When learning legal terminology in a bilingual context one of the first pitfalls encountered are so-called “false friends,” words or expressions that appear to be cognates, but are actually unrelated in meaning. Many years ago I set about identifying the “Top 40 False Friends in Spanish-English Legal Translation.” As the list grew I had to change the title to “101 False Friends.” In my collection I now have well over that number and will be sharing some of them in this blog. To be fair, many are only partial false friends that may actually be cognates when used in one branch of law, while perhaps qualifying as false friends in another legal practice area. And in some instances the cognate may simply not be the most appropriate rendering in legal contexts.
These terms are certainly look-alikes, but as used in electoral law (Derecho electoral) recuento and “recount” may or not be cognates, depending on the context. In English “vote recount” refers exclusively to a second or repeat tabulation of votes when the accuracy of the initial vote tally is questioned. The most famous case of an election recount in recent history is undoubtedly the vote recount conducted in Florida during the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. In Spanish, however, recuento may denote both the initial tallying of votes or, as in English, a second vote count. In that regard, the DRAE defines recontar as contar o volver a contar el número de cosas. Thus recuento de votos may be a synonym of escrutinio de votos denoting the counting of votes for the first time, as in Los colegios electorales han cerrado y ha comenzado el recuento de votos (“The polling stations have closed and the counting of votes has commenced”). But, as in English, recuento de votos may also refer to a “recount,” i.e., to a second or subsequent canvassing of votes. This was implicit, for example, in news articles published in Spain concerning the 2000 US election recount, such as one entitled La victoria de Bush depende del recuento en Florida.
The same may apply in other contexts. Recuento físico de existencias denotes a “physical inventory,” “inventory count” or “physical stock-taking,” and may refer to an initial inventory or stock count (its usual meaning) or a second or subsequent one. In contrast, in English the expression “inventory (or) stock recount” always denotes a second or subsequent review of stock after an initial inventory has been conducted.
In other respects, in the context of corrections law (Derecho penitenciario) recuento has a totally different meaning. In that regard, expressions such as recuento de internos or recuento de reclusos refer to an “inmate headcount” or “inmate rollcall.”