False Friends: When declaración is not a declaration

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.

declaración ; declaration

There are many legal contexts in which declaración cannot be appropriately translated as “declaration.” When denoting the official confirmation of a status or event, declaración may often be rendered as “certification,” as in declaración de fallecimiento (“certification of death”) or declaración de incapacidad laboral (“certification of occupational disability”). In tax law (Derecho tributario), declaración de la renta (or declaración tributaria) is an “income tax return,” and presentar la declaración de la renta is “to file an income tax return.” Thus, for example, declaración conjunta is a “joint tax return” filed by both spouses, while declaración complementaria is an “amended return.” In the context of judicial decisions, declaración judicial is generically a “judicial ruling,” denoting a court’s adjudication of a given matter, as in declaración judicial de insolvencia (“adjudication of insolvency”) or declaración judicial de incapacidad (“adjudication of incompetence [or] incapacity”). In the Spanish Civil Procedure Act (Ley del Enjuiciamiento Civil), declaración often refers to “testimony,” as in declaración testifical (“witness testimony”), declaración de partes colitigantes (“co-litigant testimony”) or declaración de tercero (“third-party testimony”). In this context prestar declaración is “to testify,” while negativa a declarar is “refusal to testify.” And, finally, in the context of criminal procedure (Derecho procesal penal), declararse culpable has the specific meaning of “to plead guilty” as in se declaró culpable de dos de los cargos (“he pleaded guilty to two of the charges”).

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