Interview with Lucja Biel

Interview with Łucja Biel

Łucja Biel is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw, Poland. She was a Visiting Lecturer for the MA in Legal Translation at City University London from 2009 to 2014. She is a deputy editor of the Journal of Specialised Translation and a Secretary General of the European Society for Translation Studies.  She has been an English-Polish legal and business translator since 1997. She holds an MA in English/TS (Jagiellonian University of Kraków), PhD in Linguistics (University of Gdańsk), Diploma in English and EU Law (University of Cambridge) and School of American Law diploma (Chicago-Kent School of Law and UG). Her research interests focus on legal translation, translator training and corpus linguistics. She has published nearly 50 papers in this area, e.g. in The Translator, Perspectives, Meta, JoSTrans, Fachsprache and a book Lost in the Eurofog. The Textual Fit of Translated Law (Peter Lang, 2014).


  1. You are an Associate Professor at the Institute of Applied Linguistics in Warsaw. Is terminology taught in Polish universities? Do students show an interest for it?

Poland is a vibrant place as regards translation and terminology — there is a boom in research and translator training activity at Polish universities. As far as I know, terminology is rarely taught as a separate subject; it tends to be integrated with practical translation workshops. At the Institute of Applied Linguistics in Warsaw, the oldest and largest translator training institution in Poland, we believe that terminology knowledge, research and management are basics of translation competence and they are trained during translation modules, CAT tools classes and through project-based learning. We have separate modules for various types of translation — legal, EU, financial, business, political, technical modules, etc. Legal translation classes tend to be organised around specific branches of law, e.g. contract law, company law, criminal law, and start with an introduction into key terms and concept systems of a given branch in L1 and L2/L3, and at a more advanced stage they involve projects with terminology coordination roles. I find this approach quite effective; it integrates and coordinates a set of skills. As for interest, yes, our students do show interest in terminology; especially interpreting students are enthusiastic about it. Quite a few students decide to write their MA dissertations based on terminology projects.

  1. Are you familiar with IATE and the TermCoord website? How often do you use them and what do you think of them?

Yes, I am familiar with both. These are very useful resources. As for the website, I use it occasionally in the traditional form and follow your social media postings on a regular basis. The last time I visited it I read about term extraction software. As for IATE, I use it very often for a number of reasons (translation practice, translator training and research). I personally think this is a major terminological achievement of EU institutions. The quality of IATE database has markedly improved since it was released to the public in 2007. This termbase has become a reliable and useful resource in the context of Polish, which is heavily under-resourced as regards reliable bilingual dictionaries of legal terminology. Surprisingly, it is useful not only in EU translation for which it was developed but also in inter-systemic legal translation at the national level. One of its key functionalities is the evaluation of terminological equivalents with reliability ratings and labels, such as ‘preferred’, ‘admitted’, ‘deprecated’, ‘obsolete’. These hints are very useful in training and raise students’ awareness of scalability of equivalents. Another core functionality is background information with references concerning sources of equivalents and context of use, which is available at the full entry option. One interesting example I always show to my students is climate change, which has two Polish equivalents rated as reliable — the singular zmiana klimatu and the plural zmiany klimatu. When you go to the full entry, you can learn that the former is recommended by experts from the Permanent Representation and was confirmed by the Polish Institute of Meteorology and Water Management but is controversial to other stakeholders, most notably the Polish Ministry of Environment (IATE ID: 867624). I find this type of information fascinating – it shows the true nature of terms, their variability and group-specific usage, which may differ from one group of experts to another. The next functionality of IATE is the full-entry information about hierarchical term relations: narrower terms (hyponyms), broader terms (hypernyms) and related terms. It helps to process a given term as part of a concept system — as Juan C. Sager points out, we understand a concept fully when we know its exact place in the network of concepts.

  1. Do you think that terminology management is relevant for specialised translators, such as those dealing with legal texts?

Yes, definitely! By managing terminology, translators can save time but, what is more important, they can ensure consistency and continuity of terminology across documents. It is of high importance in large translation projects which require a great deal of coordination between translators. It is also of use to individual translators who can ensure consistent terminology for regular customers. Legal terminology is peculiar; in contrast to other specialised domains, legal terminology is much less universal between languages and legal systems. Because of the system-bound nature of legal terms, full equivalence between terms from two legal systems is rare: translators have to mediate between systems of legal knowledge. This mediation is not always predictable and can be creative; we have to consult numerous legal sources (e.g. legislation, case law), legal experts and integrate customers’ own glossaries and preferences. It is also worth remembering that legal terms may have synonyms — regional, stylistic and structural variants and translators should keep track of their customers’ preferences. For example, one customer may prefer its company type SA (spółka akcyjna) to be referred to in English as a joint-stock company, another may prefer a UK-oriented equivalent of public company limited by shares, an EU variant of public limited liability company or a US variant of publicly-held corporation. The need for terminology management is especially acute if you translate into English, which is linked to several legal systems and hence is subject to much higher regional variability of legal terminology.

