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One Law in Many Languages

Will Baude, at Crescat Sententia, offers some engaging thoughts on the creation of a Spanish version of The Star Spangled Banner.

In passing, Baude makes the following observation: “[T]he translation of official texts is rife with all sorts of riddles. My dim recollection is that there were proposals in the First Congress to publish the U.S. Code in German as well as English. What a disaster that might have been for the field of statutory interpretation. It’s hard enough to be a textualist when the text is written in a single language accessible to all of the legislators.”

Disaster or not, the need to grapple with one law in many languages must raise fascinating questions. Of course, there are some nations that do so; Canada and Switzerland come to mind. There are also larger confederations, such as the EU, and treaty contexts that express one law in many lanuages. And even by describing the phenomenon as “one law in many languages,” I suppose I’m beginning to stake out a position. (I’m reminded of another of Baude’s recent posts, this one reporting on class discussion of the Seventh Circuit’s statement, speaking through Judge Easterbrook, that “[s]tatutes are law, not evidence of law.”)

Anyway, I thought I would pass along a few leads on the topic, for the curious to pursue at their leisure:
(a) Here’s a description of a conference in Germany, The Language and Law Conference, two weeks from now (with lots of prof names and paper titles).
(b) Here’s the list of podcasts from this past January’s annual AALS conference, including that of a fun panel called “Lost (and Found) in Translation” at which panelists discussed some one law/many languages issues.
(c) Here’s a summary of a day-long conference at Brooklyn Law School entitled “Creating and Interpreting Law in a Multilingual Environment,” which occurred on Sept. 19, 2003. The Brooklyn Law School page about the conference is here. The papers from the conference appear in Volume 29, Issue 3 (2004) of the Brooklyn Journal of International Law, and you can get them as pdfs here.

4 thoughts on “One Law in Many Languages”

  1. I think translating judicial opinions might be even more of a debacle. What’s “clear and convincing” in Swahili?

  2. One law in many languages sounds quite fascinating. But Canada and Switzerland follow this. “Multiple official version” sounds quite unusual. But what r the benefits we r getting from it?

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