El glossari de termes jurídics anglès-tàmil d'Ontario: un projecte socioterminològic apoderador

AutorMarco A. Fiola
CargoProfessor and Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Canada
Marco A. Fiola*
In this article, the idea of norm in language is compared to the notion of law in the application of justice, and how rules
in both elds must be interpreted not in a rigid manner, but in a way that is appropriate to context. The case used to
illustrate this principle of exibility and adaptability is a community-based legal terminology and lexicography project
developed with, by and for the Canadian-Tamil community of Ontario, Canada.
Keywords: Court interpreting; language standards; Canada; Tamil; socioterminology.
En aquest article, comparem la noció de norma del camp de la lingüística amb la de llei en l’aplicació de la justícia, i
com les regles de tots dos àmbits no han de ser interpretades d’una manera rígida sinó adequada al context. El cas que
utilitzem per il·lustrar aquest principi de exibilitat i adaptabilitat és un projecte lexicogràc i de terminologia jurídica
que s’ha dut a terme en el marc de la comunitat canadencotàmil d’Ontario (Canadà) i que s’ha desenvolupat amb la
col·laboració d’aquesta mateixa comunitat, la qual, a més, és beneciària i autora del projecte.
Paraules clau: interpretació als tribunals; normes lingüístiques; Canadà; tàmil; socioterminologia.
Marco A. Fiola, Professor and Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Canada.
Article received: 02.02.2017. Review: 05.07.2017. Final version accepted: 10.10.2017.
Recommended citation: Fiola, Marco A. «The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology
endeavour». Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, issue 68, 2017, p. 89-99. DOI: 10.2436/rld.i68.2017.2933
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 90
1 Introduction
2 Background
3 The Need for Court Interpreters in Ontario
4 The Right to a Court Interpreter
5 Lack of Court Interpreters in Canada
6 Language, Law and the Concept of Standards
7 Nomenclature
8 Conclusion
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 91
1 Introduction
Law is arguably the ultimate language profession. Whether it is through reading exegetically, inferring
meaning hermeneutically, writing decisions authoritatively, delivering closing arguments convincingly, or
delivering a verdict performatively, members of the legal profession execute their duties largely through
their use or understanding of the law through language. Their work depends on how language is interpreted
and understood, and how the non-linguistic is linguistically explained. Outside language, there is no human-
made law; law is language.
Rather than an attempt to substantiate the signicance of language in law, this paper aims at demonstrating
that, while law has its own specialized language, serving justice means that the rules governing this specialized
language require exibility in their interpretation to serve the purpose for which they were intended. We do
recognize that language professionals, such as translators, terminologists and, perhaps to a lesser degree,
interpreters traditionally tend to rely on a more normative or even prescriptive approach when assessing the
quality of their work and that of their peers. While the notion of quality, hence of assessment, in translation
and interpreting is something about which we have written elsewhere (Fiola 2016), it bears repeating
here that a normative approach in quality assessment, whether in pedagogy or in the practice of language
professions, could contribute to impeding on textual functionality and communication effectiveness. Good
language professionals know that speech that meets generally accepted language norms but not the needs
of the receiver fails to achieve the intended communication goals (see, inter alia, Osimo 2014). To draw
a parallel between language and law, one can imagine how a law applied to the letter may in fact violate
principles of natural justice, hence defeat its own purpose.
Laws are interpreted in the context of the circumstances surrounding each case, and we would argue that
guidelines governing bilingual legal terminology development may require to be abided by with the same
degree of respect for what led to the rule, but with the understanding that a certain degree of exibility and
adaptability is warranted. To support our position, we will use the example of a terminology project whereby
an English-Tamil legal glossary was developed to meet the needs of the State (in this case, the Province
of Ontario, in Canada), its court system and population. First we will explain how this project came to be,
then a description of the methodology and results will be presented. The reader should be reminded that the
unorthodox methodology used in this terminology project was driven not by our pre-existing desire to shed
light on a terminological process, but by the need to develop a Tamil-English legal terminology, hence the
community-driven nature of this project and of the methodology used to bring it to fruition. We do hope
that this need-based terminology project and the observations we were able to draw from it will be of some
support to others who may want to launch into a similar project, or who may nd our observations of some
help in their own research for knowledge.
