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.

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.

The three dogs

Die drei Hunde is a fairytale by, or collected by, Ludwig Bechstein, whose stories sold better than the Grimms’ in the 19th century.

The hero kills a dragon and wins the princess with the help of three dogs, who in the English version are called Salt, Pepper and Mustard. Their German names are Bring Speis’n, Zerreiß’n and Brich Stahl und Eisen (Bring Food, Tear Apart and Break Steel and Iron).

I wonder who thought of the English translation? I wonder if it was Anthea Bell. Bell, Anthea, tr. Fairy Tales of Ludwig Bechstein. Ill. Irene Schreiber. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1967. She did translate Asterix very wittily.

Anthea Bell, obituary

Arbeitszeugnis and translation

Note: this weblog now redirects to transblawg.co.uk. The old address will stop working before Brexit, so please change details in your address list.

I have written about Arbeitszeugnis/reference here before: Translating references/Übersetzung von Arbeitszeugnissen and Zur vollsten Zufriedenheit: voll verwirrend für Übersetzer. There is probably enough there.

But I have just attended two out of three webinars on German employment law run by the BDÜ and presented by Christin Dallmann, and she spoke at some length about Arbeitszeugnisse, assuming that we are often asked to translate them.

When I was in Germany, I was asked a few times but always refused. It depends what kinds of clients you work for, of course. As Frau Dallmann said, one could translate one literally and add a footnote explaining that German references, to which an employee has a legal right, are written in a secret language, at least the type called qualifiziertes Arbeitszeugnis rather than einfaches Arbeitszeugnis are.

I now understand even more about the secret language than I did before. The secret language has been confirmed and developed by the courts. They have four elements: employer’s satisfaction (Zufriedenheitsfaktor), time (Zeitfaktor), conduct (Verhaltensbeurteilung) and conclusion (Beendigungsformel). So even the last sentence may imply more than the surface indicates: whether the employee was dismissed, or whether the decision to leave was amicable.

Here’s a question on Toytown Germany from a Canadian who wants to understand his surprisingly positive-sounding Arbeitszeugnis – we never find out if it turned out to be negative.

And here is a good description of German references at Squire Patton Boggs.

Zeugnisfabrik apparently translate references in both directions. But the suggestion of converting an English reference into a German Arbeitszeugnis seems highly dubious and possibly illegal to me:

Accordingly, German Arbeitszeugnisse have to adhere to certain form specifications and the language in which they are written has developed peculiar characteristics that need to be skillfully balanced to ensure that all legal requirements are met.

As a consequence, the translation of a reference letter into an Arbeitszeugnis will always necessitate professional knowledge not only of both languages, but of German legal requirements, as well.

China Law Blog on drafting international contracts that work

Dan Harris, of Harris Bricken, writes China Law Blog – the latest entry answers a translator’s question on how a US common-law contract ‘translated’ into Chinese works in practice: Drafting International Contracts That Work.

I am a translator helping a U.S. company on its contracts and — to put it mildly — things are not going well. The deal I’m translating for has been running into a lot of trouble because the American law firm that wrote the contracts has written them in highly complex legalese. …

Harris’s approach is: if a contract between a US and a Chinese company is drafted in long-winded US style (78 pages with a lot of boilerplate and elevated language in one case), his law firm has lawyers create an equivalent contract in Chinese, both simpler to understand and likely to be understood and accepted by the Chinese courts.

The post also quotes a 2015 post on the Adams on Contract Drafting blog where Ken Adams interviewed Steve Dickinson of China Law Blog on the same subject. Dickinson says:

I should also add that Chinese lawyers have major problems interpreting U.S. and British common law contracts. Their standard approach is to guess at the meaning and then mistranslate and then work with the mistranslation, leading to disaster on all counts.

Although it is clear that the Chinese prefer a short English contract written in a simple style, I get the impression that the Chinese version is always going to take precedence, plain English or not.

The problems of using English as a language for international contracts are dealt with in wonderful practical detail in Triebel/Vogenauer, Englisch als Vertragssprache.

