A few internet links

While I’m busy, here are some links to other sites:

1. A short video on translating poetry from German to English tiere zu fragen by Odile Kennel, translated by Anna Crowe, who usually translates from Spanish and Catalan, helped by Katy Derbyshire.

2. John Flood on What is a lawyer? with the help of Dilbert cartoons and linking to Jonathan Goldsmith.

Machines, paralegals, technicians, accountants, consultants even are all engaged in the “practice” of law these days. They may not call themselves lawyers but they do law. The new legal services markets now emerging are signs that the distinctiveness of the lawyer is being eroded.

It might mean that lawyers’ skills are redundant. I think this unlikely. Or it could mean that lawyers’ skills are inadequate to the demands of today’s business and legal markets. If they are inadequate then others invade your turf and take your work. So it’s up to the profession(s) and the academy to (re)produce lawyers/professionals fit for the modern age. And don’t worry about definitions. Hardly anyone cares.

3. Mary Beard on What we get wrong about Lord Elgin (in connection with Amal Clooney’s involvement in trying to get the Elgin Marbles back to Greece).

Now that Amal Clooney has taken up the case, all the old over-simplifications are crawling out again. Personally I hold no brief for Lord Elgin (I have remained uncomfortably “on the fence” on the whole issue for many a year). And it is important to admit that there is an awful lot we dont know about him and his motives (to be honest, it is completely uncertain whether he was looking to save a precious antiquity or looking for some nice decoration for his stately pile, or some combination of the two).

But there are some aspects to the story as it is now told that are simply WRONG.

And here is Jeremy Paxman’s take:

But what would have happened to these sculptures had they stayed in Athens? After all, at the time Lord Elgin helped himself the Parthenon was being used as a fortress. Mary Beard’s excellent short history of the building tells us that for most of the 18th century, Athenians were in the habit of grinding down marble statues to produce lime and used parts of these great classical buildings as rubble for their foundations. Had the ghastly Lord Elgin not plundered his works of arts, they could have ended up in the footings of some kebab stand.

4. Chinese Legal Documents Series (in Chinese and English) (via Chinese Law Prof Blog).

Books on legal writing in English

There are many useful books for lawyers on how to write better legal English. How useful they are for translators is another matter. By all means, if you have time, work through some of the suggestions on legal writing (an internet search for ‘drafting’ is also a good idea). Consider whether you mind whether the book is for British or U.S. or another form of legal English.

But as I suggested in the post on virtual synonyms, when translating into English you can’t simplify at will. Consequently we tend to spend more time researching specific law and language problems than taking the wider view.

As a member of the BDÜ it probably doesn’t behoove me to look at the publications of the BDÜ Fachverlag with as much suspicion as I do, but I’ve never recovered from how a colleague salivated over a book on how to translated GmbH articles into English. The book was a student’s work written for a non-lawyer lecturer and was full of problems. But then, caveat emptor.

The latest book advertised to me is probably not at all bad, in fact it may be good, but is it a book for lawyers on how to write legal English or does it address translators into English too?


I couldn’t trace the LexisNexis edition, but what is that keyboard on the cover telling us? I suppose it is implying that there is a German element.

I am told (my emphasis):

Wenn Sie juristische Texte ins Englische übersetzen, dann kann ich Ihnen die jüngste Neuerscheinung aus dem BDÜ Fachverlag ans Herz legen, den „Legal Writing Coach“ – eine Sammlung von leicht verwendbaren Materialien, die an das begrenzte Zeitbudget von vielbeschäftigten Anwälten und Übersetzern angepasst ist. Der „Legal Writing Coach“ basiert auf der langjährigen internationalen Erfahrung des Autors und bietet eine Fülle von echten Praxisbeispielen und zielt auf die häufigsten Probleme beim Schreiben juristischer Texte ab. Die angebotenen Lösungen lassen sich schnell und einfach umsetzen. Mit diesem Buch können Sie Ihre Fähigkeiten verbessern, gute juristische Texte in englischer Sprache zu verfassen.

You can see the table of contents in a PDF linked to here. I can’t tell what about it is for translators. It does appear that the author is based in Vienna.

