Levasseur, Legal Linguist

Author:John Randall Trahan
Position:Louis B. Porterie Professor of Law and Saul Litvinoff Distinguished Professor of Law, Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University.
Pages:1025-1061
 
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Levasseur, Legal Linguist
John Randall Trahan*
Introduction ................................................................................ 1025
I. The Backdrop of the Approach: Law and Language .................. 1029
II. Presentation of the Approach ..................................................... 1031
A. Legal Translation: What Is It?.............................................. 1032
B. The Ends of Legal Translation ............................................. 1033
1. The End in General ........................................................ 1033
2. More Particular Ends ..................................................... 1034
a. Facilitating Legal Research ..................................... 1034
b. Contributing Positively to the Ongoing
Development of “The Civil Law in English” .......... 1036
C. The Means of Legal Translation .......................................... 1038
1. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel ............................................. 1038
2. Use “Legal” Cognates and Even “Common
Language”Cognates in the Target Language, Provided
They Are Closely Related in Meaning to the Terms
of the Source Language ................................................. 1041
3. Look Out for “False Friends” ........................................ 1043
4. Use Equivalents, Especially “Rough Equivalents,”
with Extreme Caution .................................................... 1046
a. Violence” as “Duress” ........................................... 1048
b. Solidaire” as “Joint and Several” .......................... 1050
III. Critical Evaluation ...................................................................... 1055
Conclusion .................................................................................. 1060
INTRODUCTION
Some, including Professor Levasseur himself, might object to the title
of this Essay because, one might argue, this title is potentially misleading.
The expression “linguist” is today often reserved for someone who, by dent
of specialized academic training, either studies languages scientifically and
writes about them as a scholar or serves as a professional translator from one
Copyright 2016, by JOHN RANDALL TRAHAN.
* Louis B. Porterie Professor of Law and Saul Litvinoff Distinguished
Professor of Law, Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University.
1026 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 76
language into another. Professor Levasseur, as he himself is happy to
acknowledge, has received no such training. Though he is a scholar, and
at least in some sense—the sense of “legal science,” as understood in the
civil law tradition—a “scientist,” most of his scholarship has been
concentrated in the fields of legal history, legal methodology, civil law,
and comparative law. He does not now, nor has he ever, earned his living
by translating for “hire.”
Still, I think the title is entirely appropriate. To begin with, the
expression “linguist” carries a second and more expansive denotation,
namely, one who is “master of tongues other than his own.”1 Professor
Levasseur certainly fits this description. The son of a French consular
officer, he grew up speaking French at home, of course, but was also
exposed to other languages as his father was stationed here and there,
including Spain and Brazil. During grade school in France, he studied not
only English, but also Spanish, becoming quite fluent in the latter thanks
in large part to the assistance of his Hispanophone mother. Upon his
graduation from law school, he spent six months at the City of London
College, where he first immersed himself in English. The following year,
he came to the United States as a graduate student in law. From then until
now, English has served as his primary professional language, though he
has continued to work in French as well. He is, then, certainly a “linguist”
in the broad sense of “master of other tongues.” But even if one were to
stick with the narrower denotation of “linguist” noted above, one could
still defend the title. Though most of his scholarship has been devoted to
other topics, he has still written a number of scholarly articles on the topic
of law and language, with a particular emphasis on legal translation. This
still-growing corpus of work, which now numbers five pieces, includes
ones entitled “Discourse on Our Method”2 and “Our Approach to
Translation.”3 The citations included in these works show that he has
1. 8 THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY 992 (2d ed. 1992) (definition 1).
2. This “Discourse” forms the introductory section of Alain Levasseur &
David Gruning, Version Louisianaise, in L’ART DE LA TR ADUCTION, L’ACCUEIL
INTERNATIO NAL DE LAVANT -PROJET DE RÉFORME DU DROIT DES OBLIGATIONS
33–35 (Pierre Catala ed., 2011) [hereinafter L’art de la Traduction].
3. Alain A. Levasseur & J. Randall Trahan, Our Approach to Translation,
in GÉRARD CORNU, DICTIONARY OF THE CIVIL CODE xiv (Alain Levasseur et al.
trans., 2015) [hereinafter Approach]. Professor Levasseur’s other three works on
legal translation are: Alain A. Levasseur, Les Maux des Mots en Droit Comparé:
L’avant-projet de Réforme du Droit des Obligations en Anglais, 2008 REVUE
INTERNATIONALE DE DROIT COMPARÉ [R.I.D.C.] 819 [hereinafter Maux des
Mots]; Alain A. Levasseur, Réflexions Introductives, 68 LANGUES ET PROCÈS 9,
68 (2015) [hereinafter Réflexions]; Alain A. Levasseur, Ruminations Around the
2016] LEVASSEUR, LEGAL LINGUIST 1027
studied most if not all of the pertinent literature—the most prominent
works on legal translation, both in French and in English. In addition,
either on his own or in collaboration with others, he has now produced
translations of at least four books from French into English, including
Christian Atias’ Le Droit Civil and more recently Gerard Cornu’s
Vocabulaire Juridique.4 Professor Levasseur has also produced
translations of at least four legislative documents from French into
English, including the French Constitution of 1958, the French Civil Code,
and most recently the pending “Avant-Projet of the Reform of the Law of
Obligations” of France. In the end, then, his only “deficiency” (if that is
even the right word) as a linguist in the narrow sense is his lack of formal
training in linguistics. But what some people lack in the way of formal
training, they often make up through experience. When it comes to
linguistics, Professor Levasseur, thanks to his abundant experience, is just
such a person.
My aim in this Essay is to provide an exposé of the approach
Professeur Levasseur has taken in his work as a “legal linguist”—to be
more precise, his method of legal translation. The exposé begins by
examining, if only briefly, what one might call the “backdrop” against
which he has developed that method—his understanding of the
relationship between “legal language,” on the one hand, and “legal
culture,” on the other. Having done that, the exposé examines, in this
order, Professor Levasseur’s understanding of what legal translation is,
what its proper ends are, and what means should be used to attain those
ends. Finally, the exposé presents a brief critical valuation of his method.
Before proceeding, I should point out several difficulties facing me
that complicate the task to which I’ve set my hand. The first is that, in all
of the scholarship on legal translation that Professor Levasseur has so far
produced, none of it contains a comprehensive and systematic presentation
of his method. In the place of such a work, one instead finds several works
that amount to “defenses” of the approach to or the method of translation
that he and his collaborators adopted in undertaking the translation of this
or that particular text. The most notable of these defenses are his works on
the first avant-projet of the reform of the French law of obligations (the
so-called Avant-Projet Catala) and on the Vocabulaire Juridique. Further,
all of these works concern the translation of texts that involve one and the
same body of law—the French civil law—written in one and the same
Dictionary of the Civil Code, 9 J. CIV. L. STUD. (forthcoming 2016) (manuscript
on file with Author) [hereinafter Ruminations].
4. GÉRARD CORNU, DICTIONARY OF THE CIVIL CODE (Alain Levasseur et al.
trans., 2015) [hereinafter DICTIONARY OF THE CIVIL CODE ]. The Vocabulaire
Juridique might be thought of as France’s answer to Black’s Law Dictionary.

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