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.

The form of certified translations

Richard Schneider has posted a guide on how to prepare certified translations in Germany: Von Schuppen und Ösen. It’s in German but with illustrations.

Here’s a summary of the main headings

1. The stamp and signature should be blue rather than black. (I definitely use blue stamp ink, but agree it would make sense to do the signature in blue biro too. Then people can see immediately whether the translation is an original or a photocopy).

2. A round stamp is not prescribed, but looks more official: official stamps are usually round, and rectangular stamps are easier to copy.
(In Bavaria, the round stamp is in fact prescribed. It can get quite expensive when you think how long the translator’s title is).

3. Always attach a copy of the original text. (I usually do that, though it’s not always feasible. The courts don’t want it for internal use. But it covers you if you translate from a copy rather than the original, because the recipient can compare the copy with the original and see if you translated the right document. And if you do a translation of excerpts, you can use a highlighter to mark on the copy which bits you did or omitted).

4. Fold the pages over so the corners are staggered (see photo) – each then gets some blue ink on it from your stamp.

5. Add a stamp on the fold inside.

6. Bind the pages together so they can’t be separated. Use an Öszange (see picture). This is apparently an eyeletter punch. Alternatively, you can use a paper seal (Siegelstern; see pictures). (I sometimes use gummy paper, which I cut otu in a rectangle, and put the stamp on top of it. And sometimes I sew, with needle and thread).

(Richard Schneider seems thrilled with his punch. So was I when I first got one. The problem came when I sent off a set of punched translations and they passed through a machine at Deutsche Post, which ripped the translations to pieces, and I had to do the whole lot again. I have never used the device since.)

Economist on translation and the law

An article in The Economist on the growing demand for legal translation: Translating and the law.

It envisages this as a good prospect for underworked lawyers:

Specialised “e-discovery” software helps lawyers cull the masses of electronic data. But in international deals and lawsuits, such software must be run by cultural and linguistic experts to make sure the correct search terms are used and the right information is ferreted out. Translation is still something that computers do badly much of the time, especially when the topic (a drug patent, say) is a difficult one full of technical details.

The many law students wondering if the rotten legal job market will ever improve should take note. The twin forces of globalisation and technology may put many mediocre lawyers out of business. But those who master languages and computers may find themselves in demand.

There’s nothing wrong with lawyers translating – I am a Germanist who became a solicitor and spent 20 years teaching legal translation, for which there was at the beginning little demand and where I had to teach myself. But I hope those lawyers with language skills get some kind of training on what translation and working with related software involve, and above all have experience.

The article originates in New York and the discovery problems in the USA are particularly great. I think the patent translator Steve Vitek spends a lot of time telling his clients which Japanese patent documentation needs looking at more closely. I tell clients or potential clients what statutes or judgments are available in translation on the Internet and whether I think the translation is reliable. That sort of thing requires experience.

Tweeted by Helen Gibbons, retweeted by Kevin Lossner

MOOC free online course on crowdsourced translation – English/Spanish

I am not really into crowdsourced translation, but it appears that the Open University in the UK is about to run a MOOC, a Massive Open Online Course on Open Translation tools and practices.

There’s more information here, including a video. The pilot runs from 15th October to 7 December 2012 (8 weeks), with the accompanying course website opening on Oct 10th 2012.

The project is aimed at speakers of English or Spanish who are also proficient in Spanish or English (level B2 or above of the CEFR). You might be a language learner, a translation student, or simply looking to develop your translation skills. The project will provide the following opportunities:

Introduce learners to open translation tools and generic translation skills, developing useful employability skills in a global context;
Promote plurilingualism and intercultural communication;
Promote the internationalisation of the student experience;
Introduce learners to real-world translation tasks for volunteer translators in well-established community translation projects (e.g. Wikipedia, TED talks, Global Voices);
Develop translation skills in subject specific domains (maths, education) through translating OpenLearn content (

Corpora for (legal) translators/Textkörper für (juristische) Übersetzer

I did some months ago intend to write something about my experience of using corpora for translation purposes, especially legal translation. (See earlier entry and footnotes by John Kuti there)

At that time, it appeared the free programs I might have recommended had lost their value for me because they had access to fewer corpora.

