Genres in the Translation of Legal English
Legal genres in translation A useful innovation in the theory and practice of specialized translation is the concept of genre, which has also found its way into contemporary textbooks on the teaching of English for specific purpose, following the examples of Swales and Bhatia. By ‘genre,’ or ‘text type’, we mean each of the specific classes of texts characteristic of a given scientific community or professional group and distinguished from each other by certain features of vocabulary, form and style. In the particular case of the language of the law, examples of genres include witness statements, statements of claim, contracts and judgments. Given this broad definition of the term, it makes perfectly good sense to speak of ‘genres’ in everyday communication. For instance, anyone with a working knowledge of the appropriate conventions can tell at a glance whether a given text is a letter of condolence, a recipe or a piece of advertising copy. And relatively sophisticated speakers of a language will probably be able to determine, on the basis of the respect or otherwise shown for conventions, whether the genre is being used seriously, playfully or ironically, and possibly whether the genre is being invoked for real-world purpose or is being exploited for the purpose of fictional representation. Texts belonging to a given genre display at least the following stylistic and formal features:
- A shared communicative function expressed by means of the same performative verb. For example, all injunctions are in the form of orders that must be strictly complied with, whether they involve performing an act or refraining from a specific action
- A similar macrostructure, i.e. format or organization outline. For instance, all judgments are arranged into a minimum of three basic sections: facts as found, relevant law, and decision or ruling.
- A similar discursive mode of developing the macrostructure (narrative, descriptive, imperative, optative) and similar discourse techniques aimed at satisfying the discourse expectations of the recipient or addressee.
- A common lexical and syntactic arrangement of the material and a common set of function units and formal features, e.g. in statutes and other legislative texts, the abundant use of indefinite pronouns, passives and impersonal forms of the verb, ‘shall’ forms of the future to indicate legal obligation, extensive lists of categories or classes of persons and objects to whom or to which the law applies, and so on.
- Common socio-pragmatic conventions, e.g. the hierarchical structure of the judiciary as reflected in the abbreviated titles of different judges, and the appropriate style of address (‘my Lord’, ‘your Lordships’, ‘your Honour, ‘your Worship’, together with the highly conventional use of certain verbs or verb phrase in given contexts (‘submit’, ‘put it to you’, ‘crave’, ‘petition’, ‘pray’, ‘grant’, ‘give leave’, ‘restore’, ‘discharge’, ‘strike out’, etc.).
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