Dahl’s Law Dictionary {book review}

I know that most translators rely more heavily upon internet-based resources (and why not? there are so many good sites out there!). However, hopefully this is not to the detriment of your bookshelves.

After hours staring at a screen, it can be a welcome break to flip through a tangible resource—not to mention that books published professionally, it being no inexpensive feat, are often vetted a bit better than websites before going to press.

The newest addition to my office library is Dahl’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), by Henry Saint Dahl and Tamera Boudreau. In an incredible stroke of luck, I was able to give it a test run almost immediately with a lengthy new translation project.

Results? It’s an OK dictionary. I love that it has lengthier explanations of terms like biens corporels and mandat, for instance. It’s helpful to learn a bit more about the French system in an American context before making a choice about how to translate a phrase.

There are some noticeable absences, such as the seemingly dozens of different types of juges or avocats one can encounter in French law. Terms are grouped by type of law (criminal, family, property, etc.) in the front of the book, which could be useful for French-learning lawyers but is less useful for someone seeking out straightforward terminology answers.

That odd choice in use of print space is a bit frustrating when the more important, absent terms were left out in favor of non-law-specific terminology like discipline, fortune, and photocopie.

Dahl, a practicing lawyer, does recognize some of these shortcomings in his introduction:

I am well aware that many new volumes could be added to this book, and it could be endlessly supplemented with new words, phrases, and derivatives (xvi).

Still, for someone new to the legal field, lawyers wanting to extend their practice between France and the US (wine country practitioners, perhaps?), and current translators wanting a more thorough explanation of certain terms, this is a decent starter resource. You can learn a little more about the French system on every page.

The French-English version is available here, and there is a Spanish-English version available, too (now in its 4th edition).

What physical resources do you keep on hand in your translation space? Share your recommendations below!

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2 thoughts on “Dahl’s Law Dictionary {book review}

  1. I was so excited about the Spanish–English version (3rd edition) of Dahl’s dictionary I got a couple of years ago that I also wrote a post about it: http://legalspaintrans.com/legal-translation/dahls-law-dictionary-a-legal-dictionary-with-a-unique-approach/

    However, despite it focussing on meaning and context more than other dictionaries usually do, which I thought would be useful, I haven’t got much use out of it.

    As far as I can remember, it’s a good dictionary and quite reliable, but I usually find myself heading for monolingual sources when I want further information and context and more traditional-type bilingual dictionaries when I just want translation suggestions. Dahl doesn’t get much of a look in.

    Anyway, maybe your post will serve as a reminder to give it another chance. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Rob! I totally understand letting resources fall by the wayside—I do it all the time.

      Dahl’s dictionary, in my mind, is going to be good for the basics, and (nerd alert!) reading in small bits to refresh my memory, if I haven’t gotten a FR>EN translation in a particular legal topic for a while. I know I’m going to have to find a more thorough bilingual resource for, say, terminology related to presenting a case (really, so many types of judges!).

      That said, it is as you say “quite reliable;” if you give it another chance, do let us know how it goes!

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