Dr. John Pustejovsky in German class

Students reviewed their translations of German legal decisions with Dr. John Pustejovsky (above), who co-taught the Workshop in German/English Translation course with Dr. Alan Lacy.

Foreign language students help Law School research

By Andy Brodzeller

Even lawyers will admit that the dense, legal jargon of laws, contracts and judicial decisions is a different language. For upperclassmen in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures first semester, it was actually two languages.

Throughout fall 2010, 12 students majoring in German translated two key German legal decisions regarding personal property rights into English. Never translated before, the decisions will be used for research by Julian Kossow, visiting professor of law, and second-year law student Eric Jansson.

The decisions deal with eminent domain, otherwise known as “takings law.” According to Jansson, these two German decisions are the most relevant when comparing personal property rights between Germany and the United States. “When we weren’t able to find translations of these laws, Eric took the initiative and sought the assistance of the foreign language department,” said Kossow.

Jansson reached out to Dr. John Pustejovsky, associate professor of German and chair of the department. He and Dr. Alan Lacy, assistant professor of German, co-teach a German-English translation course and agreed to take on the project. “Typically we use short stories or short non-fiction works,” said Lacy, a certified translator. “But we felt the project had a lot of merit and would be a good challenge for the students.” 

With each document more than 20 pages long, teams of two students tackled 60 lines of a decision every week to finish both documents. With Lacy holding the students to the standards of the American Translators Association and the challenge of legal documents, the professors were amazed, but not surprised, by the quality of their work. “The students finished the class with a real sense of accomplishment. As they should,” said Pustejovsky.

With the English translation now in hand, Kossow and Jannson hope to gain a better understanding about how personal property rights and protections are interpreted differently between the two countries.


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