Guest post – Reporting from Montreal

It is my great pleasure to introduce a guest report on the Sixth Summer Institute of Jurilinguistics held at the end of August, written by Jean Leclercq, co-author of the erudite and multifaceted blog Le mot juste en anglais.

Leclercq trained both in literature and the law, and worked as a translator, from English and Spanish to French, at the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva for 26 years. Retirement hasn’t stopped him translating, often on a voluntary basis, and keeping extremely active through various linguistic and online activities amongst others. A vous Jean !

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Sixth Summer Institute of Jurilinguistics

On 27 August last, the Faculty of Law at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) organized its sixth annual study day on jurilinguistics, on the theme of Law(s), Languages(s) and Borders(s).

The name of the new discipline of ‘jurilinguistics’ appeared for the first time in 1982 in a scientific publication of the Conseil de la langue française du Québec. It now covers lexicography as well as producing legal texts, revising them, or even interpreting them. Jean-Claude Gémar¹ has stated that jurilinguistics is the “offspring of translation and the law”. It is not surprising that this field of scholarship saw the light of day in Canada, a bilingual and multicultural country where the difficulty of translating legal texts is enhanced by two cohabiting legal systems: customary law (common law) and written law (the Civil Code of the province of Quebec). France was in a similar position until Napoleon Bonaparte put the final touches on the codification of customary law and had the Civil Code adopted on 21 mars 1804.

The 6th Summer Institute was a great success, if nothing else due to its excellent practical organization and high quality speakers. Once Mr Daniel Jutras, Dean of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, had welcomed participants, the Honourable Nicholas Kasirer, judge at the Court of Appeal of Quebec, paid homage to the Founder and Director of the Centre for Private and Comparative Law, the late Paul-André Crépeau.

Exactly 50 years ago, Crépeau published an article on liability for damage caused by things² which is now essential reading well beyond the field of contract law, and also serves as an example of how the great legal expert saw the relationships between language and law.

Enthused by the principle that texts in the country’s two official languages should be equally authentic and have equal meaning, Paul-André Crépeau also wanted the wording to be elegant (elegancia juris). It was, in his opinion, a mark of respect, a sign of the linguistic civility that a jurist must demonstrate in order to forge links with others. For him this formal requirement was not an affectation, but altruistic behaviour, that of the “Samuel Beckett of Canadian civil law”.

From a translation point of view, the following four presentations were of particular interest, without of course detracting from the others that were all of the highest quality.

Patrick Forget, Professor, Département des sciences juridiques, Faculté de science politique et de droit, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada

For Professor Forget, legal language is made up of words, but also of phrases. He therefore focused on legal phraseology and more specifically on the collocational profile of the expression “responsabilité civile” [civil liability]. As an example, he handed out a list of 37 verbs that collocate with civil liability, from accepting someone’s civil liability… to ruling on someone’s civil liability. The list demonstrated the extent to which the boundaries between ordinary language and legal language are ‘porous’.

Valérie Boudreau, Terminologist at the Translation Bureau of the Canadian Government

Having trained both in law and translation, and having practiced as a notary for three years, Ms Boudreau specialized in legal terminology and jurilinguistics. Her talk was entitled: “Les sources dans les travaux de normalisation de la common law en français” [Sources in standardizing common law terms in French]. The programme she works on, Promoting Access to Justice in Both Official Languages (PAJLO), created in 1981, aims to design documentary, teaching and terminological solutions for stakeholders in the Canadian justice system.

Ms Boudreau explained the context within which common law terms are standardized in French, and discussed the use of various documentary sources. She noted that the Internet has radically changed search methods, widening the range of usable sources. As an example she handed round an extract from part 3 of the Family Law Glossary (Common Law) published by the Translation Bureau³ focusing on certain expressions, particularly “permis de mariage” (the term chosen for “marriage licence”) and the adjective “majeur” as an (economical!) equivalent of the adjectival locutions “of full age” or “of full legal age”.

Lionel Smith, Director, Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law, McGill University, Canada

Lionel Smith, Director of the Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law at McGill University described an interesting example of litigation that arose as a result of a different interpretation (depending on the language version) of the Barème des droits applicables aux services de déglaçage(Fee Schedule for Icebreaking Services) applying in Canadian waters4. In this case, the Court to which the case was referred decided to follow the intent of the text rather than interpreting it literally. However, this kind of dispute can arise wherever two language versions have equal force of law.

Gérald Delabre, Deputy Director, Centre droit et nouvelles technologies, Faculté de droit, Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, France

Lastly, Gérald Delabre offered us some interesting perspectives on the confluence between law, languages and borders.

This issue is crucial for all jurists and particularly those who teach foreign law or who teach abroad – i.e. those who rub shoulders on a daily basis with the dividing lines between different legal systems.

Indeed the first resource available to a jurist is language, whether written or spoken. To study law is first and foremost to study vocabulary because, like medicine or architecture, law has its own words, despite the fact that the law seems to be criticised more than other disciplines for its ‘exclusive’ terms.

With this in mind, the Groupe de recherche en jurilinguistique appliquée (GREJA), created within the Faculty of Law in Lyon, has developed training and research activities in this area. They are strategically placed within a faculty of law in order to better deal with issues relating to the interfaces between law, languages and boundaries, within which law must remain unique and central.

So, to sum up, a very full day during which our attention never flagged.

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¹ Gémar, J-.C. (2010, December 2). Traduire le droit: de la traduction juridique à la jurilinguistique – Texte(s), culture(s) et équivalence. Conférence MIDI, Département de linguistique et de traduction, Université de Montréal. Available at: http://www.ling.umontreal.ca/recherche/conferences-midi/conferenciers/gemar_jc/index.html

² Crépeau, P.-A. (1962). Liability for damage caused by things from a civil law point of view. Canadian Bar Review/Revue du Barreau canadien, 40 R du B Can 222.

³ For further information: http://www.btb.gc.ca

4 Canada Gazette, Part I: January 16, 1999, Vol. 133, No 3.

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This post originally appeared in French on the blog Le mot juste en anglais, and was translated into English by WordstoDeeds in consultation with its author.

To read a brief overview of the other presentations see http://www.mcgill.ca/centre-crepeau/activities/jurilinguistics/6th/

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