Reporting from Poznan – Part 1

Having been quite busy traveling around recently, today I would like to offer you the first of two posts reporting on the Seventh Conference on Legal Translation, Court Interpreting and Comparative Legilinguistics (Legal Linguistics), held at the Institute of Linguistics at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, from 29 June to 1 July 2012.

I have summarized only a selection of talks, to give you a taster, but the full official proceedings of the conference are to be published at the end of the year.


Professor M. H. Okawara, Takasaki City University of Economics, Japan

Lay understanding of legal terminology in the era of the Japanese lay judge system

Professor Okawara presented a qualitative study aimed at checking lay understanding of legal terms, in preparation for the introduction of a hybrid system in Japan combining common law jury systems and Roman law lay judge systems. Official mock trials were held – 10 in each prefecture using the same scenarios – totalling over 500 trials.

The study included questioning lay participants to find out whether they had heard of words, how the terms were understood, and the type of vocabulary they used to explain the “known terms”. In addition, the study asked lay mock trial participants to explain the reasons for their findings. In her presentation, Professor Okawara focused on a particular discourse connector – “tada”, analyzing the relations between judges and the members of the public.

Note: Further details of the study can be found in an article soon to appear in the journal Clarity, as well as in Chapter 27 of the newly published Oxford Handbook of Language and Law, a review of which will be posted on the blog in the next few weeks.

Prof. S. Hotta, Meiji University, Japan

Introduction of the lay-judge system and its implications for the development of forensic linguistics in Japan

Professor Hotta began by explaining that the prior to the introduction of the lay-judge system in 2009, forensic linguistics in Japan was generally limited to the description of language of the law. However, following its introduction, linguists have increasingly been called in to carry out analysis of legal language in actual cases.

In contrast to Prof. Okawara’s qualitative approach, Prof. Hotta sought to provide legal experts and lawyers with statistics to explain his findings, and found them to be very receptive to this approach. In a spoken corpus comprising the transcripts of 21 mock trial deliberations, he compared terms used by expert judges with those used by lay judges, differentiating between male and female subjects, and also analyzed how the different participants interacted, illustrating this through communication networks. Terms used before and after the introduction of the lay system were also compared. He noted that as a result of the introduction of the lay system, vocabulary seemed to have been made easier to understand, more accessible – indeed the Supreme Court advised lay judge courts to draft judgments in plain language.

Professor Hotta’s research was funded by the Japan Association of Bar Associations, perhaps a positive demonstration of the profession’s willingness to engage with the public, and also by national grant-in-aid.

Dr. S. Pommer, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Legal translation: a legal cultural approach

Dr Pommer gave us a whistlestop tour of developments in legal theory as it related to translation, in particular definitions of the cultural approach to translation and the law. Encouragingly for practicing translators, she stressed the need to focus less on untranslatability which “doesn’t tell us what to do when sitting down in front of a computer with a text”. She concluded that comparative law and legal theory in general could make us more aware of differences in legal systems, how to deal with them, and ensure that we keep in mind the fact that we cannot guarantee the ‘other’ will understand in the same way that we do. Legal translation studies could thus examine in which situations such differences are relevant, and what action to take to mitigate them.

Note: The ground covered in the above presentation is further explored in a chapter of Sieglinde Pommer’s forthcoming book Law as Translation, to be published this autumn by Kluwer Law International.

You may be interested to read Part 2 of this report.

3 thoughts on “Reporting from Poznan – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Summer digest « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  2. Pingback: Japanese court interpreters under pressure « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  3. Pingback: Open Access International Journal for Legal Communication | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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