When the Decano not a “Dean”

“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.

decano ; juez decano; decanato ; juzgado decano

In academic contexts, decano can certainly be rendered as “dean,” as in the expression Decano de la Facultad de Derecho (“Dean of the Law School/Faculty of Law”). But decano has often been translated as “dean” in contexts in which this rendering is inappropriate. When referring to the head of a professional association in expressions such as Decano del Ilustre Colegio Notarial de Valencia and Decano del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid, “decano” refers to the “president” of those entities. In this context colegio denotes a “professional association,” rather than a “college,” and in English the head of a professional association is most often its “president,” rather than a “dean.” Thus the decanos mentioned above are respectively the “President of the Valencia Notaries Association” and the “President of the Madrid Bar Association.” Some of the prominent international notaries associations that have presidents as their head officer include the International Union of Latin Notaries, National Notary Association of America, the Notaries Society of England and Wales and the Council of the Notariats of the European Union. Likewise, the head of the major US bar associations such as the American Bar Association or the National Bar Association, as well as the heads of the state bar associations are all called “presidents,” rather than “deans.” In this context vice decano refers to a “vice president,” while decano accidental is “acting (or) interim president.”

Similarly, in the context of the organization of the Spanish judiciary, decanato does not refer to a “dean’s office,” “deanery,” or even a “senior court” or “court clerk’s office,” as the term has sometimes been mistranslated, but rather to a juzgado decano, the court that oversees administrative matters for all of the courts within a given judicial district. In that regard, although often translated as “senior judge,” the juez decano (or simply decano) who presides a decanato is not necessarily the “senior judge” in the district, i.e., the judge with the most seniority (antigüedad), which is more appropriately expressed in Spanish as el juez más antiguo. In large judicial districts where there are a number of courts, the juez decano is elected by his fellow judges on the “Judges Board (or) Committee” (Junta de Jueces) to oversee court operations and to provide centralized judicial services, (although, in effect, in smaller districts this job may automatically fall to the senior judge). In view of his duties, a juez decano may perhaps be considered the Spanish counterpart of the “Chief Judge” of US Federal District Courts (not to be confused with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), who likewise oversees court administration. Thus for US audiences decano or juez decano and decanato or juzgado decano might be translated respectively as “Chief Judge” and “office of the Chief Judge.” For other audiences, or if there is a risk of confusion with the Chief Justice, perhaps “judge/office in charge of court administration” would be an appropriate descriptive translation for the two concepts.

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