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.

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