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Translating the Social World for Law

  • Publication: Oxford University Press
  • Research area: Legal Profession/Legal Education

8/11/2016, Elizabeth Mertz, Oxford University Press

Cover of Translating the Social World for Law

Translating the Social World for Law


Part of Oxford Studies in Language and Law. Available for purchase on the Oxford University Press website and on Amazon.

This volume examines the linguistic problems that arise in efforts to translate between law and the social sciences. We usually think of "translation " as pertaining to situations involving distinct languages such as English and Swahili. But realistically, we also know that there are many kinds of English or Swahili, so that some form of translation may still be needed even between two people who both speak English-including, for example, between English speakers who are members of different professions. Law and the social sciences certainly qualify as disciplines with quite distinctive language patterns and practices, as well as different orientations and goals. In coordinated papers that are grounded in empirical research, the volume contributors use careful linguistic analysis to understand how attempts to translate between different disciplines can misfire in systematic ways. Some contributors also point the way toward more fruitful translation practices.

The contributors to this volume are members of an interdisciplinary working group on Legal Translation that met for a number of years. The group includes scholars from law, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, political science, psychology, and religious studies. The members of this group approach interdisciplinary communication as a form of "translation " between distinct disciplinary languages (or, "registers "). Although it may seem obvious that professionals in different fields speak and think differently about the world, in fact experts in law and in social science too often assume that they can communicate easily when they are speaking what appears to be the "same " language. While such experts may intellectually understand that they differ regarding their fundamental assumptions and uses of language, they may nonetheless consistently underestimate the degree to which they are actually talking past one another. This problem takes on real-life significance when one of the fields is law, where how knowledge is conveyed can affect how justice is meted out.

  • Provides specific examples of difficulties facing interdisciplinary communication between law and social science in an era where the legal academy is once again turning to social science
  • Consists of contributions by law professors and social scientists who met together for a number of years to develop shared understandings of problems as well as productive approaches to interdisciplinary interactions
  • Draws on sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, and sister disciplines that are well-equipped to shed light on such a question
  • Specifically addresses emergent new audiences in law schools and in law-and-society studies that are interested in developing new interdisciplinary approaches

Please find the chapter abstracts here.

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