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Legal Terminology

In 1974, a group of legal interpreting experts convened in Michigan to develop a manual to be used in training legal interpreters. The experts worked from a list of commonly used legal terms and created what they hoped to be standardized translations of these terms.

No attempt was made to develop new signs for legal terms; rather, the existing language was used in short phrase translations to convey the legal content. In fact, one of the reasons this work was undertaken was to combat the onslaught of new signing systems and to preserve the integrity of ASL. Context specific terms, such as sexual assault, suggested to the reader that the interpreter ask the attorney for the context in order to interpret the term.

The original manual set forth some 900 commonly used legal terms. Words were alphabetically listed, each with its sign or short phrase description. Each word or phrase entry was annotated with its legal meaning and an illustrative sentence to assist the reader in both understanding and conveying the meaning. Some words had multiple meanings and each meaning was explained. While the manual was originally designed for what was termed ‘language incompetent’ Deaf people, the purpose was to preserve the manner in which ASL was used at the time. The manual has long been out of print.

The Mid-American Regional Interpreter Education (MARIE) Center was a resource center on interpreting and interpreter education housed in the University of Northern Colorado's Department of ASL & Interpreting Studies. The MARIE Center was funded by the US Department of Education and Rehabilitation Services Administration grants from 2005-2016. During the 2010-2016 grant cycle, The MARIE Center, as the Center on Excellence in Legal Interpreting, chose to honor those who came before us and the work they did by selecting 300 of the terms most commonly seen in legal discourse and to make this valuable resource available in ASL and locate it on the internet. Project CLIMB continues the work of the MARIE Center by hosting this Legal Terminology Dictionary.

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