Reporting from Poznan – Part 2

This second post on the conference Legal Translation, Court Interpreting and Comparative Legilinguistics, held in Poznan recently, contains a selection of the papers presented. My apologies to those people whose presentations have not been included for reasons of space. However, the full proceedings will be available at the end of the year, and I will post an update when they are available.



Question type and narrative construction in courtroom interrogation

Using material from the trial of O.J. Simpson, types of question were examined, showing how issues were reframed by cross-examining lawyers, discrediting expert testimony, transforming hypotheses into fact, and building selective descriptions.

Dr Chovancova also works on a very innovative project teaching legal English to Czech lawyers. One course utilizes videoconferencing methods to make presentations, negotiate cases and take part in mock trials with other students in Finland and Wales. The participants thus get hands-on experience of the importance of cultural differences as an essential part of learning a language.


Dissolution of marriage: Functional approach to Polish-English translation of selected court documents

Ms Juszkiewicz presented her research on how potential terminological and phraseological issues in the translation of divorce petitions and decrees from Polish to English could be considered using a functional approach (stressing the importance of target users).

A comparison was made between translations made by professionals and by students in order to highlight the problems that might arise in this type of document. A wide range of ground work was carried out, producing monolingual corpora and glossaries, as well as a comparative analysis of the relevant laws. Ms Juszkiewicz concluded by stressing the need for thematically grouped resources for legal translators that would combine access to terms, phrases and legal concepts.


Should you be persuaded – testimonies in phone hacking inquiry (News of the World case, summer 2011)

Using transcripts from the House of Commons Leveson inquiry involving News International, that had been made publicly available, Dr Katrnakova examined how the balance of power and control might have been manipulated during interviews with the various people giving evidence. She looked at strategies for seeking clarification and reiteration, as well as those foregrounding or backgrounding facts and information. This was an interesting example of a quasi-court setting in which the players were highly skilled in verbal ‘fencing’.

T.R. Carney, University of South Africa

A forensic-semantic consideration of the word ‘expenditure’ in the lawsuit Commissioner for South African Revenue Service v Labat Africa Limited

This was an example of a court case revolving around a word or phrase and its definition – as Mr Carney said, such cases commonly occur in jurisdictions all around the world (see my post about the recent Taniguchi case).

This lawsuit concerned the purchase of a trademark using shares, where the Revenue Service was challenging the ‘expenditure’ deducted by the company. Under South African law there was no definition of the term, and no case law or law reports were of any assistance.

The Court thus turned to an ‘ordinary’ dictionary definition, but Mr Carney raised such issues as: Are dictionaries enough?; There are 11 official languages, so which dictionary should be used? All meanings are not necessarily listed in a given dictionary, and so on. In the end, it came down to judges’ own definitions. We learnt that in South Africa, it is still very rare to call linguists as expert witnesses, which might have been the most balanced course of action in this situation.

K. Chung-chien Chang, Taiwan

Court interpreting practices in Taiwan

Professor Chang described a severe shortage of qualified court interpreters, who are becoming more and more necessary due to the increase in the number of foreigners living in Taiwan. There is no organized professional body, and an intermediate level of language or proof of living in the target language country for 5 years or more is sufficient to qualify. Virtually no training is given, and pay is very low. Working conditions are poor – for example the interpreter may not be able to see the speakers and/or hear them properly. In general Professor Chang described a lack of consideration and respect for the job on the part of judges and the courts.

On this subject, you may be interested to read my recent post on the Caserta conference, which includes information about court interpreting practices in Spain, Croatia and Saint Lucia. 

O. Klabal & M. Kubanek, palacky university, olomouc

Plain or Archaic? The New Czech Civil Code going against the flow

This presentation tackled the fascinating issue of the introduction of the new Civil Code in the Czech Republic. The authors of this paper, having set the scene for the new Code – adopted earlier this year and due to come into force in 2014 – described a survey that they have carried out concerning 10 new terms that were suspected to be problematic. This phase of the project sought to find out young people’s perceptions of these terms – including such criteria as whether they were generally used, used in the language of the law, archaic, strangely formed, of foreign origin, etc.

The initial conclusion seems to be that despite drafters’ wish to make this Code more accessible to young people and the general public, this would appear not to have been achieved. Furthermore, the presenters described criticisms from lawyers concerning the length of time that will be required even by professionals in order to be fully cognizant with the new legislation.


To conclude, as is my custom, a few take-away quotations from the Conference:

  • “translators and lawyers should work together”
  • “every text of one language is translatable into another one”
  • “law is not a universal discourse”
  • “communication requires precision and clarity”
  • “creating a plain legal language resulted in an 800-page document”
  • “judges don’t know how to work with interpreters or how to speak when being interpreted”
  • should linguists be more involved in the drafting of legislation?”
  • “translation intersects with legal reality”

Regarding the conference as a whole, I must compliment the tireless organizers Dr Aleksandra Matulewska, Dr Joanna Grzybek and their colleagues. Timing was impeccable – which is unfortunately not always the case at conferences and meetings 😉 – working conditions were perfect, and we even had the opportunity to taste authentic, top-quality natural local food products.

5 thoughts on “Reporting from Poznan – Part 2

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  5. Pingback: Reporting from Poznan – Part 1 | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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