Then again, one could get fairly similar results with a Google CSE (custom search engine).

I followed a webinar on the topic last year, and it ended with a contribution by Juliette Scott, who is a legal translator who is doing a Ph.D. on the subject. She now has a weblog, called Translation & the Law: from words to deeds, which is certainly a good place to find out more.

There was also a blog post by Kevin Lossner in Translation Tribulations, entitled A NIFTY method for legal terminology (I thought NIFTY was a play on NIMBY, but I found out it is the name Juliette Scott gives her method) – Here you will find the links to use if you want to help in Juliette’s research/find out more.

From a real-life seminar in London a couple of years ago I also have a most wonderful and useful book on the subject of corpora; Working with Specialized Language: A practical guide to using corpora” by Lynne Bowker and Jennifer Pearson (dated 2002 but still useful in 2012: you can look inside at amazon)

The basic approach to making a corpus of legal texts is to collect them on the internet or from other sources and convert them all into a format readable by the corpus program. This takes a bit of time. It also raises copyright problems unless you just use it for your own purposes. This was the problem with the free software BootCat, which had lost the right to use certain sources from the Web. The free software AntConc is for a later stage of the process.

Here’s an article by Michael Wilkinson: Compiling Corpora for Use as Translation Resources

I did have some rapid success in one field of legal English late last year. I sometimes translate lawyers’ websites and also extracts from directories in which law firms are described in glowing terms. Here’s an example from a firm I have nothing to do with:

CMS Hasche Sigle
Aufbruch in eine neue Zeit – und zwar mit Schwung. Unter dieses Motto könnte man das vergangene Jahr bei CMS stellen. Schon lange gehört die Kanzlei in Hamburg zu den führenden Adressen, jedoch monierten Wettbewerber, CMS sei zu breit aufgestellt, um im Markt wirklich hervorzustechen.
Diese Zeiten gehen zu Ende: V.a. die M&A-Praxis hat zuletzt einen deutlichen Schub erhalten und sorgte für Schlagzeilen, als ein Hamburger Team zusammen mit dem internationalen CMS-Verbund Takeda bei dem €10 Mrd schweren Erwerb von Nycomed beriet. Dies spiegelte sich auch im Markt wider, die Gruppe erntete in diesem Jahr spürbar mehr Lob. Gemeinsam mit Dr. Marc Riede betreute er zudem die HSH bei der Restrukturierung von Hapag-Lloyd.

It’s quite easy to collect this kind of thing in English from UK, USA and other sites and to search it for useful expressions. I might find more ideas for words like betreuen.

But I still have the feeling that a corpus would not help me with most legal translations, because I am not trying to create a text that looks like it was written in English about English law, but one that is clearly about a foreign legal system. If I created a collection of contracts, for example, every potential match of phrase would need to be checked legally to see if it meant the same thing. I have the feeling that I’d love to computerize my vocabulary work, but it would then bypass my own brain and experience.

Becoming a translator with educated proficiency/Geld verdienen als Übersetzer

I am gearing up to start blogging properly again, but meanwhile some reading from a website on running a small business from home. Someone tweeted it this morning, I hope as a joke but perhaps not. The site gives advice on how you can earn money as a ‘verbal translator’ (this seems to mean an interpreter) or a ‘text-based translator’ (apparently a translator). This opportunity is open to you even if you do not have the ideal qualification of having grown up bilingual:

Most organizations who are looking to hire a verbal translator will prefer to find translators that grew up speaking both languages. Fully bilingual, these translators have been speaking both languages since their childhood and this can help bring a fluid mastery that many other translators will not have. These translators will often understand the rhythm and cadence of a particular region which many students of language cannot master.

I have always had the impression that ‘true bilinguals’ are not typically ideal translators, but apparently I was wrong. Looking at my day’s work today, I must admit that fluid mastery is not the first description that occurs to me.

Another important point made, if I interpret it correctly, is that whereas interpreters can just babble away, we translators need to know grammar. That’s good, because I’ve spent quite a few years teaching grammar. The students didn’t seem keen, but I always knew it would be useful some day.

