General Question

robmandu's avatar

What language(s) are international treaties written in?

Asked by robmandu (21331points) October 6th, 2010

In English, which is the international language of business and air traffic?

In the native/official language(s) of the respective countries?

What about a multi-lingual country, like Canada… would their international treaties be in both English and French?

Some combination of all the above?

I think I recall reading once about how a slight mis-translation between languages caused for there to be an incompatibility between the language-specific versions of a treaty between two countries. Is this common?

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16 Answers

marinelife's avatar

It seems to be by agreement of the parties. There are rules governing interpretation including interpretational differences between two languages.

iamthemob's avatar

Depends on how multilateral the treaties are. I’m not certain…but I think that treaties ratified U.N. style are available in official translations based on the language of each signing party.

I also believe that the five Sec. Council members get the treaties there written up in their language.

And no…that’s not a common phenomenon (at least to the extent that it causes major problems), but it’s more common among different types of treaties than others – and how they are negotiated.

bob_'s avatar

In the languages of all involved parties.

For example, the UN has six official languages, while EU passports include the languages of all its member countries.

All versions (translations) are agreed upon before signing.

josie's avatar

I always thought it was Esperanto.

roundsquare's avatar

If I had to guess, I’d say it would have to be in the official language (or one of them) of each country. I’m not sure how often this would cause problems though since most treaties probably have huge teams of absurdly good translators looking at them.

And yet, some countries can’t even field a full UN mission, so maybe I’m wrong…

iamthemob's avatar

The U.N. isn’t the only context in which multilateral agreements between countries are made…

squirbel's avatar

@bob_ is correct, it is written in all languages party to the document.

roundsquare's avatar

@iamthemob Who are replying to in that? I believe @bob_ was just using the UN as an example and I was just using it to show that not all countries have the resources we may associate with a government (therefore showing that they may not have a team of translators at their disposal to make sure the translation is in their best interest).

iamthemob's avatar

To all…including myself.

Maximillian's avatar

Ok, I just want to throw this out here. If I remember right, the treaties are, in fact, written and translated correctly in both languages.

However; before the decline in the Holy Roman Empire, the ‘universal language’ was Latin.
English, though, is the universal language of science.
And although it didn’t develop this way, French was supposed to the be universal language of diplomacy.

However, in today’s time (correct me if I’m wrong) I think English has become a ‘common language.’ For example, when I was in Korea, I was traveling with a group of Germans. Obviously, they spoke German to each other, and English with me and my friend. However, when they were talking with the Koreans, they used English. So, as weird as it is, English, think, is pretty used. (Of course, except for the very anti-west countries.)

iamthemob's avatar


I don’t know – I don’t really see the point of having a treaty in English unless at least one state party to the treaty is a majority English-speaking nation.

bob_'s avatar

@iamthemob There might be interested third parties. See an example here.

iamthemob's avatar


I’m not quite sure we’re on the same page – I’ll just clarify my position in that the treaties won’t be written in english (negotiated with english in mind, etc.) unless one of the parties is an english speaker…but might be translated very soon after.

bob_'s avatar

@iamthemob Ah, yes. That’s different. Then again, as others have said, English is much more widely spoken than other languages. In the example I provided, while I’m sure there a more than a few Japanese diplomats that speak Spanish, and more than a few Mexican diplomats that speak Japanese, my guess would be that a great deal of the negotiations are carried out in English, which many if not all of those involved speak.

Sethuraju's avatar

Any international agreement will be prepared in French, because that language doest have two meanings for a word, please confirm it immediately.

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