Towards translating EU legal texts
Diana Yankova
The article expounds on some problems that have surfaced in an analysis of the translation of EU directives from English into Bulgarian. First, it looks at the pragmatic features of the genre of directives, then at the general features of the translated text, and finally at specific translation problems that could serve for guidelines in future translations of EU legal texts. The corpora for the present analysis are five EU directives and their respective translations in Bulgarian (120 pages) published by the Ministry of Justice and Legal European Integration with the title ‘Legal European Integration, Bulletin 1999’.
Pragmatic features of directives
EU directives are one of the means for achieving the aims and purposes of the European Community and are European internationally binding instruments for harmonization of legislation in a certain sphere.
The directive is a special type of instrument because it is binding as regards the results to be achieved, while the methods for achieving them are left to the discretion of the Member States themselves. During the process of transposition, which is the incorporation of a directive into national law, the results to be achieved need to be stated lucidly and understood by the law makers of the respective country1. What bearing does that have on the process of translation? The directives have to be translated clearly and transparently without aspiring to use terms from the national legislation which might turn out to be misleading as it would refer the communication to a wrong direction and not to the common, supranational law. The national legal concepts are, as a rule, added later at the transposition stage.
The style of EU legislation is quite different from European national (Continental or Common law) legislation. The goals of EU legislation are stated in the opening of the directives and the provisions which are strictly binding are in fact limited to only a few articles. The result is that when complying with the legislation, Member States are compelled to infer some of the rights and obligations from the preamble rather than from the normative part of the act (cf. Ferreri 2005). This specific characteristic of EU directives makes their adaptation difficult, especially at the stage when they are being incorporated into the national legal system and their correct implementation has to be verified.
We will adduce as an example one of the directives from the corpus:
COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 93/83/EEC of 27 September 1993 on the coordination of certain rules concerning copyright and rights related to copyright applicable to satellite broadcasting and cable retransmission
Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, and in particular Articles 57 (2) and 66 thereof,
Having regard to the proposal from the Commission (1),
In cooperation with the European Parliament (2),
Having regard to the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee (3),
(1) Whereas the objectives of the Community as laid down in the Treaty include establishing an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, fostering closer relations between the States belonging to the Community and ensuring the economic and social progress of the Community countries by common action to eliminate the barriers which divide Europe;
(2) Whereas, to that end, the Treaty provides for the establishment of a common market and an area without internal frontiers; whereas measures to achieve this include the abolition of obstacles to the free movement of services and the institution of a system ensuring that competition in the common market is not distorted; whereas, to that end, the Council may adopt directives for the coordination of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the taking up and pursuit of activities as self-employed persons;
(3) Whereas broadcasts transmitted across frontiers within the Community, in particular by satellite and cable, are one of the most important ways of pursuing these Community objectives, which are at the same time political, economic, social, cultural and legal;
(4) Whereas the Council has already adopted Directive 89/552/EEC of 3 October 1989 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities (4), which makes provision for the promotion of the distribution and production of European television programmes and for advertising and sponsorship, the protection of minors and the right of reply;
(5) Whereas, however, the achievement of these objectives in respect of cross-border satellite broadcasting and the cable retransmission of programmes from other Member States is currently still obstructed by a series of differences between national rules of copyright and some degree of legal uncertainty; whereas this means that holders of rights are exposed to the threat of seeing their works exploited without payment of remuneration or that the individual holders of exclusive rights in various Member States block the exploitation of their rights; whereas the legal uncertainty in particular constitutes a direct obstacle in the free circulation of programmes within the Community;
(6) Whereas a distinction is currently drawn for copyright purposes between communication to the public by direct satellite and communication to the public by communications satellite; whereas, since individual reception is possible and affordable nowadays with both types of satellite, there is no longer any justification for this differing legal treatment;
(7) Whereas the free broadcasting of programmes is further impeded by the current legal uncertainty over whether broadcastsing by a satellite whose signals can be received directly affects the rights in the country of transmission only or in all countries of reception together; whereas, since communications satellites and direct satellites are treated alike for copyright purposes, this legal uncertainty now affects almost all programmes broadcast in the Community by satellite;
(8) Whereas, furthermore, legal certainty, which is a prerequisite for the free movement of broadcasts within the Community, is missing where programmes transmitted across frontiers are fed into and retransmitted through cable networks;
(9) Whereas the development of the acquisition of rights on a contractual basis by authorization is already making a vigorous contribution to the creation of the desired European audiovisual area; whereas the continuation of such contractual agreements should be ensured and their smooth application in practice should be promoted wherever possible;
(10) Whereas at present cable operators in particular cannot be sure that they have actually acquired all the programme rights covered by such an agreement;
(11) Whereas, lastly, parties in different Member States are not all similarly bound by obligations which prevent them from refusing without valid reason to negotiate on the acquisition of the rights necessary for cable distribution or allowing such negotiations to fail;
(12) Whereas the legal framework for the creation of a single audiovisual area laid down in Directive 89/552/EEC must, therefore, be supplemented with reference to copyright;...
