In the internet era, journals are not always people’s first choice for reading material. It seems people these days want information to be brief and easy-to-follow. They want to immediately know what they’re getting and why they should care about it. And they want it in three seconds or less–at least that’s what the communication gurus say. Journals, on the other hand, are wordy and complicated. They force us to patiently wait for the author’s building blocks to take shape before we can appreciate the full scope of their argument. And more often than not by the time we do, we realize we’re not even sold on it anyway. Reading journals is an exercise in patience and—when the subject is interesting but the writing is not—it’s also an exercise in perseverance.
But I love journals anyway and I’ll tell you why: scholarly writing forces us to take a step back and think about our professional practice from a more rational and scientific perspective and it provides us with a wealth of objective criteria to support our linguistic choices. As language professionals, we can’t afford not to take advantage of everything the academic world has to offer. And while not everything published in leading journals will necessarily apply to us and what we do, a lot of it will give us perspective on law, language, and translation than can help make us better legal translators. So in the interest of helping you find the right reads for your practice, here are three of my favorites:
1) The American Journal of Comparative Law. I’m sure you were probably expecting me to refer you to the Harvard Law Review or the Yale Law Journal. Those are great, don’t get me wrong. In a perfect world where we all have the time to read whatever we want, I’d say go for those too. But if you’re a busy legal translator, you want to go for what’s 100% relevant to you. Enter the American Journal of Comparative Law. Why? Because our most valuable resource as legal translators is knowledge of how our working legal systems line up against each other. What do they have in common? How are they different? Knowing that is essential to understanding whether the terminology we intend to use is truly equivalent across legal systems. So if one of your goals for 2021 is to gain that comparative law perspective, this journal is a good place to start.
2) English Language and Linguistics. This international journal published by Cambridge University offers a descriptive analysis of the English language within the framework of contemporary linguistics. How fancy does that sound? The bottom line is this: whether you work into or out of English, this highbrow journal will give you a more comprehensive view of English syntax, semantics, and lexis, which are keys to comprehension when English is your source language, and to good writing when English is your target language.
3) Puntoycoma: Boletín de traductores españoles. For those of you in my language pair, regardless of which direction you translate, this journal is a must-read. While it’s not specific to legal translation, because it’s the product of a joint effort by European Union translators, it leans heavily in that direction. So you will find compelling insight on key problem terms and fascinating perspectives on cross-jurisdictional concepts that pop up in translation even outside the EU.
So there you have it. My top three. If you’ve been reading my newsletter recently, you know my new role as a linguistic consultant at a top firm has given me an insider’s view of the legal world. Soft skills, I’ve learned, will get you through the door. Hard skills, I’ve confirmed, will keep you seated at the table. And journals are a key resource to help you develop those hard skills.
Where to go from here?