Legal translation

Date of this Version


Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Details

Interim status: Citation only.

Wolff, L. (2011). Legal translation. In K. Malmkjaer & K. Windle (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of translation studies (pp. 228-242). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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2011 HERDC submission. FoR code: 200323, 200312

© Copyright Leon Wolff, 2011





Legal translation theory brooks little interference with the source legal text. With few exceptions (Joseph 1995, Hammel 2008, Harvey 2002, Kahaner 2005, Kasirer 2001, Lawson 2007), lawyers and linguists tend to tether themselves to the pole of literalism. More a tight elastic band than an unyielding rope, this tether constrains-rather than prohibits-free translation. It can stretch to accommodate a degree of freedom by the legal translator. However, should it go too far, it snaps back to the default position of linguistic fidelity. This 'stretch and snap' gives legal translation a unique place in general translation theory. In the general debate over the 'degree of freedom' the translator enjoys in conveying the meaning of the text, legal translation theory has reached its own settlement. Passivity is the default; creativity, the 'qualified' exception (Hammel 2008: 275).

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