Mistranslations (?) of vecindad

Is this really a mistranslation_

vecindad; vecindad civil

In legal translations I have seen vecindad translated simply as “neighborhood” and vecindad civil común as “common legal residence.” But both of these renderings fail to recognize the specific meaning that vecindad has in the context of Spanish civil law. Vecindad civil denotes one’s legal regional domicile, the geographic area in Spain in which a person habitually resides and which determines whether he is subject to the Civil Code (Derecho civil común, the “common law” of Spain) or to local law (Derecho civil foral o especial). Separate systems of local civil law exist principally in the Basque Country and Navarre, as well as in Catalonia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands and Galicia, affecting, among others, family and inheritance law (Derecho de familia y sucesiones) and marital property systems (régimen económico matrimonial).

Thus, persons under vecindad civil común are subject to the provisions of the Civil Code (Código Civil), while those having vecindad civil foral o especial are governed by local law. In that regard, when acquiring Spanish nationality, new citizens must state whether they choose to be governed by the Civil Code (acogerse a la vecindad civil común) or by local law. And perhaps it should be noted that although the expression Derecho foral is often used to denote all areas of Spain having their own civil law, strictly speaking it refers solely to the local law of the Basque Country and Navarre, while the local law in force in Catalonia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands, and Galicia is known as Derecho especial.


False Friends: usurpación; usurpation

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.

Oh, no! False Friends

usurpación; usurpation

Usurpación is used in the definition of several types of criminal offense for which the literal translation “usurpation” may not be the most appropriate. In this context, usurpación generally denotes “unlawful appropriation.” The specific offense of usurpación de inmuebles may be rendered in many cases as “squatting.” Usurpación de estado civil broadly describes various modes of “identity theft,” while usurpación de atribuciones generally denotes “misappropriation of powers.” In that regard, usurpación de funciones públicas may refer to “improper assumption of office” or perhaps to “impersonating a public official,” while usurpación de funciones policiales is “impersonating a police officer.” In the terminology of intellectual property offenses, usurpación often has the meaning of “infringement,” as in usurpación de patentes y modelos o dibujos industriales (“infringement of patents and industrial models or designs”). In official EU documents the expression usurpación de marca is sometimes translated as “counterfeiting,” as in la lucha contra la usurpación de marca y la piratería (“the fight against counterfeiting and piracy”). And, finally, usurpación may also be used to describe several types of computer crime such as “cybersquatting” (usurpación de nombres de dominio), “email spoofing” (usurpación de direcciones de correo electrónico) or “web spoofing” (usurpación de contenidos de páginas web).


False Friends: científico/a; scientific

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.

Oh, no! False Friends

científico/a ; scientific

literatura científica ; scientific literature

In legal contexts the adjective ciéntifico/a cannot always be appropriately translated as “scientific.” In that regard, in criminal law ciéntifico/a often denotes certain areas of forensics. Thus, in Spain Unidades de Polícia Ciéntifica are “Forensic Police Units” or “Crime Scene Investigation Units” and, in general, la policía científica may be described variously as “forensic police,” “crime scene investigators” or perhaps even “crime scene evidence technicians.” In this context análisis científico refers to “forensic analysis,” and an expression such as técnicas científico-policiales dirigidas a la investigación del delito refers to “forensic techniques for use in criminal investigation” or simply “forensic criminal investigation techniques.”

In other respects, in English the expression “scientific literature” is likely to be understood to refer to documents dealing with some area of the sciences (biology, physics, medicine, etc.). In contrast, in Spanish and in legal contexts literatura científica is often synonymous with doctrina académica, denoting the writings of law professors and legal scholars, and may be appropriately translated as “legal scholarship,” “scholarly writing,” “academic opinion” or “the writing of legal scholars.” Thus, for example, la literatura más autorizada sobre la transmisibilidad de acciones refers to “the most authoritative scholarly writing (or) academic opinion concerning the transferability of shares.” Likewise, in this context the expression revistas científicas does not necessarily refer to “scientific publications,” but rather to “academic journals,” and revistas científicas de Derecho are specifically “law journals” or “law reviews.”



