Ruth Sefton-Green, ‘How far can we go when using the English language for private law in the EU?’

This paper investigates how far we can go when using the English language, were it to be the working/drafting language for European private law in the EU. Conscious of the fact that a drafting language is only the tip of the iceberg of interpretation difficulties faced by the law upon implementation and during adjudication, the enquiry proceeds in a speculative direction. First, the flexible and permeable nature of English is illustrated, by looking backwards to see how English developed a language for the common law in the past. Next, the potential of English for European private law in the future is then assessed by examining the positive and negative uses of drafting, as illustrated by recent European soft law projects and the recent proposal for a Common European Sales Law. This evaluative exercise confirms that the major difficulties are not merely linguistic, but rather semantic. The conceptual gaps between the lines, as well as what lies behind the words themselves, are the real stumbling blocks to constructing a suitable terminology capable of responding to the needs and idiosyncrasies of European private law. However, these obstacles are not insurmountable. We need to be creative and invent neologisms, mirroring the process of constructing a European private law. This imaginative process may help us come to a more European understanding, since jurists for whom English is their first or second language need to be involved. The ultimate purpose is to enable English to be used imaginatively and innovatively, as far as we can.

Sefton-Green, Ruth, How far can we go when using the English language for private law in the EU? European Review of Contract Law. Volume 8, Issue 1, Pages 30–46, ISSN (Online) 1614-9939, ISSN (Print) 1614-9920, DOI: 10.1515/ercl-2011-0030, March 2012.

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