Sounds Good in Theory: An Initial Foray into Reading Primary Law in French and Spanish by Examining Constitutional Provisions

By Katherine Orth

In my previous post in the Acquiring Foreign Languages series, I provided a mid-semester progress report of my “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading classes.”  At times, I’ve found it difficult to balance the coursework for these classes with my self-designed FCIL supplemental practice tasks.  I decide to start reading primary law in small, manageable increments by focusing on a few specific constitutional provisions of Francophone and Hispanophone countries.

Exams are Looming

I work in an academic law library.  Every year without fail, more students fill our reading room as soon as the calendar page changes from October to November.  The students arrive earlier in the morning and stay later in the evening.  Over the course of the day, their laptops become increasingly surrounded by class notes, flash cards, and study aids (not to mention water bottles, coffee cups, and food wrappers).

After I graduated from law school, I thought I was finished with the grind of exam preparation.  Yet I now find myself preparing for the Foreign Language Proficiency exams in French and Spanish that await me later in November.  Like the law students, my desk has a teetering pile of class notes, assigned readings, and study aids on it.  Like the law students, I enter November with a bit of trepidation.

Cursed with Living in Interesting Times

I’ve already encountered some aspects of legal terminology in French and Spanish, first by reading children’s guides to lawmaking in foreign jurisdictions, and later by reading United Nations Security Council Resolutions.  I’m eager to start reading primary law in French and Spanish, but I’d like to take it in small, manageable pieces.

Julienne Grant’s recent thought-provoking post on DipLawMatic Dialogues provided the seeds of inspiration for my next FCIL research practice task.  In describing the Catalonian referendum and the subsequent forceful response by the Spanish government, Julienne highlighted the constitutional arguments emanating from both Madrid and Barcelona.

Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution authorizes (subject to legislative approval) “all measures necessary” against acts taken by an autonomous region that are “seriously prejudicial” to the national interest.  This Article – which has been described as the “nuclear option” – got me wondering about how many of the world’s constitutions have similar provisions, and what kind of language is utilized in these provisions.

Take it From the Top

ConstituteThere are over fifty countries that have either Spanish or French as the national language.  Some of these countries, such as Canada, have dealt with questions of secession in recent years.  For my “Article 155-type” search, I’m making use of the website Constitute, an initiative of the Comparative Constitutions Project.  Constitute is a platform that enables the researcher to conduct full-text searches across national constitutions through word and phrase, or subject matter searches.

Constitute provides annotated, unofficial English-language translations of the world’s constitutions.  In my previous tasks, I’ve gone straight to the original Spanish- and French-language documents.  This time, I conduct searches within Constitute — by terms and phrases, and by using the topic filters – in order to seek out the provisions in English.  Later, I’ll examine the provisions within the original French or Spanish constitutional texts, focusing on the language that different countries use to describe the rights and obligations of both governments and citizens.

For this task, I’m not concentrating on the substantive content of the constitutional provisions.  Instead, I’m searching for and parsing out subtle variations in word usage.  The task is so engrossing that I periodically find myself losing focus from exclusively French- and Spanish-language returned results.  For example, when a keyword search of “autonomous” returns results including the constitutions of China and Spain, I was very tempted to compare the pertinent provisions from those countries’ constitutions.

In Other News . . .Screenshot-2017-11-6 News in Slow French Learn French Online

Reading foreign languages can be tiring, particularly when my concentration (or motivation!) is at a low ebb.  When this happens, I try to ease the strain by visiting websites that combine listening and reading practice.  Every week or so, I check out the News in Slow Spanish and News in Slow French websites.  Listening to a news story or commentary on current events while reading the accompanying French- or Spanish-language transcript is both informative and relaxing.  Translations appear by hovering the cursor over the text, eliminating the need to rely on context or consult a dictionary.  These sites are primarily subscription-based, so free content is limited, but they are updated every week.

Regular study and practice is essential at this point in the semester.  Keep calm and carry on!

Roman Law – Translation, Images, Digital Projects and Visual Engagement!

By Marylin Raisch

At the upcoming AALL Annual Meeting, Professor Emeritus Timothy Kearley and digital projects consultant Angela Spinazzè will present a two-part program on creating exciting visual experiences in displaying special collections. First, Professor Kearley will describe the fascinating story of discovering manuscripts on Roman law and Latin translation of Justinian’s Code undertaken by Justice Fred Blume in the early 20th century. The orderliness of law concerned the ancient Romans and American codifiers, and an early taxonomy of law emerged. Then Angela Spinazzè, who has worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, will show beautiful visuals from her past projects for institutions in Chicago and Oxford that exemplify the best approach to creating functional and engaging virtual research experiences like the University of Wyoming’s unique online realization of Blume’s translation.

For those attending the conference, the location is the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Hyatt-Columbus EF at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 19th.

