A legal text with a single “Dapat”: Looking for deontic modality in the Filipino translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

Janus Ruel T. Cabazares


In the Filipino version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), only a single deontic modal marker is found, a curious absence given that such a category conveys the performative function crucial to the language used in laws. Regardless of the current attitude against seeking equivalence in translation analysis, questioning the semantics of the target text (TT) is a necessary endeavour for the translation of legal texts, whether or not the relevant linguistic features of the TT language contribute to or facilitate the expression of any of the properties of deontic modality (DM). To this end, the paper analyzes the Filipino translation of the UDHR to look for this type of semantic category. The analysis of the TT focuses on three important points: [1] use of the prospective aspect does not contribute to the expression of the necessary features of DM, notwithstanding their shared notion of futurity; [2] volition, an essential part of DM, is implied by the transitivity triggered by the TT verb voice, but the source and perspective of the volition is different; and [3] use of the modal marker dapat (i.e., necessary) carries the primary features of DM. The paper suggests that the consistent use of this modal marker can assign a performative function to the TT, a trait that helps define the source text (ST) as a legal text. The study can offer helpful points to translators of legal documents and other forms of technical translation. The methods used can help future translation analyses by providing conceptual tools for the semantic comparison of the linguistic traits of an ST and TT, particularly the semantic representation of Filipino sentences including the transitivity of the verb and modality. Ultimately, the study hopes to contribute to quality translations of text as part of promoting the intellectualization of Filipino and other Philippine languages.

Keywords: Filipino translation studies, deontic modality in Filipino translations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Filipino, legal translation studies

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