Translating Contracts

I’ve recently been thumbing through Translating Law, by Deborah Cao, associate professor at the School of Language and Linguistics, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

It appears to be a useful resource for those who find themselves translating legal documents. I would have thought that they need all the help they can get.

In particular, I don’t envy anyone called on to translate English-language contracts. Translating any legal text will involve a range of challenges that Dr. Cao discusses in her book, such as the awkwardness of finding equivalent terminology in an entirely different legal system. But translators of contracts also have to deal with the fact that so much of contract drafting consists of thoughtless regurgitation. How do you go about translating something that the drafter gave no thought to?

For example, translating a traditional recital of consideration, with all its obscure and ineffectual jargon, would seem a particularly thankless task. And if parties are willing to go to court over the meaning of indemnify and hold harmless, what’s a translator to make of it?

Such thoughts prompted me to write this 2004 article on translating English-language contracts.

By the way, for a window into the world of the legal translator, check out Transblawg.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

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