Studying the forms and functions of legal translations in history: the case of 19th-century Belgium


  • Heleen van Gerwen KU Leuven


translation history, Belgium, 19th century


Research on translation history is thriving: scholars are becoming progressively interested in the role of translations in history in general as well as in the history and historiography of translation. With the exception of some studies on legal translations, institutional translators and institutional translation policy, research on the role and implications of legal and institutional translation in a specific historical and cultural context has been neglected by both (legal) historians and translation studies scholars. In this paper, I argue that the study of the historical role of legal translations constitutes a crucial component of translation history and sociocultural history in general. This paper offers a contribution to the interdiscipli- nary research field of historical legal translation through the discussion of legal translation practices in the context of multilingual 19th-century Belgium. More in particular, I will focus on the sociocultural role of translation, examining the ways in which legal translation contributed to the intellectual debate on the creation of multilingual and participatory citizens. Legal translations played a significant role in providing access to legislation for the Flemish citizens who were not able to read the official French text. Concurrently, they also assisted in the development of a Flemish legal language and culture. Many translations did not only offer a Flemish equivalent of the legal text, they also included notes and explanations. In this way, legal translations did not only offer purely material access to legislation, but also enabled citizens to understand the law and fully participate in legal and political life.