Dictionary of the Civil Code CLE

On March 11, 2015, a free CLE program, entitled “Dictionary of the Civil Code,” was held at the Louisiana Supreme Court, co-sponsored by the Law Library of Louisiana, the Supreme Court of Louisiana Historical Society, the Louisiana Chapter of the Association Henri Capitant, the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Francophone Section, and the French-American Chamber of Commerce Gulf Coast Chapter. Dozens of guests attended the event where Justice John L. Weimer introduced the program and speakers, including: Professors Alain Levasseur and J. Randall Trahan (LSU Law); Beth Williams, Associate Chancellor, LSU Law Library; U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Circuit Judge James L. Dennis; and attorney Benjamin Janke of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz.


The Dictionary of the Civil Code is a translation of Gérard Cornu’s Vocabulaire juridique, an introduction to the essential concepts of the French code civil. Cornu’s work was translated by two teams, one in Louisiana, led by Professor Alain Levasseur, and one in France, led by Marie Eugénie Laporte-Legeais under the scientific coordination of Juriscope at the University of Poitiers. The work of translating more than 1,600 entries from Vocabulaire juridique took over two years. Definitions of the civil law terms are enriched with references to the Louisiana Civil Code, which demonstrate how to express civil law concepts in English without resorting to common law terminology. The Dictionary explores the unique language and nuances of civil law, recommending English term equivalents and terms to avoid, and includes an index of English terms for locating the French equivalent.


The main themes discussed in the CLE were the relationship between law and language and the challenges of translation. Professor Trahan discussed the mechanics of translation, stating that Cornu’s work was particularly difficult to translate due to his use of French idioms, which presented challenges as to how to translate terms so that the legal meaning wasn’t lost. Trahan stressed the importance of translating civil law concepts into English, as it is the universal language. Beth Williams said in addition to supporting the translation team with research assistance, the LSU Law Library helped the translation team locate as many French law dictionaries as possible. Judge Dennis said that he wished something like the Dictionary existed during his time on the Louisiana Supreme Court bench, when colleague Albert Tate was bringing the civilian tradition back to the Court. Judge Dennis also discussed the conflicts of reasoning between himself and judges from other states in the U.S. Fifth Circuit’s jurisdiction because of the differences between civil and common law. Benjamin Janke compared the 10th edition of Black’s Law Dictionary to the Dictionary of the Civil Code and was pleased to see that the terms he selected from the Dictionary of the Civil Code also appeared in Black’s.


The Dictionary of the Civil Code is a useful, if not essential, resource for the Louisiana legal community, which is available at the Law Library of Louisiana, and for sale at http://Claitors.com.


Dictionary of the Civil Code – March 11, 2015