Multilingualism, translation and international law: four myths
Jacqueline Mowbray Associate Professor, Sydney Law School, Australia
External Legal Adviser to the Commonwealth of Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Australia

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Translators and interpreters allow international law and its institutions to operate in a multilingual world. However, the legal literature analysing how international law and institutions understand the role of translators, and the significance of translators’ work to the practice of international law, is still developing. This article contributes to this emerging body of work by analysing the discourse of international law on translation, interpretation and multilingualism. It identifies four key assumptions about translation and its role in the multilingual international legal order which repeatedly appear in the discourse of international law. Drawing on insights from other disciplines, including socio-linguistics and translation studies, it demonstrates ways in which these assumptions may be flawed, and explores the significance of this for the operation of international law. Ultimately, it argues that these ‘four myths’ skew the operation of international law in ways that empower some at the expense of others and call into question whether international law is truly ‘international’.

Contributor Notes

I am grateful to Dr Alexandra Grey for her advice on some of the finer points of linguistics referenced in this article. Any errors are, of course, my own.

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