Thursday, April 26, 2018

Legal Translation

As part of my continuing quest to share interesting stuff with you, I thought I'd riff on this recent article from Atlas Obscura: Istanbul Closes the Books on Its Public Scribes.

The Readers' Digest version of the article is this: the Turkish court system uses an archaic and complicated form of the Ottoman Turkish language for its deliberations and rulings. Because many people were illiterate, few were fluent in the legal dialect, and lawyers were (and remain) expensive, there arose a class of people known as public scribes (arzuhalci, in Turkish) who would, for a modest fee, assist people in drafting petitions and preparing other legal documents. The public scribes are still in business, although they are dying out, being relentlessly opposed by the lawyers from whom they siphon paying customers.

There's more to the story - and it's all fascinating - but what strikes me is how much it reflects our relationship to the law in this country.

The public scribes in Turkey help translate the language of the law, which is so archaic and convoluted that ordinary people can't understand it, into something they can understand. The same situation exists here in America, where we have a priesthood of hundreds of thousands of high-priced lawyers (for those who can afford them) and overworked, underpaid public defenders (for everyone else) whose sole function is to represent people facing laws written in a legalistic Sanskrit they cannot understand.

A friend of mine who's a lawyer once told me that our legal language had grown so convoluted because it needed to be - every twisted word and phrase of it was the way it was because it had been litigated over decades to the point where everyone understood exactly what it meant.

By "everyone" I'm sure he meant "every lawyer," because much of it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Perhaps we need public scribes instead. They'd certainly be cheaper.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


1 comment:

Mike said...

Twisted words describes the system perfectly.