Translation Day is celebrated internationally. This year, many of the events to mark the occasion are being held online – including those offered by the ATIA. Below is a week’s worth of free online events for Translation Day 2020, enjoy!
The ATIA’s own Regina Landeck, C.Tran presented an Introduction to Legal Translation Webinar, made possible by the Canadian Translators, Terminologists, and Interpreters Council (CTTIC). The webinar was free to members of CTTIC’s affiliates, including members of the ATIA and other sister-associations across Canada. In case you missed it, here’s a brief summary of some highlights.
Regina is a certified translator (German to English and English to German), an ATIA board member, and a corresponding member of the ATA. She holds a law degree from Germany, a post-graduate diploma in adult education, and a master’s degree in translation. She taught legal translation in the online Translation Certificate Program at New York University for 10 years and continues to operate her own translation business, ProLingua Consulting. Regina teaches translation webinars and is also active as a mentor and tutor to new translators.
So what does it take to be a legal translator?
Like for all translators, there is a base set of competencies required to accurately translate the meaning of a text from one language to another. More than just the native- or native-like bilingualism and writing skills required to perform the language transfer, translators must also have strong research, editing, and proofreading skills.
Then there are specialized translators, who need the additional technical knowledge of their particular field. This includes being bilingual in that field, as Regina reminds us: “Technical writing is its own language,” which often comes with its own writing style and set of conventions.
Finally, the legal translatormust be an excellent all-around translator, a specialist translator, and be well versed in the legal systems of both their working languages.
Regina gave a number of examples of cases where she has had to rely on these interlocking competencies to complete a contract. In one instance, she was hired to translate the texts in a legal case in which a farmer who sold his dairy operation was being sued over the technical properties of his milking equipment. “I became a tiny little bit of an expert on dairy equipment […] being a legal translator means being everything else as well!”
Considerations and Concepts in Legal Translation
When we translate between two legal systems, it can be very difficult to find equivalents that work 100% in both languages. With many legal systems sharing the common ancestor of historical Roman law, there are many false friends and near-false friends out there! When there is no perfect conceptual match for legal terminology in the two working languages and systems, the functional equivalentapproach settles on a term that, at the very minimum, matches the function in the context of its occurrence. When taking this approach, the translator must use functional equivalents with caution until they have become used frequently enough to be used as such; and use a communicative approach to maximize clarity.
Another factor to keep in mind is the target text’s purpose. In cases of contract translation, texts may be scrutinized by lawyers in a dispute, resulting in complications from translated contracts being interpreted in a different legal system from the one in which it was created. These situations would make a good case for foreignization, that is, to integrate certain graphic, stylistic, and linguistic markers of the source language into the target text. Foreignization signals to the reader that the text in question comes from a different legal sphere that may not be able to be interpreted in the same conceptual framework as the target language and legal system.
The issue of ambiguitypresents another significant challenge to the legal translator. While it is often the case in legal texts that ambiguity is written into the text on purpose, it is best, whenever possible, to contact the drafter to clarify any ambiguous statements. If that’s not possible, the ambiguity should be made known in a translator’s note. Pro tip: always get the client to clarify in writing – consider it your insurance policy!
Because technical language is its own language, legal language has its own features that often do not translate easily. Here are some features of legal English discussed in the webinar:
Latinisms: because of our legal system’s ancestral roots in Roman law, there are still many occurrences of Latin borrowing in legal English. Unless the target language shares these borrowings, these latinisms must be translated as well.
Intentional Redundancies, or more specifically doublets and triplets, are a common convention in legal English (example: “null and void”).Is there a genuine distinction between the seeming-synonyms in these sets? Is it tautology for emphasis’ sake? In the end it is the translator’s choice.
Performative verbs, that is, things that come into effect by the simple act of stating it (example: “I now pronounce you husband and wife”). Care must be taken to capture the act executed these performative verbs’ in the target language as well (not “I now call you husband and wife”).
Euphemisms: while increasingly less common, there are still some euphamisms that stand in the language of Canadian law (example: “indecent exposure”). Attention must be taken to avoid literal translations in these cases.
As some of the webinar’s attendees noted, it is well worth it to invest in a good, printed legal dictionary to help with legal language concepts and finding the best way to translate them.
Thank you Regina and CTTIC for this fantastic introduction to legal translation!
Translation requires more than just fluency in two languages: an in-depth understanding of the syntax and semantics of both the source and target language are key to developing the skills necessary to create quality translations. For this reason, language teachers are often equipped to become translators: with the foundation of the linguistic knowledge required to teach languages, aspiring language professionals can begin to build the other skills that make excellent translators.
This is the case for Sanja Letica. Having discovered her passion for languages as early as elementary school, she became fluent in both English and German – the languages in which she later gained her dual Master’s degrees in language and literature. She spent six years teaching elementary and high school in her native Croatia while volunteering as a translator at Dokkica, a not-for-profit organization that provides non-institutional educational support and programming for children. After moving to Canada in 2013, Sanja decided to pursue translation, gaining associate membership in the ATIA. She is currently gaining experience and building her portfolio towards applying to become a Certified Translator.
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about how your studies and teaching experience are related to your decision to pursue translation?
During the course of my studies, I have discovered I had a talent for grammar, believe it or not. And being able to dig into the language on a deeper level enabled me to gain necessary linguistic skills that proved very useful for translating. I also have a great sense of semantics of the language, which is very important when translating text from one language into the order, regardless of the subject. Translating is not an exact science, sometimes as translators we need to get creative to present the meaning and nuances of one language in the other one. Same goes for teaching. A teacher always needs to be creative as well as resourceful in order to keep the students interested in the subject.
Can you expand on your experience volunteering as a translator with children?
During my volunteering time at Dokkica, I had the opportunity to meet different native speakers of both English and German language. I mostly did consecutive type of translation. It wasn’t always easy as those speakers would sometimes talk in a certain dialect that was very different from the standard English or German that we were taught at the university. But I have always liked a challenge and that was only a proof to me that I had a good ear for languages, which is very important in this line of work. I met some great people who most definitely expanded my horizons in the non-for-profit world and the importance of volunteering and giving back to the community. It was a great pleasure working with them.
Becoming an Associate Translator with the ATIA is no small feat, let alone becoming Certified. What can you tell us about your journey towards becoming a Certified Translator?
Ever since I moved to Canada, I wanted to do something with my language skills. I learned about the ATIA from a friend and looked into becoming a member. I took my pre-requisite exam and once I passed that, the exam to become associate member. It wasn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be easy. Anyone who wants to do well in this business should have appropriate skills. Being a native speaker of a language other than English does not make anyone a great translator. Translations require a deeper level of language knowledge and understanding, and is an extremely responsible job. The consequences of inaccurate translations can be severe and it should not be taken lightly when deciding whether to accept a job or not. If unsure, rather decline then do an inadequate translation. Word count is an important factor, but one’s own integrity should not be compromised for the sole purpose of reaching that word count.
There are online presentations and workshops available to members who want to improve their skills and learn something new. With every translation, I learn new words and phrases, and it never ends. My ultimate goal is to become certified and I hope I will be able to reach my word count within the time frame given. But I will not do it at any cost.
What advice would you give to aspiring language professionals that are considering membership with the ATIA?
I would encourage anyone who is considering becoming a member to go for it. Just be prepare to work on yourself during the whole process and open to taking courses and participating in online seminars and workshops.
As members of the ATIA, we are all accountable for the development of our profession – both through our own professional practice and through the public-facing aspects of our field. There are many ways you can engage with your ATIA to forward your own career and the sector as a whole, and every contribution elevates all of us.
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