Murder and manslaughter/Mord und Totschlag

A query raised on a translators’ forum this week:


§ 211 Mord
§ 212 Totschlag
§ 213 Minder schwerer Fall des Totschlags

Translation by Michael Bohlander on site of German Ministry of Justice:

Section 211 Murder under specific aggravating circumstances
Section 212 Murder
Section 213 Murder under mitigating circumstances

Earlier translation on that site, still available at German Law Archive:

Section 211 Murder
Section 212 Manslaughter
Section 213 Less serious case of manslaughter

Question: why does Bohlander do it that way?

Here’s his footnote from the printed version:

This translation is awkward but is due to the fact that German law knows of two forms of intentional killing. In German, they have different names, Mord 211 and Totschlag 212. The relationship between 211 and 212 is controversial. The courts view them as separate offences, whereas most academic commentary sees the one as a qualification of the other or vice versa. This translation therefore had to make a choice. It follows the predominant literature opinion that sees 212 as the basic offence and 211 as an aggravated form. This made a few additions to the text of both provisions necessary.

Most of us would automatically translate Mord as murder and Totschlag as manslaughter, because of the relative weight they carry. We would do this even in the knowledge that the distinctions between the various forms of criminal homicide in English, American and German law don’t always match up.

Looking at Bohlander’s explanation (and he can be relied on to know what he’s doing), maybe he could have used criminal homicide as the superordinate term.

Of course, a translation of a statute is not suitable for thoughtless terminology mining.

One thought on “Murder and manslaughter/Mord und Totschlag

  1. Hm, from the footnote it appears Bohlander, knowledgeable on the subject as he is, got a bit trapped between being an expert on German criminal law and doing a translation. He is trying to justify an awkward and counter-intuitive translation (I agree with Margaret here) of a piece of legal code with the peculiar reading some German legal scholars give to it.

    In effect, he is not merely translating but making a point here. A clear violation of translator’s rule no. 1: Neutrality. If you openly pursue an agenda with you work, it’s not a translation. To my mind, that raises serious issues on the validity of his “translation” as a whole.

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