Terminological Turn As a Turn of Legal Culture

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

1. Introduction - 2. Research material - 3. Frequency of usage of Latin terms - 4. Lexical diversity and the most frequent terms - 5. Comments and conclusions


Merike Ristikivi

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

Terminological Turn As a Turn of Legal Culture

1. Introduction

This article deals with the turning points in Estonian legal terminology in the transition from the Soviet era to the integration into Europe, considering the usage of Latin terms in juridical journals. Employing Latin terms is characteristic of European legal cultures and legal writings. The development of law in continental Europe has relied heavily on the Latin language and the system of concepts based on Roman law; historically, Latin has been extremely closely connected with the development of European law. In previous centuries, the bulk of legal literature and much legislation was compiled in Latin. Although Latin ceased to be the language of law and legal science in the 20th century, its significance as a technical means of communication among lawyers in Europe remains. The conciseness and linguistic economy of Latin terms encourages their use. *1 Precisely formulated Latin terms facilitate international communication of lawyers and enable them to exchange information and ideas effectively despite linguistic and cultural boundaries. *2

Juridical journals have been chosen as the material for this research because periodicals are formally the most dynamic medium of law. According to M. Stolleis, in essence they could be called the 'medial crossing-point' where legal science, judicial and administrative practice, legal politics, and general politics meet. *3 Legal periodicals are a mirror of the legal culture.

It is obvious that different legal cultures shape very different journalism. Three major turning points and rearrangements in Estonian legal history in the course of the 20th century have had a strong impact on the legal culture and changed it considerably: 1918 with the creation of the Republic of Estonia, 1940 and 1944's Soviet occupation, and the regaining of independence in 1991. At all of these points, radical legal reforms occurred.

Against this background, the material collected during my survey reflects, in the context of Estonian legal history, the linguistic turning points: integration of one special language, legal language, into the European, then into the Soviet, and finally back again into the European legal environment. The present article focuses on the latter. The material for the study is composed of the content of two juridical journals published in Estonia: Nõukogude Õigus / Soviet Law (which was published from 1967 to 1989; in this article I have used the issues of the last five years of publication, 1985-1989) and Eesti Jurist / Estonian Lawyer (published from 1990 to 1994). Hence, the material covers e qually five years of publication of both periodicals.

The aim is to ascertain whether the kind of revolutionary transformation processes that occurred within the legal order can be observed in legal terminology as well. Law is an area where the linguistic means of expression have a particularly great impact. This takes place through language, as a word or expression acquires juridical power. However, according to M. Aronoff *4 , a legal expression on its own or in a glossary is only an abstract item. Yet within a text it acquires a syntactic role and meaning. Therefore, just as legal periodicals reflect the legal culture, terminology also depends on the socio-cultural context, and terms are means to signify legal structures, relationships, values, and changes. *5

The following questions are raised in this article: How are the changes introduced by the above-mentioned legal reforms mirrored in the usage of language by Estonian lawyers with regard to Latin terms? What is the moment in time that represents the return to the European legal environment in view of the usage of Latin terms in particular?

The hypothesis is that in the journals published during the Soviet era Latin terms are used less frequently. The juridical journalism of the Soviet time originated mainly with state administrative structures. That period established the Soviet system and Russian models: terminology was planned on the basis of the Russian language, and juridical texts and documents were translated from Russian. *6 My hypothesis is also based on the fact that the majority of the authors of this time belong to a generation for whom classical studies were not officially available at Estonian universities. Study of the speciality of classical philology was abandoned at the University of Tartu in 1954 and resumed in 1990. *7 Roman law was taught, but the academic research tradition in this field had been interrupted. Consequently, the knowledge of Latin held by many authors of legal texts of that time was inadequate and unsystematic.

The quantitative and qualitative method of study has been applied in my research; statistical data have been compared with a view to demonstrating dynamic changes.

2. Research material

Both periodicals, Soviet Law and Estonian Lawyer (until 1993), were published by the Ministry of Justice. It can be maintained that Estonian Lawyer developed from Soviet Law, because in 1990, when the new periodical began publication, the editorial board was not replaced and even the features and design of the journal remained the same. Both publications also had six issues per year.

The content of both periodicals was made up of the following features:

Soviet Law :
  • Each issue comprising about 75-80 pages
  • Articles (about 8-10, in total 24-37 pages, with an average length of around 2.5-4 pages) that are relatively short and rarely include an exhaustive analysis of the topic at hand
  • Information about dissertations defended and lists of names of students graduating from the Faculty of Law of the University of Tartu (1 page)
  • In memoriam items, obituaries, and memoirs related to lawyers who have died (4 pp.)
  • Reviews of national conferences in the USSR and travel accounts (3 pp.)
  • A glimpse at history (2-3 pp.)
  • Public prosecutor's supervision reports (1-4 pp.)
  • Economy and arbitration materials (2-4 pp.)
  • Reading for pleasure and juridical jokes (in total about a page per issue)
  • Bibliography (new legal literature and reviews of what was printed in various Soviet journals) (2-4 pp.)
  • Chronicle of events (in plenary sessions of the Supreme Court of Soviet Estonia, in the Ministry of Justice of Soviet Estonia, at the Prosecutor's Office of Soviet Estonia, and in the association of lawyers of Soviet Estonia, as well as jubilees of lawyers, 5-9 pp.)
  • New legal acts (decrees by the Presidium of the Supreme Council of Soviet Estonia on amendments to legislation/codes, regulations from the Council of Ministers of Soviet Estonia, and departmental regulations) (13-23 pp.)
  • Practice of the supreme courts of the USSR and the Estonian SSR (3-20 pp.)
Estonian Lawyer :
  • Each issue comprising about 75-80 pages
  • Articles (about 7-8, totalling 35-40 pp., making the length of one article around 4-5 pp.) that, while fewer in number, are longer and thus more thorough
  • Information about dissertations defended and lists of students graduating from the Faculty of Law of the University of Tartu (1 page)
  • In memoriam materials, obituaries, and memoirs concerning lawyers who have died (1-2 pp.)
  • Reviews of conferences and interviews with foreign lawyers and jurists (2-3 pp.)
  • A glimpse at history (5-7 pp.)
  • Prosecutor's supervision materials (1-4 pp.)
  • Economy and...

To continue reading