Terminology Sources: Duhaime’s Law Dictionary

Terminology Sources

For many years I have visited the much acclaimed webpage of Canadian lawyer Lloyd Duhaime, not only to consult his online “Duhaime’s Law Dictionary,” but also to review its “Legal Resource Sections” on practically every major area of law. But beware! It is easy to become distracted (in the most positive sense of the word) in the “LAWFun” sections (among them, “Dumbest Things Said in Court;” “LAWmazing!,” “Crazy Laws Around the World” and “Outrageous Lawsuits”) that are as entertaining as they are informative. More than just a source of terminology, the site delivers legal information to an average of 10,000 visitors a day. Take a look at www.duhaime.org.


Capsule Vocabularies: Servidumbres

ES-EN legal translators (and lawyers and professors) often require a minimum basic vocabulary in a specific area of law, something that they will be hard pressed to find searching word-by-word in a dictionary. (In this case, the “problem” with dictionaries is that they are in alphabetical order.) Blog entries labeled “Capsule Vocabularies” will feature some of the basic terminology lists developed for use by my students of legal English that I hope may also be of interest to translator and interpreter colleagues and other legal professionals.

Servidumbres (Easements)

Translators dealing with property law texts are sometimes surprised by the number of servidumbres (easements) provided for in the Spanish Civil Code. Here are the major categories of servidumbre and other related vocabulary with their corresponding English translations:

  • predio/fundo/heredad dominante─dominant tenement/estate; benefited property
  • predio/fundo/heredad sirviente─servient tenement/estate; burdened property
  • servidumbre predial─easement that runs with the land
  • servidumbre personal─easement in gross
  • servidumbre positiva─affirmative easement; positive easement
  • servidumbre negativa─negative easement
  • servidumbre continua─continuous easement
  • servidumbre discontinua─discontinuous easement
  • servidumbre aparente─apparent easement
  • servidumbre no aparente─nonapparent easement
  • servidumbre legal─legal easement; easement created by operation of law
  • servidumbre en equidad─equitable easement
  • servidumbre voluntaria─easement by express grant; easement by agreement of the parties
  • servidumbre adquirida por usucapión─prescriptive easement; easement by prescription; adverse easement
  • servidumbre pública─public easement
  • servidumbre en materia de agua─water easement; water rights
  • servidumbre natural de las aguas─right to natural waterflows
  • servidumbre de las márgenes de cauces públicos─riparian water rights; right to use of riverbanks
  • servidumbre de camino de sirga─towpath easement
  • servidumbre de estribo de presa─dam easement
  • servidumbre de parada o partidor─irrigation system easement
  • servidumbre de saca de agua─right to draw water; easement to draw water
  • servidumbre de acueducto─water conveyance easement
  • servidumbre de desagüe─drainage easement
  • servidumbre de vertiente de tejados─roof water runoff/drainage easement
  • servidumbre de abrevadero─livestock watering easement
  • servidumbre de acceso al mar─beach access easement; easement providing access to the sea
  • servidumbre de paso─right of way; access easement; easement of passage
  • servidumbre de paso permanente─permanent right of way
  • servidumbre industrial─utility easement
  • servidumbre de paso en beneficio de fincas enclavadas─right of way to landlocked property; landlocked property easement
  • servidumbre temporal por obras─temporary construction easement
  • servidumbre de paso para ganado─livestock right of way; livestock easement
  • servidumbre de descansadero─easement for resting livestock
  • servidumbre de majada─easement for overnighting livestock
  • servidumbre de pastos─grazing easement
  • servidumbre de leña─timber easement; timber rights
  • servidumbre de medianería─party wall easement
  • servidumbre de luces y vistas─light and air easement

 Source: Rebecca Jowers. Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés. Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015, pp. 770-772.

Confusing Terms: Are the artículos in a law “articles” or “sections”?

