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.

‘Shall’ in English contracts

I recently heard a webinar by Christin Dallmann and Richard Delaney on translation problems in contract law. I highly recommend these webinars. It reminded me of that old chestnut: do we use ‘shall’ in a contract (when drafting or translating)?

Richard Delaney has now written a guest post on the use of ‘shall’ in Kevin Lossner’s Translation Tribulations blog, https://www.translationtribulations.com/2021/05/richard-delaney-on-shall.html. Kevin writes that this text was originally part of a social media discussion, but I don’t know where that was and didn’t see it. I am not going to argue point-by-point with Richard’s summary, just set out my own.

I think the mandatory verb in a contract can be shall, will or must. It ought to be used exclusively (some English contracts mix shall and will). I do not think the choice of verb form is likely to confuse any reader. The reader will realize that the verb imposes an obligation.

I posted on this on March 1 2013, since when I have surely changed my mind in some ways.
Shall I or shan’t I? Shall, must and the plain language brigade. The comments are interesting though.

Thornton on legislative drafting is relevant too, although it’s about legislation, not contracts.

  1. I use shall in the imperative or mandatory sense when I translate from the German (as Richard does). I use it even when it is not clear from the German original who the duty is imposed on.

One of the commenters on Kevin’s blog, Stephen Rifkin, writes:


According to the legal experts I have consulted in books and person, “shall” is very simple – legal obligation. A body, personal or legal, can have an obligation. Therefore, it is correct to say: The Tenant shall pay the rent on the 1st of the month but incorrect to say that “The rent shall be paid on the 1st of the month.”

I understand his point, but I would use shall here too, despite the lack of a subject. It does annoy me when German contracts appear to impose duties without indicating who is responsible, but I wonder what the alternative translation would be – varying the verb when the German doesn’t?

One objection to shall I have read recently is that since it is used in a variety of ways, it is more confusing than must for non-native speakers of English who nevertheless have to make do with English translations (rather than Arabic or whatever). That seems possible.

As often mentioned, Bryan Garner is an advocate of avoiding shall altogether (in original English contracts, of course). I think he got this from a movement in Australia and Canada. He lists something like 16 uses of shall, most of them unsatisfactory.

Writers who advocate plain English in law also condemn shall. One argument I’ve read is that if shall is used in different ways within one contract, a court might query whether it has a mandatory meaning at all. I would certain advise against using shall in more than one sense (for example, ‘If the landlord shall…’). Of course, I am not drafting a contract, but always translating a contract where the German version is defined as binding, so I doubt that a messily translated contract would be challenged in court, but you never know.

  1. Instead of shall, will can be used. If either party will do something, this is a promise by a party to the contract that has a binding effect. Some English contracts I have seen use both will and shall, for example, ‘the insurer will’ and ‘the insured shall’. This mixture is likely to confuse readers and so it is better to use either one or the other consistently when translating into English. Geoffrey Leech, see below, calls it a ‘quasi-imperative’.
  2. A third possibility is must. This is perfectly possible and avoids any unclarity. My only objection is that it sounds a bit unnatural to me.
  3. English grammar books not specifically about legal texts: when I first wrote about the use of shall, will and must for legal translation students, I was also teaching English grammar to a wider group. My understanding of English verb forms – tenses and modals – was based on the second edition of Geoffrey Leech’s book ‘Meaning and the English Verb’. I can’t agree with some writers who describe will and shall as ‘simple future’, because both verbs have a variety of uses and there is no simple future.

I will quote the third edition of Leech on will in contracts.

There is a difference between the will of insistence above and a QUASI-IMPERATIVE will found with second- and third-person subects: You will do as I say. The Duty Officer will report for duty at 0700 hours. This will is a stronger equivalent of must, and expre000sses the will of the originator of the message, rather than of the subject. It also differs from the will of insistence in that it is not strongly stressed. The quasi-imperative will seems to be a special use of the future will of ‘prediction’, the implication being that the speaker or writer has so much authority over the addressee that failure to perform the predicted action is out of the question. Hence it has military and despotic associations.

