Lexica iuridica in Juridica: Latin Terms as a Reflection of Europanisation of Estonian Legal Culture

Author:Merike Ristikivi
Position:Lecturer of History of Law (Latin Language and Roman Law), University of Tartu

1. Introduction - 2. The journal Juridica as the basis for the research - 3. Frequency of usage of Latin terms and phrases - 4. The most frequent terms - 5. The context of Latin terms and phrases - 6. Problems and mistakes - 7. Conclusions


Merike Ristikivi

Lecturer of History of Law (Latin Language and Roman Law), University of Tartu

Lexica iuridica in Juridica: Latin Terms as a Reflection of Europanisation of Estonian Legal Culture

1. Introduction

Latin has always had a special role to play in the Western legal tradition. The Estonian legal system as part of the legal system of Continental Europe is based on Roman law, which is considered the common denominator of European legal systems; it is also called the lingua franca of the world's jurisconsults1. The same consistency can be observed in the language of Roman law as well - the Latin language. Thus, in Estonian texts we can find juridical terms in Latin that developed more than two thousand years ago.

In recent decades, Latin juridical terminology has gradually been growing more important as regards understanding and communication between lawyers representing different languages and legal systems2. It is also observed that the use of Latin expressions facilitates unifying the European judicial system and makes juridical literature internationally understandable3. In no way do such Latin words and expressions minimise the importance of developing and using legal terminology in our native language; on the contrary, these terms enrich the language of the law.

The terminology analysed in the present article comprises the terms collected from the Estonian periodical Juridica over the past 14 years, 1993-2006. The aim of surveying the usage of Latin from this perspective was conditioned by the following factors.

This particular period is of interest first and foremost due to the substantial changes in the development of the state and law in Estonia . The Republic of Estonia regained her independence in 1991. A radical legal reform followed, which can be characterised in brief as abandoning the former Soviet law and becoming part of the Western legal environment. In this era, also the accession of the Republic of Estonia to the European Union took place (on 1 May 2004). This, in turn, has brought along the application of European law and the rulings of the European Court of Justice within the context of the laws of the Estonian state. The integration into international trade and cross-border transactions additionally entails the growing import of private international law. Against this background, the material collected during my survey reflects, in the context of the Estonian language, the integration of one special language, legal language, into the Western European legal environment. Use of Latin is clearly an indicator of that process. Therefore, one of the questions raised in this article is how the changes introduced by the above-mentioned legal reform are mirrored in the usage of language by Estonian lawyers with regard to Latin terms.

The usage of Latin terminology provides an opportunity to assess the educational level of lawyers and the situation of legal culture, including the quality of legal education. That is, we can appraise the quality of the preparation of Estonian lawyers, as their usage of Latin legal terms depends on that preparation. In the span of time under observation, new textbooks were compiled and published in Estonia addressing virtually all aspects of law, which familiarise law students with European legal traditions and teach them the usage of terminology. In acquisition of technical terminology, a central factor is that a basic course on Roman private law is a compulsory subject for Estonian law students, and closely linked to that course are the special juridical Latin classes taught by the author of this article. Both subjects are read in the same term. This has proved fruitful on account of the fact that under the same name the same notions and expressions are taught: in the class on Latin for lawyers, the form and grammar of terms are explained, and in the Roman private law class, the content is discussed. Consequently, the extensive material on Roman law becomes more easily understood by the students and the terminology memorised more quickly and effectively.

To facilitate the teaching of juridical Latin, the author of this article has compiled the course-book Latin for Lawyers 4 , which enables the law students to gain an overview of Latin grammar and whose vocabulary includes, in essence, only legal terminology. The course-book is based on the special literature that has been or is published in Estonia : the journal Juridica, new course-books for students of law compiled by the professors of the University of Tartu, and various course-books on Roman law. (In addition, several terms and quotations in Latin have been provided in the course-book, concerning international law and diplomacy and the Anglo-American legal system.)

A key point in the research into Latin terms on the basis of the periodical Juridica was the compilation of the Latin-Estonian Legal Dictionary 5 , published in 2005 by Prof. Klaus Adomeit, Merike Ristikivi, and Hesi Siimets-Gross. Until the publication of this lexicon, a comprehensive glossary of Latin legal terms did not exist in Estonia . A handful of Latin juridical terms together with their translations could be found only in general reference books and teaching materials. As a member of the group involved in this work, I held as my main interest and purpose to ascertain which legal terms of Latinate origin, as well as their context, have entered common use in Estonian legal language; to analyse the problems arising from and typical of the use of Latin terms; and to focus on the linguistic aspect of the terms employed, including their orthographic peculiarities, their morphology, and their relationship with Estonian sentence structure.

2. The journal Juridica as the basis for the research

The reason I chose Juridica as the basis of my research was that it has been the most important Estonian juridical journal and currently is the only one in that particular field. The first issue of Juridica was published in 1993 as a journal of the law faculty of the University of Tartu. In 14 years Juridica has developed from a small faculty magazine into a nationwide legal journal.

The 136 issues of Juridica analysed for the study include 1192 articles and 8077 pages6. Table 1 shows how the number of pages in the periodical has increased over the years, as the articles have become longer and more comprehensive, even though they are fewer in number in single issues than they were in the earlier years. For instance, in the first year of publication, 1993, 61 articles in total were published and the total number of pages for the whole year was 135, and in 1994 there already were 104 articles, in 249 pages. Thus, in the earlier years the articles were relatively short, 2-3 pages on average. The biggest qualitative change occurred in 2000, when the periodical had 687 pages altogether. However, the number of articles decreased to 74, making the average length about nine pages. The same volume-to-article-number ratio has been retained to this day - i.e., about 75 articles per 730 pages published in a year.

The articles in Juridica consist of texts concerned with all major areas of law and thus give an objective overview of the different aspects of terminology. Articles have been published on public and private law in Estonia , as well as international law; the laws of the EU; and the theory, history, and philosophy of law. Still, it should be specified that articles concerning the history of law and Roman law - that is, topics that in general involve numerous Latin terms - were few; for instance, there were only two articles about Roman law. Hence, the list of terms and phrases does not represent legal history first and foremost; rather, it offers an overview of the general vocabulary of today's lawyers.

The circle of co-authors is very wide. Specialists in a variety of legal disciplines have published their articles in Juridica. Besides...

To continue reading