_Artículos_ (are they _articles_ or _sections__)

Among translators there is often much debate as to how to appropriately translate the divisions of legislative texts. Under the entry for “section” the Alcaraz/Hughes dictionary* notes that “Acts (of the UK Parliament) are divided into sections, sub-sections and paragraphs,” indicating that “al hablar de las divisiones del texto de una ley ‘section’ equivale a ‘artículo’ y ‘article’ a ‘sección’… (aunque) en el Derecho comunitario redactado en inglés ‘article’ equivale a ‘artículo.’” In other respects, the U.S. Code** is divided into Titles, Parts, Chapters and Sections (the latter being conveyed by the symbol “§” rather than by the word “section”). And major pieces of Spanish legislation (Código Civil; Código Penal, etc.) are divided into Libros, Títulos, Capítulos and Artículos.

In view of the above and despite this diversity in terminology, following Alcaraz/Hughes (and other similar sources) many translators categorically insist that artículo should be translated as “section,” and “section” as artículo, except when the translation concerns EU law in which artículos are “articles.” But this seemingly simple rule has the potential for causing much confusion and, precisely for that reason, swimming against the tide and going against the grain, I admit that I generally ignore it. I prefer to render the Libros, Títulos, Capítulos and Artículos of Spanish laws literally as “Books,” “Titles,” “Chapters” and “Articles.” That way anyone seeking to consult the legal texts cited in a translation may at least have half a chance of actually locating the article (or “section”) in question in the original Spanish law.

*Enrique Alcaraz Varó and Brian Hughes. Diccionario de términos jurídicos ingles-español, Spanish-English. Barcelona: Ariel, 2005.

**United States Code (also called US Code or USC) is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. http://uscode.house.gov/

Mistranslations (?) of fondo

Is this really a mistranslation_


In expressions such as pronunciamiento sobre el fondo, entrar al fondo or sin entrar al fondo, etc., fondo has a very specific meaning in Spanish procedural terminology that translators may sometimes ignore. In that regard, in procedural contexts fondo has sometimes been mistranslated as “foco” or “meollo,” entrar al fondo as “touching upon the core of the matter,” and sin pronunciamiento sobre el fondo as “without getting down to the real issues.”

These renderings all fail to recognize that when referring to judicial decisions (resoluciones judiciales), fondo (del asunto) is the Spanish expression for what is known in English as “merits (of the case).” Thus juicio sobre el fondo refers to a “trial on the merits,” while pronunciamiento sobre el fondo denotes a “decision (or) ruling on the merits.” Likewise, entrar al fondo is “to decide/rule on the merits” and sin entrar a fondo means “without a decision/ruling on the merits.”

Español jurídico : The Terminology of Juvenile Justice


Perhaps to underscore the different treatment afforded minors, in Spain the terminology of juvenile justice (justicia penal de menores) is quite different from the terminology used to describe the criminal prosecution of adults. In that regard, in adult felony proceedings (proceso penal ordinario) the preliminary investigation is known as a sumario, while in juvenile justice the equivalent is expediente de reforma. Thus bringing a criminal action against an adult is expressed as incoar un proceso penal, while in juvenile procedure this is called incoar un expediente de reforma. The questioning of an adult suspect may be described as interrogatorio del investigado (formerly, imputado) and is conducted by an investigating judge (juez instructor). In juvenile justice terms the interrogation of a minor is known as exploración del menor and is carried out by a prosecutor (fiscal).

Pretrial detention, known as prisión provisional or prisión preventiva in adult contexts, is internamiento cautelar when it involves a juvenile. In certain circumstances an adult may for a limited period be placed in isolation or solitary confinement, known as prisión provisional incomunicada; but this is called internamiento incomunicado if imposed on a minor. And rather than juicio oral, the trial of a minor is referred to as an audiencia.

Criminal sentences, known as penas when imposed on an adult convicted offender, are called medidas when imposed on a minor. Thus, enforcement of a criminal sentence is ejecución de la pena in adult contexts, but is known as ejecución de la medida when applied to juveniles. A custodial sentence for adults, pena privativa de libertad or, more specifically, pena de prisión is called medida de internamiento when applied to juvenile offenders, who are known as menores infractores.

