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Translation with Reference to Specialised Texts

With the growing interest and need for the translation of specialised texts in a unified European Community we wish to increase students’ awareness of both specific practical translation tasks and of theoretical issues involved in the translation process of specialised texts. Among others, we focus on legal texts as they constitute the main body of exemplary materials to be analysed. In the course on Legal English offered by our Department an attempt is made to introduce crucial methodological concepts pertaining to the analysis of legal texts, as specific examples of specialised texts. These involve presenting stages of parallel text analysis, discussing texts from different cultural and legal traditions and backgrounds within the English speaking world, identifying relevant differences on the level of lexis, syntax, style and register.

The texts selected for our study of theoretical issues are genuine official documents such as: certificates of birth or marriage, medical certificates, employment contracts, powers of attorney, etc., which are among the most often translated specialised texts because of their extensive public usefulness. They are classified as legal texts for at least two reasons. First of all, they are used for matters connected with the law, like proving a subject’s identity or marital status, etc. and are prepared most often in the form of sworn translations. Secondly, they share many typical formal characteristics of other legal documents and, at the same time, specialised texts.

Most texts selected for our course represent a concise and codified form of specialised legal texts, on the basis of which the particular stages of translation seem easy to demonstrate. The analyses are performed according to criteria determined to be indispensable for carrying out a specialised-text, among which are references to document layout, vocabulary, grammatical constructions and register of language. Our aim is not merely to teach students how to identify the relevant characteristics of specific document types in Polish and English, but also to use some text analytical procedures enabling them to present various theoretical aspects relevant for translation studies as such, namely equivalence or untranslatability that are of fundamental significance for translation studies as a discipline. Our other goal is to offer students some practical suggestions essential for the implementation of procedures helpful in the identification of consecutive steps in the translation process as well as providing guidance on how to use parallel texts to produce a good translation. This is possible through extensive practical study, in which students find the necessary clues for examining the characteristics of specialised texts offered by different authors.

Consequently, students will learn that specialised texts use a special kind of language which has its own technical lexicon, the fundamentals of which are a particular system of terminology, and specific rules of introducing terminological units into a text, namely its own cognitive syntax. The syntax of specialised texts should serve as a means to obtain clarity, univocal character and precision of thought. A typical feature of specialised texts is the extensive use of certain grammattical structures, such as the passive voice with the verbs: suppose, assume, conclude, infer, etc. It reflects the impersonal style of specialised texts. The same is true of the extensive use of modal verbs characteristic of contracts, as they regulate obligations, rights and prohibitions. On the other hand, some grammatical constructions, like imperatives, are not typical of this type of text.

As for the terminology, it is always based on specific terms, relevant to a particular field of sceince or technology. Terms always tend to be used in their primary logical meaning, as they indicate with precision a particular scientific concept and particular objects. Hence, the problem of polysemy does not arise.

A clear division of the text into units is typical of the layout. Such text division is characteristic of so-called codified texts (e.g. a contract of employment, business contract, medical diagnosis, petition, etc.). Codified texts are characterisied by a rigid, officially stated and organised structure of their components, all of which are obligatory. Such components give the text the status of an official document and, at the same time, introduce the contents through the accepted vocabulary.