It does have an Annex on British and American legal usage and one on slutations, titles, and closings which might be interesting for translators.

Ian McEwan: The Children Act

Charles Dickens: Bleak House

In Chancery

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Ian McEwan: The Children Act

London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather. Fiona Maye, a High Court judge, at home on Sunday evening, supine on a chaise longue, staring past her stockinged feet towards the end of the room, towards a partial view of recessed bookshelves by the fireplace and, to one side, by a tall window, a tiny Renoir lithograph of a bather, bought by her thirty years ago for fifty pounds. Probably a fake.

The parallels between Bleak House and The Children Act, Ian McEwan’s new novel, are limited, although the weather theme is pursued, fog in Bleak House being replaced by a long damp spell in the summer of 2012 in The Children Act.

It’s a short novel less about the law than about balancing the judge’s involvement in her work with her personal life. To write it, McEwan had to do a lot of research into law and lawyers. Indeed, one of his advisers was James Wood of Doughty Street Chambers, the second mention of those chambers here in a couple of weeks.

There is an introductory quote from the Children Act of 1989:

When a court determines any question with respect to … the upbringing of a child … the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.

There’s a good summary and review by Carl Gardner at Head of Legal. As he writes, one can criticize it from the legal point of view, but that, as he says, is from a lawyer’s point of view – on the other hand, it’s only because this is a legal blog that I’m mentioning it. For instance, there is a lot of discussion as to whether a boy three months short of his 18th birthday can decide his own medical treatment, and that (referred to as Gillick competence) is scarcely a controversial matter – maybe if he were 15, the opposing sides would exploit the age factor. There’s also the point that a child over 16 and under 18 who refuses medical treatment may be overruled by the courts, but only subject to the child’s paramount interest.

(Gillick competence refers to Mrs Victoria Gillick, who had five sons and five daughters, and in 1983 failed to get a court declaration that the daughters would not get contraceptive advice until they were over 16.)

Another lawyer’s review, by Sarah E Green, in Family Law Week, links to some of the decisions used by McEwan in the novel. The bits I found most interesting in showing how a family law judge has to think were based on Re G, a case concerning the schooling of Jewish children after a divorce:

Application for permission to appeal the making of (1) a specific issue order in relation to the education of five children from the Chareidi community of ultra orthodox Jews; (2) a residence order in favour of the mother. Permission refused in relation to the residence order. Permission granted in relation to the education specific issue order but the appeal dismissed.

Green concludes:

This book has been received by the legal community with much aplomb, although with somewhat less enthusiasm from a handful of critics outside of the legal sphere. It is a must-read for any family lawyer with a passion for literature.

Paragraph 84 of Lord Justice Munby’s judgment is the source of McEwan’s character’s remark that all three barristers, the two solicitors and the CAFCASS officer in the case were women – and yet the father’s religious community would have prevented his daughters from educational opportunities:


4. The first focused on educational opportunity. Here the evidence was clear and the choice stark. Whatever may be the practice in relation to education down to the point when children takes GCSEs, it is clear that, even for boys, the educational options narrow drastically thereafter in the Chareidi system and that tertiary education as generally understood hardly features at all. Career opportunities for boys in professions such as medicine and the law are very limited indeed, for girls virtually non-existent. The contrast with the wider community could hardly be greater. It is hard to imagine how either law or medicine could operate today without the women who at every level and in such large numbers enjoy careers which they find fulfilling and from which society as a whole derives so much benefit. Take the law: when I was called to the Bar in 1971 there were 2,714 barristers in practice at the independent bar of whom only 167 (some 6%) were women; by 2011 there were 12,673 of whom 4,106 (some 32%) were women. That is a measure of just how far society has moved in the last 40 years. And that, in my judgment, is the kind of societal reality to which a family judge must have regard in a case such as this. It is, after all, the reality which is daily on display in our family courts. The present case, as it happens, is typical of many: all three counsel who appeared before us were women, so too were the two solicitors, and so too was the CAFCASS officer. Judge Copley, in my judgment, was plainly entitled to conclude, as he did, that:

“the schools to which she wishes to send them will provide infinitely superior opportunities for these children to gain a much fuller and wider education, not only at secondary level but also at tertiary level should they choose that – the father’s own evidence and that of his witnesses bears this out – and thereafter they will have much greater job opportunities”,

just as he was entitled to accept Mrs Adams’ view that it was:

“more likely that the children will achieve greater economic success if they are given aspirations in relation to careers that exist outside the Jewish community.”

