By Eugenia Tietz-Sokolskaya, CT
Slides available here.
As translators, we are also writers, but what makes good writing? When I started out in legal translation and faced my first contracts to translate, all I was armed with were a few specific prescriptions from my professor at Kent State (“use ‘shall’”) and a general sense that there was a “right” way contracts should sound. It was only a few years later that I discovered that Bryan Garner, who had come up frequently in our editing class, was actually an authority on legal writing, and later still that an ATA webinar introduced me in passing to Ken Adams and his categories of language. If only someone had mentioned these authorities sooner!
My session at ATA61, focusing on contract language in Russian and English, grew out of this frustratingly long and thorny process of discovering what good legal writing was and how to apply it. I recalled the paralyzing self-doubt of knowing that following the syntax of the source verbatim wouldn’t get the point across and being unsure of how to communicate more effectively. What helped me overcome that feeling and have confidence in my translation? It was remembering that contracts are fundamentally a means to an end, and that end is ultimately independent of the languages the parties speak, the cultures they live in, and the legal systems they operate under. They have a deal to make, and that deal needs to be in writing to ensure accountability.
How do words on a page achieve that end? This is where I turned to Kenneth Adams and his Manual of Style for Contract Drafting (MSCD). Every bit of a contract contributes some part to the contract’s overall purpose, and Adams has made an effort to systematize the roles the various clauses and sentences play. He also happens to give recommendations on how to phrase each of these categories, but as I stressed in my presentation, I’m not here to say that his recommendations are superior to any other systematic approach.
The bulk of my session was a rundown of all the categories of language Adams proposes for English, followed by language serving the same purpose in Russian (except the last two categories, which I have never seen in Russian contracts). This was intended as a condensed overview appropriate for the conference session format; anyone interested in these categories should check out the MSCD or Adams’s blog. In the feedback I received there were requests for a side-by-side table of these categories, which is provided below:
|Agreement||Consent to be bound by the contract||“The parties therefore agree as follows:” (MSCD p. 44)||Стороны… «составили настоящий договор … о нижеследующем»|
|Performance||Causes change of status for person or thing||“Acme hereby purchases the Assets from Doe.” (MSCD p. 52)||«Во исполнение п. 1.1 Договора Продавец передает, а Покупатель принимает строительные материалы следующего ассортимента и количества:»|
|Obligation||Imposes an obligation on a party to the contract||“Acme shall purchase the shares from Doe.” (MSCD p. 58) (Acme is a party)
“The Consultant must be reimbursed for all authorized expenses.” (MSCD p. 67) (Consultant is not a party)
not “Any controversy… shall be settled by arbitration.” (MSCD p. 62)
«За нарушение сроков передачи имущества виновная сторона уплачивает другой стороне штраф.»
«К претензии должны быть приложены документы…»
«Арендная плата вносится не позднее…»
|Discretion||Indicates a party has a choice to do something or not||“Acme may appoint one or more subcontractors.” (MSCD p. 76)
“Acme is not required to replace the Widget Equipment.” (ibid. p. 88)
Avoid “may not”
|«Арендодатель вправе / имеет право…»
«Договор может быть досрочно расторгнут по соглашению Сторон.»
|Prohibition||Indicates a party cannot do something||“The Customer shall not modify the Equipment without Acme’s prior written consent.” (MSCD p. 90)
“must not” for non-parties
|«Арендодатель не вправе / не имеет право…»|
|Policy||“Rules that the parties must observe but that don’t, at least expressly, require or permit action or inaction” (MSCD p. 94)||“This agreement terminates on 31 December 2019.” (MSCD p. 95)
“Any attempted transfer of Shares in violation of this agreement will be void.” (ibid. p. 94)
|«Приложение №1 является неотъемлемой частью…»
«Арендная плата устанавливается в размере…»
«Все споры, связанные с настоящим Договором, будут разрешаться Сторонами путем переговоров.»
|Declaration||Assertion of fact||Traditionally introduced by “represents and warrants,” Adams recommends “states” and “acknowledges”
“[Party name] states that the following facts are accurate:” (MSCD p. 114)
|«Арендодатель заверяет / гарантирует, что на момент заключения Договора Оборудование в споре или под арестом не состоит…»|
|Intention||Addresses issues to be handled by a court||“intend(s) that…”||Not seen|
|Recommendation||Gives recommendations when one party has more power||“recommends,” “encourages,” “reminds”||Not seen|
|Conditions||Modify other language categories||Subordinate clause introduced by “if” or “unless” (not “shall,” “should,” or subjunctive)
“If Company A receives a complaint, it shall promptly notify Company B.” (obligation)
“If Company A receives a notice of consent, it may sell the Shares.” (discretion)
“If Employee A ceases to be employed by the Company, the Option will terminate.” (policy)
|«В случае несвоевременного возврата Оборудования, Арендодатель вправе потребовать…» (discretion)
«В случае наступления этих обстоятельств Сторона обязана в течение 5 дней уведомить об этом другую Сторону.» (obligation)
«В случае недостижения соглашения в ходе переговоров, заинтересованная Сторона направляет претензию в письменной форме.» (obligation)
So what do we do with all this information? The first pattern to notice is that Russian contracts use present tense nearly everywhere, without discriminating between language categories. Present tense shows up without any modals or other signal words in language of performance, obligation, and policy, although other options are available. Past tense is limited to the introduction (the closest equivalent to language of agreement), and future is rare and sporadic in its usage.
The second pattern to note is that the particular verb forms used in English and Russian do not always match. When translating, it is important to:
- identify the language category you are dealing with (which may be difficult, given the average “quality” of Russian contract drafting)
- apply the proper structure, whether you use Adams’s recommendations or settle on a consistent system of your own
- improve the drafting if you are in a position to do so, such as by removing throat-clearing (language of agreement where it is redundant) or making parties explicit when imposing obligations
It may be tempting to faithfully recreate the syntax of the Russian and disconcerting to realize that such a strategy is unlikely to get the meaning across. The takeaway I had for my listeners was more freeing: you can—and often should—make changes to the verb structures as you translate. That is not a case of taking too many liberties, nor is it an unnecessary improvement. It’s just good translation!
- Adams, Kenneth. A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. 4th Ed. ABA Publishing, 2017.
- Набережный, Андрей. «Заверения об обстоятельствах: как применять нормы, чтобы они работали?» Экономика и жизнь. 6 Oct 2017. https://www.eg-online.ru/article/357063/
- “Образцы договоров.” Юридическая и налоговая консультация онлайн. https://yuridicheskaya-konsultaciya.ru/dogovor/dogovor-obrazci_dogovorov.html
Eugenia Tietz-Sokolskaya is a Russian and French to English legal and financial translator based in the Philadelphia area. She has an MA in Translation from Kent State University and is ATA-certified for Russian to English. She is the current administrator for the ATA Slavic Languages Division.