One of the major difficulties of learning legal language is that so many terms have one meaning in everyday usage, but may mean something radically different in legal contexts. And sometimes the same word may have several different legal meanings, depending on the practice area in which it is used. Linguists may describe such terms as “polysemous,” and they are certainly present in abundance in both legal Spanish and legal English. Under “Multiple Meanings” I offer a sampling of expressions that I believe are likely to give rise to miscues in legal translation. Logically, the focus is on usage in legal contexts, and their nonlegal meanings have generally been excluded.
award; to award
In nonlegal contexts “award” is often a synonym for “prize,” as in “The Academy Awards” (los Óscar). “Award” has similar connotations in legal contexts as both a noun and a verb, but how the term is best translated may vary in different areas of law. In the context of arbitration, the decision of an arbitrator is known as an “arbitral (or) arbitration award,” which in Spanish is laudo arbitral. “To award a contract” is adjudicar un contrato, and “to award custody” (of children in a divorce proceeding, for example) is atribuir la guarda y custodia.
In civil procedure “award” may describe a judge’s decision granting a plaintiff compensation for damages (“award of damages”) or an order that the losing party bear the successful party’s costs (“award of costs”). It should be noted that in Spanish this is generally expressed from the perspective of the losing party who is ordered to pay damages (condenado al pago de daños y perjuicios) or ordered to pay costs (condenado en costas). Thus “plaintiff was awarded damages” would be expressed in Spanish as el demandado fue condenado al pago de daños y perjuicios (literally, “defendant was ordered to pay damages”). Likewise, “plaintiff was awarded costs” would be rendered in Spanish as el demandado fue condenado en costas (literally, “defendant was ordered to pay costs”). In that regard “award of costs” is most often expressed as imposición de costas or condena en costas, denoting a judge’s order assessing costs against the losing party.