Mirror of the European Legal Traditions: Latin Terminology in Estonian Law Journals Õigus and Juridica

Author:Merike Ristikivi
Position:Docent of Legal History University of Tartu

Introduction - Legal journals as object of study - Statistical data and the dynamics of the usage of terminology - Terminological variety and Latin terms in context - Functional usage of Latin terms - Historical conditions and changes in the usage of Latin terms - Conclusions


This article analyses the usage of Latin legal terms in Estonian legal language, examining it primarily on the basis of the law journals Õigus ('Law', 1920-1940) and Juridica (editions from 1993 to 2008). In the historical and cultural framework, Estonian-language-based jurisprudence and its terms are relatively young phenomena, which for the most part developed at the beginning of the 20th century in connection with the founding of the nation-state (1918). Estonian-language jurisprudence developed with the establishment of sovereignty and the opening of the University of Tartu in 1919, with Estonian as the language of instruction for the first time in its history. Along with the establishment of national jurisprudence, the development of Estonian legal language was undertaken. In the 1920s, a wide-scale language reform and language planning movement took place in Estonia, bringing about a legal language reform and enrichment of vocabulary, among other things1. This was conditioned by the development of society and the ensuing urgent need and desire to develop the everyday language of the peasants into a functioning cultural language. The language reform led by young intellectuals set as its objective that, by becoming European, the nation still remain Estonian2. Considering the history of the Estonia of the beginning of the 20th century 3 we realise that the notion of 'European' suggested turning away from the sphere of influence of Imperialist Russia towards Western culture with its historical traditions, which have, among other things, strong ties with the Latin language that has played an important role in development of the terminology.

In fact, two epochs can be identified in the history of Estonian law and legal language, both characterised by the desire to be 'Western' and the conscious attempt to be European. The present article focuses on these two consciously Western-oriented eras: from 1918 to 1940 and from 1991 to the present. The Soviet era, between them, was marked by turning away from the West. This period is excluded from the present study. The periods under observation are interesting primarily because of their cultural-political changes in law and legal language. The first period of independence in Estonia (1918-1940) was an era when sovereignty could be enjoyed for the first time; a parliamentary democracy was established; and the Estonian language began to be used for legal studies, legislation, and practice of law in general4. The key elements that characterise this period are drafting of new legislation and development of the Estonian legal language, for until the adoption of new laws, the old laws imposed in tsarist times in the Estonian and Livonian provinces remained in force. Drafting legislation in the native language and preparing lawyers who would have a higher education required a properly functioning systematic legal vocabulary. Hence, the Õigusteaduse sõnastik (Dictionary of Law) 5 was published in 1934 as a result of the work done in the field of Estonian legal terminology, which included also terms in Latin and their Estonian counterparts.

In the time of regained independence (beginning in 1991), the Soviet legal system has been replaced with an orientation toward the Western world. Therefore, also the conceptual systems and languages of influence have changed: the importance of Russian has vanished, and the major languages of influence are now English and German, as a result of European Union legislation and the rulings of the European Court of Justice. Through European law and languages of influence, the usage of Latin terms has increased and for the first time in the history of the Estonian legal language a Latin-Estonian legal dictionary has been compiled6.

Legal journals as object of study

The research material for the article is the major legal journals published in Estonian in the 20th and 21st centuries. Periodicals have a special role among the media for law and jurisprudence. In comparison with other types of scholarly texts, such as course books, monographs, or dissertations on jurisprudence, as well as legislation and court rulings, the choice of journals for terminological analysis has a clear advantage with respect to the topicality of the subject matter. Formally, periodicals are the most dynamic medium of law, reflecting the daily life of a particular legal culture7. Legal journals respond promptly to the changes in legal affairs, and it is here that pieces of new legislation and topical juridical issues are analysed and commented upon. As a result, juridical periodicals can be called 'a medial crossing-point' where jurisprudence, court and administrative practice, regulatory policies, and politics in general meet8. In short, this is the everyday life of a particular legal culture. Presenting relevant legal information, a legal journal becomes the memory of the legal culture of a particular age. From the perspective of terminological studies, this enables us to draw conclusions concerning the subject matter and areas that jurists have discussed most in their writing, using Latin terms.

Publication of legal journals in Estonian began in the first decade of the 20th century, in 19099. In total, 16 periodicals have been published over the last hundred years. The 20th century was politically a very controversial time for Estonia, and the need for legal information produced a remarkable number of legal journals. Yet, in terms of substance and volume, all of these journals are very different. Several periodicals were released in only a few single volumes, while others have held considerable influence on jurisprudence and legal competence in Estonia for decades. The latter have been selected as the research material for this article.

The object of study in this article consists of the journals Õigus (as mentioned above, published in 1920-1940), the most influential legal journal prior to World War II (i.e., during the first period of independence in Estonia) and Juridica (issues from 1993 to 2008), the legal journal containing articles written since independence was regained. Õigus was published by the Association of Jurists, in Tartu. The authors and the editorial board included professors at the University of Tartu, judges of the Supreme Court, prominent lawyers, the Chancellor of Justice-the most active and renowned figures in the field of law in Estonia at the beginning of the 20th century. Õigus mostly consists of articles and overviews of the activities of the Supreme Court. In addition, some issues contained reviews of new legal literature published in Estonia as well as in foreign countries, overviews of international congresses and conventions, advertisements, and practical legal information, as well as presentations and speeches for Õigusteadlaste Päev (Jurists' Day). Much space was dedicated to writings about legal matters and legislation in the neighbouring countries as well as other European countries.

Juridica is a periodical issued by the Faculty of Law at the University of Tartu, in which the majority of Estonian juridical publications appear. Juridica has a wide circle of authors, thus having become a representative object of linguistic study. Its tenure has seen, besides jurists and lawyers, specialists from other academic fields having had their articles published in it. By 2007 (i.e., in 15 years of publication), the number of authors of pieces in Juridica had increased to 54010. The range of topics includes, in addition to public and private law in Estonia, also international law and EU law, as well as legal theory, legal history, and legal philosophy. However, articles written about legal history and Roman law, which on account of their subject matter include numerous Latin terms, are rather scarce. Issues of Juridica tend to be dedicated to specific themes, and frequently summaries of different areas of law are given: the current problems in legislation are discussed, and theoretical and practical commentaries are printed pertaining to the issues that have arisen in the process of implementing legislative acts.

This article focuses on the following questions: how the usage of Latin terms on sentence level in legal texts in Estonian differs in the above-described two eras-prior to World War II, from the example of the journal Õigus, and that of regained independence, on the basis of Juridica. From an intralinguistic viewpoint, the paper explores also the question of the role of Latin terms in legal language-i.e., to what extent, in the context of legal reforms and a new legal environment, Latin terms are, for authors of juridical articles, a means of signifying legal structures, relationships, values, and changes. In carrying out of the present survey, lexical-semantic analysis was used as the main research method, an approach that relies on statistical analysis for the quantitative breakdown of the research material. The method chosen enables researching the developments of legal language. Latin-based terms play a significant role in this. Not only do the quantitative data vary in the usage of Latin terms; also the contextual and semantic parameters differ. The ways in which the dynamics and the qualitative characteristics in the usage of Latin terms are connected with the process in the scholarly discourse in law reflect the development of legal language in general. Latin terms are not only an ornamentation and traditional device in the texts; they play an active role in explaining juridical issues. The sphere of legal language in which Latin terms and expressions are used has its roots in European legal culture.


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