One little-publicized project being undertaken by the Japanese government right now is to write official English translations of the most important Japanese statutes. This is being done by a special Conference for Examination of the Implementation and Foreign Translation of Laws (法令外国語訳・実施推進検討会議), which has met several times over the past few years (see the Cabinet Secretariat website).
As part of this project, the government is creating an official Japanese-English legal glossary, and trying to end the practice of using awkward English translations for Japanese legal terms. Some of the changes, as reported by the Asahi Shimbun:
- 法律, which has previously been translated as “Law,” will now be translated as “Act” or “Code.” This is a really, really good change. The translation “Company Law” for 会社法 has always made me chuckle: my American legal ears expect it to be called “Corporations Code.”
- 株式会社, glossed in most dictionaries as “joint-stock company,” will now be translated as “business corporation.” This is an awesome change. I don’t think native English speakers have talked about “joint-stock companies” since the days of Queen Victoria.
- 法人, previously called “legal entity,” will now be called “juridicial person.” I really wish they would just call it a “corporation.” ALC seems to back me up on this one.
- Here’s a real stinker: 時効, the Japanese equivalent of what Americans refer to as a “statute of limitations,” is going to be called a “prescription.” WTF? This word has so many meanings in English, and it’s hardly ever used in this sense.