Crossing language lines and legal tradition lines - legal translation as an economic phenomenon

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Hsieh, Hungpin Pierre
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University College Cork
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Translation is a task challenging enough, and legal translation is a task that is even more so. This is because not only is human language unique, but the law is also unique in that it reflects the culture of the time and place. Just as languages are grouped into families that originate from a particular protolanguage, so are laws, or more specifically jurisdiction-based national bodies of law. As a result, several legal traditions have evolved around the world, each of them viewing the “legal world” in a very different way through very different “law lenses”, with each of them being expressed in a different human language - most likely an official language of the jurisdiction. In one word, there is probably no uniform way of approaching and understanding the laws and norms of every society. Against this backdrop, it would not take too much imagination for one to understand how difficult and problematic legal translation, the process of expressing a piece of legislation or witness (mis)representation presented in one language from one jurisdiction in another language, could actually be. This is why translation has seen quite a few turns over the past few decades, with scholars trying to ascertain the true nature of translation from different angles by establishing different turns that come with specific perspectives and approaches. In this research of mine, I would like to demonstrate that legal translation that involves a change in legal tradition will likely be more complex than legal translation that involves two jurisdictions that belong to the same legal tradition, and that this could be accounted for by means of economics. As such, the legal translator will be portrayed as a rational and self-interested economic being that is constantly calculating and weighing all potential costs and benefits in the line of his work for the ultimate maximization of his profit/utility. It is my belief that while jurilinguistics, the synergy of the law and language as well as translation, has been making a great effort in theorizing the language of the law, most problems arising from legal translation, insofar as legal language and legal tradition are concerned, would be best explained via economics, making an economic turn of translation studies helpful, if not indispensable. By way of some examples from bijural and/or multilingual jurisdictions around the world (most notably Canada, Switzerland and the European Union), and by means of a range of economic trajectories such as risk, game theory, moral hazard and externalities, I will endeavour to show my readers that legal translation is actually a very economic, as well as economical, process, while, in fact, the use of official term banks and the legislation co-drafting procedure are, despite their conspicuous purpose to help the legal translator navigate and weather the difficulties of translation, also a direct result of some very economic thinking and logic. Further, in my final section, I will argue that legal drafting that involves a change in legal tradition, which has been a topic of research of jurilinguistics featuring only limited publication hitherto, should become the subject of economic analysis too, as economics may well have strikingly innovative and sophisticated input for it. To this, the practice of co-drafting as carried out in Canada and Switzerland, as well as the reception of Western law by Japan and then subsequently by a handful of Asian countries via Japan will be briefly covered under jurilinguistics for its very relevance. Most of all, in light of the several turns that have occurred and flourished in translation studies scholarship over the past few decades and the impact they have had on the theory and practice of translation, I would like to present to the young discipline of translation studies yet another turn, a turn that I believe is scientific and helpful: the economic turn. I think that only through the adoption of rigorous economic methodology - alongside those of sociology and all others - can the true nature of legal translation as a human activity be ascertained and the in-depth mode in which legal translation is actually carried out be fully understood and justified.
Legal tradition , Comparative law , Legal translation , Economics , Law and language , Turns of translation studies , Jurilinguistics , Economic methodology
Hsieh, H. P. 2018. Crossing language lines and legal tradition lines - legal translation as an economic phenomenon. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.