Scholarly article on topic 'Acquis Communautaire as Supranational Legal Texts and their Interlingual Reproduction across Multilingual Europe'

Acquis Communautaire as Supranational Legal Texts and their Interlingual Reproduction across Multilingual Europe Academic research paper on "Law"

Share paper
OECD Field of science
{"Multilingual texts" / "pan-European communication" / "EU texts" / "EU translation" / "institutional translation" / paradoxes}

Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Klaudia Bednárová-Gibová

Abstract This conceptual paper examines EU institutional-legal texts as a rich repository of theoretical problems, using a synergy of linguistic and translatological approaches. The paper aims to promote awareness of EU supranational texts’ complexities, drawing on the concepts of ‘hybrid’/‘reproduced’/‘horizontal’ texts resulting in ‘language matrices’/‘mirror images’ in a multilingual communication in the EU. The paper suggests that EU texts take the form of ‘self-translation’ and interlingual imitation with broken expectancy norms of national recipients (including Slovaks) and require the source-oriented approach. Paradoxes conveying the workings of EU texts, their multilingual translation and supranational legal interpretation are also formulated.

Academic research paper on topic "Acquis Communautaire as Supranational Legal Texts and their Interlingual Reproduction across Multilingual Europe"

Available online at


Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 236 (2016) 161 - 167

International Conference on Communication in Multicultural Society, CMSC 2015, 6-8 December

2015, Moscow, Russian Federation

Acquis communautaire as supranational legal texts and their interlingual reproduction across multilingual Europe

Klaudia Bednárová-Gibová*

Presov University, ul. 17. Novembra 1, Presov 08078, Slovak Republic


This conceptual paper examines EU institutional-legal texts as a rich repository of theoretical problems, using a synergy of linguistic and translatological approaches. The paper aims to promote awareness of EU supranational texts' complexities, drawing on the concepts of 'hybrid'/'reproduced'/'horizontal' texts resulting in 'language matrices'/'mirror images' in a multilingual communication in the EU. The paper suggests that EU texts take the form of 'self-translation' and interlingual imitation with broken expectancy norms of national recipients (including Slovaks) and require the source-oriented approach. Paradoxes conveying the workings of EU texts, their multilingual translation and supranational legal interpretation are also formulated.

© 2016 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute). Keywords: Multilingual texts; pan-European communication; EU texts; EU translation; institutional translation; paradoxes

1. Introduction

The acquis communautaire texts, also known as EU institutional-legal texts (hereafter referred to as 'EU documents'/'EU texts'), are supranational legal documents drafted against the backdrop of socio-cultural differences among the individual Member States of the European Union. This accounts for their specific attributes which have to be considered in their multilingual translation in order to enable communication in a pan-European world. In their nature, EU documents are serious legal instruments which are transposed into national legislations of the pertinent

* Corresponding author. Tel.: 00421-51-75-70-837. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute). doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.12.058

Member States. The translation of the acquis communautaire for all candidate countries prior to their accession to the EU constitutes the most momentous translation project ever materialized in the history of specialized translation. Prior to the 2004 and 2007 enlargements of the European Union, all candidate countries were obliged to translate the whole body of EU legislation into their mother tongues, which represented almost 90,000 and 120,000 pages respectively (Bednarova-Gibova, 2015, p. 43). These figures make the acquis translation an unparalleled record in specialized translation and testify to the immensity of the pan-European translational culture.

Even if EU translation has been practised by translators in the EU institutions for a long time, very little theoretical work was produced by the mid-2000s. However, over the past decade, the EU translation theory has turned into one of the most dynamically evolving fields of specialized translation (see Kang, 2011; Ramos, 2014; Bednarova-Gibova, 2015; Sarcevic, 2015). Current research avenues in this field are based on methodological eclecticism and fuse methods of comparative law, sociology of translation and critical discourse analysis in a transdisciplinary manner.