The directive proceeds with altogether 36 recitals and then comes the substantive part which is made up of only 14 articles. Since most of the information is clustered together in the introductory section and is presented as a long list of cases and conditions to which the following articles apply, it presents difficulties in adapting it into the very different structure of national statutes. This formal complication, added to the existing conceptual non-correspondence in certain legal institutions between national legislations and the Acquis Communautaire (the body of EU law), renders the whole process of harmonization somewhat intricate and problematic.
More often than not, directives are lexically abstract because of their specific position as legislation to be adopted by the diverse legal systems of the Member States and the respective national drafters when implementing the directives are reluctant to alter the wording lest a misunderstanding of the original legislative intent arise. In so doing, the national drafter runs the risk of making the meaning of the text hard for the general public to comprehend since at times it diverges from the national language of the law and does not abide by its generic conventions.
Textual features of the translated text.
This section examines some general characteristics of the translated text. In principle, Bulgarian legal language is not much different from other types of formal language. Bulgarian statutes can be read like ordinary prose with ordinary words, familiar meaning, and ordinary grammar: they are easy to comprehend. Being part of the Continental tradition, the stress is on the general principle at issue (or the ratio legis), resulting in brevity of expression.
The Bulgarian translation of the directives under examination, however, demonstrates a marked deviation from this tradition, especially in the numerous Preambles and the complex sentences. The translator(s), though constrained by the aforementioned EU requirements for standardization and uniformity of legislation, should observe the natural word order in the target language, making the sentence sound as natural as possible. Here is an example of a rather convoluted syntax, with a high degree of left-branching (underlined) which hampers comprehension:
Нееднократното и системното извличане и/или повторно използване на несъществените части от съдържанията на бази данни, изискващи действия, които противоречат на нормалното използване на тази база данни или които неоснователно увреждат законните интереси на производителя на базата данни не са разрешени.
Art. 7(5), Council Directive 96/9/EC
The repeated and systematic extraction and/or re-utilization of insubstantial parts of the contents of the database implying acts which conflict with a normal exploitation of that database or which unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the maker of the database shall not be permitted.
Another inappropriate translation technique detected in the target text is word-for-word translation as in:
Insofar as loading, displaying, running, transmission or storage of the computer program necessitate such reproduction, such acts shall be subject to authorization by the rightholder.
Article 4(a), Council Directive 91/250/EEC
Доколкото зареждането, изобразяването на екран, изпълняването, предаването на разстояние или съхраняването на компютърната програма изискват такова възпроизвеждане, такива изискват разрешението на носителя на правата.
The underlined part of the translation contains unnecessary lexical repetition, inept reference, non-standard syntax, and in general is a text that would be considered by most native speakers as bad Bulgarian. Here we can detect noticeable interference from English language structures that hamper the comprehension of the target text.
