(Not-so) Quick No-Nonsense QA/QC for Legal Translation

Reblogged from the Gostalks blog, with permission

This is to give you some pointers as to what and how to check for, hence a sort of QA/QC checklist, for legal translation:

  • Unless you have perfect memory and consistency, write down a glossary, either a general one or a specific one for every larger project, to make sure that you translate the same term or significant, meaningful expression (not necessarily legal, by the way) consistently throughout the text. This includes especially making sure that, as far as it makes sense, you use no more than one equivalent of the same term and translate no more than one term with the same equivalent. The goal is not to impoverish your translation repertoire or slavishly stick to word-for-word translation but to simply avoid the kind of unnecessary inconsistency that results from randomness. And randomness typically results from short memory.
  • Go through numbers, addresses, dates, prices, etc., at least but not necessarily only once, to make sure that they follow the correct format and always indeed the same format. There may be an exception where the original uses different date formats in different places, for example because of varying the register or quoting from some other document, in which case you should not be overzealous, as the ‘industry’ wrongly tries to teach you, to standardize.
  • Make sure you got them all right, numbers and formats e.g. no confusion between decimal separators and thousands, no zeroes (or other numbers) added or missing, that you’ve got the right currency or unit of measurement etc.
  • Make sure numbers written out verbally in your translation agree with the verbal numbers in the original, not with the digits you’ve only just typed. Note that this means the words in the translation have to agree with the original, not that the words have to agree with the numbers in the translation if they did not in the original. Use CTRL+F for this purpose and check them all one by one. Inconsistencies between the digits and words are not for you to fix, no matter what the ‘industry’ would have you believe in its embarrassing lickspittle desire to employ translators as (ever underappreciated) ghost editors and janitors for original writers.
  • Apply similar steps to the names of parties to the contract or dispute or whatever else you’re translating, such as Buyer and Seller but especially something like Lessor and Lessee (use Tenant and Landlord if possible; afterwards you can Find & Replace All by CTRL+H), interviewer or interviewee etc. Just to be sure, CTRL+F all occurrences one by one, going by the original or by the source or both, using some sort of formula that makes sure you always get them right.
  • It’s probably worth checking specifically for any missed negations. ‘Not’ is about the easiest word there is for a tired translator to miss. You can trust me, it happens to the best of us and more often than you’d think. I translate and revise this stuff all the time.
  • Speaking of which, things need much more checking and much more scrupulous attention if you are (or were) tired, sick, hurried, distracted or thrown off your usual balance in any other way.
  • Actually read everything, every sentence, every word, out loud if you can. Make sure the syntax is correct and clear. Sometimes being clear is more important than being correct, let alone aesthetically pleasing. Many graduates these days, including BA/MA grads and professional writers, struggle with syntax and grammar, largely because of how the education system fails to teach such old-fashioned and unnecessary subjects correctly or at all. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do in fact need to do better than most. But the main problem is not correctness per se, as in compliance with the rules, but the way in which non-standard communication impedes or outright prevents understanding.
  • Avoid producing gibberish, sometimes known as ‘translatorese’, especially if the original is both correct and clear. Check with the client if necessary. Your client won’t bite, or at least shouldn’t. An agency that shuns questions from translators and won’t forward them to the client to avoid having to ask for some attention is not acting professionally. Professionals don’t act like scared puppies. Acting like a scared puppy can have serious ramifications because being intimidated by your client is no defence against accusations of malpractice.
  • Pay special attention to subjunctives, conjunctives, conditionals, future-in-the-past sort of structures, formulaic expressions, customary archaisms and anything else you don’t use in everyday speech, especially if you never even read that kind of language. If in doubt, stick to familiar structures, however less elegant. Simplicity is always more elegant than trying to use sophisticated language and failing miserably.
  • If you can do so without altering the meaning, keep it simple, keep it real and even (gasp!) cut the crap. Don’t sacrifice content for form, but do think whether you really need all those words. Leave anything in that you think could have some meaning (presume you can never be certain), don’t spend too much of your time sanitizing an overly verbose original, but resist the urge to translate mere meaningless ornaments word for word, and avoid real pleonasms and tautologies (if in doubt, leave them in).
  • Don’t, however, fall into the trap of thinking — or being made to think — that an extremely challenging original, complex and convoluted, requiring a lot of education, both general and field-specific, somehow has to result in a translation that is easily understood by a child. That’s not your job but the lawyers’. Non-legal editors in LSPs who argue with you on this point are wrong. And in fact delusional. They could in fact pose somewhat of a threat to the project due to their lack of the kind of specific intellectual rigour that is needed in legal translation and precludes going full-on social justice warrior on the original.
  • Try to get familiar with modern drafting in the target language, but don’t go on a crusade and translate legalese into an honest working man’s language.
  • Identify any spots where you are about to markedly depart from the last vestiges of formal equivalence (viz. your choice of grammar, syntax and vocabulary is completely different from the original while hoping to preserve the actual sense). Make sure you aren’t suffering from a disastrous bout of boredom that prevents you from listening to your self-preservation instinct.
  • Speaking of which: do listen to your self-preservation instinct. It exists for a reason. At least hear what it has to say, and make an intelligent decision.
  • If you’re catching yourself being afraid of intelligent literal translation and going to great lengths to avoid literal translation even where it does in fact supply the best of all equivalents possible, then you should probably avoid legal translation and switch over to literature or marketing. Legal translation is not uncreative, but sacrificing too much fidelity out of a sort of primordial fear of being wrongly accused of overly literal translation malpractice, plain and simple.

Hope this helps. If it makes you think of legal translation as something only a special sort of nerd would enjoy, you’re spot on. Consider that most translators — and I’d say most legal translators — aren’t in fact cut out for legal translation. You’d better just like the job, and if not, then avoid it. There are days or even weeks I have to do something else to avoid going insane.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be legal or professional advice, and in any case it does not establish any lawyer-client or consultancy type of relationship.

One thought on “(Not-so) Quick No-Nonsense QA/QC for Legal Translation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s