Translation in the EU legal order


The relationship between law, language and translation in the EU legal order

The commonly held notion of ‘the law’ is that it exists as some kind of normative ‘truth’, and it is often assumed that legal knowledge transcends language.  However, it must be remembered that ‘the law’ (or at least legal texts) can only operate in terms of the meaning of the words used to express that law.  Yet language is by nature inexact.  Languages are multi-layered expressions of human cultures and are only ‘efficient in that they are imprecise’ – indeed the indeterminate nature of language is widely acknowledged.  Legal texts, like any texts, are thus inherently ‘imprecise’ and do not have the capacity for the exact reflection of normative intention.  While such imprecision may not be noticeable in a monolingual legal system, as soon as a seemingly unambiguous, clear and precise law is set out in two or more languages its inherent indeterminacy becomes apparent.  My research in this area draws on theoretical literature concerning the relationship between law and language and considers the role of translation theory in such relationship within the EU legal order.  Translation theory is built upon the implicit understanding and acceptance of the limits of both language and translation and of the fact that there is ordinarily no full equivalence through translation – all translation (including legal translation) is in fact an approximation of sorts.  While that notion of approximation may not sit easily with the concept of a uniform EU law, translation nonetheless plays a large part in the production of that law.  The situational factors of multilingual text production cannot simply be ignored.  Thus, understanding the relationship between law, language and translation is important for our understanding of a multilingual legal order such as the EU.