While a verbal translator needs to be able to efficiently handle the ever changing dynamics of a language, text based translators often need to have a better hold on grammatical structure of a language. Both types of translators should certainly be able to both speak and write the language, although text translators should know the specifics behind important grammatical rules of the language. Most written documents will need to have an educated proficiency behind them.

Looking behind me, I haven’t spotted the educated proficiency yet, but I feel sure it must be there.

This is why a number of different tools can all come in handy when you are learning how to become a translator.

Here I am disappointed. I was hoping they would tell me what tools they meant. Do they mean software, or is it hammers and screwdrivers? Still, I am presumably past that point and there seems hope here:

Once you are able to hold a conversation or read a book in two different ways, though, you will know that you are ready to find work as a translator.

(I wonder whether these texts are bought in from Asia?)

Changes at register office/Änderungen beim Standesamt

I wrote about the types of German birth certificate in 2005.

The practice of German register offices changed on January 1 2009.

Here is my earlier summary with the changes:

Geburtsschein (minimum details) – now gekürzte Geburtsurkunde
Geburtsurkunde (most details) – now Geburtsurkunde
Abstammungsurkunde (most details – including natural parents) – now beglaubigter Geburtsregisterausdruck

This shows that you can usually translate both Geburtsurkunde and Abstammungsurkunde as birth certificate, but there will be circumstances in which you need to distinguish them and can add ‘showing natural parents’.

Another problem I mentioned then was that some Geburtsurkunden say ‘mit der Abstammungsurkunde identisch’. This means that if you want to get married, you can use the certificate as evidence of your biological parents.

At least the translation is straightforward: we now have a short birth certificate, a (full) birth certificate (to use the UK terms) and a certified extract from the register of births.

There are more changes to the system. There is no longer a Familienbuch, but an Eheregister. I haven’t read these up in detail, but here is some information from Braunschweig.

Webinar on legal translation/Webinar zu juristischer Übersetzung

eCPD is a company formed this year to provide webinars for translators.

That means an internet seminar for continuous professional development (which the ITI is propagating) that you can follow on your own computer. If you miss the date but have registered, you can hear it online later.

They have a webinar on specializing in legal translation on October 28. The ‘speaker’ (?) is Ricardo Martinez, of the City University of London, who will be giving examples on English and into French and Spanish.

Register here.

This webinar will provide the audience with an overview of the field of legal translation, focusing on the following aspects:
• Why legal translation as a specialisation?
• How to get into the legal translation field
• Disparity between Anglo-American Law / Continental Law
• Types of documents usually translated and some basic vocabulary (examples translated into French and Spanish)
• Main features of legal English
• Some practical problems in legal translation
Practical advice for the budding legal translator.

Speaker: Ricardo Martinez of City University, London
Ricardo has been translating, interpreting and lecturing since 1990, both in the UK and Spain. As an Intérprete Jurado he specialises in the legal and financial fields. He has expanded his areas of expertise throughout the years to other fields such as journalism, TV, tourism, engineering, software localisation and IT. As a lecturer he has taught at the Escuela de Traductores e Intérpretes in Madrid in the 1990s and is currently responsible for the English-Spanish language pair of the Legal Translation MA at City University.
Cost: £15

(This has long since been blogged by Philippa Hammond, but I missed it).

Translation problems in murder trial/Übersetzungsprobleme in Mordverhandlung

Steve at languagehat takes up an article by Janet Malcolm in the New Yorker (abstract available here, full article only on subscription). The subject is a murder trial requiring written translation of an audiotape in Russian and Bukhori (a dialect of Persian spoken by the Bukharian Jews in Central Asia). It seems that the audiotape was difficult to hear and the translator made a number of errors, although there isn’t enough evidence as to why. The biggest misunderstanding was very favourable to the prosecution – one person to another, travelling in a car, saying ‘Are you getting off?’ but translated as ‘Are you going to make me happy?’ – the verb used is described as odd by commenters to the languagehat entry, and was apparently hard to hear anyway.