Bundesrat in English

The Bundesrat, sometimes called the Federal Council, Germany’s second house of parliament, has published texts describing itself in French and English. They can be downloaded as PDFs but are also available as small pocketable booklets.

Der Bundesrat (German)

The Bundesrat (English)

Le Bundesrat (French)

This came up on twitter yesterday and I wondered what its purpose was. I don’t know what its dissemination is either. I do know a similar booklet by the Bundesverfassungsgericht, similarly with a description of the building and artworks, though that may be largely online now. But do English- and French-speaking people visit the Bundesrat? What do I know?

In fact I then accidentally discovered that there is a Bundesrat app – in German though. So this booklet calls the Länder federal states but has to crosslink to “Länder” in the app.

We have argued about “federal state” in the past – is Germany not a federal state? then it can’t contain sixteen federal states, and in fact the text does get tied up in this connection. But I think it’s become standard and is understood. I am usually asked to write Land and Länder in British English texts, which would make the following sentence clearer.

The federal states participate in shaping federal legislation through the Bundesrat. 

I am not going to take time to analyse the translation in depth. I just skimmed it. It is very good English, a bit literal (perhaps non-native?) – a bit heavy reading, as is the German – the text is descriptive rather than analytical and probably intended for schools. I wondered if the following was a dig at the House of Commons (it comes up again later):

. Their debates are very fact-oriented – loud interjections or applause are rarely heard.

I did find a Germanism, apparently not in the German original but perhaps in an earlier version – my emphasis:

Mitglieder sind die Ministerpräsidentinnen und ­präsidenten und die Ministerinnen und Minister der Länder beziehungs­weise die Bürgermeisterinnen und Bürgermeister sowie Senatorinnen und Senatoren der Stadtstaaten.

The Bundesrat is made up of the Minister Presidents and ministers from the federal states, along with their pendants in the city states, the mayors and senators.

I imagine the translation is American English. I have never understood federal bills as a translation of Bundesgesetze – to me, a bill is a draft – but I suppose it’s US.

Zustimmungsgesetz – an Act of the Bundestag requiring the consent of the Bundesrat – is strangely abbreviated as consent law.

I do wonder whether the title of the brochure, “16 Länder – Ein Ergebnis” translated as “16 Federal States – one conclusion” is right. Maybe “one result”?

Thanks to Charles Eddy.


When I first taught legal translation, as a subsidiary subject, I started with divorce. At the IFA in Erlangen and other Bavarian Fachakademien, the legal translation syllabus was based on work done for the courts by certified translators, which our students would be qualified as. Translating divorce papers was very common in those days, for example for US military personnel living in Germany. So expensive was the translation of documents needed by the German courts that there used to be divorce translation weekends, for some reason offered in Copenhagen. In fact after I had taught all the areas relating to court work, it was hard to fit contract translation into the timetable, since I thought it would be necessary to teach both contract law and contract language.

Those unfamiliar with divorce law sometimes thought that, since English law is different from German law, English divorce law must be very strange indeed. Not so: divorce had a similar history in both countries, going back to church law, to times when some kind of transgression permitted a petitioner to be given a divorce. The terminology was sometimes archaic even though the law had been reformed so that you were not punished financially or through harsh custody arrangements if you had committed adultery. English divorce law was reformed earlier than German and the law when I first taught it in 1982 and now in 2019 has unintended consequences. In German law a person can get a divorce after one year’s living apart; in English law it takes longer, so it is quicker to petition that the respondent’s behaviour is unreasonable (that is, that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to tolerate it). What is called no-fault divorce actually seems to be based on fault. This is not to say that divorce plays out as a pleasant and smooth process in practice even in Germany, but we didn’t talk about that. Nowadays you can read all this up on the Web so I don’t need to go into details. Anyway, all these many years afterwards, a divorce bill is going through the courts making divorce much easier – actually very easy indeed. New divorce law to end the blame game (Ministry of Justice – with a good summary of the current law)). The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has almost been passed. Of course, it is threatened by prorogation.

