Translation of EU Legislation Documents – A Handy Guide

After a lengthy negotiation process, Croatia became a Member State of the European Union on 1 July 2013. This has affected most of the Croatian population and translators are no exception. To this day, many legal texts have been translated to and from Croatian language. We’re here to give a brief guide on translation of EU legislation with several resources that you can use when translating texts in the Croatian-English language pair.

Since this type of translation mostly regards legislation, and the fact remains that most translators are not legal experts, it’s important to familiarise oneself with the legal systems the translation project is concerned with. Acquiring knowledge on the way the European Union works, as well as on the Croatian legal system is highly recommended.

            The translator should keep in mind that the source language texts are legally binding. That's why the translation should be of a very high standard, both from the linguistic and the legal perspective. It should be faithful to the source language, but not literal; the translator has a certain amount of freedom to create a translation in the spirit of the target language. Nevertheless, the format of the source language text must be respected and transferred to the target language. Standard linguistic formulations and terms set out in translation manuals must be used. Terminological consistency is obligatory. Naturally, it takes practice for the translator to be able to evaluate to what degree the translation can be free, i.e. to know what can be modified and what cannot.

            Among the things to look out for when translating legislation in the Croatian-English combination is the use of shall and the use of negations. In English, shall is used to express a legal imperative and not the future. In Croatian, legal imperative is expressed in the present tense. Using the future tense to express legal imperatives in the Croatian language and omitting shall when translating the legal imperative from Croatian to English are common mistakes. Here are two examples:

            Source text:  Annuity payments shall be made monthly in advance.

            Incorrect translation: Novčana renta plaćat će se mjesečno unaprijed.

            Correct translation: Novčana renta plaća se mjesečno unaprijed.

            Source text: Tko drugoga usmrti, kaznit će se kaznom zatvora najmanje pet godina.

            Incorrect translation: A person who kills another will be sentenced to prison for at least                                                   five years.

            Correct translation: A person who kills another shall be sentenced to prison for at least                                        five years

Also, regarding negations, English language does not allow for more than one negation in a sentence. This results in an ambiguous sentence or alters its meaning; this is highly undesirable when dealing with legal texts. However, if the source text itself is ambiguous, an official interpretation should be requested from an institution that issued the source text. If that does not resolve the ambiguity, it should be transferred to the target language.

            Source text: Osim ako se ne odbijaju od regulatornog kapitala, sljedeće stavke iskazuju se nadležnim tijelima zasebno kako bi se omogućila procjena potreba za stabilnim izvorima financiranja.

            Incorrect translation: Unless not deducted from own funds, the following items shall be reported to competent authorities separately in order to allow an assessment of the needs for stable funding.

            Correct translation: Unless deducted from own funds, the following items shall be reported to competent authorities separately in order to allow an assessment of the needs for stable funding.

            Another thing to be noted are quotations. Where there is a quotation referring to another document within the legal text that is being translated, and the official translation of such document already exists or the legal text actually originates from the target language, the translator should find the respective document and use the official translation or source text, as opposed to doing it on their own. Many of these official translations or source documents can be found online. Using them in the translation makes the translators job much easier and ensures consistency in the translation of the respective text.

Finally, here are several resources that might come in handy when translating EU legislation:

Translation manuals (in Croatian) and glossaries

InterActive Terminology for Europe

Eur-Lex: Access to European Union Law

EUdict (European dictionary)

And of course, when everything else fails:

            Keep in mind that terminology in these types of texts is extremely important. If uncertain, a term should be checked in several resources before use. Above all, the translation needs to make sense, i.e. the meaning needs to be translated from the source language to the target language and the translation needs to be clear and unambiguous.

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