Paperback-stack

 

AALL 2015 Recap: Chinese Legal Information: Availability, Accessibility and Quality Control

By Alex Zhang and Anne Mostad-Jensen

NewAALLClogoSmallHave you ever been tasked with finding an English translation of a recently enacted ordinance in Hong Kong when all of your colleagues in the Hong Kong office on the other side of the world are asleep in their beds? Have you been asked to help a member of the law journal reverse engineer and decipher an esoteric citation to a Chinese regulation that has been translated into English? Have you ever been asked by your favorite law professor to figure out whether the State Council of the People’s Republic of China has translated its open government information regulation into English?

The Asian American Law Librarians Caucus (AALLC) program on Chinese legal information, held on Monday, July 20 from 4:30pm to 5:30pm, was designed to help you to handle these problems and others like them that you may have already encountered or will likely encounter in the future. Alex Zhang, from the University of Michigan Law Library, and Anne Mostad-Jensen, from the University of North Dakota Law Library, explored some of the most practical yet important issues related to English translations of Chinese primary legal materials, such as availability, accessibility and quality control.

Before using any English translation of primary legal materials of any jurisdiction, it is important to understand and fully appreciate the characteristics of the legal system and infrastructure. The Chinese legal system is a mixed legal system composed of the socialist civil law system of Mainland China, the common law system of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and the civil law system of Macao Special Administrative Region (Macao SAR). Each section has its own official language that directly impacts the authority and availability of English translations of primary legal materials. For example, in Mainland China, the official language is Mandarin Chinese nationwide. As a result, English translations, regardless of its issuing organ, are only for informational purposes. On the other hand, English and Chinese are both official languages of HKSAR and therefore, English and Chinese versions of primary legal materials issued by the official governmental entity are considered equally authoritative. Macao SAR is unique in the sense that Chinese and Portuguese are both considered as official languages. Consequently, English translations are of informational purposes only.

The different legal systems and framework also impact the availability and accessibility of English translations of primary legal materials in all three jurisdictions. With English as one of the official languages, English versions of primary legal materials of Hong Kong SAR are the most accessible among the three jurisdictions. Legislation in both English and Chinese is available through HKSAR Department of Justice Bilingual Laws Information System. The website also provides glossaries of legal terms prepared by the Law Drafting Division of the Department of Justice. Similarly, Hong Kong Judiciary’s Legal Reference System provides the full text of court decisions in English.[1]

The PRC government is making progress toward making its laws available in English. Both the National People’s Congress and the State Council have been publishing English translations of selective laws and regulations since the late 1970s. Furthermore, both branches have made laws and regulations in English available online. For example, the National People’s Congress launched the online database Laws and Regulations in English in 2006. Its Chinese Law database also provides English translations of certain laws and regulations when available. Commercial vendors, such as Chinalawinfo, Westlaw China and Lexis China all provide extensive English translations of primary legal materials from Mainland China.

Users may have the least luck when it comes to finding English translations of Macao laws and regulations. Both Chinese and Portuguese versions of the laws and regulations of Macao are readily available at the Macao SAR Legislative Assembly website, but English versions are not included on the website. The Government Printing Bureau of Macao does make English translations of certain major codes available at its official website, including both the Commercial Code and the Industrial Property Code.

On the other hand, making translations available does not necessarily indicate the quality of the translations. Translation is hard. Legal translation is even harder. Deborah Cao claims “the sources of legal translation difficulty include the systematic differences in law, linguistic differences and cultural differences.”[2] Olga Burukina argues that legal translators are constantly challenged with “time and quality issues as well as a number of contradictions” related to time, systems, terminology, meaning, etc.[3]

Relying on a misleading translation is worse than not relying on a translation at all. Therefore, both presenters spent time discussing issues and concerns with the quality of the currently available English translations of all three jurisdictions. The presenters provided concrete examples of some of the major concerns, such as inconsistency, lack of officially issued bilingual legal terminologies for Mainland China and Macao SAR, and omissions and additions of words from the version in the source language. At the end of the presentation, presenters also shared tips and strategies for using English translations of Chinese primary legal materials with the audience. If you would like to receive a copy of the presentation materials by email, please feel free to contact Alex Zhang (zxm@umich.edu) or Anne Mostad-Jensen (anne.mostadjensen@law.und.edu).

[1] HKSAR judicial decisions are issued either in Chinese or in English, with a majority of cases still issued in English. Judicial decisions of jurisprudential value originally issued in Chinese are translated and made available in English as well. See http://legalref.judiciary.gov.hk/lrs/common/ju/tjpv.jsp.

[2] Deborah Cao, Translating Law 23 (Multilingual Matters, 2007).

[3] Olga Burukina, The Legal Translator’s Competence, 5 Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 809, 810–812 (2013).

Must-Read LITA Blog Post: Cataloging a World of Languages, by Leanne Olson

By Susan Gualtier

online catalogIf there is one thing I have learned during my first few years as an FCIL librarian, it is that our catalogers are rarely as excited as I am when the foreign language selections come in.  This is why I was so pleased to find Leanne Olson‘s LITA blog post, Cataloging a World of Languages, while sorting through all of the #IALL2014 and #LVI2014 tweets this morning.