The musical recital at the end of the novel reminded me of Alan Rusbridger’s Play It Again, where you also get the contrast between playing the piano and dealing with a hectic work life.

New Journal: Language and Law / Linguagem e Direito

I’m posting this introduction by Malcolm Coulthard and Rui Sousa-Silva to a new journal. I haven’t read much of the first online edition myself yet.

We are delighted to announce the first issue of a new international bilingual bi-annual journal – Language and Law – Linguagem e Direito. The journal is electronic and available for everyone to download at http://ler.letras.up.pt/site/default.aspx?qry=id05id1444id2666&sum=sim .

Because Language and Law has no printing costs it can be extremely flexible to individual author’s requirements: not only can it publish quickly all the high quality articles it receives, but also it can cope with long appendices, reproduce illustrations, photographs and tables in colour, and embed
sound files and hyperlink as necessary.

We chose the title Language and Law – Linguagem e Direito to indicate that we welcome articles across the whole spectrum of the discipline and from both practitioners and academic researchers. Thus, for example, this first issue includes contributions from a chief of police, a public prosecutor, a professional translator, a professional interpreter and two expert witnesses, as well as from academic lawyers and linguists.

There is an article by Maria Lúcia Gomes and Denise Carneiro about Forensic Phonetics in Brazil, and one by Alison Johnson and David Wright about authorship analysis. Rui Sousa-Silva writes about plagiarism by translation. Liz Carter about deceptive responses in police interviews, Marcos Ribeiro and Cristiane Fuzer about honour crimes, Edilson Vitorelli about the language rights of indigenous Brazilians. Gail Stygall analyses incomprehensible Jury Instructions while Débora Figueiredo examines representations of the crime of rape in Brazilian legal texts.

We hope you will want to become a regular reader of the journal – to do so you simply need to send an email to llldjournal@gmail.com with the word ‘SUBSCRIBE’ in the Subject line. Then you will receive automatically a link to each new issue of the journal as soon as it is published.

We hope that you will also want to share your own research with the wider academic community through the pages of our journal. If you wish to do so, please read the notes on submitting an article available at: http://www.linguisticaforense.pt/llldjournal-en.html.

Virtual synonyms: breach, violation or non-performance

‘Breach, violation or non-performance’ is just an example of the kind of problem encountered by translators working out of English. I have met native speakers of German who prefer to work into English largely to avoid this problem of contract translation.

What do the doublets or triplets mean? Probably the lawyer who drafted the contract wasn’t sure but used an established phrase.

How can you find out if they are synonyms or not?

Books on using plain language in the law can be helpful, because they sometimes say which doublets are synonyms and which aren’t. For instance, Mellinkoff, Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense has an appendix B which lists coupled synonyms.

acknowledge and confess
act and deed
annual (sorry, should read ‘annul’)and set aside
authorize and empower
conjecture and surmise
covenant and gree (should read ‘agree’)

and many more.

The problem is mentioned by Enrique Alcaraz and Brian Hughes in Legal Translation Explained:

There is, of course, the possibility that the original phrase contains a mere tautology exhibiting neither subtlety nor rhetorical aptness, i.e. what is sometimes called ‘a distinction without a difference’. If this is the translator’s conclusion, there would seem to be two options open: silent simplification by dropping the less general term, or simple reproduction. Lawyers, after all, are not always breathtakingly compelling speakers or writers, and it is likely that most languages would tolerate literal renderings of rather weak pairings like ‘final and conclusive’, even if conscious stylists would not applaud them. On the other hand, the doublet ‘alter and change’ is a candidate for simplification to the equivalent of ‘alter’ or, alternatively, to some such treatment as ‘alter in any way’.