Convicted adults may be sentenced to incarceration in a centro penitenciario, while juveniles serve custodial sentences in a centro de internamiento (de menores) and are known as a menores internados rather than as internos or reclusos, as adult prisoners are called. In addition to these and other differences in terminology, it should perhaps be noted that the rules of procedure for trying minors set forth in Ley Orgánica 5/2000, de 12 de enero, reguladora de la responsabilidad penal de menores (and subsequent amendments) are radically different from those governing the prosecution of adults under the Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal. And cases against minors are always heard in a juvenile court (juzgado de menores) by a specialized juvenile court judge (juez de menores).

For further reading:

José Luis de la Cuesta and Isidoro Blanco. El enjuiciamiento de menores y jóvenes infractores en España.” Electronic Review of the International Association of Penal Law (Revista Electrónica de la Asociación Internacional de Derecho Penal) A-03, 2006.

Confusing Terms: agente de seguros; corredor de seguros

Confusing Terms2
Many confusing terms in legal Spanish and legal English are simply legal synonyms that are not always clearly distinguishable, often making it necessary to learn how each one is used in a specific context or in set phrases (frases hechas). Some may be interchangeable; others are limited to use in specific contexts. Those highlighted in this blog are ones that I have seen confused in translation or that my students and lawyer clients have found most difficult to distinguish.

agente de seguros; corredor de seguros

Although sometimes confused, these expressions generally mirror the difference between the English terms “insurance agent” and “insurance broker.” In that regard, an agente de seguros (“insurance agent”) typically represents a single insurance company or agency (aseguradora), offering his customers the insurance policies (pólizas de seguro) marketed by that company. In contrast, a corredor de seguros (“insurance broker”) may offer his clients a series of products from different insurance companies. As underscored in Article 21.1 of Ley 26/2006 de mediación de seguros y reaseguros privados, corredores de segurosrealizan la actividad merantil de mediación de seguros…sin mantener vínculos contractuales que supongan afección con entidades aseguradoras.” In that regard, insurance brokers act as impartial mediators in insurance transactions: a diferencia del agente de seguros, el corredor es un mediador imparcial, no actúa en nombre y por cuenta de una entidad aseguradora, sino en beneficio de las dos partes contratantes.* Thus in this context, the expression correduría de seguros might be rendered as “insurance brokerage firm.”

*Juan Manuel Fernández Martínez. Diccionario Jurídico. Cizur Menor: Thompson-Aranzadi, 2004.



Mistranslations (?): Is Derecho anglosajón really “Anglo-Saxon Law”?

Anglo-saxon law

Derecho anglosajón; Anglo-Saxon law

I once saw the CV of an English-Spanish translator indicating that she was an “expert in Anglo-Saxon law.” That surprised me until I realized that what she most likely meant was “common law,” “English law” or perhaps even “Anglo-American law.” In effect, in Spanish the expression Derecho anglosajón is often used (as is Derecho angloamericano) to refer to “common law,” but in this context it can’t be rendered back into English literally as “Anglo-Saxon law.” If not an outright mistranslation, in this context “Anglo-Saxon law” is certainly at least misleading since, strictly speaking, the expression refers soley to the body of law that prevailed in England from the 6th century until the Norman Conquest (1066), i.e., el Derecho de los anglosajones.

Thus, as used in Spanish legal texts Derecho anglosajón is rarely intended to mean “Anglo-Saxon law,” but rather “common law,” “Anglo-American law,” or the “law of England and Wales.” Likewise, references to jueces (or) tribunales anglosajones generally denote “common law judges (or) courts,” rather than “Anglo-Saxon judges (or) courts.” When a Spanish lawyer comments on los jueces anglosajones y su acatamiento al precedente, he is probably not referring to Anglo-Saxon judges, but rather to the fact that common law or Anglo-American judges follow precedent. Likewise, when a Spanish law professor presents to his class an análisis comparativo de dos sentencias dictadas por tribunales anglosajones, he is most certainly referring to “two judgments rendered by the English courts,” rather than by Anglo-Saxon courts.

So, obviously, as translators we certainly need to be knowledgeable in the modern law of England and Wales. But we probably don’t need to be that familiar with the legal institutions existing during the reign of Alfred the Great.