What is legal translation?

What is Legal Translation and How can you Find a Trusted Translator?

If we take a look at the definition of legal translation then you are likely to find something like this from our good friends over at Wikipedia:

“Legal translation is the translation of texts within the field of law. As law is a culture-dependent subject field, the work of legal translation and its products are not necessarily linguistically transparent.”

While we award full marks for effort, this definition does not necessarily capture the full scope of this field. Despite its name, legal translation does not only apply to the legal sector, but just about every business in operation today.

So, as well as the legal work you might expect, such as translating witness statements, legal rulings, filed patents, official reports and financial documents, there are also plenty of projects involving the translation of employee contracts and supplier agreements for firms that are branching out into new markets.

The importance of legal translations

There are very few fields of translation where the cost of making a mistake can be so high. In the case of a witness statement, a mistranslation could jeopardise the ruling of a court, while improperly translated patent or financial documents could have serious implications for the future of a commercial enterprise.

There’s one infamous legal mistranslation that illustrates this point perfectly…

In WWII, the United States issued the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded the surrender of Japan. In his statement responding to this declaration, the Japanese Prime Minister used the word ‘mokusatsu’, which translates into English as ‘ignore’. In Japanese culture its meaning is more nuanced, and more along then lines of letting a topic lie, or indifference.

However, in a press conference relating to the declaration, the word ‘mokusatsu’ was translated as ‘reject’. This apparent defiance subsequently played a part in America’s decision to order the atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan.

The problems associated with legal translations

When dealing with different cultures, it is often the case that there isn’t a single, definitive translation from one language to another. This is particularly the case with legal terms, where cultural and linguistic sensitivities need to play a part.

For this reason, moving from literal to legal translations requires an extremely high level of skill and experience, as well as an intricate understanding of the technical terms. Simply put, when there is no room for error, you need to work with a team you can trust. You cannot make do with ‘nearly-correct’ terms.

Finding a legal translator

It is essential legal translators have demonstrable legal and linguistic understanding of the languages used in both the source text (the original document) and the target language (the finished article). The legal sector itself, and the legal documents that are integrated into every industry, have a terminology or dictionary of words all of their own. Only a qualified legal translator with specific sector experience can ensure that no ambiguity, which could prove so costly, remains.

We understand that budgets are tight, but when you’re looking for a legal translator, you need to think seriously about the quality of their work. There is always a balance to strike between quality, time and cost, but at Linguistica International, we work hard to get this balance just right.

To discuss your project or for a legal translation quote, please call 02392 987 765 or email: info@linguistica-international.com today.