Challenges in Italian Legal Translation

Legal language is specialized language used by judges, lawyers and other legal professionals to discuss the legal system of a country, and communicate the same to the ordinary person who may be involved in a lawsuit, or to the general public.

Legal translation as a whole is plagued by several problems. Firstly, one has to account for the “systemic differences between different legal families,” which gives rise to categories and concepts that, while commonplace in one legal culture, is totally unknown to another. Secondly, legal language, which is a special kind of language, is governed by many conventions which have never been explicitly put down. A translator will have to deduce the conventions for himself through repeated study. Thirdly, because of differences in legal culture, it is difficult to find corresponding translational equivalents for legal terminology in different legal documents.

Main Challenges

• Terminology. The terms of reference in legal Italian varies widely from the terms of reference in another legal system, and it is difficult to find an apposite translation. For example, Italian legislation formulates itself through codes, such as Codice Civile (C.C.), Codice de Procedura Civile (C.P.C.), Codice Penale (C.P.), etc. Translation of such terms into the target language will not be sufficient, especially if the legal system of the country is entirely different; the terms also need to be explained.

• Culture-specifics. Local technical terms have to be avoided. “Legge” is a valid legal concept in both Britain and Italy. However, the British version of an Italian legal text cannot contain this term for fear of creating cultural confusion. “Avocatto” is the Italian term for lawyer, but translation into English will have to distinguish amongst solicitor, barrister, advocate, attorney or counsel, depending upon the position of the person in the British legal system and the duties performed by him.

• Legal Documents. It is common to come across Latin expressions in legal documents. Italian translation of such terms is easy because modern Italian has its roots in Latin, but, if the Latin expression has to be communicated in another language, then, a footnote by way of explanation will be required to make the meaning fully accessible.

• Certain archaisms have been retained in the legal language of all countries. For example, the terms “lien,” “tort,” “estoppel,” “garnishment,” “chattels,” are still used in the British legal system. When the translator comes across an archaism in the source language, he must find out if it still exists and can be used in the target language. Otherwise, the language will have to be updated.

• Compared to the legal language used in some countries like Britain, Italian legal language is far less complex. In Italian translation, should the translator concern himself only with the content or also with the style?

• With rigor and repetition, the translator must master the accurate use of “will” and “shall” to distinguish between function and obligation, must give predominance to the passive voice, and insert capital letters correctly in Italian translation.

• The Italian legal system, like all other legal systems, is constantly evolving, giving rise to new concepts and new terminology. The translator must keep abreast of all such changes.

Must Haves

In legal Italian translation, a careless Italian translator can create linguistic, legal and cultural confusion. It is not enough for the translator to know only the source and the target languages; he must acquaint himself with a working knowledge of both the Italian legal system and the legal system of the target language. He must also demonstrate proficiency in the legal writing style of the target language.

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