2 Background
Due to its two ofcial languages, it is often said that Canada is a bilingual country. While ofcial bilingualism
means that French and English “have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all
institutions of the Parliament and Government” (Canada 1985: 2(a)), Canada is not a country of bilinguals1,
and this means that the application of the Ofcial Languages Act requires language mediation through
translation and interpreting. While ofcial, English and French coexist with multiple additional languages
whose distribution depends greatly on whether they are Indigenous languages, spoken mainly in Northern
Canada, or migration languages, which are spoken for the most part in Southern Canada, especially in and
around major urban centres like Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal,
Quebec City and Halifax. Therefore, translation and interpreting are key professions in Canada for their
role in serving long-established immigrant groups like those who came decades ago from Italy, Portugal,
and China, to name a few, as well as those seeking asylum or granted refuge through the Ofce of the
United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The linguistic characteristics and needs of those
migrating or seeking refuge in Canada changes from year to year, according to major global sociopolitical
trends. For example, in 2016, Canada received 40,000 Syrian refugees; in 2017, Haitians who have been
1 In reality, 17.9% of the Canadian population can speak both ofcial languages (Statistics Canada 2017).
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 92
living in the United States since the Haiti earthquake are coming to the Canada-US border, seeking asylum
once again (Government of Canada 2017). The need for professional mediators varies according to the
language combination and the setting. In this paper, we will not discuss English-French mediation, but
instead a minority migrant language: Tamil.
3 The Need for Court Interpreters in Ontario
According to the 2016 Census, 21.1% of the Canadian population reported speaking a language other than
French or English at home (Statistics Canada: s.d). In urban centres, that percentage is much higher, reaching
up to 32% of the population in Toronto. Therefore, the potential need for language mediation, including for
court interpreting, is signicant. Language diversity abounds, bilinguals and multilinguals are less and less
uncommon. However, the expansion of language mediation has not been able to keep pace with language
diversication, and professional language mediators, most signicantly interpreters, are increasingly rare,
and those who work as language mediators while having the added benet of being properly credentialed by
a professional regulating body are even fewer. The lack of trained, competent and credentialed professional
language mediators has impacts across the country, but it is in cities and the major conurbations of
Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal that the needs associated with language diversity are
greatest and direst. To cite but a few examples, in 2011, with almost 200,000 Portuguese Canadians in the
Toronto conurbation, there were only two accredited court interpreters; almost 500,000 Italians, and one
interpreter; over 500,000 Chinese, and one Mandarin interpreter; none for Korean, Turkish, Cambodian or
Tagalog. These languages are arguably spoken by fewer people in this area, but the absence of interpreters
was highly problematic, at the time of the census. That same year, a magistrate in the suburban community
of Scarborough declared that the situation had reached the point of being critical, due to a shortage of court
interpreters capable of working in Tamil, Punjabi and Oromo, among other high-demand languages. The
situation decried by such a prominent stakeholder was compounded by the fact that the justice system is
required by law to provide competent court interpreters, in several circumstances, jurisdictions and tribunals.
Whether they use interpreters when either defense or Crown witnesses do not uently speak the language of
the courts remains largely up to the tribunal to decide. However, as we shall see later, tribunals are required
by law to provide interpreting services when requested by one of the parties to the case being heard. In
Canada, the instances when a party can request an interpreter vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For
example, in Ontario, an accused or a lawyer may request interpreting services in any language in criminal
and child protection cases, in French or English in all family, civil and Small Claims Court2 matters, and
in Sign Language (ASL or LSQ) in all court matters. It may also be provided in any language when it is
ordered by the Court. In British Columbia, the conditions are the same, with the exception that individuals
can request a court interpreter for motor vehicle infractions, or municipal by-law cases as well.
