Legal English translation

These days, I got a big project about legal document translation from English to German. It is for legal purposes to notify foreign defendants of litigation. In the instructions, the employer emphasized that the translation must be exact, precise, and has the same format as the attachment. He awarded the project after I assured him that we would assign this translation work to native German translators and run the strict TEP process to assure of high quality.

He is right, it is very difficult to translate legal English with high accuracy. Choosing the meanings of words is of vital importance. If a legal document is translated in the wrong way, it will cause confusion, frustration, undue delay and a huge cost. So I’m here to say something about the legal English translation.

With the development of international trade, more and more legal documents needed to be translated. Accuracy is the key criteria of legal document translation. Legal English documents have it own characteristics, such as careful wording, long sentence, and complex structures. Sometimes, an article is composed of only one long sentence.

Therefore, we should have a good understanding of its characteristics before doing the legal English translation. The legal phrase in Chinese is also very carefully worded, and it also has complex structures. There are lots of words that have special meanings regarding the field of law.

When translating legal documents, we have to apply the principles of accuracy and precision, consistency and identity, clarity and concision, professionalism, standardized language and teamwork. Legal English translators should understand the local culture; have knowledge of their country’s legal system and knowledge of the meaning of the clauses used.

Firstly, we should understand the legal documents. In English, some adverbs such as “here”, “there” are used for prefix, they become a special legal vocabulary by combine with another word. In order to avoid repetition and misunderstanding, and make the text become more accurate and brief, these words are often used in legal documents.

For example, hereafter, hereby, herein, hereof, hereto hereunder, hereupon, herewith, hereinbefore, hereinafter; thereafter, thereby, therein, thereinafter, thereinbefore, thereon, thereof, thereunder, thereupon, therewith; whereas, whereby, wherein, whereof, whereon, etc.

Read Also: legal documents

1. “hereby” has the meaning of “by means of; by reason of this”, it was often used in the beginning of legal documents, contracts, and agreements.

2. hereto: to this. It means the things mentioned before. For example, to express “本合同双方”, we can say “the party hereto”. Here it refers to “to this Contract”. “本协议附件4” can be translated to “Appendix 4 hereto”,this “hereto” refers “to this Agreement”.

3. herein: in this. “unfair competition mentioned herein…”. In this context, herein means “in this law”. Another example, “本协议(中)的内容”,can be translated into “the contents herein”, this “herein” means “in this Agreement”.

4. whereas considering that. This word usually used in the first paragraph of contract and agreement.

Secondly, some special words and phrases need pay more attention. For example,

1. “shall” and “should”. In the contract, “shall” is the most frequently used word. In the contract documents, it expresses mandatory taking on legal or contractual obligations. While “should” equals the meaning of “if” in the legal documents.

For example:

The board meeting shall be called and presided over by the Chairman. Should the chairman be absent, the vice-Chairman shall, in principle, call and preside over the board meeting.

Both of “shall” in this paragraph have the meaning of “have the responsibility to do, must do”.

2. Unless otherwise: 除外, 除非另…… It is more formal than “if not” and “otherwise”. For example, “除非合同另有规定” can be translated to “unless otherwise specified in the Contract”. “除非信用证另有规定” can be translated to “unless otherwise specified in the Letter of Credit.”

To be continued…

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