The problem is also addressed in this paper:

Exploring near-synonymous terms in legal language. A corpus-based, phraseological perspective

Stanislaw Gozdz-Roszkowski.


This paper aims to determine the extent to which a corpus-based, phraseological approach can be effectively applied to discriminate
among near-synonymous, semantically-related terms which often prove troublesome when translating legal texts. Based on a substantial multigenre
corpus of American legal texts, this study examines the collocational patterns of four legal terms ‘breach’, ‘contravention’, ‘infringement’ and ‘violation’, first in the genre of contracts and then in the multi-genre context of the entire corpus. The findings highlight the
area of overlap as well as specificity in the usage of these terms. While collocational constraints can be argued to play an important
disambiguating role in the semantic and functional analysis of both source and target text items carried out by translators prior to the
interlingual translation, this study emphasizes the applicability of the phraseological approach to English source texts.

I’ve long been tempted by the idea that computer study of collocations could help translation problems. But I’m not really sure. At all events, the author see this study as merely the beginning of an approach to analysing legal synonyms and near-synonyms.

The collocational information can be treated as a clue or a prompt to evoke a generic scenario in which a particular legal concept functions. Such is the case of breach, which reflects a unity of domain and genre with a well-defined and homogenous class of objects this term refers to. Similarly, the use of infringement is marked by domain-specificity. This tendency for certain legal terms to co-occur with other terms or phrases marked by semantic resemblance could also be accounted for by referring to the concept of semantic preference (Stubbs, 2001). In contrast, violation cuts across legal domains and genres and it is the most ‘inclusive’ of all the terms. Finally, contravention illustrates a heavy phraseological restriction to virtually one form of (a) phrase.

Schichttorte – Baumkuchen – Baumstriezel

I was mystified by the German Schichttorte in the Great British Bakeoff programme, but then I realized they meant Baumkuchen.

I think the word Schichttorte is a misnomer. Any cake with layers is a Schichttorte, and it will usually have buttercream between the layers, like an opera cake. Whereas the cake they showed consisted simply of twenty layers of sponge cake, each grilled separately as they were built up, with no filling but with a coating.

The programme did show a real Baumkuchen being made: the cake mixture is dripped onto a sort of metal spit revolving on a grill. Here are pictures from the LA Times. you can buy one from the German Bakery in Windsor.

The cake in the program was grilled layer by layer in a cake tin, but it was still a Baumkuchen in structure, although the layers run in a different direction.

By chance I am more familiar with the Transylvanian Baumstriezel. It is also made on a rotating tube, but the pastry contains yeast and it is covered with caramelized sugar. It is apparently the Hungarian Kürtőskalács.

Meanwhile, the Japanese besieged Qingdao in World War I and thus inadvertently introduced a Baumkuchen maker to Japan.

Baumkuchen is one of the most popular pastries in Japan, where it is called baumukūhen (バウムクーヘン?). It is a popular return present in Japan for wedding guests because of its typical ring shape.[6]

It was first introduced to Japan by the German Karl Joseph Wilhelm Juchheim. Juchheim was in the Chinese city of Tsingtao during World War I when Britain and Japan laid siege to Tsingtao. He and his wife were then interned at Okinawa.[7] Juchheim started making and selling the traditional confection at a German exhibition in Hiroshima in 1919. After the war, he chose to remain in Japan. Continued success allowed him to move to Yokohama and open a bakery, but its destruction in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake caused him to move his operations to Kobe, where he stayed until the end of World War II. Some years later, his wife returned to help a Japanese company open a chain of bakeries under the Juchheim name that further helped spread baumkuchen’s popularity in Japan.

Norma goes British

Norma, one of the less interesting competitors of Aldi and Lidl, is offering British food from Monday October 6.

That food consists of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers and Chivers jams and marmalade. A bit thin. It won’t satisfy the commenters who sometimes visit my post on Lidl’s British specialities and lust for more.

However, I saw recently that you can use the chocolate fingers to make a dreadful hedgehog cake.

(Thanks to Barbara in Regensburg)