4 The Right to a Court Interpreter
The Ontario guidelines as well as those of other jurisdictions apply under the principles of language rights
and accessibility rights as set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is a bill
of rights enshrined in the Constitution of Canada, and language rights, among others, are set under Section
16-23 of the Charter (Canada 1982). In it, English and French are recognized as ofcial languages, and
have equal status. Regarding court services more specically, the Charter states that both ofcial languages
may be used in Federal courts. It also states that cases involving tribunals are to provide French or English
interpreting as needed. In addition, the Charter covers accessibility rights under the principles of equality,
which prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, and any
difference that is immutable. It is this principle of immutability that explains why Sign Language interpreting
services are provided in tribunals of all levels. However, since the inability to speak neither ofcial language
is not immutable, the right to interpreting for speakers of non-ofcial languages is not covered by language
provisions in the Charter, and the extent of speakers of non-ofcial languages is limited to certain areas of
public life. For example, other than in the case of certain Indigenous communities, speakers of non-ofcial
languages do not have access to public education in their language.
2 Small Claim Courts are tribunals where people can settle differences in cases worth anywhere up to $CAN 25,000.
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 93
Law and the application of justice are one specic sphere where there is no ambiguity regarding access to the
mediation services of an interpreter when an individual speaks a non-ofcial language. In 1994, the Supreme
Court of Canada ruled that, under Section 14 of the Charter, the accused have the right to be present at their
own trial, and that being present means that the accused are entitled to interpreting services that, while it
may “not be perfect, […] must be continuous, precise, impartial, competent and contemporaneous.” [our
emphasis] (Supreme Court of Canada 1994) This means that the interpreting must be complete and full, that
when testifying, a witness cannot be asked to interpret, and that the interpreting needs not be simultaneous,
but follow the original as soon as possible. Finally, the issue of competence does not refer to the interpreter’s
track record, but specically to his or her ability to interpret in a specic case. (Immigration and Refugee
Board of Canada s.d.)
The conditions listed in the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada may appear unusual, but since it
ows from a lower court case that was appealed from a lower tribunal all the way to the Supreme Court, the
conditions refer directly to the details of that case (Supreme Court of Canada 1994). In the province of Nova
Scotia, a non-professional interpreter had provided a discontinuous, vague, partial, incompetent and delayed
interpretation of the procedure, hence depriving the accused of his ability to be present at his own trial. In
that case, Quoc Dung Tran, a man of Vietnamese origin, had been charged with sexual assault. Shortly after
the assault was alleged to have happened, the complainant had described the event, giving a physical description
of her two alleged assailants: she stated that they were of Asian origin, and that one of them was overweight and
cleanshaven. Later on, the complainant identied Mr. Tran in a photo line-up. However, at trial, the accused
appeared in court as a thin person with facial hair. Nevertheless, the complainant identied him in court as the
man she had previously described as cleanshaven and overweight, but did agree upon being cross-examined that
he did not meet the description she had given of him in her police statement. Because the court was using the
very same Vietnamese interpreter that had been used when the accused was arrested, the defence called him to
testify about the physical appearance of the accused at the time the events were alleged to have taken place. At
trial, the interpreter-turned-witness should have interpreted what was being said, for the benet of the accused.
Instead, although he was instructed by the trial judge and by the defence counsel to provide a full interpretation
of what was occurring, the interpreter answered in English and only provided a summary of his evidence in
Vietnamese to the accused, and only at the end of his direct examination and his crossexamination. Parts of
the exchange between other ofcers of the court appeared not to have been interpreted at all but, ultimately, the
accused was convicted. He promptly appealed his conviction, in part on the grounds that the poor quality of the
mediation services had deprived him of the right to be actually present at his trial3. After the Nova Scotia Court
of Appeal upheld the conviction, it was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that “failure to
provide the accused with full and contemporaneous translation of all the evidence at trial constituted a breach
of his right to an interpreter, as guaranteed by [Section] 14 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Since then, being present at one’s trial means that anyone who is not uent in the language of the court is
entitled to quality court interpretation services.
While that requirement to provide quality interpretation services is legislated, breathing life into that
legislation put great demands on the legal system, and demand is greater than the offer of competent language
5 Lack of Court Interpreters in Canada
The lack of court interpreters is a complex problem at the base of which is the relatively small number
of uent bilingual speakers who have the language, specialized and technical skills to become court
interpreters. Additionally, relatively poor compensation and the unpredictability of demand lead potential
court interpreters to seek other, more lucrative and reliable forms of employment. This often puts tribunals
in a position where they have to rely on the services of untrained or poorly-trained court interpreters to
meet their legislative requirements regarding the language rights of the accused, which, unsurprisingly, has
negative consequences on the operation of the justice system.
