The Linguist

The Linguist 53,6

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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8 The Linguist DECEMBER 2014/JANUARY 2015 FEATURES Eleanor Sharpston, Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice, examines language law in a multilingual context W hen I was a teaching Fellow at King's College, Cambridge, a young Eastern European mathematician – an absolutely brilliant academic – was introduced as a visitor into the Fellowship for two terms. He was a charming colleague. True, he only possessed 20 words of English ('yes', 'please', 'thank you', 'later'), but he also had a winning smile. He fitted in seamlessly into the life of the college and the faculty. He didn't need language for his work; he had the language of mathematics, he had symbols. It was a very successful visit. However, if mathematics is at one end of the spectrum, law is at the other. Law is impossibly language-heavy. When you start training as a law student, you write an essay that you think is carefully crafted and subtle in its arguments. It is then ripped to shreds by your supervisor, who points out how imprecise you have been in your use of language, how inconsistent in your terminology. Eventually, the message gets through: you have to keep linguistic precision. It's not about elegant variation; it's about consistency. (Although legal French sometimes does do elegant variation, which is disturbing if you are used to legal English, because you don't know whether they meant to say something else, or were just being elegant.) Once you're fully trained, if you do your legal work in a UK court, you will spend days (or weeks) poring over individual words, individual phrases. I have spent a whole morning in the High Court arguing about the presence – or, "My Lord, the telling absence" – of a comma. When law goes multilingual What happens when you are working in the multilingual Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), in the fairytale Grand Duchy of Luxembourg? Here, most people will speak to you in any one of four languages, depending on which one they think is going to be useful as a means of communication: Moien, wéi geet et? Bonjour, comment ça va? Guten Morgen, wie geht's? 'Hello, how are you?' The CJEU started as a little court housed in the Villa Vauban. It is now in a sprawling palace on the Kirchberg, with two beautiful golden towers (we are threatened with a third, even taller), and in these towers live our translators. On a foggy day, the shafts disappear into the mist above; but translators working on the top floor can look down upon the fog below. (Is there something symbolic about that?) There are about 2,000 staff in the CJEU, including more than 800 translators and about 100 interpreters. Both are supplemented by freelancers, as necessary. A law unto itself ?

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