Legal Translation - Difficulties of Legal Translation

July 9th, 2010

Legal translation as discussed in a previous blog is one of the most challenging task in the field of translation. It combines the creativity required in literary translation with the precise terminology of technical translation. Difficulties may arise due to various reasons like differences in legal systems followed in the countries where the source and the target languages are spoken, explicit nature of legal language etc. Hence there is need to approach professional translation service providers when legal documents are required to be translated. Legal terminology by its very nature is subject to incongruity. Legal terms have basis in country specific national legislation. The latter is a product of historical experiences and hence carries certain degree of regional asymmetry. The incongruity varies from near conceptual equivalence to complete voids. This poses a great challenge to accurate translation of legal documents. Since many source language expressions may not have precise equivalents in the target language and literal translations may not make sense, sometimes the original expression is reproduced after paraphrasing it. A translator’s note is usually appended in such cases. Persons doing legal translation need to have extensive linguistic training and knowledge of the source language. They also must be native speakers of the target language having thorough understanding of the vocabulary and syntactic structures of the language. They must have understanding of the local culture and knowledge of the legal system. They must be experienced in the legal field (novices won’t do) and preferably possess certification by an accreditation organization. The translators must have access to all legal resources like legal dictionaries, online databases, libraries, journals etc. These will be required to supplement their knowledge gained through experience in order to create translations that are legally valid in the target country. The translations must preserve the terminology, syntactical patterns and nuances of law from the originals. Reputed translation agencies make such resources available to their translators. Another difficulty in legal translation unlike other forms of translation is certification. It is usually required when documents like birth / death certificates, immigration papers, college transcripts, police clearances, marriage licenses, divorce decrees and the like are submitted in foreign countries for acceptance by courts and other institutions as legal record. The translator or the proofreader will usually be required to affix his/her signature in the presence of a Notary Public attesting to the accuracy of the translated document. The recent growth in international trade and increased globalization has led to rising demand for legal translation services worldwide. Opportunities exist in translating documents in various source-target language combinations. They are both challenging as well as rewarding. Persons having knowledge of international law as well as proficiency in more than one language would be ideal candidates to undertake such assignments.

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