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.

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