Logic and law: The illogical language of the law in translation

Aleksandra Matulewska (Adam Mickiewicz University,Poznań)

The presentation will deal with problems connected with the interpretation of legal texts, and to be exact with such problems which are posed by ambivalence of some words and textual ambiguity. Students of law are taught logic at the first year of their studies in order to give them knowledge about legal language and text interpretation. Writing unambiguous legal texts is a skill which they should possess when graduating. However, they often fail to obtain it in the course of their studies. Thus, it often turns out that when they have to write statutory instruments and other legal texts, they forget about the basic concepts of logic and as a consequence they violate the principles of writing unambiguous, clear and understandable legal texts. Despite the fact that especially lawyers should be aware of the difficulties which may arise while interpreting such badly-written texts the number of low quality legal documents is increasing instead of decreasing. It usually has a far-reaching consequences. What is more, lawyers often neglect the importance of grammatical and stylistic correctness of texts. What they pay attention to (in their own opinion) is the meaning of the text achieved by using appropriate terminology. The common opinion is that grammatical correctness is a secondary problem and that is does not affect the meaning. The conclusions which may be drawn are that (i) some of those texts are formulated that way on purpose to create loopholes and enable law evasion; (ii) some of them are created by people lacking basic knowledge of logic or (iii) people lacking basic linguistic competence. It is a very tricky matter to interpret such texts in which conjunctions have been used in an ambiguous way. Therefore it should be borne in mind that lawyers, legislators and legal translators must be especially aware of problems which may be caused by improper use of conjunctions and and or which may be ambivalent. The paper will present basic interpretation rules applied to conjunctions used in logic (namely 'and' and 'or'). What will follow then will be a selection of examples from legal texts where those conjunctions appear. Next, the ambiguity of texts will be indicated, possible interpretations will be given together with the interpretation of the law established by courts and other bodies. The impact of the human factor will be presented and the discrepancy between the logical and real interpretation will be shown. Then, the problems posed by the ambiguity of legal texts will be indicated. Finally, the author will present a selection of examples from translations made by the adepts of legal translation who fail to observe the rules of interpretation and thus create ambiguity of texts in a target language which are non-ambiguous in a source language. The consequences of such mistakes will be indicated and the need for logic in legal communication will be presented.