Sense and Reference in the Translation of Legal Documents
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Legal language, as a language for special purposes, contains terms or concepts that are peculiar to that language because of the history and cultural development of the legal system to which that language pertains. This means that there are terms that can only be understood (or have meaning) in the context of that legal culture and language. Furthermore, a legal term or concept in one language may not have a corresponding term (or referent) in another language. Thus, legal concepts or terms have a particular meaning to readers of a particular legal culture, as well as having a referential function, in that they denote a certain legal concept or notion that has developed in that culture, which emphasizes the specialized nature of the relevant legal language. For this reason, scholars have defined legal terms as “cultural items”. Legal translators are faced with the asymmetry of legal systems and the resulting incongruity of legal concepts and terms. This problem arises as legal terms are embedded in the legal culture in which they have developed.Many scholars now assert that a detailed knowledge of both source and target legal terminology and cultures is essential when translating legal texts. As a key to obtaining the required knowledge that such an approach demands, this paper will explore the possibility that legal concepts and terms, are able to be viewed or treated as if they were proper names, as they have a specific meaning and a referential function to a specific concept, in a given legal language or culture. This possibility emerges from a re-evaluation of the definition of proper names that has been undertaken in recent times. From this re-evaluation a theory has emerged that posits that words or expressions previously not considered as proper names, can now potentially be viewed as such. With particular regard to the concepts of sense and reference, I will apply this hypothesis in analysing the translation of legal documents from English to Italian and vice versa.
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