Translation and clarity in Swiss multilingual legislation: A qualitative study on textuality


  • Paolo Canavese University of Geneva Faculty of Translation and Interpreting Transius Centre



Multilingual legislation, legal drafting, legal translation, textuality, clarity, comprehensibility.


Debate around clear legal language has become very prolific in recent years. This especially applies to multilingual contexts, where clarity is crucial to ensuring the equivalence of equally binding language versions. Clarity is a multifaceted concept that can be analysed through different lenses. While several studies have tackled clarity from the lexical and terminological perspective, textuality remains a largely under-investigated area. This paper sets out to illustrate that different concepts of text linguistics can be extremely useful for investigating multilingual legislation and its level of comprehensibility. To this aim, a qualitative pilot study was designed. It examines a sample of Swiss federal legislative acts in their Italian, French and German versions and tries to reveal recurrent micro-textual aspects that help illustrate how translation can influence text comprehensibility. It was found that the three language versions often formulate the same legal provision using different linguistic structures. Slight changes, for instance in thematic structure, position of adverbials or use of punctuation, can create a canonical and more comprehensible formulation in the translated texts, without hampering equivalence at the content level. In this respect, it is key that drafters of legislation and translators are aware of the relevance and potential of textuality to ensuring a high level of clarity in multilingual legislation.