The aim of this conceptual paper is to delineate EU texts as specific supranational legal documents and shed some light on the workings of institutional translation using new insights of text linguistics and translation studies. The subject is complicated as it entails an exploration of many linguistic, legal and translatological issues in a multilingual setting. Considering this, the following research questions arise: In what reside particularities of EU texts during their interlingual reproduction in the multilingual environment and what consequences do they have for translators? How are the particularities of EU translation manifested in its reception?

A synthesis of linguistic-translatological theorems and interpretative explanations are used to show how institutional discourse accomplishes its practices on a theoretical level and what makes EU texts and their translation a sui generis production. Even if the design of the present paper is conceptual, it makes use of the examples sourced from the corpus below to support my claims when deemed proper. The data underlying this paper are selected by the method of a contrastive textual analysis comprising English and Slovak language versions of the EU texts. The following primary texts are included to this end: Regulations (EU) of the European Parliament and of the Council No 1311/2011, 2015/940 and 2015/941. All legislative texts were downloaded from the EUR-Lex database available at: They represent one common legal text sort of the acquis, i.e. regulations which are binding in all their parts and have a direct legal effect in all Member States.

The substance of this paper is divided into four parts. Firstly, I will pay heed to EU texts as a truly specific text genre, secondly I will unveil the gist of institutional translation and its implications for translators. Next, I will formulate paradoxes concerning EU texts, their translation and interpretation, which convey its true essence. Having the research questions in mind, I will finally move on to critical reception of EU translation.

2. EU texts as a pan-European text genre

Translatological particularities of EU texts cannot be established without approximating them as a specific text genre first. Hence, this is my springboard for the conceptual probe into institutional translation. EU texts may be interpreted as follows:

1. Hybrid texts (Trosborg, 1997; Schaffner and Adab, 1997) as a result of translation process within internationalization/Europeanization comprising features which are 'strange or out-of-place' for the receiving culture in lexis, syntax and/or stylistics. For illustration, consider the following Slovak language version of the English EU text where it feels very unnatural to have a hypertrophic accumulation of the relative conjunction "ktore" syntactically:

"Provision should be made for the Commission, assisted by the Committee established by Article 285 of Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council (6), to adopt the Regulations opening and providing for the administration of tariff quotas which might be granted as a result of negotiations on further tariff concessions pursuant to Article 29 of the SAA." (Regulation EU 2015/941- EN version)

"Malo by sa zabezpecit', aby Komisia, ktorej pomaha vybor zriadeny clankom 285 nariadenia Europskeho parlamentu a Rady (EU) c. 952/2013 (6), prijala nariadenia, ktore otvaraju a stanovuju spravu colnych kvot,

ktore by sa mohli poskytnut ako vysledok rokovani o d'alsich colnych koncesiach podl'a clanku 29 SAD." (Nariadenie EU 2015/941- SK version)

2. Reproduced texts (Kjaer, 2015) / linguistic precedents (McAuliffe, 2009) which are not based on the semantics of a source text, but on 'linguistic precedent', that is, the surface level of the wording of prior texts and parallel texts. This means that EU translators are required to consult reference documents and their existing translations in EUR-Lex and check terminology in the EU databases (e.g. IATE and DGT's in-house glossary). In the texts under analysis, Regulation (EU) 2015/940 may be taken for a linguistic precedent of Regulation (EU) 2015/941 because it has its wording in certain paragraphs.

3. Language matrices (Gibova, 2010) / mirror images (Sosoni, 2012) where the template-like or mirror-imagelike nature of EU texts is a consequence of the institutional standardization of their form and language, which is manifested in the creation of a homogenous discourse by the use of identical means of the language inventory in the target language, i.e. by imitating (English) originals. This may be exemplified by the following interlingual comparison:

"Interim payments and payments of the final balance shall be calculated by applying the co-financing rate laid down in the decision on the operational programme concerned for each priority axis to the eligible expenditure indicated under that priority axis in each statement of expenditure certified by the certifying authority." (Regulation No 1311/2011-EN version)

"Priebezne platby a zaverecna platba sa vypocitaju tak, ze podiel spolufinancovania stanoveny v rozhodnuti o dotknutom operacnom programe pre kazdu prioritnu os sa uplatni na opravnene vydavky uvedene v ramci tejto prioritnej osi v kazdom vykaze vydavkov certifikovanom certifikacnym organom." (Nariadenie c. 1311/2011 - SK version)

4. Horizontal texts which have the same meaning (Robertson, 2012), i.e. one can step inside any language version of an EU text and consider it exclusively from the point of view of being one text in a sea of other legal texts expressed in that same language code (English, French, German etc.)

