Legal Translation

Legal Translation

“The specific problems of translating legal terminology are caused by the system-specificity inherent in legal language….One should not translate from a legal language into the ordinary words of the target language,but into the legal terminology of the target language…Through comparative law, the translator of legal terminology needs to find an equivalent in the target language legal system for the term of the source language legal system. Because of the system-specificity of legal terms, logically, full equivalence only occurs where the source language and the target language relate to the same legal system. In principle, this is only the case
when translating within a bilingual or multilingual legal system, such as that of
Belgium, Finland, Switzerland and -to some degree- Canada.” (1)
“Where the source and target language relate to different legal systems, equivalence is rare….Numerous examples can be found among legal systems in which the one is a
reception – whether imposed or not – of the other. In private law examples are
Indonesia/the Netherlands; Turkey/Switzerland; Japan/Germany; Taiwan/Germany.” (2)


“A neologism must be chosen in such a way that a lawyer from the target language legal system can get an idea of its meaning: the term must possess some transparency. Very useful for this purpose are terms which used to have an equivalent meaning. If, for instance, the German term
“Sicherungseigentum” must be represented by the terminology of the legal system of the Netherlands, it is wise to use as a translation “fiduciaire eigendom” or “eigendom tot zekerheid” by way of a neologism. Since 1992 these concepts no longer form part of the legal system of the Netherlands. However, because of the recent legal history, such a translation does offer
unambiguous information to a lawyer familiar with the legal system of the Netherlands.

Often, Roman law terms are attractive as neologisms, if one can assume that lawyers from the target language legal system (still) have some knowledge of Roman law.” (3)

Bilingual Legal Dictionaries

“The theory about legal translation has particular consequences for
legal dictionaries since reliable dictionaries are useful tools to promote the
correctness of translations.” (4)


  1. De Groot, Gerard-René and Laer, Conrad J.P. van (2006) “The Dubious Quality of Legal Dictionaries,” International Journal of Legal Information: Vol. 34: Iss. 1, Article 6.
    Available at:

