Institutional legal translation of …insults? When unconventional has to be conventionalized

31 May 2024
Room E1

Institutional legal translation of …insults? When unconventional has to be conventionalized

Institutional legal translation in supranational courts is typically not associated with creativity (Šarčević, 1997: 116). However, when the object of translation involves offensive language in cases concerning freedom of expression, the situation becomes more complex. This study examines a corpus of cases addressing the translation of offensive language in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

It is recognized that “prosecuting crimes based on offensive linguistic behaviour is considered notoriously difficult” (Hardaker, 2020: 700), with the interlinguistic barrier posing an additional challenge. The ECtHR hears cases from 46 states in ca. 40 different languages, which, once accepted, must be translated into two official languages – English and French – to be understood by the multilingual judges of the ECtHR.

This study integrates insights from general studies on impoliteness and insults (McEnery, 2006; Allen, 2019), along with analyses of offensive language from legal/forensic linguistics perspectives (Culpeper & Hardaker, 2017; Hardaker, 2020), and from the standpoint of translation studies (Mateo & Yus, 2000). As translation of insults is an under-researched area in institutional legal translation, the methodological approach is enriched by perspectives from legal interpreting studies (Hale et al., 2020) and audiovisual translation (Avila-Cabrera, 2023), both of which highlight the challenge of accurately and effectively translating profanity by raising intercultural pragmatic awareness among translators/interpreters.

The findings analyse the most recurrent translation strategies (Šarčević, 1997) that balance the need for legal precision, achieved through translation couplets with loanwords, and the demand for creativity, realized through the selection of functional equivalents, often used in other contexts. The formal supranational context and the written mode of delivery result in the toning down of some taboo expressions.



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