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

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

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 was most likely referring to 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 it can’t usually 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 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. Thus the translator colleague who claimed to be an expert in Anglo-Saxon law may be quite knowledgeable in the modern law of England and Wales, but is probably less so in the legal institutions existing during the reign of Alfred the Great.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s