Olson identifies just a few of the challenges facing the cataloger of foreign language titles and shares a number of free tools that catalogers and others may find useful in working in an unfamiliar language.  She covers language identifiers, translation tools, bibliographic dictionaries, and subject-specific glossaries.  She also has suggestions for how to deal with non-Roman alphabets and transliteration and with those pesky diacritics that may not quite work with your system’s encoding scheme.

As a reference librarian and foreign law selector, I can see these tools being useful in my work, as well. Either way, I enjoy finding sources that allow me to offer even a little assistance to our technical services librarians when it comes to foreign language titles – or, at the very least, to better understand the difficulties they face.  If you have any tips or tricks for cataloging foreign language titles, please share them in the comments section below!  In the meantime, I will definitely be bookmarking Olson’s post for safekeeping.

Legal Translation and Interpretation Tools Recap

By Alex Zhang

One of the positive impacts of globalization is to greatly reduce the cost of cross-border communications and transactions.  The traditional physical boundary is blurred due to modern communication technologies.  Google Books allow readers to have instant access to works published by authors from hundreds of thousands of miles away.  Instant messaging and email allow acquisition librarians to negotiate licenses with vendors from the other side of the world all the time.  E-commerce and the Internet allow librarians to select and purchase materials without having to physically cross the borders.  However, none of the above tasks can be truly accomplished without breaking a barrier that still exists– the language barrier.

With over 190 countries and over 3000 languages being used in the world, reliable translation or interpretation tools become indispensable for all information professionals.  The complexity of legal systems and legal terminology pose an extra layer of difficulty of legal translation and thus stimulate higher demand for useful translation and interpretation tools.  Although the importance and value of accurate legal translation and interpretation attracts more scholarly attention (e.g. here and here) over the years in the law librarianship field, there have been very few discussions on the tools of legal translation and interpretation.

The excellent presentation made by librarians Saskia Mehlhorn, Jim Hart and Don Ford at the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Association of Law Libraries helped bridge the gap.  The presentation was informative, critical and thought provoking.  Presenters demonstrated use of a variety of online tools to facilitate three different kinds of translation projects: translating a catalog entry, cite-checking a source in foreign language, and translating legal documents, followed by a thoughtful discussion of pros and cons of many top-rated translation software, such as Google Translate, Babylon, Systran, etc. Mr. Ford also surveyed useful bilingual and multilingual legal dictionaries both in print and online.  The audience shared insightful comments and experience with using online translation discussion forum, such as the language forums maintained by wordreference.com.  The presenters also make PowerPoint slides and an in-depth research guide available on the University of Iowa Law Library website.

All three presenters cautioned on caveats and limitations when using translation tools, in print or online.  For example, Ms. Mehlhorn pointed out that despite being low-cost and prompt, machine translation software “could not read context” and “has no consideration of cultural differences.”  She also shared concerns of privacy and confidentiality protections when using online discussion forums to translate legal documents.

Although the presentation only lasted about an hour, it raised many questions in the area of legal translation and interpretation worthy of further discussion.  For example, how to better utilize translation tools (without complete reliance) to provide accurate legal translation?  Determining sources of difficulty in legal translation will behoove us to find the answer to the question.  Professor Deborah Cao, in her book Translating Law, identified the following sources of difficulty: different legal systems and laws, linguistic differences, and cultural differences.[1]  As a result, I propose the following methods that would help us to use legal translation tools more effectively to provide accurate legal translations: to achieve a better understanding and a solid knowledge of a country’s legal system in advance (e.g. here and here), to consult a legal expert of native tongue if possible (e.g. here and here), to identify an authoritative bilingual or multilingual legal dictionary or an official legal glossary from the country of the vernacular (e.g. here and here), and/or to hire a professional legal translator if appropriate (e.g. here and here).  These methods and tools can help legal information professionals to better resolve issues relating to the diversity and complexity of legal systems and terminology, to appraise the linguistic sources of machine translation software and to appreciate the cultural differences.

[1] Deborah Cao, Translating Law, 23-35 (Multilingual Matters Ltd., 2007)

Guide to Legal Interpretation and Translation Tools Is Now Available

gg56368772FCIL-SIS members Don Ford, Jim Hart, and Saskia Melhorn gave an excellent presentation on Translation and Interpretation Tools for Law Librarians last week at AALL 2014.  For those of us who were attending Interest Group meetings during their time slot, or who were otherwise unable to attend the presentation, Don, Jim, and Saskia have created an in-depth research guide available on the University of Iowa Law Library website.  The PowerPoint slides from the presentation are included, along with an overview of issues relating to legal interpretation and translation, and extensive lists of translation tools available both in print and online.

If anyone attended the program and would like to submit a more detailed recap, please contact the blog administrators.