Time to Tweet!

Tweeting bird

After publishing 180 entries in this blog on Spanish-English legal terminology (Léxico Jurídico Español-Inglés on WordPress at rebeccajowers.com), at the urging of one of my students I am finally on Twitter (@ES_ENLegalTrans). With this move, I hope to be able to more closely share in the work and ideas of legal translator colleagues, teachers (and students) of Legal English, and the many lawyers and legal professionals out there whose blogs and tweets seek to explain the ins and out of legal terms and concepts to broader audiences. I will (of course!) continue to post entries to this blog in the usual categories:

  • ES-EN legal terminology
  • Legal English for Spanish-speakers
  • False friends
  • Multiple meanings
  • Confusing terms
  • Common words with uncommon legal meanings
  • Expressing civil law concepts in common law terms
  • Español jurídico
  • Latinismos
  • Mistranslations? and
  • Terminology sources

And, in October I will be introducing a new topic: “Weird Words and Cryptic Concepts,” to examine some of the obscure terminology that lawyers and judges seem to use just to keep legal translators in their toes!

If it’s Spanish, why does it look like German?

If it's Spanish, why does it look like German_

This has been bothering me for quite a while: I receive texts to translate from my Spanish lawyer clients and so many of the nouns are capitalized, that I think I’m reading a text in German! It doesn’t matter whether they are court pleadings or corporate documents, and this idiosyncrasy of legal Spanish is also widely present in many manuales de Derecho.

Legal Spanish style manuals warn against this practice. The Libros de estilo of both the Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid* and the Centro de Estudios Garrigues** contain the following paragraph:

A pesar de que la costumbre o el deseo de enfatizar determinados conceptos tueden tentarnos a usar las mayúsculas, se escriben con inicial minúscula las siguientes palabras: acta, acuerdo administrador, balance, capítulo, comunidad autónoma, consejero delegado, contrato, convenio colectivo, departamento, despacho, diputado, director, empresa, entidad, estatutos sociales, gerente, grupo (de sociedades), informe, jefe de personal, jefe de sección, jefe de servicio, juez, junta general, magistrado, memoria, notario, propuesta, protocolo (notarial), sección, senador, sociedad, socio, tomo.

So the question is, should all such terms be capitalized in an English translation when (in spite of this warning) they appear in caps in the Spanish original? Should we consider capitalized terms as part of a document’s format (which we generally should try to duplicate when possible) and, for example, render generic uses of Juez as “Judge,” Tribunal or Sala as “Court,” Consejo de Administración as “Board of Directors” and Junta de Accionistas as “Shareholders Meeting”?

I don’t think so. Although such terms, even when used generically, are often capitalized in Spanish (whether this is appropriate or not), capitalizing them in an English translation may not be advisable for two reasons. First, since this is not customary in English, it may prove distracting to the reader. But more importantly, precisely since this is not customary, readers may think that the fact that a term is capitalized gives it a special meaning (such as capitalized terms have in English-language contracts). They may ultimately look for a special meaning in the capitalized terms that they obviously don’t have.

*Alberto Gómez Font and Francisco Muñoz Guerrero. Libro de Estilo del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid. Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2007.

** Alberto Gómez Font and María Peña Arsuaga. Libro de Estilo Garrigues. Cizur Menor (Navarra): Editorial Aranzadi, 2006.

It may not mean what you think! Legal meaning of vis-à-vis

The French expression “vis-à-vis” is used in English as a preposition with the meaning con respecto a; con relación a; en relación con, etc., as in “the workers’ position vis-à-vis their employer” (la posición de los trabajadores con respecto a su empleador) or “the value of the pound vis-à-vis the dollar” (el valor de la libra con relación al dólar).

But in Spain in the context of corrections law (Derecho penitenciario) vis-à-vis has a very peculiar meaning, denoting private visits (comunicaciones íntimas) with a spouse or partner afforded prison inmates under certain conditions. Family “vis-à-vis” (comunicaciones familiares and comunicaciones de convivencia) are also possible and encouraged. Read more here.

“Conjugal visit” is the expression most commonly used to describe private visits with prison inmates in the English-speaking jurisdictions in which they are permitted. In the US they are allowed in four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Washington). Read more here.

False Friends (26): adjudicar; adjudicate

Oh, no! False Friends

adjudicar ; adjudicate / adjudicación ; adjudication

These pairs are clearly false cognates. In Spanish adjudicar generally has the meaning of “to award,” “to allocate” or “to allot.” Thus, for example, adjudicar un contrato is “to award a contract,” (not “adjudicate a contract”), while in the context of auctions (subastas) adjudicado al mejor postor may often be rendered simply as “sold to the highest bidder.”

In contrast, in English “to adjudicate” means “to rule upon or settle judicially; to adjudge,” while “adjudication” is “the legal process of resolving a dispute; the process of judicially deciding a case.”* Thus, “to adjudicate” is juzgar, fallar or resolver judicialmente, referring to the final ruling of a court or quasi-judicial body, a sense that adjudicar does not have in Spanish. In that regard, when referring to a judicial decision “adjudication” cannot be translated as adjudicación. “He was adjudicated guilty” means le declararon culpable (or) fue declarado culpable (being synonymous with “convicted” or “found guilty”). “Adjudication on the merits” refers to a court’s resolución sobre el fondo and “to adjudicate disputes” is resolver conflictos (en sede judicial). Likewise, in the context of court proceedings or hearings before quasi-judicial boards or tribunals, “adjudication of claims” might be translated as resolución de pretensiones, resolución de reclamaciones or, perhaps, resolución de demandas, depending on the context. As additional examples, “adjudication of incompetence” refers to a declaración judicial de incapacidad, and a person “adjudicated incompetent” has been judicialmente incapacitada. In summary, “adjudicate (or) adjudication” could not be appropriately rendered as adjudicar (or) adjudicación in any of these expressions.

The same may be said of the verb “to adjudge,” which likewise means “to award, grant or impose judicially.” Thus the expression “Ordered and adjudged” often appearing at the end of a court ruling does not mean Ordenado y adjudicado, as the expression has sometimes been rendered literally, but rather precedes a court’s disposal of a matter in dispute, denoting its “adjudication” (fallo). So, “It is therefore ordered and adjudged…” might actually be rendered as “Se ordena y falla…”.

*Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed.