A number of bits of news.

  1. An article in the Law Gazette on April 19 2022: Official court judgments database goes live

I haven’t had occasion to use this yet. It’s worth looking at the comments to see its possible limitations. Till now, we have been very happy to use BAILII, but it’s good to have an official initiative and I think the two may complement each other. Note on the BAILII website there are links to other collections.

2. New German phonetic alphabet: https://www.n-tv.de/panorama/Weg-mit-den-Nazi-Bezuegen-DIN-veroeffentlicht-neue-Buchstabiertafel-article23330727.html

Stuttgart hat es nicht geschafft, auch Augsburg blieb auf der Strecke. Und Bremen ist als einziges Bundesland nicht dabei. Buchstabiert wird künftig von A wie Aachen bis Z wie Zwickau.

Wikipedia has a table showing Switzerland and Austria too. It doesn’t worry me that the towns are all in Germany rather than Switzerland and Austria, as long as they’re comprehensible on the phone. At one time the table contained D for David (older Germans are often suspicious about the name David), N for Nathan and Z for Zechariah. The Nazis replaced these with Dora, Nordpol and Zeppelin, but they are now Düsseldorf, Nürnberg and Zwickau.



3. I dare hardly dip a toe into the problem of making German gender-neutral. Someone posted a shot of a page of this book on Twitter: Wie schreibe ich divers? Wie spreche ich gendergerecht? Ein Praxis-Handbuch zu Gender und Sprache, by Lann Hornscheidt and Ja’n Sammla (whether the authors’ names are as they appeared on their birth certificates it doesn’t say). Here’s a quote from an amazon review:

Wenn es nach Hornscheidt und Sammla geht, gehe ich zukünftig nicht mit meiner Mutter, sondern mit meinens Meema zur Familienfeier. Dort treffe ich nicht meinen Opa und eine Tante, sondern meinex Opmex und ens Tonkel. – Was hier aussieht als wäre eine Katze über die Tastatur gelaufen, wird so wirklich und ernsthaft vorgeschlagen. (S.95 Tabelle 1) Sprache wird hier, um eine andere Rezension zu zitieren, “wie Knetmasse” behandelt, die sich nach Belieben verformen lässt. Ein lächerlicher und irgendwo schon fast bemitleidenswerter Ansatz an der völlig falschen Stelle.

Wir haben uns jedenfalls köstlich amüsiert, wie hier doch allen Ernstes erwartet wird, dass man die “böse Hexe” in einem Märchen zur “sehr weisen Person” umformuliert.

Tweet with screenshot

Marc Prior has created a website, gendern.eu, with an article on the problem of feminine/masculine, which considers the possibility of generic neuter.

5. Professor Dr. Tinka Reichmann of Leipzig University has linked some diagrams of the German court system with translations into various languages. There doesn’t seem to be anything new here though.

We used to have diagrams, now outdated, from a book on German law for schools, in which the number of judges was indicated by little human figures in various numbers, which seemed easier to look at. I would be confused by one of these diagrams in English alone and wonder what the significance of panels vs. chambers was.

This and that

I have almost given up this blog, but here are a few legal/translation points while I am passing through.

Divorce vocabulary

This week English law at last provided a possibility of no-fault divorce. Previously the only way to get a divorce relatively promptly involved spouses accusing each other of behaviour of various kinds (‘unreasonable behaviour’, meaning behaviour the other spouse could not reasonably be expected to live with). (No-fault divorce is possible in Scotland though).

New divorce laws will come into force from 06 April 2022

So just to make things more interesting for translators, some of the vocabulary has changed. A divorce petition becomes an application, a petitioner an applicant, a decree nisi a conditional order and a divorce decree a divorce order.

Thanks to Laura Elvin for pointing that out.

Beziehungsweise / bzw.

I don’t think I’ve written much about this, but it is a problem to translate.

Without warming up the long discussion on translators’ forums, I would like to quote what a colleague read in a German Patent Office examination report:

“Das Bindewort beziehungsweise (bzw.) ist nicht zur Schaffung zweifelsfreier Rechte geeignet, da es als und, oder oder auch als und/oder verstanden werden kann.”

I love this. I like the bit where they say “… da es als und, oder oder auch als und/oder verstanden werden kann.”
So there is a difference between “und, oder” and “und/oder”.
They could have written “…da es als und, oder bzw. als und/oder verstanden werden kann”, couldn’t they?

Speeding fines based on income

Juliette Scott in her blog From Words to Deeds finds it odd that speeding fines in Finland are based on income.

But it isn’t so odd. In Germany too, and no doubt in other countries outside the UK, the amount of the fine varies between the rich and the poor. So you get a number of points, called Tagessätze, and what a point is worth depends on your income. It makes sense to me.

There used to be problems translating the word Tagessätze. It seemed poor grammar to call it daily rates. I now write daily units. This is because the term was used when the system was briefly introduced in the UK. The problem arises if you write in the papers the exact sum the rich person has to pay, rather than the number of units or the percentage of income used. I suppose that the average newspaper reader is not aware how much richer some people are than others.

This is all so long ago that I’ve forgotten the details. In fact I note that in 2021 and presumably 2022 too, the most egregious speeding fines were related to income. Speeding fines 2021.

Forensic linguistics in German criminal procedure

The latest edition of Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito is a special issue arising from a one day symposium looking at the way expert evidence is handled in different jurisdictions.

It contains an article by Sabine Ehrhardt of the Bundeskriminalamt looking at how forensic linguistic evidence and experts are handled in the German criminal court system. Forensic Linguistics in German law enforcement.

The main emphasis is on a case where forensic linguistics evidence was required to analyse text messages sent to the victim’s mother before and after the victim’s disappearance, answering the question: no body has been found, but did her husband kill her and fake the circumstances of her disappearance? The case was based on circumstantial evidence, of which the text messages were only part.

It was striking but perhaps not surprising that in the 200-page summary of the judgment, the judge seems to have completely misunderstood some of the expert’s arguments. The article queries whether German lawyers receive enough training in forensic linguistics.

Incidentally, the English of the article was good, but I really dislike the translation of Nebenklägerin – taken straight from Dietl – as joint plaintiff. My suggestion is private co-prosecutor. This refers to the role of the victim’s mother. I know the German “Kläger(in)” is closer to plaintiff than prosecutor, but it seems odd in a criminal court. – Romain has additional private prosecutor, which is better, although it seems to suggest that there are multiple private prosecutors, unless you put commas in.


It’s only a few months before divorce law in England and Wales becomes more sensible. But currently, if you want a fairly quick divorce, the easiest way is to prove that your spouse’s behaviour is ‘unreasonable’, that is, not reasonably acceptable to you.

In times of iSmash, iBroken and so on, it’s not surprising that there is a firm called iDivorce. A judge has recently rapped them over the knuckles for having 28 clients with virtually identical wording with regard to the respondents’ behaviour.

Judge spots clowntown divorce factory using identical wording in 28 petitions (RollOnFriday):

IDivorces’ efficient but unlawful approach had resulted in declarations that were untrue, said The judge. “If I needed to give an example, it would be to say that it would be incredible if all twenty eight respondents ignored the twenty eight petitioners and declined to communicate with them on about two days per week”, he said.

Lord Chancellor’s Breakfast 2021

Lord Chief Justice, left, with train-bearer; Lord Chancellor; mace-bearer

It took place this year, but with some masked and with fewer judges than usual.

I’m not sure I will do this again, because the peculiarities of post-lockdown meant that I accidentally joined the professional photographers, though I did not have a press pass. The light is so much better from the other side! I doubt I could wing it again. But I will investigate getting a press pass or waving my RPS membership card.

As always, I have difficulties working out who is who. First appears the Lord Chancellor, Dominic Rudd (at least he studied law – Liz Truss wasn’t even capable of attacking the tabloid press on ‘Enemies of the People’), together with the Lord Chief Justice, currently Lord Burnett of Maldon, the most important judge after him, who wears the High Court red but with the extra detail of a train, which here a woman has to carry. There is a man with no apparent function too.

After this come a mixture of both justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. There is a certain order of priority. Thus, first come a few in full-bottomed wigs – these are the heads of division. The one in front here is Dame Victoria Sharp, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division:

I read that she had four children in five years and did not take any leave at all, because as a barrister she would only get work if she was present in chambers. This might be one of those children, just a guess. Behind her is probably Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Master of the Rolls, but I am not sure. I am just guessing he would be next.

The mystery is: who is the gentleman in the tricorne hat? I am thinking possibly a Canadian judge, but then why so early in the procession? The umbrella-bearer may be a guest of the man on the left. The UK Parliament website says:

Guests include:

  • judges from England and Wales
  • senior judicial officers
  • the Law Officers of the Crown
  • Queen’s Counsel (QCs)
  • overseas judges and lawyers
  • members of the European Court, and
  • Government ministers.

A new legal German-English dictionary

I haven’t seen Rinscheid/Miller yet but only heard of it today, though it came out in June. It’s also available as a digital dictionary through Acolada and there is a link where you can select this dictionary and do some searches. However, I don’t know if that search would show the non-dictionary part. Thanks to Hans Anschütz for the newsletter.

Beck Verlag has a description of the book, (see below), which is not yet available. It seems that the Unilex version is available, as far as I can tell at this moment.

The Beck Verlag description indicates that the dictionary aims to offer more than individual word equivalents. The vocabulary alone, they write, is not correspondence with clients or drafting of a pleading. If you just look up words, you simply use the equivalents suggested by the dictionary and make mistakes. (But that’s the whole point: legal and other translation dictionaries should be used to remind you of what you know, not to give you unfamiliar words you don’t know how to use). This work has three parts: an alphabetical glossary with example sentences, definitions and context examples; a thematic arrangement of the terms; aids to formulations and text building blocks – emails, pleadings, phone conferences etc.

I’m really curious to see how this is done. I know a couple of legal glossaries which are divided according to subject matter, for example contract, crime, administrative law. It usually takes longer to find things. And will the Unilex digital version reflect this organization?

Personally, I have always been excited to see collections of phrases and sentences for specific legal areas, but I have not found them much use for myself in practice. At the moment of translation, fishing through other people’s collections of sentences creates too much stress. Usually I did not have time to read the dictionary at the moment I needed it. So I would tell myself that I would take time to study an area of German law and compare it with English law, then I would have the information in my head at the future time when I needed it. This never worked either.

I am particularly interested to see (German) judges in English-language chambers in the list of potential users. What was the word they couldn’t handle? Grundurteil.Ah, I see that is not contained in the Unilex version. I find this there under judgment:

Once he has a final judgment, he will be entitled to collect damages.
The structure of a German judgment foresees a dedicated part that labeled the statement of facts.
Due to section 313b of the German Code of Civil Procedure, there are circumstances under which a judgment need not address the facts and the merits of the case nor must the judgment cite reasons on which they are based.
Under no circumstances shall the debtor be informed of the pending freezing order because the enforcement of the judgment would be frustrated otherwise.
The judgment was upheld on appeal.
→ Häufig wird der Begriff “judgment” mit “e” (judgement) geschrieben. Das ist nicht korrekt, wird allerdings soweit ersichtlich zunehmend geduldet.
→ Nicht verwendet werden sollte der Begriff “verdict”, da es sich hierbei um die Entscheidung einer Jury handelt, welche es in Deutschland naturgemäß nicht gibt.
↔ arbitral award (= Schiedsspruch)

Oh dear, not quite English. ‘foresees a dedicated part that labeled the statement of facts’. Obviously an ‘is’ is missing, but is the rest English? ‘Due to section 313b…’ Maybe ‘under section 313b’? ‘Shall the debtor…’ We don’t really use this contractual ‘shall’ outside contracts and judgments – the style of the sentence is a bit rocky.

From the Beck Verlag site:

Zum Werk
Die fachgerechte Formulierung deutscher Rechtsberatung in englischer Sprache erfordert mehr als lediglich die Übersetzung einzelner Rechtsbegriffe. Die schnell zugänglichen Online- Wörterbücher scheinen nur auf den ersten Blick eine verlässliche Hilfestellung bei der kontextgerechten Verwendung eines Rechtsbegriffs zu bieten. Mit der Vokabel allein ist schließlich noch keine Korrespondenz mit dem Mandanten geführt, kein Schriftsatz geschrieben und auch keine vernünftige Anleitung für eine Telefonkonferenz gegeben. Konsequenz ist eine häufig unreflektierte Verwendung von Übersetzungsvorschlägen mit in der Folge fehlerhafter Darstellung.
Die Autoren des vorliegenden Werkes schließen eine wichtige Lücke, in dem sie dem international arbeitenden Juristen eine umfassende Arbeitsgrundlage zur Verwendung der englischen Rechtssprache liefern. Hierzu ist das Werk auf drei Säulen aufgebaut. Erstens enthält das Werk ein alphabetisch sortiertes Glossar mitsamt Beispielssätzen, Erläuterungen und Hinweisen zur kontextgerechten Verwendung (Deutsch-Englisch). Zweitens sind die Begriffe zusätzlich thematisch sortiert – so kann sich der Rechtsanwender mit den in einem speziellen Sach- oder Rechtsgebiet geläufigen Vokabeln vertraut machen, beispielsweise vor einer Mandantenbesprechung. Die dritte Säule bilden Formulierungshilfen und Textbausteine für die Praxis (Emails, Schriftsätze, Telefonkonferenzen etc.).

Vorteile auf einen Blick
Das vorliegende Buch bietet

ein klassisches zweisprachiges Nachschlagewerk/Wörterbuch mit Beispielsätzen, Erläuterungen und Hinweisen

zusätzlich die Möglichkeit einer nach Sach- und Rechtsgebieten geordneten Suche

Englische Formulierungshilfen aus der Praxis

Für international tätige Anwälte und Unternehmensjuristen, Richter in englischsprachigen Kammern, Juristische Fachübersetzer, Studierende der Fachspezifischen Fremdsprachenausbildung, Universitäten und Forschungseinrichtungen.

F for Frankfurt

Richard Schneider at uepo.de reports that there is a new DIN proposal for a German phonetic alphabet.

It seems a good idea to me to know the German phonetic or spelling alphabet and the international one, but nevertheless I usually get confused when speaking to Germans on the phone and needing to spell something. Wikipedia has a lot. I notice I’ve even been making mistakes spelling out my postcode in the UK, saying Romeo Michael instead of Romeo Mike.

I was not aware that in 1934 the German Buchstabiertafel was arianized. Thus David became Dora, Jacob became Jot, Nathan Nordpol, Samuel Siegfried, and Zacharias Zeppelin.

There was a plan to restore David, Jakob and Nathan – Samuel and Zacharias were changed back in 1948 – but this latest plan simply replaces all first names by town names, so D for Düsseldorf, J for Jena, N for Nürnberg, S for Stuttgart and Z for Zwickau.

It was pointed out that the Nazi changes were only partially reversed, and there were 16 male names and only six female ones. Other countries had good results using city names, it was said.

This DIN 5009 draft is now open for discussion. It has an appendix showing the original, mainly Weimar Republic, phonetic alphabet. The final version is likely to appear in mid-2022.

I can’t picture myself achieving any kind of consistency now.

Cleaning up bird names

There’s been an initiative in the USA to change the names of birds named after historical figures, some of whom were racist. The only example changed as yet seems to have been McCown’s Longspur, now called Thick-billed Longspur. The American Ornithological Society made the change.

The Bird Names for Birds site proposes that birds should not be named after people, whether they were white men (usually) or not. Here is a list they created of all the persons named: Historical Bios Index.

Birdwatching (Your source for becoming a better birder) writes:

The practice of naming species after people was common in the 1800s, when white naturalists honored their friends, family members, or colleagues (often other white naturalists) with eponyms — birds or other animals or plants named in their honor.

Today, many of those names are fraught with ethical problems.

McCown’s Longspur, for example, was named for an officer of the Confederacy who defended slavery and also battled multiple Native American tribes. Townsend’s Solitaire and Townsend’s Warbler bear the name of John Kirk Townsend, a naturalist who stole human remains from graves of Native Americans. John James Audubon, revered for his art, nevertheless also owned enslaved people and collected skulls of Mexican soldiers from a Texas battlefield* — a fact that casts a shadow over the oriole and shearwater named for him.

The topic was taken up in February 2021 by Titus Arnu in Süddeutsche Zeitung, in Skandal im Anflug, although the names in German are not so much those of white ornithologists, but more ones using Mohr, Hottentot and so on. The examples of actual changes are few. The Mohrenlerche (literally Moorish lark, English black lark) has been renamed Schwarzsteppenlerche (literally black steppe lark) and the Ziegenmelker (literally goat milker, English nightjar, but also goatsucker) renamed Nachtschwalbe (literally night swallow) – this last change was more because the bird is not thought to suckle goats.

