Comparative Law and Legal Linguistics – An Example of True Interdisciplinarity?

On first glance, one of the areas that comes to mind when looking at interdisciplinarity in comparative law is the intersection of comparative law and legal linguistics. Evidently, any comparative lawyer who is looking at legal texts from different countries has to deal with legal translation. And legal linguistics plays an eminent role within the multi-lingual environment of the European Union.

On second glance, however, modern comparative law and linguistics may not be as compatible as one might think due to the differences in focus. Thus, ordinarily, legal linguistics is a very technical discipline that is primarily focused on semantics. Such a pragmatic view of legal translation might satisfy a strict functionalist. Modern comparative law, however, looks beyond legal texts and considers the cultural background of laws as well. So a technically correct translation of a legal term might not properly take into account the real, historically-shaped meaning of it. Therefore, a more contextual approach to legal translation might be appropriate. Law and legal language are not absolute concepts, but have to be seen in their cultural context. This means that, on the one hand, a “proper” translation gets difficult if not impossible. On the other hand, many legal languages share cultural backgrounds and this intermingling or plurilingualism needs to be taken into account when translating (or interpreting) legal texts. Consequently, legal translators should at least have some background in comparative law.

On the premise of such benefit in collaboration of legal linguistics and comparative law, professor Mattila created the discipline of comparative legal linguistics – a combination of legal linguistics, legal semiotics, legal informatics and comparative law. This area of truly interdisciplinary research should help avoid cultural mishaps in translation while at the same time bringing together so far divergent movements within comparative law. 


  • Sofie Geeroms, Comparative Law and Legal Translation: Why the Terms Cassation, Revision, and Appeal Should Not Be Translated, 50 Am. J. Comp. L. 201 (2002).
  • Vivian Grosswald Curran, Comparative Law and Language, in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (Reinhard Zimmermann&Mathias Reimann eds., 2006).
  • Jennifer Hendry, Comparative Law and the (Im)Possibility of Legal Translation, in: Comparative Law: Engaging Translation (S. Glanert ed., 2014).
  • Jaakko Husa, Interdisciplinary Comparative Law – Between Scylla and Charybdis, 9 J. Comp. L 28-42 (2014).
  • Jaakko Husa, Understanding Legal Languages: Linguistic Concerns of the Comparative Lawyer
  • Heikki E. S. Mattila, Comparative Legal Linguistics: Language of Law, Latin, and Modern Lingua Franca (2nd ed. 2013).

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