Interference from English is even more noticeable in the following example:
Whereas the question of exhaustion of the right of distribution does not arise in the case of on-line databases, which come within the field of provision of services; whereas this also applies with regard to a material copy of such a database made by the user of such a service with the consent of the rightholder; whereas, unlike CD-ROM or CD-I, where the intellectual property is incorporated in a material medium, namely an item of goods, every on-line service is in fact an act which will have to be subject to authorization where the copyright so provides…
Council Directive 96/9/EC
Като се има предвид, че въпросът с изчерпване на правото на разпространение не възниква в случай на бази данни “on line”, които попадат в сферата на доставка на услуги; като се има предвид, че това се прилага също с оглед и на материалното копие от такива бази данни, направено от ползвател на такава услуга със съгласието на носителя на правото; като се има предвид, че за разлика от СД РОМ и СД АЙ, където интелектуалната собственост е инкорпорирана в материален носител, а именно някакъв артикул, всяка услуга “on line” е всъщност действие, което трябва да бъде предмет на разрешение, когато авторското право го изисква...
In order to fully comprehend the above provision in Bulgarian, we need to resort to the English text. The translator has freely borrowed source-language syntactic constructions, words, and even orthography, making the Bulgarian text sound foreign and at least in need of a second reading.
There are certain inconsistencies in style or plain mistakes in the translation of the directives under study. One of the recurrent problems is the different rendering of the legal shall. The modal shall as a rule expresses obligation in legal acts and is used to express the illocutionary force of an order.
Member States shall provide for performers the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit the fixation of their performances.
Article 6, Council Directive 92/100/EEC
In the above example, the modal verb shall has been used to state obligations of Member States. The modal shall is also used to state rules according to which the law operates without mentioning an agent:
The mediators shall be so selected that their independence and impartiality are beyond reasonable doubt.
Article 11/4, Council Directive 93/83/EEC
Apart from the legal ‘shall’ there exist several possibilities of imposing obligation in English statutes: to be, must, will and even sometimes may. Although the modal must is frequently used to express obligation in non-legal contexts, it is not so often resorted to in statutory instruments. Will expresses future contingency. While may is, as a rule, permissive, it can also be imperative especially in common-law legal systems, where it confers judicial or quasi-judicial jurisdiction. This is a result of an “unwritten rule of common law that every judicial or quasi-judicial tribunal has a duty to exercise its jurisdiction” (Pigeon 1988:35).
In the Bulgarian translations of the directives in just one article shall has been translated in four ways: as трябва (must), with an imperative construction, as ще (will) and with the present tense2:
Final Provisions
1. Member States shall bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive not later than 1 July 1994. They shall forthwith informthe Commission thereof.
When Member States adopt these measures, they shall contain a reference to this Directive or shall be accompanied by such reference at the time of their official publication. The methods of making such a reference shall be laid down by the Member States.
2. Member States shall communicate to the Commission the main provisions of domestic law which they adopt in the field covered by this Directive.
Article 15, Council Directive 92/100/EEC
Заключителни разпоредби
1. Законите, подзаконовите актове и административните разпоредби, които приемат държавите-членки съгласно тази Директива, трябва да влязат в сила не по-късно от 1 юли 1994 година. Държавите членки незабавно да уведомят за това Комисията.
Приемането или официалното публикуване на тези мерки се придружава от препратка към тази Директива. Начините и особеностите на препратката се определят от държавите-членки.
2. Държавите-членки ще съобщят на Комисията основните разпоредби на вътрешното законодателство, приети в областта, регулирана от тази Директива.
As a general rule, Bulgarian statutes employ the ever-present present tense in order to lay down obligations or impose restrictions, and although this has been observed in most of the provisions, the above translational choices are inadmissible since they violate the genre-specific use of the present tense in Bulgarian.
Results of the analysis
The results will be presented and systematized in accordance with the differences that have surfaced, grouping the problems or inconsistencies encountered into several categories in view of the frequency of occurrence.
Types of translation problems
1. Differentiating between several meanings of one and the same word
There are instances when the English text employs one and the same word but it is translated differently in Bulgarian. Jacobs’s (1995) assignment of thematic roles proved very useful in this problematic group. The English texts have many terms consisting of legal + noun, which have been translated in four different ways in Bulgarian.
1. правен + noun (legal)
2. юридически + noun (juridical)
3. съдебен + noun (judicial)
4. законен + noun (lawful)
All these terms can be said to include the following thematic roles: +Agent, +Instrument, +Theme. However, the terms demonstrate a different thematic role as the salient one in the four cases, or even additional thematic roles, besides the essential ones. Thus:
a. +Agent: legal protection, legal implications (правна закрила, правни последствия)
b. +Instrument in the salient role: legal entity, legal residence (юридическо лице, юридическо местожителство)
c. +Locative: legal costs, legal opinion (съдебни разноски, съдебно становище)
d. +Theme as the salient role: legal duties, legal right (законен дълг, законно право).
Another example is (un)authorised + noun (e.g. an authorized person, unauthorized removal) where depending on the presence of the semantic roles + Theme or + Patient, the respective Bulgarian terms are: упълномощено лице, непозволено отстраняване.
2. Differentiation of terms with close meaning
The same procedure is used for differentiating terms like: lawful + noun, legitimate + noun. In the following two examples the salient thematic role is +Theme and therefore both lawful and legitimate are rendered as законен in Bulgarian.
Whereas the exclusive rights of the author to prevent the unauthorized reproduction of his work have to be subject to a limited exception in the case of a computer program to allow the reproduction technically necessary for the use of that program by the lawful acquirer…
Council Directive 91/250/EEC
Като се има предвид, че изключителните права на автора да не се допуска неразрешено възпроизвеждане на неговото произведение трябва да бъдат предмет на ограничено изключение, в случая на компютърна програма, за да се позволи възпроизвеждането, технически необходимо за ползването на такава програма от лицето, което законно я е придобило...
Whereas such an exception to the author’s exclusive rights may not be used in a way which prejudices the legitimate interests of the rightholder…
Council Directive 91/250/EEC
Като се има предвид, че това изключение от изключителните авторски права, не може да се използва по начин, който да накърнява законните интереси на носителя на права....
In different directives legal framework has been translated either by законова рамка, or правна рамка:
Whereas the Community’s legal framework on the protection of computer programmes can accordingly in the first instance be limited…
Council Directive 91/250/EEC
Като се има предвид, че законовата рамка на Общността за закрила на компютърните програми може, съответно на първо време, да бъде ограничена....
Whereas the legal framework for the creation of a single audiovisual area…
Council Directive 93/83/EEC
Като се има предвид, че поради това правната рамка за създаването на единна визуална зона...
The correct term for legal framework in Bulgarian would be правна рамка since it is the generic term, while законова рамка is the more specific one; nevertheless in certain contexts the two terms are interchangeable.
3. Translation of new terms not existing in Bulgarian legal language due to the fact that the institutions or concepts themselves are in the process of formation.
In cases when the term is transparent or semantically motivated, the tendency is to opt for a literal translation (Community law, Green Paper: право на Общността, Зелената книга)
There are instances of description of the terms, as in collecting society rendered as организация за колективно управление на права.
The term Acquis Communautaire itself has still not found a definite translational equivalent in the Bulgarian language. So far it has been translated in several different ways: европейско законодателство, европейски изисквания, европейски стандарти and even европейското Acquis as a combination of Bulgarian and French, perhaps owing to the pejorative analogy that might arise if it were written in Cyrillic(with the Bulgarian word meaning excrement).
4. Use of loan words in cases with or without a corresponding term of Slavic origin.
In some instances, the borrowed term is freely used, since it has permanently entered the Bulgarian language, albeit through a different knowledge field: e.g. software, hardware, interface, audiovisual, digital, marketing (софтуеър, хардуеър, итерфейс, аудиовизуален, дигитален, маркетинг).
...and where appropriate, physical interconnection and interaction is required to permit all elements of software and hardware to work with other software and hardware and with users in all the ways in which they are intended to function…
Council Directive 91/250/EEC
...а където е уместно, и механична взаимовръзка и взаимодействие, за да се позволи на всички елементи от софтуера и хардуера да сработят с друг софтуер и хардуер и с ползвателите по всички начини, за които те са предназначени да функционират...
Although such borrowings are orthographically atypical for the Bulgarian language and do not form derivatives easily, they have now become part of everyday communication. Sometimes with borrowings, two terms appear in the source language. Such is the case with the term board of directors, translated in Bulgarian either as the loan translation борд на директорите, or as the paraphrase управителен съвет. The official term is the latter one, but both are used interchangeably, especially in spoken language.
Other loan words are rendered either directly or through a literal translation. Examples from the corpus are: on-line/off-line transmission - on-line/off-line предаване or пряка и непряка форма на предаване. Several such inconsistencies are observed in the Bulgarian translation. Other examples are piracy - translated either as пиратство (transcription) or неправомерно ползване (definition) and beneficiaries translated as бенефициенти (transcription) or ползващи се (definition). Some English terms in the directives have not found their way into the Bulgarian text, e.g. back-up copy (резервно копие), since back-up cannot be used attributively in Bulgarian.
5. Semantic deviation of words belonging to international lexis or faux amis.
The neologism декомпилация is resorted to in the Bulgarian text for the term decompilation perhaps because it is felt to be the antonym of компилация (compilation), a word established in the Bulgarian language. Some terms considered to be part of international vocabulary have not been used in the Bulgarian translation. Such an example is: cable retransmission (кабелно препредаване).
Member States shall ensure that the right of copyright owners and holders or related rights to grant or refuse authorization to a cable operator for a cable retransmission may be exercised only through a collecting society.
Article 9, Council Directive 93/83/EEC
Държавите-членки гарантират, че собствениците на авторско право и носителите на сродни права могат да предоставят или отказват разрешение на кабелен оператор за кабелно препредаване само чрез организация за колективно управление на права.
This can be explained by the fact that трансмисия (transmission) is mainly used in its mechanical sense in Bulgarian as the transference of force between machines or mechanisms and not in the sense of transmission of information. Another example: възпроизвеждане for reproduction, since репродукция in Bulgarian has the meaning of art reproduction and not the denotation of the word as used in the directives. Yet another example is производител for manufacturer, since манифактура is felt to be dated and reminiscent of the time of the Industrial Revolution. One of the most glaring examples of semantic deviation is the translation of public as публика. The word in Bulgarian means audience and the correct rendition is общество or общественост.
6. Latin or French words
Bulgarian legal language does not display proclivity to use direct Latin or French words as is the case with English legal language. Thus, phrases such as vis-à-vis, mutatis mutandis, sui generis, inter alia, that appear in the English text are rendered with their translation (respectively: по отношение на, със съответните изменения, специално, между другото):
Article 13 (4) and (5) of Directive 92/100/EEC shall apply mutatis mutandis.
Article 7, Council Directive93/83/EEC
Член 13 /4/ и /5/ на Директива 92/100/ЕИО се прилага със съответните изменения.
Again we observe some inconsistencies in the Bulgarian translation - in one case mutatis mutandis appears in the Bulgarian text and sui generis in brackets after the respective Bulgarian term. We consider these examples as oversight on the part of the translator.
Member States may also provide that this paragraph shall apply mutatis mutandis to the rights included in Chapter II.
Council Directive 92/100/EEC
Държавите-членки могат да предвидят, че тази алинея ще се прилага mutatis mutandis към правата, включени в глава II.
Whereas the object of this sui generis right is to ensure protection of any investment…
Council Directive 96/9/EEC
Като се има предвид, че целта на това особено право (sui generis) е да осигури закрила на всяка инвестиция...
7. Influence of past semantics
Despite findings by some researchers from Eastern Europe (cf. Veisbergs 2001), I have not yet come across any instances of past semantics hindering the adoption of a loan word or the non-use of a Bulgarian word due to its past connotation and connection with former totalitarian regimes. The word Directive itself is something that should ring such bells, having been overused in socialist times. Obviously it has undergone a motivated shift of content and is at present employed freely in relation to the institutional discourse of the European Union.
Several other erroneous renditions need mentioning. The use of two Bulgarian terms for one and the same concept: e.g. копие and екземпляр for the English copy. Non-observance of the conceptual system of the field under codification, thus превеждане for translation is not adequate since преобразуване is the term employed in information technology (Article 4 (b), Council Directive 91/250/EEC), wrong plural form: законите и практиките (instead of практиката) for the laws and practices, съдържанията на тази база данни for the contents of that database - an obvious interference from the English text.
And finally, I would like to point out words or expressions that I expected to be translated incorrectly due to linguistic interference, the phenomenon of false friends, or just plain oversight on the part of the translators. For instance the underlined terms in the following excerpts:
.whereas this Directive does not affect the exercise of moral rights;
...като се има предвид, че тази Директива не засяга упражняването на неимуществени права
Council Directive 93/83/EEC, Preamble (28)
…it is necessary to ensure that the negotiations are not blocked without valid justification
… че преговорите няма да бъдат блокирани без сериозно основание …
Council Directive 93/83/EEC,
Preamble (30)
…Whereas for a transitional period Member States should be allowed to retain existing bodies with jurisdiction in their territory over cases where…
…Като се има предвид, че за определен преходен период на държавите членки трябва да се разреши да запазят съществуващите органи, които са компетентни на своя територия по случаите, в които …
Council Directive 93/83/EEC, Preamble (31)
Contrary to expectations, they were rendered correctly in Bulgarian and the translators were not misled by the words valid, moral, jurisdiction which exist in the Bulgarian language but would have been highly inappropriate in the above cases.
Conclusions regarding the specific translation situation
In analyzing the felicitousness of the translation choices several factors come into play. The first and perhaps, the most important one, is the specificity of the pair of languages between which the translation is carried out. If they are structurally and semantically related, there is a much greater likelihood to transfer the same structural and semantic characteristics from one to the other. In the case of the present analysis, the relatedness between English and Bulgarian is their shared analytism, which is too broad a similarity to provide help in coping with specific translation difficulties.
Another factor is the type of text: legislation requires as exact and faithful a translation as possible in order to convey the intent of the legislative body, in this case the European Parliament.
The cultural context in which the text is consumed is also of importance. Whether a unified and shared European culture exists is still disputable and hazy, and anyhow the Bulgarian cultural context has to be taken into account. Norms of translation are quite different in different cultures at different times. At present the target Bulgarian culture demonstrates a marked tolerance to foreign elements in translation due to the large number of translations that have been done in the past decade or so connected with the ongoing process of social, political, economic and legal integration in Europe. The general translation strategies prevalent at a certain time can influence the discourse patterns in the receiving culture particularly by varieties of language that are being introduced for the first time, such as the new European legal discourse that is analysed in the present study.
Harmonization of terminology is a matter of great urgency for Bulgaria in the process of accession. Currently, there is great instability in Bulgarian legal terminology. New terms are coined rather indiscriminately without regard to uniformity even in one and the same legal instrument. For instance, regulation is translated in various Bulgarian legal documents in the following seven ways: закон, правило, устав, инструкция, наредба, постановление, разпореждане. Terms are not evaluated according to the conceptual system of the particular field under codification. There is a process of replacement of Bulgarian terms due to the demand of international lexis and a marked shift of content of some native words under the influence of the languages in contact. All these considerations are extremely important in adopting a felicitous approach when translating European legislative texts.

Ferreri 2005: S. Ferreri. The Drafting of Statutes: a Difficult Task Especially Across Borders. In Pozzo, Brabara (ed). Ordinary Language and Legal Language. Milano: Dott. A. Giuffre Editore SpA.
Jacobs 1995: R. Jacobs. English Syntax: a Grammar for English Language Professionals. OUP.
Pigeon 1988: L-P. Pigeon Drafting and Interpreting Legislation. Toronto: Carswell.
Veisbergs 2001: A. Veisbergs. Latvian Legal Language – The Fourth Transition of the 20th Century. In Mayer, Felix (ed.) Language for Special Purposes: Perspectives for the New Millennium, vol. 2. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 623-629.

1With other international bodies the term is implementation, within the EU context it is transposition
2In Bulgarian, ще is more purely a future marker than will in English.