The Challenge of Legal Translation- to Foreignize or Domesticate?

Legal translation is one of the most challenging areas of translation as evident in Łucja Biel, PhD’s Incongruity of Company Law Terms: Categorization of Polish Business Entities and their English Equivalents. The difficulty in translating legal documentation stems from specific legal language and the differences between civil and common law. Delve even deeper and you find differences in the specifics of company law and how to classify certain business entities.  Because laws are determined by each nation’s legislature instead of through a universal system, terms will be different nation by nation and, more important, specialized by language. Biel’s article touches on the difficulties that arise when doing legal translation and turns to translating from Polish to English for examples.

Legal terms stem from each individual culture and typically do not align directly with the nomenclature of other nations. There may be more than one matching term from the source to the target language, and occasionally, there is simply no equivalent translation. There are two ways of dealing with such a lack of equivalent terminology: domesticating or foreignizing. Domesticating is assimilating legal concepts to the target language’s culture so that a term is immediately understood. Foreignizing is the opposite. There are many ways to “foreignize,” which include transcription with a gloss, naturalization (adaptation of spelling), and a gloss alone. Many times foreignizing makes reader comprehension a challenge. One way to adapt the work for the target audience is to translate the literal equivalent or provide a word for word translation.

At Indopak Translation, we use a pool of translators well-versed in the nuances of legal terminology between the languages that they translate. Our translators will typically choose to domesticate the translation, or as we call it, localize it to the target language for the sake of the reader. However, in instances when a patent must be translated more literally for the sake of its end use, the translator will document the terminology in question, and give options to the subsequent reviewer, who will make a final decision.

Indopak Translation has worked within the legal industry for over 10 years, and celebrates 9 years of service with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

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