The Linguist

The Linguist 54,2

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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The law of Japan 16 The Linguist Vol/54 No/2 2015 D o you need to be a lawyer in order to translate contracts, judgments and legal correspondence from Japanese into English? The jury is still out on that, but there are plenty of things to tempt a linguist to rise to the challenge. If you are already a Japanese translator, then you will be familiar with the problems of translating Japanese: three different scripts, no personal pronouns, verbs not conjugated according to subject, a choice of verbs depending on politeness or status of speaker relative to addressee, many possible pronunciations for each character, and, above all, a tendency for implication. If you have ever read a Japanese legal agreement, then you will know to add archaic Japanese expressions, references to legislation, legal concepts and terms, and the names of the parties and individual signatories. Most of these obstacles can be overcome with a logical and consistent approach. What you may not pick up, if you do not have a legal background, is the significance of apparently ordinary words, used in a legal context to indicate specific legal concepts. When I start work on an assignment, I begin by imagining the translated document in the hands of a junior lawyer who is representing her Japanese client at a difficult negotiation with their counterpart. Everyone else is looking at the Japanese original, yet she must be able to lead them through the document, confident that clause 2.3 at the top of page 7 of the translation says exactly the same as clause 2.3 at the top of page 7 of the Japanese version. I imagine the practical tests to which the document might be put. Providing a useful tool The majority of legal documents requiring translation seem to be legal agreements, so the examples I use here come from the first page of a typical contract. First, I consider the names of the parties to an agreement, which are usually in the first paragraph: the 'recitals'. If the company has a website, the official English translation of its name can often be found in the copyright line at the foot of the homepage. I always use this if I can. If I am unsure whether a company, such as エイ株式 会社, normally calls itself 'A Co. Ltd' or 'A Inc.', I include a Romanised version in a footnote ('A kabushiki kaisha'). If I am still not satisfied, I mention it in a cover note. The name of each party will be followed by an abbreviation. Japanese contracts usually refer to the contracting parties as 甲 (kou),乙 (otsu) and 丙 (hei), which translate literally as 'first party', 'second party' and 'third party', or 'A', 'B' and 'C'. However, if you use only these terms, or even the initials of each company's name, it may be hard to be consistent and the person reading the document will not know who is being referred to without constantly turning back to the first page. If possible, I either use the company name, such as Toyota or Nissan, or, better still (especially if two parties with similar names are involved), the role that party is performing, such as 'Seller' and 'Buyer'. Gwen Clayton looks at the perks and pitfalls of translating Japanese legal documents into English The law of Japan The party names appear to have been accidentally reversed. This type of error is surprisingly common IMAGES: © SHUTTERSTOCK

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