Legal Translation Techniques and proposed Solutions for Certain Problems the Translator Faces during Translation | April 2018 | Translation Journal

April 2018 Issue

Read, Comment and Enjoy!

Join Translation Journal

Click on the Subscribe button below to receive regular updates.


Legal Translation Techniques and proposed Solutions for Certain Problems the Translator Faces during Translation


There are Seven Proposed Basis to assist with completing the translation of a legal piece in any given language. Translation from One source language (SL) into a Target language (TL) requires certain rules that govern it. Before any anything, Legal translation represents communicating between two different legal systems, which, means that the legal term is predefined by the legal system it belongs to. The article suggests a number of solutions to assist any legal translator prevails in his/her endeavors.

The Significance of Legal System Knowledge. The burden of knowing the legal system of in a source language (SL) and the legal terms in the Target language (TL) lies on the legal translator (LT). He has to convey the meaning from the (SL) to the (TL) using “the Functional Equivalent” Technique. Which is the essential primary technique the translator tends to when commencing the translation? The usage of this technique is not always possible in the legal translation process especially, which prompts the translator to utilize different strategies as substitutes to it.

  1. 1(Functional Equivalence) it means the interrelations and the communicative values between the (SL) and the (TL) and too between words, sentences and terminology (Nord 1997:138). “The translator uses the functional equivalence when translating legal terms from one legal system in a given language and the other legal system of the target language”, (De Groot 1993:271998:16; Cao 2007:32). If there is a language that uses multiple legal systems such as (Arabic Language), therefore, the translation between two different legal systems using the functional equivalence is a must. One practical example is “Magistrate” which holds different connotations within the same language. In the Arabic language the functional equivalent may be problematic to the translator when translating the legal term from the (SL) to the (TL) most translators may be a little or a lot off. The Iraqi translator may convey the meaning of it into (Judge), (Key Law Maker) and (Man of Authority). Those are the equivalent in Arabic Language, however, the question remains, are those equivalent terms are the exact functional equivalence as far as the legal system is concerned? He answer is no. the translator needs to dig deep in the (SL) legal system terminology in order to extract the exact resemblance of the meaning and the functional equivalence of the term, in order to be correct and accurate during the translation.  The Syrian Translator might convey a different meaning of “Magistrate” which is (the investigation judge) or (the investigation principal), which is too, an inaccurate translation where there is a lack of employment of functional equivalence.  Another example is the word “Motion” and its functional equivalence that varies among different legal systems in different languages. The word could sprout into two different functional equivalents within the English Language depending on the legal system of that specific language. In the English legal system which is devised into two legal systems, the English and the American legal systems. The same word is referred to “Motion” in the American legal system and “Reply of defense” in the British Legal system. In most European Languages the words “Magistrate”  refers to” man of the law” and the word “Motion” refers to “Request Letter to the Court of Law” , that is the general common usage of the words. Those words in the common usage, the translator should be at distant from when translating legal contexts and terms. In the Saudi Legal system, the word “Magistrate” does not exist as far as the functional equivalent technique is concerned. Where there is no such post embedded in the legal system of that specific country. When exploring the legal system of Said Arabia, we find that there is a committee that plays the role of a judge or magistrate instead of one legal authoritative individual. Thus, the legal translators ought to seek consequently and constantly for the functional equivalent among languages and their different legal systems that fit into their translations to render it accurate. Comparing between different legal systems in different languages is considered sort of translation. (De Groot 1993:27).

Regardless of the importance of utilizing the functional equivalence technique in legal translation, there are some conservative views when using this technique, where it might affect some cultural-legal terms, due to that the (TL) recipient might misunderstand the terms conveyed to Him/her. (Harvey 2000: 6).  This may lead to what is called “ cultural imperialism) which means that there is sometimes and  with certain legal terms that’s are bound by cultural bindings some gaps and/or missing complete meaning when conveying those terms from one source language (SL) into a target language (TL) that is different culturally. Those special cases require the translator to think twice and explore the cultural aspect as well as the legal aspect of the legal terms in a specific (SL) and consider the same aspects of the (TL).




Asensio, R.M. (2003). Translatig Official Documents. Manchester, St. Jerome Publishing.

Cao, D. (2007). Translating Law. Clevdon, Buffalo, Toronto.

Crystal, D. (1995) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Cambridge Unversity Press.

De Groot G.-R. (1993). Recht en vertalen II. Kluwer, Deventer. 

De Groot G.-R. (1998). Juridisch vertalen: het overbruggen van verschillen tussen rechtsculturen en rechtssystemen. In Bloemen H. e.a. (reds.) (1998). De Kracht van Vertaling – Verrijking van Taal en Cultuur. Platform Vertalen & Vertaalwetenschap. Utrecht. P. 13-28. 

Dickins J., Hervey S. en Higgins I. (2002). Thinking Arabic Translation. A Course in Translation Method: Arabic to English. London, New York.

Harvey M. (2000). A Beginner’s Course in Legal Translation: The Case of Culture-Bund Terms.

Holmes, OW (1981/1990). The Common Law. Boston.

Nord, C. (1997). Translating as a Purposeful Activity. Manchester, St. Jerome Publishing. 


Log in

Log in