Further Reading

Bergenholtz, H and S. Tarp (eds.), Manual of Specialized Lexicography, (John
Benjamins Publishing Co: Philadelphia, 1995).
Creech, Richard L., Law and Language in the European Union, (Groningen:
Europa Law Publishing 2005).
Duintjer Tebbens, Harry, “Le Dictionnaire Juridique Néerlandais: Une Exercise
de Droit Comparé.” In Langue du Droit et Traduction, ed. Jean Claude
Gémar, (Montréal 1982): 173-185.
Gémar, Jean Claude, “Le Traducteur Juridique ou l’interprète du Language du
Droit.” In Translation, our Future/La Traduction, Notre Avenir,
Proceedings of the XIth World Congress of FIT, ed. Paul Nekeman,
(Maastricht, 1988): 422-430.
De Groot, Gerard-René. “Die relative Äquivalenz Juristischer Begriffe und
deren Folge für Mehrsprachige Juristische Würterbücher.” In Translation
and Meaning, Part I, eds. Marcel Thelen and Barbara Lewandowska-
Tomaszczyk, (Maastricht: Euroterm, 1990): 122-128.
—, Gerard-René, and Louise Rayar, “Bilingual Legal Dictionairies: Criteria for
Assesment.” In Translation and Meaning, Part 3, eds. Marcel Thelen and
Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, (Maastricht/Lódz: UPM, 1995): 204-
—, Gerard-René, 53 Het Vertalen van Juridische Informatie, Preadvies
Nederlandse Vereniging voor Rechtsvergelijking, (Deventer: Kluwer,
1996): 1-77.
—, Gerard-René, “Das àœbersetzen Juristischer Terminologie.” In Recht
und àœbersetzen, eds. Gerard-René de Groot, and Reiner Schulze
(Baden-Baden: Nomos, (1999a).
—, “Zweisprachige Juristische Würterbücher. ” In, àœbersetzen von
Rechtstexten: Fachkommunikation im Spannungsfeld Zwischen
Rechtsordnung und Sprache, ed. Peter Sandrini, (Tübingen: Narr., 1999b).
—, Gerard-René, and Conrad J.P. van Laer, Juridische woordenboeken binnen
de Europese Unie, Juridische Bibliothecaris, (2000): 17-32.
—, Gerard-René, and Conrad J.P. van Laer, Bilingual and Multilingual Legal
Dictionaries in the European Union, (Maastricht, 2005); (accessed April 28, 2006).
Herbots, Jacques H., La Traduction Juridique en Belgique, Rapport voor het
XII Congrès International de Droit Comparé (Sydney/Melbourne 1986),
Les Cahiers de Droit 1987 (Faculté de droit, Université Laval, Québec,
Canada, 1987): 813-844.
Hesseling, Gerti, “Een Juridisch Woordenboek: Geen Alledaags Projekt.” In
Tien Jaren T.M.C. Asser Instituut 1965-1975, (Gravenhage: T.M.C. Asser
Instituut, 1975): 141-148.
Kielar, Barbara Z. (1986), Language of the Law in the Aspect of Translation.
Doctoral Thesis. (Warsaw, 1986).
Kisch, Isaac , “Droit comparé et terminologie juridique.” In Inchieste di diritto
comparato, Mario Rotondi (Padova/New York 1973): 407-423;
also published in Vertalen Vertolkt, Verhalen over vertalen, Nederlands
Genootschap van Vertalers, ed. G. Fritschy (Amsterdam, 1976): 124-139.
Kitamura I. (1986), Les problèmes de la traduction juridique au Japon, Rapport
japonais de XIIe congrès international de droit comparé
(Sydney/Melbourne 1986), Les Cahiers de Droit 1987 (Faculté de droit,
Université Laval, Québec, Canada), 747-792.
Laer, C.J.P. van, Het Nut van Comparatieve Begrippen. Een Studie Omtrent de
Toepassing van Begrippen in de Rechtsvergelijking. Doctoral Thesis
(Maastricht, 1997).
—, “Comparatieve Begrippen voor Juridische Vertalers, Terminologie et
Traduction.” (1999): 65-75.
Pasternak, Volker, Chinesisch als Rechtssprache im Kontext des Common Law:
Der Fall Hongkong, Verfassung und Recht In àœbersee (P. Lang, 1993):
Rayar, Louise, “Problems of Legal Translation from the Point of View of a
Translator.” In Translation, our Future/La Traduction, Notre Avenir,
Proceedings of the XIth World Congress of FIT, ed. Paul Nekeman,
(Maastricht, 1988): 451-454.
Reynolds, Thomas, “Comparative Legal Dictionaries.” In American Journal of
Comparative Law (1986): 551-558.
Sandrini, Peter, Deskriptive Begriffsorientierte Terminologiearbeit im Recht,
Problemstellung und Lüsungsansatze vom Standpunkt des àœbersetzers.
Doctoral Thesis, (Innsbruck, 1994).
Sarcevic, Susan, “Bilingual and Multilingual Legal Dictionaries: New
Standards for the Future.” Revue Générale de Droit, (1988): 970 ff..
Sarcevic, Susan, “Conceptual Dictionaries for Translation in the Field of Law.”
In International Journal of Lexicography (1989): 277-293.
Sarcevic, Susan, New Approach to Legal Translation, (The Hague: Kluwer Law
International, 1997).
Temorshuizen-Arts, Marjanne, Juridische Semantiek. Een Bijdrage tot de
Methodologie van de Rechtsvergelijking, de Rechtsvinding en het Juridisch
Vertalen. Doctoral Thesis, (Leiden, 2003).
Vlachopoulos, Stefanos, Theorie und Praxis des àœbersetzens Juristischer Texte.
Doctoral Thesis, Korfu, 1998).
Weston, Martin, “Theoretical and practical approaches to translation.” In An
English Reader’s Guide to the French Legal System, (New York: Berg,
1990): 9-42.
Wiesmann, Eva, Rechtsübersetzung und Hilfsmittel zur Translation.
Wissenschaftliche Grundlagen und Computergestützte Umsetzung eines
Lexikographischen Konzepts, (Tübingen: Narr, 2004).

See Also
Legal Systems
International legal sources of information
List of Legal Encyclopedias
List of Blogs Categorized by Law or Legal Event
Legal Gateways Resources
List of Legal Dictionaries
Legal History Resources
List of top 10 most-cited legal articles in legal ethics and legal profession
List of Collections of Legal Blogs
Legal Terms in plain English
Legal Abbreviations, Historical



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