I’d like to share my latest post with you. It’s the first of a series of posts on Legal Translation and Plain Language. This one, in particular, focuses on how legal translators can benefit from interpretation theory, mainly textualism. It’s called “Legal Translation and Plain Language: What Translators Can Learn from Judges.” Here’s a little extract:
Textualism, intentionalism, and purposivism are not the only interpretation theories out there, but they are arguably the most prominent. Applied to translation, textualism is analogous to asking ourselves what a competent source language speaker would understand if aware of the fact that the text at hand is a legal text. Intentionalism is analogous to asking ourselves what the drafter of the source text subjectively intended to convey. And purposivism is analogous to asking ourselves what the reasonable objective meaning of the source text is, even if that means digressing from the plain meaning of the text.
None of these involve literality, yet applied methodologically to translation, all can result in high degrees of fidelity to source and, more importantly, help translators construct objective criteria when interpreting a text. However, unlike judges, translators don’t always have access to sufficient background information to identify the intention of the drafter, be it subjective or objective. And, unlike the drafter, translators don’t have the power to decide whether the target text should be written in plain language or not. That is, of course, up to the drafter or client.
What translators can do, instead, is adopt a more methodological approach to interpretation—one that, to some extent, emulates how judges approach legal texts and helps unravel the meaning that needs to be captured from the source text and conveyed in the target text. That, however, involves being able to extract the plain meaning of a text, which in turn, also involves understanding what plain language is and how it can be helpful.