  1. Have you ever encountered a particularly problematic term? How did you deal with it?

Well, yes, quite a few actually. The most problematic ones are those which do not have a functional equivalent in the target legal system (which happens quite often) and do not have an established recognized equivalent in the target language (TL). First, working with legal sources and monolingual source language (SL) dictionaries, you have to understand the conceptual content behind the source term. Then I check whether there is a corresponding or similar term in the TL and assess the degree of incongruity, using Susan Šarčević’s legal conceptual analysis by comparing essentialia, vital characteristics of legal terms, and differentiating them from accidentalia (additional characteristics). The next step is to search existing resources for potential equivalents — termbases and parallel corpora I am a fan of, e.g. my own resources, Linguee and EUR-Lex on Sketchengine. If I’m lucky, I find the right candidate; if not, I should be able to find a candidate I can modify to suit the context. The last resort is to coin a neologism.

  1. As a deputy editor of The Journal of Specialised Translation (JoSTrans). Could you tell us more about your role here? What does it involve being an editor of a specialised translation journal?

JoSTrans — The Journal of Specialised Translation was established in 2004 by a group of passionate academics as the first journal devoted to specialised, non-literary translation. From the very start it was intended to be an open-access journal which is available for free in order to disseminate and share knowledge with a broader public. We publish papers on theoretical and practical aspects of specialised translation and terminology, as well as on translator training. Our distinguishing feature is online interviews with academics and practitioners. We publish two issues per year, of which usually one issue is thematic and guest-edited.

Biel_photoFor example, Issue 18 (July 2012) was a special issue on terminology guest-edited by the leading terminology expert Professor Margaret Rogers. As one of the core aspects of specialised translation, terminology has always been in the spotlight in JoSTrans and we have quite a few papers on terminology scattered throughout our twenty eight issues published so far.

I joined the JoSTrans team in 2011 and have held a role of a deputy editor. A deputy editor is part of the editorial board which manages the journal and works closely with the Editor-in-chief Lucile Desblache. The editorial board meets twice a year in London and we discuss our publication policy, review progress on forthcoming issues, take editorial decisions, consider proposals for guest-edited issues, discuss technical matters and project further developments. As a deputy editor, I am in charge of one issue per year. I work closely with guest-editors, if applicable, and with authors to finalise the issue and have it online. Before that, I read all the papers and check if they comply with our policies. Next I copy-edit the papers, checking their consistency, readability, formatting and bibliography, and prepare a table of contents and an editorial. After the papers are finalised, I pass the issue on to our web team, who converts it into html, and then do a final check and publicity. Being involved in JoSTrans has been a very rewarding and valuable experience to me — you collaborate with dedicated academics at the forefront of the discipline.

  1. You have numerous papers on legal and EU translation. What sparked your interest on these subjects?

To tell the truth, I started my professional career in the late 1990s as a financial translator, specialising in financial statements but also working in a broader area of business and law. After a while, I found translating financial statements too repetitive and predictable and discovered that translating legal texts is more stimulating and creative due to a lack of ready-made solutions and the need to mediate between legal systems. I do love those moments when you stumble across a terminological problem and, time permitting, have to bury yourself in books. This naturally affected my academic interests and I evolved from a cognitive linguist to a translation scholar working on legal and EU translation. I find EU translation particularly intriguing from an academic point of view due to its extreme complexity caused by the intricate interplay between political, procedural, institutional, linguistic and legal factors (and it works!). It is fascinating to research and understand the processes which are behind it.

  1. To what extent is legal terminology relevant to your research? Could you tell us about your last publication dealing with this subject?

It certainly is. Legal terms lie at the heart of legal translation. I view legal terms as units of legal knowledge and points of access to knowledge structures of the domain. Thus, terms are essential when you want to discuss the equivalence relation in legal translation. As for my main area of research, translation of EU law, terminology is quite challenging. On the one hand, EU law uses its own supranational system of concepts. On the other hand, a clear-cut separation of the EU conceptual system from national networks is impossible due to mutual interdependencies, fluctuations and constant interaction — a kind of “conceptual osmosis”. This makes EU terminology highly interesting but also methodologically complex to research. I am currently working on the institutionalisation of EU translation after Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004 by comparing pre-accession translations coordinated by the Polish government to post-accession translations coordinated by EU institutions. One aspect of the study involves the evolution, stabilisation and standardization of EU Polish terminology.

