Translating the Social World for Law: Linguistic Tools for a New Legal Realism

ISBN : 9780197537367

Elizabeth Mertz; William K. Ford; Gregory Matoesian
312 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Oct 2020
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This volume examines the linguistic problems that arise in efforts to translate between law and the social sciences. We usually think of "translation" as pertaining to situations involving distinct languages such as English and Swahili. But realistically, we also know that there are many kinds of English or Swahili, so that some form of translation may still be needed even between two people who both speak English-including, for example, between English speakers who are members of different professions. Law and the social sciences certainly qualify as disciplines with quite distinctive language patterns and practices, as well as different orientations and goals. In coordinated papers that are grounded in empirical research, the volume contributors use careful linguistic analysis to understand how attempts to translate between different disciplines can misfire in systematic ways. Some contributors also point the way toward more fruitful translation practices. The contributors to this volume are members of an interdisciplinary working group on Legal Translation that met for a number of years. The group includes scholars from law, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, political science, psychology, and religious studies. The members of this group approach interdisciplinary communication as a form of "translation" between distinct disciplinary languages (or, "registers"). Although it may seem obvious that professionals in different fields speak and think differently about the world, in fact experts in law and in social science too often assume that they can communicate easily when they are speaking what appears to be the "same" language. While such experts may intellectually understand that they differ regarding their fundamental assumptions and uses of language, they may nonetheless consistently underestimate the degree to which they are actually talking past one another. This problem takes on real-life significance when one of the fields is law, where how knowledge is conveyed can affect how justice is meted out.


1.Introduction: Translating Law and Social Science
William K. Ford & Elizabeth Mertz
PART ONE Analyzing Legal Translations on the Ground
2. Translating Defendants' Apologies During Allocution at Sentencing
M. Catherine Gruber
2A Gruber In Translation
Frances Tung
3. Translating Token Instances of This into Type Patterns of That: The Discursive and
Multimodal Translation of Evidence into Precedent
Gregory Matoesian
3A Matoesian In Translation
Christopher Roy and Elizabeth Mertz
4. Comments on Matoesian and Gruber: Performative Risks in Risking Performance
Michael Silverstein
4A Silverstein In Translation
Elizabeth Mertz
PART TWO System-Level Challenges: When Courts Translate Social Science
5. The Law and Science of Video Game Violence: Who Lost More in Translation?
William K. Ford
6. Being Human: Negotiating Religion, Law, and Science in the Classroom and the Courtroom
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan
7. Social Science and the Ways of the Trial Court: Possibilities of Translation
Robert P. Burns
8. Part Two Commentary: Processes of Translation and Demarcation in Legal Worlds
Susan Gal
PART THREE Toward Improved Translations: Recognizing the Barriers
9. Can you get there from here? Translating Law and Social Science
Elizabeth Mertz
10. Law's Resistance to Translation: What Law & Literature Can Teach Us
Peter Brooks (interview)
PART FOUR Concluding Remarks
11. Afterword: Some Further Thoughts on Translating Law and Social Science
Gregory Matoesian

About the author: 

Elizabeth Mertz is John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and Research Faculty at the American Bar Foundation. Her research focuses on the language of law in the U.S., in part through an examination of how that language is taught to first-year law students. Her book on that process is entitled The Language of Law School: Learning to Think Like a Lawyer, and it was the co-winner of the Herbert Jacob Prize of the Law & Society Association. William K. Ford is Associate Professor of Law at John Marshall Law School. He received his law degree from the University of Chicago in 2003. Before joining the faculty at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, he worked for the Los Angeles firm of Irell & Manella and then returned to the University of Chicago Law School as a Bigelow Teaching Fellow and Lecturer in Law. Gregory M. Matoesian is Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at; Chicago. His main area of study is language and multimodal practice in legal settings. He is the author of Reproducing Rape: Domination through Talk in the Courtroom (University of Chicago Press) and Law and the Language of Identity: Discourse in the William Kennedy Smith Rape Trial (Oxford University Press), as well as numerous articles in law and society and linguistic journals.

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