3 Contrary to section 650 of the Criminal Code of Canada (1985).
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 94
In 2008 a class-action lawsuit was led against the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, according
to which the use of government-appointed court interpreters had led to mistrials or miscarriages of justice
because of a lack of skills. In 2010, anticipating the unfavourable outcome of this high-prole class-action
lawsuit, the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario launched a large scale re-accreditation initiative aimed
at re-testing all of its interpreters, starting with the 24 most commonly used languages, representing 85% of
the court cases requiring an interpreter. Of the 192 interpreters initially tested, 24% passed, 36% received
conditional credentials4, and 40% failed. All of these interpreters had been active in the court system, some
of them for decades. Consequently, in certain language combinations, no accredited interpreters remained.
The test includes several parts, but the two parts of the test that candidates failed the most frequently were
simultaneous interpreting and terminology. Those who failed the simultaneous interpreting part could still
interpret, for example for witnesses presenting evidence in a language other than that of the course, but not
in cases requiring the whole trial to be simultaneously interpreted. However, the lack of familiarity with the
proper legal terminology is not something that can be compensated for using another mode of interpreting.
Among those 24 languages initially tested, the Tamil language was one that was already gravely underserved.
The Canadian Tamil community has its roots mainly in Sri Lanka, where it is a minority to the Sinhalese
majority, and in the Tamil Nadu region of southern India. Tamil is an ofcial language in Sri Lanka and
Singapore, in Tamil Nadu and in the Union Territory of Puducherry. In 2007, it was estimated that there were
70 million Tamil speakers in the world.
Over the past decade, Sri Lanka has emerged from a 26-year war between the Tamil and the Sinhalese
When it became public that no Tamil court interpreter had been fully accredited by the Ministry of the
Attorney General of Ontario, training institutions, including Ryerson University, were compelled to help
alleviate the situation. Because of time constraints, it was deemed impossible to offer a complete training
program in simultaneous interpreting. However, as previously indicated, one of the most often identied
problems with Tamil interpreters who had failed the accreditation test was their unfamiliarity with legal
terminology. One of the reasons for this lack of familiarity with legal terminology is due to the absence of
a reliable and centralized source of basic legal terminology for Tamil. In other languages, such as French
and English, court interpreters in Ontario have access to a large number of resources, including to an online
legal glossary of about 700 notions or concepts among the most widely used in the court system. Other
non-ofcial languages have access to online tools, including those developed by British Columbia5. Ontario
Court Services and Ryerson University agreed that, although developing an English-Tamil glossary based on
these concepts would not solve all issues related to the lack of competent interpreters, it would be a step in
the right direction and a good foundation on which to build. The Ryerson Law Research Centre was able to
secure a research grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario, a not-for-prot organization providing grants
for research and community programming. Over the next few months, a small research team was created
by the Law Research Centre, including Tamil speakers, interpreters and translators, and a rst draft of the
glossary was created. This rst draft was to be the foundation for focus group discussions that were to include
Tamil interpreters, translators and lawyers. The English list of concepts included in the English Online
Legal Glossary (Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario) was used as the basis for the nomenclature.
During the grant-seeking process, other organizations that had expressed their support for the initiative had
pointed out a number of terminological gaps that could also be lled by the same initiative. Those key terms,
identied by front-line workers in those organizations, were later added to the nomenclature. Those paralegal
terms relate especially to immigration, citizenship, permanent and temporary residence, but also to access to
social services.
In drafting the nomenclature and in the initial discussions with members of the Tamil community, it became
abundantly clear that the needs of the Tamil diaspora regarding a standardized source of legal terminology
were strongly inuenced by the nature of the legal system in which they were currently living, a system that
4 Conditionally accredited candidates did not achieve a score of 70% in each section of the test but did achieve more than 50% in
each section (Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario s.d.).
5 The Multilingual Legal Glossary (www.legalglossary.ca) is available in Chinese (simplied and traditional), Farsi, Korean, Punjabi,
Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, in addition to English.)