DE>EN translation problems: most frequently encountered are the terms related to the apportionment of future pension rights. Zugewinnausgleich, Gütertrennung, Gütergemeinschaft – marital property is not always straightforward. If you translate US documents into German, you have to be careful not to describe a decree absolute as rechtskräftig, which might wrongly suggest that the ex-spouses could remarry immediately (there may be a six-month waiting period). Not divorce but sometimes comes up in that context: Ehefähigkeitszeugnis – certificate of no impediment.


A colleague recently had the word unverzüglich in a legal text and wondered whether it mattered which of the many alternatives to choose.

Romain: prompt, forthwith, without delay

Dietl-Lorenz: (ohne schuldhaftes Zögern) without culpable (or undue) delay

I had wrongly remembered this as without unreasonable delay. Other renderings have been immediately and with all due speed

  1. I note that unverzüglich ist one of the words given a statutory definition (Legaldefinition) in the Civil Code. Here it is:

Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)
§ 121 Anfechtungsfrist

(1) Die Anfechtung muss in den Fällen der §§ 119, 120 ohne schuldhaftes Zögern (unverzüglich) erfolgen, nachdem der Anfechtungsberechtigte von dem Anfechtungsgrund Kenntnis erlangt hat. Die einem Abwesenden gegenüber erfolgte Anfechtung gilt als rechtzeitig erfolgt, wenn die Anfechtungserklärung unverzüglich abgesendet worden ist.(2) Die Anfechtung ist ausgeschlossen, wenn seit der Abgabe der Willenserklärung zehn Jahre verstrichen sind.

Note the way a statutory definition is indicated. Further research reveals that this definition is regarded as applying even outside the Civil Code.

2. Does it then matter how precisely it is translated into English? Immediately seems to suggest more speed, but does that matter? Perhaps not, as long as your translation is for information only and makes it clear that German law prevails. However, without undue delay or without culpable delay does the job well.

3. Dietl wins over Romain here (as so rarely). Von Beseler has:

adj immediate, prompt, instant(aneous);
adv immediately, promptly, instantly; forthwith; at once; on the spot; without delay; at short notice, at a moment’s notice

The BGB meaning is missing, and when it comes to choosing between the other alternatives, legal translators are left to themselves. Nor is there any indication in Dietl of the source of the definition.

LATER NOTE: As Inge Noeninger points out on Twitter (see comment too) unverzüglich contains the word Verzug, delay or default, which is why translating it as immediately is avoided.

Rebecca Jowers ES>EN legal translation blog

I’m a bit late to recommend Rebecca Jowers because I don’t so often look at Spanish/English legal resources. But I have noticed that she is authoritative in advising on British as well as US usage.

An introduction: Why this blog? is the first post

I created this blog to share some of the translation pitfalls that I’ve encountered along the way, many of which were brought to my attention by fellow translators, my students of legal English, and law professors, attorneys, judges and other translation clients. It is intended to be a meeting place for translators, interpreters, lawyers and law professors for whom legal terminology is an essential element of their professional activities in both languages. Thus I welcome comments and suggestions from the many experienced colleagues in the profession who, as I am, are enthusiastically devoted to the study of Spanish-English legal terminology. Some of the areas I will be exploring include:
ES-EN legal terminology
Legal English for Spanish-speakers
False friends
Multiple meanings
Confusing terms
Common words with uncommon legal meanings
Expressing civil law concepts in common law terms
Español jurídico
Mistranslations? and
Terminology sources

The blog is called Léxico Jurídico Español-Inglés.

Rebecca has also published A Thematic Lexicon:ñhere is a review by Rob Lunn, whose blog I’ve also recommended in the past.

m/w/d DE>EN

I recently translated this (männlich/weiblich/divers) in a job ad as m/f/x. Other suggestions made by colleagues were more experimental. However, I am now seeing “m/f/d” (mainly on German sites?). And in the USA there is m/f/d/v meaning masculine/feminine/disabled/veteran.

There is an academic job site in the UK and I see they have Professor (m/f/d) International Management and Finance at the Technische Hochschule Deggendorf and Postdoc (m/f/x) at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig.