Legal translators will probably agree that when learning legal terminology in a bilingual context, one of the first pitfalls we encounter are the so-called “false friends,” words or expressions that appear to be cognates but may actually be 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 to-date have included 33 of them in this blog. And starting today (y hasta agotar existencias), I’ll be sharing a new pair on this site each Friday.
To be fair, I should note that some of the word pairs highlighted 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.
So to start out, let’s look at
tráfico and traffic
Tráfico must logically be rendered as “traffic” in many contexts, as in tráfico aéreo (“air traffic”), tráfico rodado (“road traffic” or “vehicular traffic”), delitos contra la seguridad del tráfico (“traffic offenses”) or accidente de tráfico (“traffic accident”). The term must likewise be translated as “trafficking” in expressions such as tráfico de drogas (“drug trafficking,” also called narcotráfico), tráfico de armas (“arms trafficking”) or tráfico de personas (“human trafficking”).
But in certain contexts tráfico refers to different aspects of “commerce” or “trade” such as in usos de tráfico (“commercial practice”); tráfico mercantil (“commercial trade” or “commercial transactions”) and tráfico intercomunitario (“intra-EU trade”). Likewise, in accounting terminology acreedores y deudores por operaciones de tráfico are respectively “trade creditors and debtors” or “trade payables and receivables.” Tráfico may also be used as a synonym of tránsito: tráfico marítimo (“maritime shipping”). And the criminal law concept of tráfico de influencias is generally rendered as “influence peddling.”