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 95
refers to concepts to which they had not been exposed in their Sri Lankan homeland. Using existing legal
Tamil legal terminology was going to be useful inasmuch as the terms used in Sri Lanka and in Canada covered
the same concepts6. It appeared, therefore, that a normative approach to this terminological endeavour may
not be the most effective, or at the very least that the concept of normaison7, which refers to the spontaneous
nature of terminology building in a given community of users, could be more productive. According to this
approach, usage needs to be taken into consideration to ensure effective term implementation, an idea which,
in our opinion, offers interesting parallels with the interpretation and application of the law.
6 Language, Law and the Concept of Standards
Language much like law is socially constructed, conventional and evolving. Every day, new concepts enter
languages, and they translate into new words or into new meaning to existing words. The same can be said
of Law as a body of legislation: judges make decisions that shapes further interpretation of the law, and
legislators introduce new laws aimed at changing the way certain activities or behaviours are limited or
permitted. These changes regarding law occur over time. To illustrate this position, let us look at the notion
of “murder”.
In his Institutes of the Lawes of England (1628), Sir Edward Coke dened murder as:
“when a man of sound memory and of the age of discretion, unlawfully killeth within any county of
the realm any reasonable creature in rerum natura under the king’s peace, with malice fore-thought,
either expressed by the party, or implied by law, so as the party wounded, or hurt, etc. die of the
wound, or hurt, etc. within a year and a day after the same.” (P. 3, Ch. 7, P. 47)
Just over a century later, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, English jurist Edward Blackstone
(1765) further dened that same notion, making it slightly more implicit. In his commentaries, Blackstone
specied that murder cannot be committed by “a lunatic or infant”, unless they are aware of discerning good
and evil. Then, unlawful killing is not to be confused with those killings that take place in self-defense or in
the theater of war, or as capital punishment set by law. Whether capital punishment constitutes murder in the
legal or moral sense is at the heart of debates in many jurisdictions still, as is the common understanding of
what it means to die, whether or not as a consequence of a killing or of natural death. In the 18th century, life
ended with the permanent interruption of cardiopulmonary functions. Nowadays, that idea of death has been
extended to the irremediable cessation of all brain activity. Coke’s and Blackstone’s denitions of murder
refer to the killing of a reasonable creature, in other words of a human, including “an alien, a Jew, or an
outlaw”. It excluded, however, unborn children, implying that human life starts after birth. Nowadays, in the
United States of America, for example, following the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 (United States
of America 2004), fetuses in utero are recognized as legal victims, albeit only on properties where the United
States Federal Government has jurisdiction.
It should also be noted that, while the notion of murder implies the killing of a person by another person, in
early common law, suicide was considered murder.
Finally, malice aforethought originally meant hurting with the intent to kill. Later, the courts broadened the
requirement of premeditation, deliberation and true malice. Malice aforethought was deemed to exist if the
perpetrator acted with at least one of the four states of mind (Wise 2002) of malice that is an intent to kill, an
intent to inict grievous bodily harm, reckless indifference, or intent to commit a dangerous felony.
As we can see, our understanding of that notion has evolved over time, and it continues to evolve: killing no
longer means that cardiopulmonary arrest has occurred; cessation of all brain functions may also mark the end
of life. Nowadays, lawful killing also includes medical aid in dying, or medically assisted suicide (although
in most jurisdictions, it is still considered manslaughter). Suicide is no longer considered murder, and
6 We use the word term to refer to the headword of an entry, while the word concept refer to the term refers. In other words, a single
concept may be associated with several terms in a single language, such as in synonyms, or in different languages, such as parallel
lists of terms in a bilingual or multilingual glossary.
7 See Gaudin 1993: 173.
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 96
“malice aforethought” has led to dene degrees of murder, such as manslaughter (voluntary or involuntary),
constructive manslaughter, criminally negligent manslaughter, second degree murder, etc.
