Translating Inheritance Law in the EU

July 3, 2019 5:50 pm

All 24 official languages in the EU have the same status. EU law and other legislative texts have to be published in all official languages. In practice, these are translations, but they stand as original documents. Considered sui generis by some scholars, legal translation in EU institutions is an area that has attracted a great deal of academic interest.

Marta Rubio Ortega wrote her PhD thesis titled Translating Legal Concepts from Inheritance Law in the EU: an Analysis of Regulation No 650/2012 on the translation of legal concepts in EU inheritance legislation from English into Spanish. She analysed Regulation No 650/2012, which was the only piece of EU legislation on inheritance in force at the time of writing.

Even though all language versions of EU legislative texts are regarded as original, Regulation No 650/2012 was first drafted in English. For this reason, she treated the English version of the document as the source text and the Spanish version as the target text. Her study is interdisciplinary because it concerns two academic disciplines: comparative law and translation studies.

In her work, the first four chapters situate Regulation No 650/2012 through a comparative analysis of inheritance law between the legal system of England and Wales and that of Spain. A subsequent chapter examines the social context in which the translation was produced. It analyses the EU’s language policy as well as its efforts towards harmonising legal language.

A sizable portion of her thesis is dedicated to a literature review of works on translation studies applied to legal language and a translation analysis of the regulation. In her empirical study, she identified 34 specialised concepts from the field of inheritance law and the English and Spanish terms used in the document to designate such concepts. Subsequently, she verified whether these were treated in compliance with the Joint Practical Guide for drafting EU legislation.

Her study concludes that Regulation No 650/2012 does not comply with article 5.3 of the Joint Practical Guide, as it contains terms specific to the legal cultures of Member States—the UK and Spain in this case. This regulation also contravenes article 6.3 of the Joint Practical Guide, which specifies that terminology for legal concepts should be used consistently. Both versions of the regulation, especially the Spanish version, include several variants to designate the same concept. For instance, ‘administrator of the estate’ and ‘executor of the will’ were translated into Spanish as legítima and legitimario. Another example of terminological inconsistency is the translation of ‘persons entitled to a reserved share’ as both legitimario and herederos forzosos.

Access the full text of Marta’s thesis (only in Spanish) to learn more about legal translation in the EU. Visit our repository of theses and articles for more interesting reads on EU terminology.


Written by Santiago Chambó — Schuman trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. His research interests include Terminology Management, Knowledge Representation and Environmental Sciences. He wants the EU to lead the way in ecosystem restoration and degrowth policies.

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