Language focus | 06.07.2010

Denmark, Japan and Germany move towards the use of the English language in legal and commercial capacities

Recent months have seen steps towards the use of English as an official language in certain legal scenarios. Denmark made amendments to its company law; courts in Germany ran a pilot scheme allowing cases to be heard in English; and Japan’s biggest online shopping retailer have selected English as the official language for internal documentation.

The new Danish Companies Act came into effect on 1 March 2010, with interesting linguistic amendments relating to translating and interpreting provisions. According to Mondaq (the corporate and company law website): for board meetings, ‘If a company’s Articles of Association stipulate Swedish, Norwegian or English as the group’s official languages’ then simultaneous interpretation into Danish is no longer compulsory. For the written word, it is no longer necessary for documentation to be translated into Danish and in general, company documents can now be registered in Swedish, Norwegian or English without the need for translation into Danish. For general meetings that are not conducted in Danish, Swedish or English languages, then simultaneous interpretation into Danish is not compulsory, but this decision must be reached by way of a nine-tenth’s majority vote.¹

In February 2010, The Lawyer² reported on the move towards special courts being created in Germany that allow the use of English as the main working language. ‘Submissions and witness statements could be heard in English without the need for translation, although written submissions and verdicts would still be dealt with in German’. In a bid to attract more international legal business into the country, it is hoped that the success of this pilot scheme will pave the way for creating special courts across Germany that are permitted to conduct cases through the medium of English. In June 2010³, The Lawyer stated that as a result of the pilot, a draft bill is being created which would go further than initially planned and which would also allow verdicts to be heard in English. Although many people have championed this development as it would mean more litigation business for the country, others have also raised some language concerns: there is the question of whether certain aspects of German law can be fully translated into English; there is also the concern of whether the judges involved would be fully fluent in both English and English ‘legalese’ (concerns which were also highlighted in the recent bilingual bill proposed for courts in Canada).

And finally, in July 2010, The Financial Times reported that Rakuten became the first major Japanese online retailer to designate English as its official company language – to be used in all internal documentation and for it to be spoken by all regional members of staff. The press conference announced that in two years time, it was hoped that all employees would communicate in English and the press conference itself was carried out almost entirely in English. The Financial Times article states how Japanese firms are looking to further expand internationally and this has meant embracing the English language as a powerful business tool – more foreign executives are being appointed, one company is to select English as the official company language for all internal documentation that is not in Japanese; and in Rakuten, the menus in the canteen have also been translated into English!4


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