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Bridging the Gap between Language and Law

Translational Issues in Creating Legal Chinese in Hong Kong

Author/Editor: Chan, Clara Ho-yan

Year of publication: 2012

Keywords: language and law, translation, legal Chinese, Hong Kong

Place of Publication & Publisher: Babel (Amsterdam: John Benjamins), 58(2), 2012: 127-144

Publisher URL: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/jbp/bab

ISBN/ISSN: ISSN 0521-9744

Publication blurb:

This paper aims to address, under China’s policy of ‘one country, two systems’, the special style of the ‘youthful’ Chinese legal language in Hong Kong’s legislation and the dilemmas faced by the general public and legal professionals in using it, to discuss key issues, and to suggest ways of solving its existing problems. It also offers new perspectives and solutions to some of the issues of this ‘new’ technical language that was originally a translation product. Since Chinese, along with English, became one of the two official legal languages of Hong Kong in 1997, legal Chinese has essentially consisted of ‘translationese’ derived from the translation of English common law and the bilingual legal drafting process in Hong Kong, with many novel coinages and a heavily Europeanized grammatical style.

As a result, ordinary people and legal professionals alike have great difficulties in reading it. To lawyers, this special language style is made even more difficult to master by the process of learning mainland China’s civil law system, largely because many Chinese legal terms appear to be ‘equivalents’ but actually are not, due to the vast differences between the civil law and common law systems.

While legal translators continue their daily business, legal students study Chinese, and legal professionals learn Chinese Law to understand the gap between the two systems and languages, there is one key approach that offers a way out of this dilemma: to recognize the equal importance of ‘law’ and ‘language’ and strike a good balance between the two in the production of bilingual legislation, which basically uses translation to produce the Chinese text. As law relies on language for representation, what is needed at the level of the expert is to give more weight to ‘language’. Therefore great efforts should be made to achieve a proper mode for communication and appreciation. While translators should equip themselves with legal knowledge so that they are not intimidated into sacrificing literary quality and flair, lawyers, especially locals who are bilingual, should learn to express law in both English and Chinese.

On the other hand, at the level of the general public, the biggest obstacle is ‘law’; so the emphasis should be on making legal knowledge more available to all through school and public education. When experts work to make legal Chinese more idiomatic, and members of the public attain a certain level of legal knowledge, the language should serve its intended purpose – that is, to effectively communicate law to its community and maintain the full legal effects of its original English texts. Of course, a good civic education is essential to the development of a strong sense of belonging and a sense of responsibility for the welfare of society at large.

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