Weekly Writing & Translation Tips

Get them straight to your inbox every week!

When Mistranslations Lead to Notary Fraud

 

Everybody in the U.S. has at least a vague notion of what a Notary Public is. Black’s Law defines a Notary Public as: “[a] person authorized by a state to administer oaths, certify documents, attest to the authenticity of signatures, and perform official acts in commercial matters, such as protesting negotiable instruments.” It then continues: “in countries where civilian law prevails, such as in countries of continental Europe, a notary public is a public official who serves as a public witness of facts transacted by private parties… and also serves as impartial legal advisor for the parties involved.”

Notary Public is often (incorrectly, in my view) translated into Spanish as “notario,” “notario público,” or “escribano.” And it is precisely in translation that this term gets interesting, specifically when we look at the differences between a US Notary Public and a Latin American “Notario...

Continue Reading...

Translating Problem Phrases: Know All Men by These Presents

 

Most contracts drafted in the Common Law world include an introductory clause after the title. The introductory clause typically states, at least, three things: 1) the type of agreement involved, 2) the date of the agreement (which as we’ll learn in next week’s post and quick tip isn’t always as straightforward as it should be), and 3) who the parties to the agreement are.

The introductory clause can be simple. Like this:

This sales agreement is made on May 13, 2019 between Acme Corp. and Roadrunner Corp.

Or it can be a little more sophisticated. Like this:

This asset purchase agreement is dated May 13, 2019, and is between ACME CORP., a Delaware corporation (“Acme”) and ROADRUNNER CORP., a New Mexico corporation (“Roadrunner”), and Wile E. Coyote, an individual (“Mr. Coyote”; together with Roadrunner, the “Roadrunner Parties”).

Near the introductory clause, you’ll often find the phrase “KNOW ALL MEN...

Continue Reading...

What Translators Can Learn from the “Untranslatability” of Punitive Damages

Punitive damages (a.k.a. exemplary, vindictive or imaginary damages) is a problem term in some, but not all, language combinations. This is so because, legally speaking, punitive damages don’t exist in every country.

In my language combination (EN-ES), the concept of punitive damages exists linguistically, but not legally, throughout the Spanish speaking world. So, for example, while punitive damages have long been awarded by the Courts in Mexico, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, it wasn’t until the new Civil Code was sanctioned in 2015 that punitive damages were explicitly addressed in Argentine law. So, for a long time, those of us who practice law in Argentina had a word for something that existed conceptually, but not legally. We talked about it. We theorized about it. But no court could award punitive damages because, technically speaking, they didn’t really “exist” under Argentine law.

Recently a student in my Comparative Law course contacted me with a...

Continue Reading...

Balancing Fidelity and Transparency: Formal Equivalence

What are we talking about when we talk about formal equivalence? According to Harvey, formal equivalence or ‘linguistic equivalence’ means a ‘word-for-word’ translation. Using examples from French into English, Harvey holds that authors differ over the acceptability of formal equivalence, but still maintain that formal equivalence is the dominant method in legal translation; which “[i]deologically speaking […] is in keeping with the dogma, long imposed on legal translators, of literal translation or adherence to the letter rather than the spirit” (Harvey 2002).

Harvey’s examples are not original. Citing other authors, he exemplifies formal equivalence with “Conseil constitutionnel = Constitutional Counsel” (Cairns and McKeon 1995) and “notaire = notary” (Dickson 1994) (for an analysis of how this second example fails between Spanish and English, see (Arturo 2019)). But aside from lacking in originality,...

Continue Reading...

Unnecessary Emphasis, Redundancy, and Tautology in Legal Translation

If there’s one thing all legal translators know it’s that lawyers don’t write as well as we think we do. 

When the subject came up in my Advanced Skills Training Day workshop at the American Translators Associations’ 59th Annual Conference not too long ago, a lawyer-linguist in my class claimed that lawyers “write so well” because many (American) law schools offer advanced writing classes for lawyers.

Most of the legal translators in my workshop were far too polite to contradict her, but still heads nodded left and right and eyeballs rolled all over the room. Despite what we, as lawyers, think of our writing, legal translators and other language professionals beg to differ. 

Lawyers are not just notoriously bad writers, we are also utterly clueless about what makes our writing so bad. And that cluelessness places an extra burden on legal translators, who are bound by fidelity to source, and often have to make tough linguistic...

Continue Reading...

Common Vices in Legal Writing and Translation

“To avoid nudity, the back-handed passive is almost obligatory: ‘It is suggested-,’ ‘It is proposed-,’ ‘It would seem-.’ Whether the writers really suppose that such constructions clothe them in anonymity so that people can not guess who is suggesting and who is proposing, I do not know. I do know that such forms frequently lead to the kind of sentence that looks as though it had been translated from the German by someone with a rather meager knowledge of English.” (Fred Rodell, Yale Law School)

As lawyer-linguists and translators, we’ve all had to suffer through circumlocution and stylistic weakness. We’ve all scratched our heads wondering what, if anything, the primary drafter intended to say, and more importantly, how, if at all, we can capture the intended message in the target language.

In an attempt to sound serious and dignified, most legal drafters resort to the same vices. And, what’s worse, in an attempt to...

Continue Reading...
Close

Sign up now!

For weekly writing and translation tips straight to your inbox, updates on our courses, and occasional freebies! 

We're a GDPR compliant company, and we'll never spam you.