It ought to be noted, though, that Robertson's interpretation is in need of critical examination because having recourse to major semantic theories, especially to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the interpretation of meaning is always language specific. Thus, it is not feasible to map out the source language network of concepts on the target language network with utter precision. Moreover, as argued by Gizbert-Studnicki, legal registers incorporate language-specific legal views of the world. On top of everything, EU multilingualism is even more intricate in the sense that it incorporates the supranational pan-European view of the world resulting from the country-specific perspectives of the Member States (Biel, 2014, p. 61). Hence, at least the identical legal effect (emphasis added) ought to be achieved in this sort of translation.

3. EU texts as an institutional translation

Having determined textual specifics of EU multilingual documents, their translatological gist and particularities may be addressed now. EU translation epitomizes an illuminating example of institutional translation which has grown into a translational culture of its own. The concept of institutional translation refers to those cases when an official body (in our case a supranational organization, be it the European Parliament or European Commission) uses translation as a means of addressing a particular audience (i.e. the Member States) by stipulating their rights and obligations.

Significantly, in institutional translation, the institution is typically the author of both the source text and its translation(s), which is not a quotidian situation in translation practice. Therefore, institutional translation is 'self-translation' (Koskinen, 2008, p. 24) because the institution is de facto translating itself. In institutional translation it is often vital, symbolically or on practical grounds, to preserve the different versions of a particular legal document, ensuring they are equally authentic for the purpose of interpretation. Here, the skopos (in the sense of communicative

function) of the source text and its translation remains a constant: although the different language versions of an EU document are levelled at manifold recipients (i.e. Member States), the authorial intention of the law-maker remains the same. Hence the need for keeping up the 'legal fiction' that multilingual legislation is concurrently drafted in all official languages. Although EU texts may be held as translations in a genetic sense, they no longer function as such, and in this regard 'authenticated' translations are akin to self-translations or auto-translations.

In the institutional environment, the translator becomes part of a "situated institutional practice that has become routinized and habituated over time" (Kang, 2011, p. 144). The institutional approach assumes that translators make conscious choices to adjust their translations in the sense of making the translation serve the purpose of the translating institution, acting as its agents. In order to rationalize EU translation, EU documents are subject to extensive formulaicity as well as standardization. Adherence to pre-determined conventions makes for one of the primal translation quality criteria. According to Ramos (Ramos, 2014, p. 314) maximum precision due to achieving semantic unambiguity, formal interlinguistic concordance, harmonization of terminology, intra- and intertextual consistency make for the key requirements imposed on EU translation. For this reason, EU translators are required to comply with a number of guidelines and style guides (e.g. Joint Practical Guide, Manual of Precedents for Acts established within the Council of the European Union, Inter-institutional Style Guide etc.), the IATE terminological database, EU glossaries and the EUR-Lex law database. These resources and institutional norms are designed to ensure terminological consistency, uniform institutional style and textual patterns with a minimum degree of variation. In this way, the EU institutions regulate and control the language and format of the source texts and target texts. This results in the mirror-image-like nature of EU texts comparable to the translation of language matrices filled with particular language content. Therefore, A.L. Kjaer (2015, p. 93), a Danish legal expert, sees EU translation not as a translation in the strict sense of a word, but as "interlingual reproduction of hybrid texts into twenty-four official languages." In my view, however, this thought-provoking interpretation of EU translation should be treated with caution because it could imply that EU translation, due to its pre-determined nature, is no translation at all, which is patently not true.

