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An ATA Professional Development Event
Presented by the American Translators Association
Legal Translation & Interpreting Seminar
Doubletree Hotel     Philadelphia, Pennsylvania    March 31, 2007
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Abstracts & Bios

Untangling the Tortuous Tapestry of Legal Discourse

Interpreters and translators specializing in the judicial and/or legal field must endure the rite-of-passage of learning legal terminology in two languages that generally embodies two separate legal systems. But rarely do we learn how all those terms are put together, or why. What is it about a legal system that makes lawyers and judges talk—or write—in a particular way? How do all those legal terms fit into the overall cultural constructs of justice? How do we make them fit into the constructs of justice from a different culture when we interpret or translate? We learn terminology in isolation, by rote, and then proceed to intuit the appropriate structure in which those terms should be embedded. This presentation addresses the salient characteristics of legal language as defined by Peter Tiersma(1) and other scholars—wordiness and redundancy, conjoined phrases and lists of words, unusual sentence structures, impersonal constructions, multiple negations—as well as the peculiar characteristics of courtroom discourse—telegraphic speech, use of legal slang and acronyms, code-switching between legalese and plain English, among others. As we identify the structure that holds together the obscure language of the law, we will also identify ways to render it more effectively and efficiently when we translate or interpret.

1 Tiersma, Peter M. Legal Language. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1999.

Janis Palma has been a federally-certified, English<>Spanish judiciary interpreter since 1981. She worked as an independent contractor for over 20 years in different states, including Texas, New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C. She holds a Master's Degree in Puerto Rican Literature and History from the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, and a Bachelor's Degree in Spanish Literature from the University of Texas at Austin. Her work experience includes conference work in the private sector and seminar interpreting for the U.S. State Department. She joined the U.S. District Courts in Puerto Rico as a full-time staff interpreter in April 2002. She has also been a consultant for various higher education institutions, professional associations, and government agencies on judiciary interpreting and translating issues. She is a former President and now Life Member of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, and for over 20 years has been conducting workshops, participating in panel discussions, and offering lectures on professional practice and responsibility, including techniques to improve judiciary interpreting skills.


Does It Mean What You Think It Means?

Some legal acronyms and words are quite difficult to translate or interpret because the concept behind the words is not immediately apparent. Translators and interpreters can make mistakes if they only think they know what something means. As this session is non-language specific, the concept behind over 30 sentences will be explained in English so that participants can decide if what they have written or thought in their own language was actually appropriate or in error. Items will be taken from all levels of courts (municipal, county, state, and federal) as well as from other judiciary situations. Handouts will include a worksheet for translation by participants with room for notes and other materials listing legal resources for various languages.

M. Eta Trabing is from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She holds a degree from Cambridge University, England; she majored in languages and fine arts. Since 1956, she has been involved in translation services of legal and commercial documents for large industries, court proceedings, and federal and state agencies of all kinds. After moving to the U.S. in 1963, she also became a conference interpreter, then a federally and state certified court interpreter. At this state, she prefers being a technical translator and has given up traveling all over the Americas at conferences large and small. She has published The Manual for Judiciary Interpreters, The Pan American Livestock Dictionary, The Dictionary of Foods and Cookery, and The Glossary on Waste Management and Ecology. She is president of Berkana, Inc., Center for Translation and Interpretation Studies, a private school established in North Carolina in 1996. She has been teaching translation and interpretation off and on since the late 70s.


Standard and Non-Standard Contract Clauses

Legalese poses a number of challenges for the legal translator. This presentation will provide participants with useful examples and information for translating various contract provisions, with emphasis on the especially complicated concepts such as torts, damages, indemnity clauses, and other similar covenants. Explanations of in-context legal terms and clauses will also be offered. The speaker encourages open participation and questions and comments from attendees.

Daniel Giglio received his Juris Doctor and Legal Translation degrees from the University of Buenos Aires and holds an MA in Conference Interpretation (Spanish<>English) from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (Monterey, CA). He was an adjunct professor of the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) Legal Translation Program where he taught a core course in legal translation for eight years. He worked as an in-house senior legal translator at Intermark Language Services Corporation (Atlanta, GA) and, in that capacity, he taught seminars in Houston and Atlanta on civil litigation for translators in conjunction with the president of the company, Thomas L. West, III. He is a federally certified court interpreter (Spanish<>English) and works as a freelance interpreter for a number of international organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the Inter-American Defense Board, and the Organization of American States, and for private market clients such as CNN en Espańol, where he regularly provides freelance translation and simultaneous interpreting services.


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