The verbs shall and will can be used to refer to the future but also as modal verbs (there is some overlap between future and modal uses). There is no ‘simple future’. For example, the German ‘morgen fahre ich nach Hause’ is not translated as ‘I will go home tomorrow’, but usually as ‘I am going home tomorrow’. ‘I will go home tomorrow’ might be said at the moment of decision or as a promise. Without going into more detail, in a contract I have always seen ‘The insurer will…reimburse’ as a promise made in a contract and therefore binding. (But Geoffrey Leech calls it ‘quasi-imperative’, see above).
When giving examples of usage, it is a good idea to stick to the affirmative use, excluding negatives and questions, which only confuse the description.

And on shall:
RULES AND REGULATIONS (with second-person or third-person subjects)
A player who bids incorrectly shall forfeit fifty points {rules of a card game. The hood shall be of scarlet cloth, with a silk lining of the colour of the faculty {rules for academic dress}.
This usage is found only in legal or quasi-legal documents. Here shall could be replaced by must (=’obligation’), or by the ‘quasi-imperative’ will.

  1. Use of present tense in German contracts.
    Something Richard Delaney mentioned in the webinar that I have never commented on but that is a constant problem is that the present tense in German contracts is usually used to mean an obligation, but it can also be a statement of fact.

Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, 3rd ed. 2011

Judgment / judgement

I have been here before (Judgment and judgment), in 2012, and I quoted Lord Neuberger.

Now, Joshua Rozenberg, in A bad day for Jay J, in the Law Society Gazette, mentions the spelling difference again:

It was the family lawyer James Turner QC who set Twitter alight by observing that Wilson had taken the trouble to refer to ‘editorial judgement’ (following the spelling in the statute) but the court’s judgment (following conventional usage). Many of my followers recalled being taught, as students, that a judge uses judgement to write a judgment. News to me; but perhaps I am too judgmental.

(The reference is to Lord Wilson in the Supreme Court).

I missed the Twitter storm, but it doesn’t seem new.

Social distancing

I am reporting back here to show that I’m still around. We are living in times of social distancing – at least that’s the term most media and people use. I read in the German press that the term borrowed from English was wrong, that it should be physical distancing as that makes more sense. My feeling was/is that the term social distancing has entered general use. I’ve now tweeted something about social distancing – here is the tweet I linked to:

social distancing

I had a response criticizing the term. So although I did not care about the dispute beforehand, I did a web search and found the Wikipedia article on Social Distancing and the discussion there after there was a request to change the heading.

I hadn’t realized that the WHO changed the term, not that this alters the fact that the disputed term has become common usage (see WP:COMMONNAME).

Feelings run high. Here is vsync:

Strong oppose and speedy close. This request isn’t even well-formed as it’s merely based on trifling wordplay from some obscure “WHO”, so-called, which has no standing whatsoever to comment on anything related to this crisis, let alone messaging on its seriousness or what is or isn’t effective. Now, for some “reasons” that will doubtless be demanded: The term existed prior to the current pandemic and will exist after. The meaning is perfectly coherent as relating to putting distance in social contact, rather than of other random objects. “Wikipedia isn’t a how-to manual” or whatever, but the article perfectly describes the meaning. The point of an encyclopedia is to expound even obscure terms, not rename them. Why don’t you go spend your time telling people masks don’t work or something? vsync (talk) 01:43, 1 April 2020 (UTC)

‘Data is’ or ‘data are’

The topic of whether data and media have become singular mass nouns is one of the topics people get very angry about in these discussions.

I would like to say that I can see the sense of data being/becoming a singular noun in general usage. After all, we don’t usually use the singular datum in general English.

Nevertheless, it is still the case that legal texts prefer the plural.

Translators unfortunately have to think about these things.

It has come to my knowledge that while the GDPR uses the plural, the English Data Protection Act 2018 uses the singular.

The ICO seems to use the singular too.

Pam Peters (Cambridge Guide to English Usage) says it can currently be either singular or plural, that in about 80% of cases it is indeterminate (e.g. ‘data collection’ – no verb indicating number), and that many writers try to preserve the plural by claiming that the singular is ‘only spoken usage’, ‘only American’ (!), ‘only technical texts’ and all sorts of things.