Furthermore, it may be presupposed that the EU institutions' translation policy significantly affect translators' choice of strategies and leave a mark on the language employed in their documents. The policy of the EU multilingualism is linked with literal translation strategies, both at the terminological and syntactic levels, to ensure uniform interpretation of the legal intent (see Bednárová-Gibová, 2015, p. 27). Based on my research, I argue that EU law requires the source-oriented rather than receiver-oriented approach (ibid). Even though this translation strategy is not identical with word-for-word translation, it intimates an avoidance of cultural adaptation, which is otherwise common in intercultural translation. In institutional translation, literal equivalents are believed to warrant the same message to all text recipients: "there is a clear, albeit unwritten, preference for surface-level similarity, which is assumed to guarantee that readers of the various translations get the same message" (Koskinen, 2000, p. 54). At the terminological level, literal translation is backed up by supranational terms (e.g. subsidiarity) that reflect efforts to find a common ground in the supranational setting. At the syntactic level, literal translation may be supported by a more straightforward language of hybrid texts (Garzone, 2000, p. 6). All the above shape and mould institutional translation and its norms.

4. Particularities of EU translation

Moving onwards, particularities of EU translation will now be unveiled in the form of three paradoxes of EU translation which convey its essence, but also intricacies at the same time.

4.1. The diversity paradox

In the EU institutions there is an apparent contradiction between, on the one hand, the use of English as a lingua franca, which should lead to lesser linguistic diversity, including the decrease in the volume of translator's work, and on the other, increased use of translation, which should produce greater linguistic diversity. The paradox is that both these tendencies are occurring at the same time (Pym, 2001). According to the latest statistics, English is currently used in almost 80% of all drafted documents. In 2014, more than 2, 300 000 pages were translated in the EU institutions (Ramos, 2014, p. 327).

4.2. Paradox of the equal authenticity of EU texts and their translations

None of the twenty-four language versions of EU texts have the status of the original nor translation in line with the official EU language policy. There is a certain fluidity between the source text and target text: the source text is recycled, it may become translation which may then function as a source text in transcoding into other languages. This means that the traditional definitions of the source text and target text do not hold true in the EU setting. Instead of a sharply defined contrast source text vs. translation one is confronted here with a tangle of mutually intertwined language versions of a particular legal document (Gibová, 2010, p. 48-50).

4.3. Paradox of EU law, its interpretation and autonomous concepts

There is a contradiction between multilingual and multicultural character of EU law and the premise about autonomy of EU concepts, based on the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which are semantically independent from the national legal systems. However, according to Engberg (Engberg, 2015, p. 177178), seen through the lens of legal culture, this is only 'legal fiction' because EU concepts expressed in the national language will necessarily be interpreted according to the national legal culture and therefore cannot be autonomous. For example, intercreditor and veritel' could hardly be interpreted as one and the same concept due to the different cultural background of the term in the two different national languages. Distinctive cultural perceptions in national languages cannot be ruled out, which means that autonomy of concepts is problematic.

As supranational terminology is still under development, EU terminology and national terminologies are in a constant interplay. Therefore, conceptual osmosis of terms may be observed because terms move between the EU context and national context in both directions (Biel, 2014, p. 66). This means that supranational EU terms penetrate into national legal systems and vice versa (e.g. regulation as an EU concept vs. smernica as a Slovak concept).

The paradox under discussion is also intriguing in the sense that it opens up a question, which has been dealt with by theoreticians of comparative law for almost two decades, i.e. if it is possible to create a common European legal language despite divergent national legal languages and cultures? In my view, this is already happening due to using English as a lingua franca in the EU institutions. Granted, this has implications for translation because in this environment it is becoming a creator of a modern European legal communication.

5. Critical reception of EU translation

According to Toury's definition, translation may be taken for a norm-governed activity (qtd. in Koskinen, 2008, p. 147). That said, translations should fulfil communication norms by optimising communication between the ST author(s) and TT recipients. The communication norms are subordinate to expectancy norms which comprise the TT recipients' expectations as to translations and corresponding native texts. Thus, expectancy norms are decisive for a degree of divergence that TT recipients are capable of tolerating (Chesterman, 1993, p. 8-10).

