Reporting from Canterbury – Part 2

I hope you will enjoy this second post on the conference “Comparative Law: Engaging Translation”, once again, a subjective selection that may be of interest to you. You can find the first post here.

Asst. Prof. Cornelis Baaij, University of Amsterdam

Legal translation and the ‘Contamination’ of Comparative Legal research

As you can see from the title, Cornelis Baaij talked about the translator as a contaminant. Before the translators reading this start preparing to lynch him 🙂 I must add a caveat – he was talking about a very specific situation – the context of comparative legal research.

In brief, Baaij argues that a target-oriented approach to legal translation in the above case is not useful – that any efforts on the part of the translator to “tailor-make” the text for its audience will hinder the comparative lawyer in their task of understanding a foreign legal system. He therefore advances a literal approach – exposing the “foreignness” of the text.

Whether you agreed with his propos or not, it was certainly a very stimulating talk!

Dr Bénédicte Sage-Fuller, University College Cork

Abuse of tax law as language of morality of modern times

Through her lively and witty presentation style, Dr Sage-Fuller very successfully managed to meet her self-stated aim for her presentation of making tax fun! We learnt how tax ‘planning’ to minimize liability is seen by governments and tax administrations, and we were given a very clear overview of anti-avoidance legislation and the ‘moral’ language used in various instruments.

In particular, Dr Sage-Fuller compared three jurisdictions, Canada, Ireland and France.

Prof. Abdulmumini A. Oba, University of Ilorin

Orientalism, Eurocentrism and the translation of Islamic law in comparative law

To complete the range of legal systems discussed during the conference (e.g. Chinese, UK, US, Canada, various European systems and that of the EU), the above presentation focused on Islamic law, in particular how it has been studied from the Western, ‘orientalist’ standpoint.

We heard how Islamic law was not initially included within the scope of comparative law in the West, and that translations were mainly studied during the colonial era not with a view to understanding the legal system but rather for the purposes of control and manipulation. The situation has changed somewhat today, with Muslims writing books on Islamic law in other languages, and a rise in comparative law degrees being awarded in Muslim countries. Professor Oba gave several examples of key areas of difference.

He concluded by stressing the importance of “study from within”, of taking cultural context into consideration, keeping an open mind, respecting “the other”, taking a functional approach and analyzing Islamic concepts in their context, and finally retaining system-specific concepts in their original form – as is done with Latin terms in common law for example.

Dr Raluca Bercea, University of Timisoara

The Powerless Translator: An argument from legal ‘culturemes’

Dr Bercea introduced us to the concept of ‘culturemes’ – minimum translation units which limit the translator’s options and strategies, or in some cases even make translation impossible. These culturemes are mainly words, collocations or phrases that are highly embedded in culture (and in a legal culture). Legal culturemes will explain why different legal cultures are of an irreducible nature.

Such terms cause translators great difficulties – they have to approximate the cultural significance of these units in the source, whereas true culturemes cannot have equivalents. In addition, the translator has to find meaningful linguistic units functioning in a similar way in the target legal culture or system, requiring very extensive legal competence.


… a few take-away quotes from the conference, as is my wont:

  • “How can we cope with emergent real-time expectations?”
  • “translation as a power struggle”
  • “meaning has its limits”
  • “organization and practice are equally as important as the language of the law”
  • “Can individuals who do not share the same life worlds communicate effectively?”
  • “Comparative law and translation are necessarily entangled”
  • “One is never imprisoned in one’s own language”
  • “Place matters”


Note: The organizer of the conference was Dr. Simone Glanert, Joint Director of of the Kent Centre for European and Comparative Law. Those of you who read French may be interested in her recently published book “De la traductibilité du droit” (Paris: Dalloz, 2011) – On the translatability of law.

You might also be interested in Part 1 of this conference report.

3 thoughts on “Reporting from Canterbury – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Reporting from Canterbury – Part 1 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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

  3. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Aug 20-26) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

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