Book recommendation: Triebel/Vogenauer, Englisch als Vertragssprache

Here is a strong recommendation for a book I have not yet read, only skimmed, myself. Unfortunately I have too many books on the go (rereading Die Emigranten and the Patrick Melrose novels, reading the Secret Barrister, Cotton on Photography as Contemporary Art and two books on literary theory, which we were only just dipping our toes into in the 60s and 70s, to say nothing of a translation of Willehalm and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms  – I can’t remember ever wanting to read so much and having so little time to do it).

Volker Triebel, Stefan Vogenaur, Englisch als Vertragssprache, Beck Verlag 2108

Thanks to Inge Noeninger for pointing it out on Twitter (note the bust of Goethe on her bookshelves – I only have Marx). I had waiting ages, from 1995 to 2012, for the new edition of Englisches Handels- und Wirtschaftsrecht, which was not quite appropriate to my direction of translation, and missed this one.

Please read the table of contents (PDF) via Beck Verlag. Scroll down to see it. The foreword is there too.

The book is intended for lawyers, not legal translators (whereas most of the more pedestrian Legal English books are always advertised to be suitable for translators, interpreters, lawyers and anyone else with a few euros to spare).

The first swection deals among other things with how lawyers actually learn English and how much they do both on LL.M. courses and in big international law firms. This is something I can’t remember reading anywhere else. There is also a bit on the niche role of German as a legal language. There is then a section on what can go wrong, both linguistically and semantically, and a section on problems of general English, followed by one on the special problems of the English language in contracts. Section 5 deals with problems in translating English contract terms into German, Section 6 with problems where the language and the legal system diverge, and section 7 advice on safer drafting. At the end is a bibliography in eight sections. There are indexes in both German and English.

Looking at the bibliographies, I have noted Christopher Hutton, Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation: An Introductory Guide, 2014, but perhaps I should not buy it until I have read this one, which warrants close examination and a large part of which is of direct interest to me. I know most of the books on legal English for non-English-speaking lawyers. I am quite ignorant of how much has been published on Auseinanderfallen von Vertragssprache und anwendbarem Recht – whenever I translate a contract into English, it is governed by German law, so my translation is just for information, and if anyone asked me to help draft a contract in English I would refuse as I’m not a practising lawyer – still, it is interesting, and I recognize some names, not just Triebel himself (several articles) but Suzanne Ballansat-Aebi, who has written well about legal translation, and Gerhard Dannemann.

I’m not sure I’m brainy enough to read Heikki Mattila on Comparative Legal Linguistics, translated from the Finnish, though the history of legal abbreviations is a big temptation, and another element of great interest to me is legal Latin, which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so is part of what needs translating too. It’s a bit expensive even in Kindle, so I may be safe for the time being.

Simplifying contract language

The Case for Plain-Language Contracts, by Shawn Burton, Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2018

I’ve read a lot of arguments about the use of plain English, and I haven’t often been convinced by them. Now this article by Shawn Burton is at first glance an interesting one (thanks to Inge for recommending it on Twitter), but contains some problems.

Are pages of definitions; words like “heretofore,” “indemnification,” “warrant,” and “force majeure”; and phrases like “notwithstanding anything to the contrary herein,” “subject to the foregoing,” and “including but in no way limited to” necessary for an agreement to be enforceable? Is there some counterintuitive value in useless boilerplate language? Does a contract really need 15-word strings of synonyms; all-cap, italicized, bolded sentences that span multiple pages; awkward sentences containing numerous semicolons; and outdated grammar to be worthy of signature? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding no.

Of course, it would be a good idea to remove archaic words like ‘heretofore’, but what about words with a legal meaning like ‘force majeure’. (The ’15-word strings of synonyms’ are one of the reasons some legal translators prefer to translate from German to English even if German is their native language, because German contracts are simpler, partly because terms are backed up by the Civil Code and other legislation.)

Burton writes: ‘Business leaders should not have to call an attorney to interpret an agreement that they are expected to administer.’ I have my doubts about that. And the ‘litmus test’ was whether a ‘high-schooler’ could understand the contract. Maybe this worked with simplified contracts for customers, but surely not for every type of contract.