The journalist gets rather carried away, understandable:

Stehen nach den Skandalen in der katholischen Kirche bald auch Papstfink, Purpurkardinal, Türkisbischof und Dompfaff auf der Abschussliste? Sind alle Neuntöter Serienkiller? Darf man noch Türkentaube sagen und erwähnen, dass der aus Asien stammende Vogel einen Migrationshintergrund hat? Auch der Stummelschwanz-Zwergtyrann, der Raubwürger und der Basstölpel wären wohl nicht undankbar für harmlosere Bezeichnungen. Manchen Vögeln würde man imagemäßig Auftrieb geben mit einem frischen Namen. Die Hottentottenente kann ein Lied davon klicken.

Machine translation and legal translation

Every time I think I might write about this it seems a drop in the ocean, but then the topic comes up again. Machine translation has become very much better since it was first based on neural networks. In fact, I thought we had departed from rule-based MT and arrived at statistical MT, but we are now on neural MT, excuse my ignorance.

In my experience of using DeepL and DeepL Pro and Google Translate a few times, these systems are very good but not 100% reliable. Which means that sometimes a negative sentence may be rendered as a positive. I have no experience of revising MT output or preparing texts for MT.

But what strikes me specifically about legal texts is that when I put a German text through DeepL, the standard or ‘official’ translations of court names and statute titles are missing, although in Linguee they are present. In the old days, a law firm wanting to use rule-based MT was able to adapt its MT system by filling it with the standard translations into English. Now it is not so, and I would spend a lot of time revising the versions.

This was remarked on in a short article in MDÜ 6/2019 by hans Christian von Steuber. He refers to a talk by Patrick Mustu “Was DeepL & Co. im Zeitalter von 4.0 (noch) nicht können”:

Ein Beispiel aus eminer Erfahrung: Die beliebte “Datenschutzgrundverordnung” wird als “basis data protection regulation” übersetzt, “DSGVO” überhaupt nicht”.

This is the GDPR. It’s always surprising when this is not recognized. And when the translation of a statute title varies within one text.

Another reference was mentioned by colleagues this week. The Swiss Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzlei) was going to buy licences for 2000 DeepL users in 2019 (UEPO December 2018) and had a review of the effectiveness done (PDF Bericht DeepL-Test). Here an example:

Original text: loi fédérale sur les prestations
de sécurité privées fournies à
l’étranger (LPSP)

DeepL translation: Federal Law on Private Security
Services Abroad (LPSP)

Post-edited text: Federal Act on Private Security
Services Provided Abroad

I always wonder when I see English versions of abbreviations of statute names recommended. Leaving it in German is odd and so is creating an English version such as PSSA (obviously the work of a human post-editor).

That’s all I have to say about MT and legal translation, but the Swiss test contains a classification of MT problems.

Goodbye to Palandt

Bye-bye, Palandt! – post at the Dispute Resolution Germany blog, on July 27th:

C.H. Beck, Germany’s leading legal publisher, today announced that several of its publications will finally be renamed in light of the Nazi past of the jurists whose names they currently bear. All of these publications are household names for law students and practitioners alike.

The campaign for these names to be changed was pretty much a niche thing for many years and gained traction and public visibility only fairly recently.

I didn’t realize that Palandt was a member of the Nazi party. According to German Wikipedia, Beck Verlag chose him as the editor (of the BGB commentary) at short notice in 1938. Palandt (1877-1951) wrote the foreword and introduction until the tenth edition in 1952. In 1945 he removed the pro-Nazi bits. He was allegedly not responsible for the overall editing.

I haven’t got a Palandt at the moment, but I have sometimes bought reduced-price older editions in Germany and found them very useful, but not predictably frequently. Probably there are ways of consulting it online – it was never very easy as a full-time freelance translator to go to a library to consult it, as time was scarce.

After much criticism, Beck Verlag has eventually decided to change the name from Palandt to Grüneberg. The same fate befalls Maunz, Schönfelder (killed in Italy in 1944) and Blümich (I don’t think I’ve encountered Blümich).