Review of Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary


Review of Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary
Thomas L. West III, JD

Review by Anne Goff

Mr. West’s new dictionary is the first trilingual dictionary focused solely on Swiss legal terms. This dictionary includes Swiss civil law, criminal law, constitutional law, debt collection, bankruptcy, and corporate law. It is divided into two parts:

  • Swiss French – Swiss German –American English translations, followed by a list of 108 French abbreviations commonly found in Swiss legal texts,
  • Swiss German – Swiss French – American English translations, followed by a list of 144 German abbreviations commonly found in Swiss legal texts.

Both lists of abbreviations include many one- and two-letter abbreviations. What frustrated translator has not learned to loathe these abbreviations after multiple fruitless Internet searches?

The approximately 5,750 entries in each section are laid out in columns with all three languages side by side as pictured below.

Where terms differ from their non-Swiss French or German counterparts, the corresponding term is noted after the Swiss term. For example:

  • actions liées (F : actions à cessibilité restreinte) / restricted shares, shares with restricted transferability
  • boiler (F : chauffe-eau) / hot water heater
  • case postale (F : boîte postale) / post office box
  • corps de chauffe (F : radiateur) / radiator
  • décharge (F : quitus) / “discharge” of the board of directors
  • droit dispositif (F : droit supplétif) / non-mandatory legal rule (one that can be contracted out of)
  • écolage (F : frais de scolarité) / tuition fees
  • place de travail (F : emploi) / job
  • servitude foncière (art. 730-744 CC) ( F : servitude prédiale) / easement that runs with the land
  • soustraction d’impôts (F : évasion fiscale) / tax evasion

As exemplified in the entries above, this dictionary includes quite a few non-legal terms that often appear in legal texts.

Trickier terms include a brief note of explanation. For example:

  • postulat / parliamentary motion asking the government to legislate (as opposed to a motion requiring the government to legislate, cf. motion)
  • poursuite / debt collection (legal action to enforce payment in cash or the provision of cash coverage by a debtor who fails to meet his payment obligations)
  • préfet / Chancellor of State (representative of the Cantonal Government responsible for the administration of the district)

I particularly appreciate that many terms include the precise section number of the relevant Swiss Code or Act in which they can be found. Context is key, and in legal texts, having the appropriate context is extremely important. For example:

  • prélèvement sur les biens de l’enfant (art. 320 CC)
  • présentation d’une lettre de change (art. 1011 CO)
  • divorce (art. 111 CC)
  • divorce pour rupture du lien conjugal (art. 115 CC)
  • comptabilité commerciale (art. 957 CO)
  • concentraction d’entreprises (art. 4 LCart)
  • circonstances personnelles (art. 27 CP)

The Swiss government has published unofficial English translations of major Swiss codes. Some of these translations may differ from those in this Swiss law dictionary. The unofficial Swiss government translation uses British legal language instead of American. Those translating into British English should be aware of this difference, but those translating into American English will appreciate this detail as it is often difficult to find non-EU resources for European language source texts. Some differences include:

  • court of appeals (instead of court of appeal)
  • railroad (instead of railway)
  • plaintiff (instead of claimant)
  • disability (instead of invalidity)
  • labor (instead of labour)

This focus on American English is not surprising since Mr. West earned a BA in French and English from the University of Mississippi summa cum laude and an MA in German from Vanderbilt University. After earning his JD at the University of Virginia School of Law, he was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in 1990. Having practiced law for five years, he began his own translation firm, Intermark Language Services Corporation, specializing in legal and financial translation. This background is important in a field so full of potential pitfalls.

According to Mr. West, much of the terminology in TERMDAT appears to come from a French-to-German legal dictionary published in 1950 and compiled in the 1940s, and is thus very outdated. Mr. West’s law dictionary includes language from the new uniform civil and criminal procedure codes that took effect in 2011.

This is particularly significant since prior to 2011, there was no uniform legal code for Switzerland as a whole, and terminology varied greatly between cantons. It is important to note that the old terminology is not included in this dictionary. In the wake of the 2011 linguistic uniformization, Mr. West has published a translation dictionary that applies to contemporary legal language across all of Switzerland.

I believe this Swiss law dictionary will be a beneficial resource for translators working with French-language legal texts.


Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary

By Thomas L. West III, JD
Intermark Language Publications

ISBN: 9781929570034
© 2017

Available at:


510 pages

≈5,725 entries

6 x 1.2 x 9 inches

1.9 lbs.

Reviewed by Anne Goff

Anne Goff is a French-to-English translator and professor at California State University Sacramento.