Framing Terminology in Legal Translation

Background information

St. Jerome was a 4th-century religious scholar, biblical translator and monastic leader. He is considered to be the “guardian angel” of translators since he was one of the first major reputable translators in our cultural sphere. He is known particularly for his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, creating the template for the Roman Catholic Church's Vulgate bible.  

His feast day September 30 is marked each year by translator environments worldwide.



Within the context of the law, framing a given situation means describing it as a configuration of legal concepts, designated by specialized knowledge units. Such concepts can be entities, attributes, relations, actions, or processes. The intention of the text sender is generally to present an action or sequence of actions as a legal issue. This construction of an event involves categorizing the participants and interrelating them through the actions that they have either performed or been affected by. When frames are specified as an action or process involving participants, this provides a predicative frame linking two or more semantic categories. In law frames, legal terms and their configurations define the subject matter of a dispute or crime to make it susceptible to obtaining a judgement in favor or against one of the parties involved. Since such events may be formulated from more than one viewpoint, this can be regarded as a kind of (monolingual) translation since a given real-world occurrence is translated from thought into language within the context of a legal system and with a certain intention. The same event can have more than one ‘translation’, depending on the context.

In the case of interlinguistic translation, when two languages are involved, there is evidently an added level of difficulty since legal systems differ from one country to another. In fact, the translatability of legal concepts often depends more on the relatedness of the two legal systems than on the languages involved. Precisely, for this reason, it is necessary to seek cognitive reference points, which can be used to specify general non-language-specific frames that can ground the translation and provide a general approximation in the target language to the event in the source language.

This paper explores how such specialized knowledge frames can be derived in environmental law through the progressive expansion of term contexts, based on the information obtained from a corpus of specialized legal texts with the use of knowledge patterns, specifically conceived to extract semantic relations. Knowledge pattern queries in the form of micro-grammars can extract concordance lines that provide information related to term meaning and the relations of a term to others. The data thus obtained are used to structure categories, to create concept frames as well as to specify predicative frames that characterize general processes and actions in the legal domain.