Invitation to the public defense of Heleen van Gerwen’s doctoral dissertation: “All citizens are expected to know the law”

Heleen van Gerwen is pleased to announce the public defense of her doctoral thesis

« Tous les citoyens sont censés connaître la loi » : étude des pratiques de traduction et de transfert dans le domaine juridique belge (1830-1914) 

[“All citizens are expected to know the law”: study of translation and transfer practices in the Belgian legal domain (1830-1914)]

Monday 2 September 2019
2:30 pm, room B422
KU Leuven Campus Kulak Kortrijk
Etienne Sabbelaan 53, 8500 Kortrijk, Belgium
Please confirm your attendance before 23 August via

“This PhD is part of the interdisciplinary research project Emergence and evolution of translation policies in Belgium (1830-1914): An interdisciplinary inquiry into multilingual citizenship, which aims to answer the questions related to the three pillars of translation policy, i.e. translation management, translation practices and translation beliefs. While the questions concerning management and beliefs will be answered by the two other PhD researchers involved in this project, this study focuses on the translation and transfer practices that were the outcome of official regulations and the practices that resulted from initiatives taken independently. The main research questions are: Which official Belgian documents were translated and how? Did translation techniques change over the course of the 19th century? How did practices relate to legal provisions about language and translation? In what circumstances did transfer procedures replace translation proper?

This study of legal translation practices addresses for the first time the wide range of translation and transfer strategies and techniques in a systematic way, going from translation proper, i.e. a full substitute of the French source text, to bilingual versions that retain the source text, which may encourage a comparison of the translation with its original. In addition, transfer techniques such as partial translation, summary and paraphrase of laws and administrative decisions, are taken into account. The translations are studied from a textual-comparative viewpoint that keeps an explicit link with managerial and ideological aspects, such as legal changes, changes in the organization of official translation and changes in views on language and translation.

The corpus of translations consists of three categories: official, semi-official and non-official translations. At the official level, we studied legal translations published in bilingual government bulletins, i.e. the Bulletin officiel / Staetsblad, the Recueil des lois et arrêtés royaux / Verzameling der wetten en koninklijke besluiten and the Moniteur belge / Staatsblad. To this group of centrally made legal translations, we added translations of legislative, administrative and doctrinal texts that were produced on the personal initiative of jurists and officials. At the semi-official level, we studied translations of the Civil Code and of the Constitution; At the non-official level, we analyzed translations and transferred texts of laws, decrees and Parliamentary proceedings as they occurred in Flemish journals.

Our study shows that the main function of Flemish legal translations was to provide access to legislation for Flemish citizens. However, our analyses have revealed that the idea of access was interpreted and executed in different ways by the three types of legal translators. These different interpretations manifest themselves in the various forms and functions of Flemish legal translations: Official translations concerned new legislation and administrative decisions, were always published in bilingual editions and constituted literal versions of the French source text; Semi-official translations comprised a wide array of legal genres and texts, were included in both bilingual and monolingual editions and also adopted other forms such as commentaries, treatises and handbooks on legal and administrative topics; Non-official translations were hardly ever full translations, but mainly concerned paraphrases and summaries of legislation and Parliamentary proceedings.

In this particular context of 19th-century Belgium, characterized by linguistic and social inequality between the Flemish and French-speaking citizens, Flemish legal translations also played a role in the emergence and the fostering of democratic and liberal ideals, mainly those related to political and legal transparency, linguistic justice, participatory citizenship and equality in a multilingual nation. Finally, Flemish legal translators also endeavored to contribute to the development of a Flemish legal language and culture : translational choices were regularly the object of debate among jurists and linguists, and bilingual legal glossaries were often added to translations.”

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