All translation is more than simply exchanging one word for another. It is ensuring a message, an idea, a concept rendered in one language is faithfully expressed in another.
To make it difficult, not all languages have equivalent phrases or concepts. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in legal translation where frequently we find a lack of equivalency between not only words, languages, cultures, but also between jurisdictions. When translating, there are many challenges, from cultural differences and false friends, to ambiguities and audience expectations. But when it comes to legal documents, there is the added difficulty of navigating completely different legal systems as well. This is especially true where languages (and cultures) are not only completely unrelated, but also where the legal systems are also entirely different: civil law vs. common law! Civil law systems, such as those in China, Spain, or France tend to be highly codified and explicit. Common law systems, such as that which we have in the UK, or can be seen in Malaysia, Singapore, or Australia for example, are much more based on uncodified case law wherein judicial decisions create legally binding precedents. For the humble translator, this means:
- attempting to navigate the differences in legal steps (such as in litigation, wherein the preliminary investigation phase in criminal proceedings might not exist in another jurisdiction),
- being aware of corporate entities that might not exist elsewhere (such as a general partnership not existing in Spain, or a wholly foreign owned enterprise being rather China-specific)
- Understanding of (at least) two lots of legal concepts that may be absent or different in the other system.
- Ensuring all the above and more are untilised to ensure crystal clear understanding in a foreign language…
So, legal translation is more than just translating words. It is translating culture. It is translating a concept. It is translating a message. It is translating a legal system. It is translation. It is what we do.