Turning our attention to the EU texts under investigation, an influx of Euro-language is manifested in new buzzwords (e.g. additionality, structural funds, dumping, acquaculture, conditionalities) and tortuous syntactic structures leading to sentences stretching over several lines (see Article 13 of the Regulation No. 1311/2011). Stylistic deficiencies marked by text redundancies (see also Article 13 of the same Regulation) and features unnatural for national languages (e.g. hypertrophy of conjunctions in Slovak), increase the foreignness of EU texts and the distance between the TL version and its recipients. With regard to the new buzzwords, Glanert (2008, p. 163) observes that this new EU terminology triggers off "a semantic earthquake" in the national languages of the Member States. In this manner, national legal traditions are bound to vanish in the process of the harmonization of EU law. On these grounds, it does not come as a surprise that these negative linguistic tendencies resulted into campaigns such as KISS (Keep It Short and Simple), Fight the FOG and more recently the Clear Writing Campaign, commenced by EU translators who were concerned that the European Union's message was not getting across to the general public because it was obscured by foggy language (Bednárová-Gibová, 2015, p. 49).

It is thus evident that EU translations have failed to meet the expectancy norms of national recipients across multilingual Europe, including Slovaks. With multilingual Eurospeak, "each national language is forced into an

unnatural format" (Koskinen, 2000, p. 55). There is a chasm between expectancy norms and constraints that EU translators are tied up with when translating EU multilingual law. Considering multilingualism-related restrictions and the complex conceptual network of supranational law, the animadversion directed at translators (except for critical errors made) is not always justified, though. It is more often than not forgotten that EU translators form part of a gigantic machinery, where their language is not individual but is heavily controlled. Consequently, their translation is not a personal act but a collective expression with a limited responsibility. Any attempts to castigate EU translators mirror one's insufficient knowledge about the specificities of EU translation. As aptly noted by Dollerup (2001, p. 285), "EU translations are sometimes accused of being poor and [...] the texts are assessed by criteria which do not really apply."

The debatable quality of EU translations is sometimes ascribed to the mediocre quality of drafting (Tosi, 2002, p. 186). This may also be caused by non-native speakers of English and French who draft the majority of documents, as well as native speakers who work in the institutional setting and face "some erosion of their ability to write their mother tongue" (Wagner et al, 2002, p. 76). In some quarters, the lower quality of EU translations is attributed to the choice of translation procedures rather than the deficiency of translators' skills (Tosi, 2002, p. 188). In my research, I confirmed the prevalence of direct translation procedures over oblique ones, which leads to foreignization in the target EU texts (see Bednarova-Gibova, 2015, p. 99-101). In my view, the poorer quality of EU translations has also been caused, apart from the above factors, by no established equivalents of EU terms, underdeveloped quality assurance in the initial stage after the post-accession period, time constraints and the overall specificity of EU language. The peculiarities of EU texts are also a consequence of their hybridity as they fuse many national legal systems, languages and cultures. The hybridity of EU language results in a perpetual interplay between national and supranational elements in translation. To reconcile these forces, EU language ought to be conceived of as a multilingual legal language materialized in particular legal varieties of the national languages with an entwined conceptual system.

6. Conclusion

To sum up, this paper has offered characteristics of EU texts and their particularities. These reside in their predetermined language conventions by the EU institutions. This requires the source-oriented approach on the part of translators, which suggests the use of literal translation strategies in order to ensure uniform interpretation of the legal intent in multilingual legislation. Translators also have to adjust their translations to supranational needs. A closer look at EU texts and their translation reveals that there are certain paradoxes between multilingual law, translation and autonomous EU concepts. The singularity of EU translation is also enhanced by their legal, cultural and linguistic hybridity and the presence of non-native speakers in the drafting process. The quality of EU translations is not absolute because it is contingent on national recipients' expectations in the Member States. As it has been demonstrated, broken expectancy norms lead to criticism of EU translators. However, what is overlooked, is that their target text production is subject to restrictions due to a number of EU guidelines. This should significantly change our perception of EU texts. The implications of this paper are that 1) EU texts typify sui generis legal documents and they call for a separate theoretical approach within legal linguistics as well as legal translation; 2) I suggest that EU translation be approached as an interlingual imitation of the source text due to achieving interlinguistic concordance in all official languages of the EU, which leads to 'hybrid'/'reproduced texts' or 'mirror images'/'horizontal texts' with the same legal effect. The contribution of this paper lies in its clarifying some linguistic-translatological complexities of the acquis communautaire. It also provides some food for thought for deeper empirical analyses of selected issues in legal linguistics.