My last publication dealing with terminology was a paper (2017) on the use of tzw., an abbreviation of the so-called, before terms in the judgements of the Polish Supreme Court. Working with corpora, I discovered this phrase to be surprisingly common in judgements and absent in legislation. I found it is used by judges as a ‘modal hedge’, a kind of distancing metalinguistic device, above all, to signal variants of legal terms, in particular terms which were not named in legislation but are used in other legal genres, as well as — occasionally — to introduce highly specialised terms from other domains or jargons.


  1. You often use corpora in your studies. What are the advantages of this approach for linguistic and terminological research?

Yes, I do. Thanks to the advent of computers, corpus approaches enjoy growing popularity in linguistics, translation studies and terminology. They enable us to study (very) big collections of texts more accurately and systematically with specialised software and quantitative methods. It is an empirical and inductive approach which is interested in what is typical and frequent in language use, allowing us to make more valid generalisations. In respect of translation studies, corpus methods have brought new perspectives in theoretically-oriented research — in particular the quest for translation universals, or recurrent features of translations, caused by constraints operating during the translation process. Additionally, corpora have improved and accelerated practically-oriented applied research in terminography and lexicography and have promoted semasiology, that is working from a term to a concept by analysing corpus data, including the collocational environment of terms, to arrive at their meaning. It’s difficult to imagine a modern bilingual dictionary or a termbase developed without any input from parallel and comparable corpus data.

  1. One of your publications, Lost in the Eurofog. The Textual Fit of Translated Law, explores EU legal translation and its impact on legal Polish. Could you give us a brief overview? (What is the Eurofog? How are the language and terminology in Polish and other national languages affected by EU translation?)

EU texts are produced in a multilingual environment with 24 official languages, which implies a constant switching and ‘fusion’ of languages. As a result, EU texts have developed a specific hybrid language known as the eurolect. The eurofog is a metaphor, a pejorative nickname given by the press to the eurolect — an EU variety of national legal languages, an outcome of translator-mediated communication, under a strong influence of EU procedural languages. My study explored two topics: (1) the textual fit, that is how the language of translated EU law differs from the language of Polish law, and (2) the Europeanisation of Polish, that is how the differences are correlated with the post-accession changes in the language of the Polish national law. Working with corpora, I found a divergent textual fit of the Polish eurolect at a number of levels: sentence length, mental models of legal reasoning (conditionals), deontic modality, passive voice, present participles or inter- and intratextual references, as well as an increased variation of terminology. As for the Europeanisation, I compared the pre-accession and post-accession corpus of Polish legislation and found the Polish language of the law resistant to change — it was relatively little affected as regards text structuring and grammatical patterns but more changes were induced in terminology, e.g. through neologisms. This study was extended into an ongoing team project of a much larger scale (The Polish Eurolect Project), which analyses the Polish eurolect across four genres (legislation, judgments, reports, websites) at various stages of its formation and is due to be completed at the end of 2018.


  1. Finally, what advice would you give to those aspiring to work with legal translation or terminology?

I would advise aspiring legal translators, first of all, to build up their background knowledge in source and target law. Since terms are units of legal knowledge, it is important to learn not only linguistic ‘labels’ but also the conceptual content behind them and to position concepts within the concept system of a given branch of law. Finally, when developing your legal terminology, it is vital to learn the phraseological environment of terms, in order to competently and confidently embed them in text in a way that is familiar to legal professionals. Knowledge of source and target legal systems can be acquired in a number of ways — taking a postgraduate diploma in law, reading legal textbooks on your own, studying legislation and/or its translations, and finally, through massive open online courses (MOOCs) run usually for free by many universities throughout the world.

davInterviewed by Clara Gorría Lázaro – Translator and terminology manager

Born in Zaragoza (Spain), Clara graduated with Distinction from an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies from the University of Manchester (UK). Her dissertation used a corpus-based approach to compare the expression of deontic modality in Spanish national legislation and in Spanish versions of EU legislation. She has also completed a BA in English Philology and an MA in Teacher Training for Foreign Languages at the University of Zaragoza. After completing her university studies, she started a career in terminology through a fellowship at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva (Switzerland). Her next step was a terminology traineeship at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. She is an ECQA certified terminology manager.