© The Author(s) 2015
Rosanna Masiola and Renato TomeiLaw, Language and TranslationSpringerBriefs in Law10.1007/978-3-319-14271-5_1

1. Introduction

Rosanna Masiola  and Renato Tomei 

Social and Human Sciences Department, International University ‘Stranieri’ of Perugia, Piazza Fortebraccio 4, 06124 Perugia, Italy



Rosanna Masiola (Corresponding author)


Renato Tomei

This study tackles the problem of communication and the practice of translation, which constantly interfaces with theoretical issues in interpretation and conceptualization arising from the philosophy of law and language. As noted by some authors (Morris 1995; Joseph 1995), no other discipline is so indebted to the philosophical and theoretical debate. It is, however, utterly devoid of power if there is no practical counterpart and meaning is not communicated, negotiated, and translated. Translation can be done on an intra-linguistic, inter-linguistic or inter-semiotic level (Jakobson 1966). Recent multi-modal analysis applied to short video sequences highlighting legal communicative practices may also be a useful tool when audiovisual translation is needed (Taylor 1998).

The globalization of media, the resonance of crime and punishment, law and order, the winds of war and terrorism have now made it mandatory to acquire more refined tools for instant translation. In breaking news, the media must cope with different languages and idioms in order to communicate ‘crimes and punishment.’ Meaning and communication of meaning is the key issue here (Nelken 1996; Van Hoecke 2002; Beke 2014), along with its enactment across different cultures, languages and legal systems (Azar 2007).

The no-longer hegemonic power of the Western world’s legal systems inevitably meet with traditions where identity, values, beliefs and environment are interwoven and differ from culture to culture (Katan 1999). Islamic law and the evolving Chinese world are just two examples. There are also the mixed traditions of India and the constitutional laws of African states. In most cases, the legal system is bilingual or multilingual, usually interfacing with English (Tiersma 2012; Morris 1995; Cao 2007).

Gandhi and Mandela spread their ideas and acquired prominence through the medium of English. They spoke English in addition to their native tongues, as both India and South Africa feature an incredible number of languages and linguistic communities. Mohandas Granchand Gandhi studied law at University College in London (UCL), and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela studied law at the University of Witwatersrand, and they both practiced as lawyers in South Africa. Their mother tongue was not English; Gandhi was from Gujarat (Gujarati language) and Mandela from Transkai (Xhosa language), but they were both able to master other languages.1 This demonstrates the power of language in terms of the spread and diffusion of concepts and ideas related to liberty and civil rights issues.

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