I haven’t got the full article, but I find some curious features:

One can imagine the translator’s own happiness when he heard those lines—and Leventhal’s when he read them in the transcript.

Leventhal was the main prosecutor. I don’t know why the translator would be happy.

We go through life mishearing and misseeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up. Trial lawyers push this human tendency to a higher level. They are playing for higher stakes than we are playing for when we tinker with actuality in order to transform the tale told by an idiot into an orderly, self-serving narrative.

This raises a number of questions. The prosecution should certainly not be playing for high stakes if this means getting a conviction on the basis of one translated sentence – they would have to have a lot more to convince them. Prosecution should not be about convicting people at all costs. And if two people are in a car, then ‘Are you getting off?’ is not exactly a tale told by an idiot that needs to be reconstrued to make sense.

(I’ve read at least three books by Janet Malcolm, all of which were excellent – most recently ‘Two Lives – Gertrude and Alice’, but here I have not enough to go on).

LATER NOTE (and spoiler): I did actually get the whole article. It’s extremely interesting and is mainly a psychological study of what we know of people in court cases. It’s clear there will be an appeal. The problem with the audiotape transcription strongly suggests this was unreliable evidence, but in the context of the whole, it appears just one piece in the mosaic. One has the impression that the trial was unfair to the defendants and to the defence counsel, but nevertheless that the defendant Borukhova may have been correctly convicted.

Translating foreign-language litigation documents/Übersetzung für Gerichtsverhandlungen

An article by Erik Sherman at law. com, Don’t Let Litigation Get Lost in Translation
Can language conversion software cut cross-border litigation bills?

discusses the problems for a litigation lawyer of dealing with a huge amount of foreign-language material. One has heard tales of US lawyers being presented with truckloads of papers at the discovery stage (Offenlegung).

The conclusions seem to be:

Use machine translation (MT) to get a rough idea of which documents might be worth translating

The article mentions free software and implies that there are other systems. It doesn’t mention the possibility, if you often work with a particular language, of ‘training’ an in-house MT system to translate certain terms in a certain way, to expect legal terminology rather than general terminology and so on. Nor does it mention the problems of optical character recognition (OCR) if the documents are poor faxes. They may even be handwritten. If documents are not in electronic form, you might need to call in a translator to help you sift them. I remember Steve Vitek‘s stories of helping lawyers sort through Japanese patents.

If you need to keep an eye out for keywords, get a translator to identify them in the foreign language, since if they are inconsistently MTd, you may overlook them in English.

Get important documents translated by a human translator

For languages using a different alphabet or writing system, get a translator to identify possible software problems in advance

If you have to use several human translators, use a computer-aided translation system (CAT – translation memory) or at least a glossary to keep them consistent on the main terminology

Don’t let your lawyers change to a foreign language to discuss sensitive issues in the hope that the other side won’t notice what you’re up to

A law firm’s translation department should know a lot of this already. But maybe there are fewer translation departments in the USA.

The article doesn’t go into detail on what law firms need to know, for instance when it obliquely refers to CAT.

Once down to the critical documents, it’s time for human translation. But even here, translation technology plays an important role. Not only can it help jump-start an experienced translator’s efforts, but it can also enforce important uniformity of translation. “A lot of words are subject to multiple interpretations, so what can happen is that you can have two duplicates that have been translated differently, and it can have consequences,” says Constantine Cannon’s Solow. The more translators working on a matter, the greater the chance for variability in translation. Professional translation tools can “learn” specific translation choices and then present them as preferred options to any translator on the team. The translators then feed refined translations back into the tools, increasing the speed of the entire process. And suddenly, you’re ready for court before you can count un, deux, trois.

Sounds great. I incline more to quatre-vingts-dix myself.

I would add to the above: if you have a good translator who knows about software, don’t underestimate their value to you.

This is a weird statement:

The problem of trusting a translation becomes even more critical when dealing with many Asian languages, in which a single character can represent a complex concept. “One of those characters could have hundreds, maybe even thousands of meanings,” says Duncan McCampbell, president of international business consultancy McCampbell Global and a former litigator. “There are characters in Chinese [for example] that have no equivalent in English.”

(Via MA Translation Studies News)