Here’s an example from the end of the article:

That article contains other useful links.

German courts holding commercial cases in English

The subject of German judges holding cases in English has raised its ugly head again and is not likely to go away. I’ve mentioned it several times, from 2010 on.

Courts in Paris and Amsterdam as well as Frankfurt would like to take over the international commercial cases so often held in London. Apparently after Brexit UK decisions won’t be automatically effective in the EU and this will slow things down.

Frankfurt am Main Landgericht (Regional Court) has announced this week that from January it will have an English-speaking commercial chamber. From Legal Tribune Online (in German!):

Gerichtsstandort Frankfurt Eng­lisch­spra­chige Kammer für Han­dels­sa­chen ab 2018

Das Landgericht (LG) Frankfurt am Main will ab Januar 2018 eine englischsprachige Kammer für Handelssachen einrichten. Wie das LG am Donnerstag mitteilte, soll Frankfurt damit als Gerichtsstandort gestärkt werden. “Unternehmen sollen die Möglichkeit erhalten, nach ihrer Wahl die Verhandlung auf Englisch durchzuführen”, sagte der Gerichtspräsident Wilhelm Wolf.

I’m not going to analyse this at length, but it is fun reading some of the comments on articles quoted here.

Here is something in English from Bloomberg:

Paris, Frankfurt Try to Grab Lucrative Legal Action From London

“London is stepping into the shadows,” says Roman Poseck, president of the appeals court in Frankfurt, where officials plan to have an English-language panel in place by January. “Frankfurt wants a piece of the pie.”

(Is this what’s known as a mixed metaphor?)

This is all early November 2017 stuff. It was being discussed in March though.

Here is my earlier report on a colleague’s description of the first court hearing in English:

First German court hearing in English

I remember coming to the conclusion that the judges understood each other despite using English, not because of it.

The problem for me, of course, is the language, and above all the gulf between what some judges think is fluent English and what some translators and interpreters think. Especially when it comes to talking about one’s own or a different legal system in a foreign language.

Language that even judges don’t understand, sought on Twitter

A tweet yesterday from Prof Jo Delahunty QC:

Twitter help plz?HoL session nxt wk on legal interpreting:can u think of legal terms/turn of speech that r unintelligible even 2 lawyers?

Suggestions posted there:

Scottish law reports and odd use of Latin.
Any use of Latin
‘We are sitting on x day’ – do clients think we distinguish between standing up or not

‘Conference’ instead of meeting.

‘Shall remain in place until after c has left the jurisdiction’ but c can’t leave the jurisdiction if it’s still in place

Ex tempore, de minimis cd. esily be expressed in English.

Subtle judicial putdowns.

‘Miss X’s ambitious submission…’

‘Bold’. ambitious slightly more bitchy than bold.

Notwithstanding

In the alternative

Home Office unable to understand that ‘within 14 days’ means a fortnight – they think it means 3 months or so.

‘Proportionality’ in costs: mine are proportionate, yours are extortionate.

Double negatives and putting stuff in the passive – done to communicate nuance, but hardly plain English.

‘Forthwith’ – if you mean RIGHT NOW say so!

‘I listened to smultran of a ECJ hearing and the interpreter gave the exact opposite meaning for one word.’

Frequently words that have specific legal meaning or use but are in daily palance that cause bother, e.g. ‘robbing’.

Assault – conversion – occasioning – blackmail. I ‘submit’

And our insistence on using fancy words like ‘vernacular’ or ‘particularise’ or ‘traverse’.

Disguised compliance.

Mutatis mutandis

I don’t know if these examples are meant to be things difficult for interpreters, or for readers who aren’t lawyers.They are presumably what barristers think are confusing.

This kind of language is used by German lawyers too. I don’t find it particularly difficult to undestand becasue I think I switch my mind to that register. But I am not sure about ‘language that even judges don’t understand’.

 

LATER NOTE

I am told that the House of Lords meeting referred to in the tweet was the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, of which a bit more in a later post.