This paper is part of the KEGA 007PU-4/2015 Virtual interactive encyclopaedic English-Slovak and Slovak-English dictionary of general linguistics and KEGA 030PU-4/2014 English Stylistics (Discourse Analysis) a Blended-Learning Course research grant projects.


Bednárová-Gibová, K. (2015). Towards an understanding of EU translation. Presov: Faculty of Arts of the University of Presov.

Biel, L. (2014). Lost in the Euro-Fog. The textual fit of translated law. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Chesterman, A. (1993). From 'Is' to 'Ought': laws, norms and strategies in translation studies. Target, 1, 1-20.

Dollerup, C. (2001). Complexities of EU language work. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 4, 271-292.

Engberg, J. (2015). Autonomous EU concepts: fact or fiction? In S. Sarcevic (Ed.), Language and culture in EU law: multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 169-181). Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Garzone, G. (2000). Legal translation and functionalist approaches. A contradiction of terms? URL: (accessed on 30.10.2015).

Glanert, S. (2008). Speaking language to law: the case of Europe. Legal Studies, 2, 161-171.

Gibová, K. (2010). O preklade anglickych právnych textov EÚ. Lingvisticko-translatologická analyza [On translation of English EU legal texts. A linguistic-translatological analysis]. Presov: Vydavatel'stvo Presovskej univerzity.

Kjaer, A.L. (2015). Theoretical aspects of legal translation in the EU: the paradoxical relationship between language, translation and the autonomy of EU law. In S.Sarcevic (Ed.), Language and culture in the EU: multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 91-108). Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Kang, J.-H. (2011). Institutional translation. In M. Baker and G. Saldanha (Eds.), Routledge encyclopedia of translation studies (pp. 141-145). New York: Routledge.

Koskinen, K. (2000). Institutional illusions. Translating in the EU Commission. The Translator, 1, 49-65.

Koskinen, K. (2008). Translating institutions. An ethnographic study of EU translation. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

McAuliffe, K. (2009). Translation at the Court of Justice of the European Communities. In F. Olsen et al. (Eds.), Translation issues in language and law (pp. 99-115). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pym, A. (2001). Translation and international institutions. Explaining the diversity paradox. URL: (accessed on 15.11.2015).

Ramos, F.P. (2014). International and supranational law in translation: from multilingual lawmaking to adjudication. The Translator, 3, 313-331. URL: (accessed on November 15, 2015).

Robertson, C. (2012). The problem of meaning in multilingual EU legal texts. International Journal of Law, Language & Discourse, 1, 1-30.

Schaffner, C., and Adab, B. (1997). Translation as intercultural communication - contact as conflict. In M. Snell-Hornby et al. (Eds.), Translation as intercultural communication (pp. 325-338). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Sosoni, V. (2012). A hybrid translation theory for EU texts. Vertimo Studijos, 5, 76-89.

Sarcevic, S. (2015) (Ed.). Language and culture in EU law: multidisciplinary perspectives. Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Tosi, A. (2002). The Europeanization of the Italian language by the European Union. In A. Lepschy and A. Tosi (Eds.), Multilingualism in Italy past and present (pp. 170-194). Oxford: Legenda.

Trosborg, A. (1997). Translating hybrid political texts. In A. Trosborg (Ed.), Text typology and translation (pp. 145-158). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wagner, E. et al. (2002). Translating for the European institutions. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.