Outline of Colin Robertson’s presentation

A lawyer-linguist view of EU legislative acts in English

1. Introduction

2. What is a lawyer linguist?

3. What are the tasks of the EU lawyer-linguist?

4. Four viewpoints on EU legislative texts: law, language, policy and action

5. The structure of EU legislative acts

6. EU legal English: Common law, Civil law or new genre?

7. EU legal English for non-native speakers

8. The problem of meaning in EU multilingual legal texts

9. Placing all this in a context of signs: Peirce`s concept of the sign

10. Conclusion


The presentation builds on previous seminars, in particular the one on the ordinary legislative procedure, and avoids duplication. The thesis is that in order to understand legal terms and concepts one needs to be aware of the surrounding legal culture and methods. This represents a way of thinking and once understood, the methods can be brought to bear on any legal terms.

The target audience is translator and linguist and the emphasis is therefore on the legal side: law for linguists. The aim is to be practical and since the law-language practitioner is a lawyer-linguist (JL), a simple approach is to present a lawyer-linguist view. It represents an internal legal view and an internal language view, combined. It places the focus on texts and terms and is pragmatic.

In pursuit of this approach, there are many issues that can be covered. The object is to better focus on legal terminology, but one can come to this through a series of steps. First by briefly outlining the role and tasks of the JLs, next by placing EU legal texts and terms in a context linked to law, policy, language and action, which enables translators to think whether a term is purely legal or part of another system related to a policy field (and therefore shared across domains), etc.

The focus shifts towards texts and the contexts of terms. One needs to be aware of the types and structures of EU legal acts (and by extension of other types of act). Further, since most EU legal acts are currently drafted in English as base language, awareness of factors affecting EU drafting in English is relevant. Here two aspects can be touched on: first, the Common law – Civil law divide and the argument that EU legal language is a new genre, with roots in both (and others); second, implications of non-mother tongue drafters, whereby concepts from other languages are brought into or misnamed in English. (Problem of identifying the true concept, or its true source, for the purpose of term equivalents.)

The last part of the presentation touches on multilingual meaning and judicial interpretation in order to remind that the choices of terms have legal consequences. Thus the translator has a drafting role for their language and takes on that burden. To assist in analysing terms mention of the Peircian tripartite concept of the sign is added at the end. This goes beyond a JL view, into a terminology view, and it provides a handy practical method to explore and solve term problems.

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