Therefore, if we accept the fact that laws evolve like language, it must be recognized that this evolution
impacts our understanding of key concepts, that the framework within which a concept is understood is
not immutable. While a prescriptive or normative approach is sometimes advisable, language, much like
law, evolves over time and across space continuum, which makes the denition of a reference norm highly
problematic: what is the norm, or correct, and what is outside that norm, or incorrect? If we look at language
in general, and if we compare the varieties of English, of Spanish, of French, across borders, the validity
of norms can easily be questioned and challenged. When we look at a language like French and how it is
spoken in France and in Canada, for example, many differences come to mind. In France, the prevalence of
English terms in everyday life and in areas of business and of technology is striking, whereas in Canada, any
term that looks or sounds like English is frowned upon. For example, courriel, clavardage, baladodiffusion
are used in Canada to express email, chat, and podcast. In France, (e)mail, tchat, and podcast are used
almost without any transformations. However, other forms of anglicisms go much more easily unnoticed in
Canadian French, as long as they don’t “look” English. One’s attutide towards one’s own language is shaped
by its relative status on a given territory, and the geolinguistic or even geopolitical context guides those
attitudes and choices. From this perspective, the context-driven nature of the legislative and terminological
processes are not that dissimilar.
Therefore, given the context and target user for which the English-Tamil glossary was being developed, we
felt it was inappropriate to take a normative approach where term candidates would be selected based on their
congruency with a Sri Lankan reference norm; while those may meet morpholexical standards established in
the Sri Lankan context, within the Canadian diaspora, they risked failing being acknowledged, recognized,
understood and widely adopted by the very users for whom they were intended. A sociolinguistic approach
to developing a relevant Tamil legal terminology for Canada – a socioterminological procedure to be exact
– required instead to place the user at the core of the standardization process. Developing the English-Tamil
legal glossary with Canadian users in mind meant that a Sri Lankan Tamil norm could be used as a starting
point, but should not be referred to in order to overrule regional differences attributable to the Canadian legal
and social context, hence the priority given to the principles of normaison in our project.
7 Nomenclature
In concrete terms, this is how our approach shaped the terminology project. Terms parsed from the English
glossary were selected, and the nomenclature was further augmented with specialized terms frequently used
by our partner settlement and immigration agencies. In addition, since we chose not to rely on the Sri Lankan
norm, existing Tamil resources could not be used to dene Tamil terms, for we wanted to avoid any denition
that may be too closely related to a Sri Lankan context. Therefore, it was decided that existing English
denitions were to be translated and adapted into Tamil for the Canadian context. Term candidates, on the other
hand, were searched using existing Sri Lankan databases, paper resources and legal documents. However,
in the validation phase, those were presented only as a series of possible terms without prejudice, alongside
Canadian Tamil neologisms. Speaking of neology, where no term candidates were found in Tamil resources,
new terms were coined according to morphological models taken from general and specialized language.
Sometimes equivalent terms were readily identied and no alternative was offered, but in most cases more
than one term candidate were suggested for each concept. Those term candidates were sometimes direct
translations, direct loan words, and equivalent terms taken from legal documents. On very rare occasions,
no term candidate was found at that stage of the project, but these terminological gaps were brought to the
attention of the focus groups, who then suggested and discussed viable options.
Once the preliminary list of term candidates was completed, it was divided into sub-lists of around 50
concepts, for the sake of easier manageability. It is these lists that we used for our focus groups discussions,
during which Tamil interpreters and translators worked individually on the preliminary validation of each
term. Term candidates were assessed and validated based on their current usage or usability, and transparency.
In situations where more than one term were suggested, participants were asked to critique the terms for their
univocity and acceptability in legal and sociolinguistic contexts. Unnecessarily long terms were deemed
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 97
to have a lower level of acceptability and, when possible and appropriate, shorter terms were favoured. In
certain cases, especially for terms with no direct equivalents in Tamil, participants were asked to consider
coining a neologism, based on the criteria already listed.
In certain cases, both at the translation and term validation phases, questions arose regarding the meaning
of a given term. For example, questions were raised regarding the difference between the following terms in
family law: joint, shared, sole and split custody. While translating the denitions for those terms, we noted
that there was no distinction between split and joint custody, although both terms were allowed to co-exist in
the databases. In this case, the research team had access to legal assistance from legal experts in the Ryerson
Law Research Centre, and to other terminologists, who could attempt to explain the nuances of the two terms
by way of the French denitions and usage. In this specic case, there was no equivalent term in French for
split custody, so we were able to develop a neologism not only for Tamil but also for French.
