language system that is no longer (if ever) fit for the needs of those least able to deal with it? Can we not work from within, supplying quality modern language for the least able, and the incomprehensible for the people who wish to maintain position and control by confusing others.

When our client is someone who needs to sign a contract to defend themselves or to maintain their business we should give them language that they are going to understand. On the other hand, if we translate a contract for a lawyer to sign to maintain their own business and we know this lawyer to be one who takes advantage through language we should supply translations so insanely incomprehensible that he or she feels the cold touch or fear, the fear of the complex unknown....

Seriously, though, I often wonder why people feel the need to use words like 'hereinabove'? I feel no need to inform you that I am "writing this to you by pressing the keys on my keyboard" as I trust that you are clever enough to work that out by yourself. So why do people want to insult my intelligence by saying "here in this piece of writing somewhere physically further up the page from where you are currently reading". Does it add a value that I am missing? Does it somehow work more accurately than 'this' or 'that' or 'it' in an important document? Or is it simply a method of oppressing the reader with the greater cleverness of the writer?

trevor, thank-goodness-the-week-is-over


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xxxAdrian MM.
Local time: 01:06
French to English
+ ...
Long live legal obscurity and recondite language! Apr 22, 2006

Note the guidelines of the ECJ's Trans. Dept. in Luxembourg: there is a difference between legalese and localised legalistic i.e. better to use freezing order than a Mareva injunction, as it used to be called in Eng. & Wales.

They will accept Scots-law diligence for enforcement/levy of execution and confirmation for probate, as will of course Scottish trans. agencies who get mighty upset if you don't.

Hence the point: the ultimate target readership. By the same token, do not assume that lawyers who have rushed to qualification, esp. in the UK, know their stuff. An Eng. Solicitor actually objected to my translation of covenant for an obligation in a lease.

However, the language of litigation has to be watched. Trans. agencies cannot just ignore entrenched procedures, and pleading drafting styles in the US or the UK and expect the translator to steer a middle course by contriving non-existent terms.


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Luis Arri Cibils  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:06
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
+ ...
It all depends, Trevor Apr 22, 2006

Let's assume that your assignment is to translate a contract with legalese gibberish, ambiguities, etc. You translate it into "plain target language." Your client, relying on your translation, signs the contract. Your translation is clear, unambiguous. Yet, the original document, which is loaded with "legalese" and certainly not unambiguous, has a clause stating: "For the convenience of the parties, the parties are provided with a translation of this Contract from the "source" into the "target language." In case of a conflict between these two versions, the "source language version" will prevail." (When I, as an attorney, write a contract that will be used by parties having different languages, I insist that that clause is inserted. I am reasonably sure about what I wrote in English; I can't sure about how it will be translated.) Please, tell me in that case, what favor are your doing to your client by "clarifying" something that is not clear on the source document.

To write in "plain source language" is a desirable feature for all legal documents. However, translating legal gibberish into "plain target language" might be doing a disfavor to the translators' client. As I said in the heading of this message, it all depends on the purppose of the translation.

This is a very important subject to all legal translators. I wish the colleague that initiated this thread would dare to copy us the original test paragraph and his translation. It would be highly educational. Yet, I understand that he would be subjecting his "work" to the collective criticism of his colleagues.

In my view, unless the client, who knows the reasons for the translation, specifies otherwise, "legalese" in one language must be translated into equivalent "legalese" in the other language. And I mean "equivalent". "Doy fe" in Spanish should not be translated as "I give faith".

Luis


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