This approach enabled us to identify concepts for which there were more than one Tamil hyponym for a
single English hypernym. In those cases, lexical ambiguity was allowed to persist in English, as our role was
not to develop English but Tamil terminology, but a note was added in the English and the Tamil denitions,
explaining the nuances in the Tamil terms as opposed to the general usage of the single English term. Those
annotations were to be used as safeguards for language professionals, in order to avoid ambiguities.
As we had anticipated, on many occasions the normative, “ofcial” equivalent term was disqualied, its
low acceptability rating in the Canadian context being based on the fact that it was too closely associated
to a distant or painful context8, or simply too obscure or opaque, lacking clarity or transparency. It should
be noted that such criteria had not been historically applied to English or French legal lexicon, given the
tradition in the legal profession to continue to use Latin phrases such as actus reus, amicus curiae, habeas
corpus, and many more. Those Latinisms were, for obvious reasons, not used as preferred Tamil terms but
nevertheless listed under other possible equivalents.
Finally, once all terms were graded and validated by Tamil language users and language professionals alike,
they were once again validated by bilingual Tamil-English law professionals, who were able to conrm the
usability and validity of the Tamil terms in a Canadian legal context. After this last phase, the glossary was
launched online, where it is still available free of charge, for the whole community. The TELG is an open,
living document that can be updated, augmented, revised or reviewed.
8 Conclusion
The Tamil-English Legal Glossary is a project whose source can be found in the pressing needs of a diaspora
community. It can be said that this research project without a doubt met its intended objective because, since
the launch of the glossary, several Tamil interpreters have been accredited to work in the Ontario courts.
However, the circumstances surrounding this terminology project meant that the approach was largely driven
by the need of the community, and that the same project conducted in a different situation may have required
a different approach. For example, we know that the English nomenclature was derived from prevalence and
frequency of usage, in other words that those were key concepts which, due to their specic meaning in a
legal context, required the use of a glossary to be perfectly and universally understood and used in the legal
system. A large portion of those terms appear with their denitions in the legislation in which they are used, in
Ontario Statutes and Regulations. Had the nomenclature been originally in Tamil, one can easily imagine that
a number of concepts absent from the current list would have been included, and perhaps that some which are
currently part of the nomenclature might have been left out. Dening the concepts in Tamil without the aid
of translation might have also been more methodologically sound but, again, dening contexts taken from
original Tamil sources could have been just as problematic as using translated denitions from the English
and French, given the love-hate attitude of the diaspora vis-à-vis their former country.
Although the Tamil denitions were created based on the English nomenclature, the glossary is not a
translation of the English-French Legal Glossary: it is a bilingual list of terms and denitions that take
into consideration the specicities of the Ontario legal system and of its British tradition while being an
8 It bears repeating that this project involved work with a refugee population, for the most part.
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 98
attempt at serving more equitably Ontario’s diasporic Tamil population, given the context that brought this
refugee diaspora to Canada, and the context in which this diaspora currently lives. Empowering bilingual and
bicultural users whose everyday lives involve negotiating differences between legal, cultural and linguistic
systems led to the development of a bilingual glossary that is adapted to the needs of population and of a
legal system that so desperately needed it.
This terminology endeavour aimed at gathering and developing legal Tamil terminology was based on the
principles of socioterminology, on creating terms that would be reliable for the legal system, as well as
being usable and understood by users. From the onset, we believed that a prescriptive or even normative
approach to terminology was not the most productive solution to developing a coherent, useful and usable
legal terminology. However, it remains unclear if a different approach would not have produced an equally
or perhaps more effective tool.
Our functional approach to legal terminology development led us to produce a document that lives thanks
to the involvement of the Tamil community of Ontario and which can now be used as a reference in the
development of further resources for the Tamil community and other language and cultural groups in Canada
and abroad.9
9 The research project at the origin of this paper was made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario
(Canada) and the nancial support of Ryerson University.
Marco A. Fiola
The Ontario English-Tamil Legal Glossary: An empowering socioterminology endeavour
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 99
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