Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: Sala Primera, Sala Segunda, etc.

Spanish legal professionals may assume that their audiences will understand what is meant when they refer to any of the five divisions of the Supreme Court by their number (Sala Primera, Sala Segunda, etc.). And some translators choose to render these literally as “First Chamber,” “Second Chamber.” But there is an ellipsis in these expressions, Sala Primera referring to the Sala Primera, de lo Civil or “Civil Division” of the Supreme Court, while Sala Segunda, de lo Penal denotes the Court’s “Criminal Division.” Indeed, the Spanish Supreme Court has five divisions: Sala Primera, de lo Civil (“Civil Division”); Sala Segunda, de lo Penal (“Criminal Division”); Sala Tercera, de lo Contencioso-Administrativo (“Administrative Division”); Sala Cuarta, de lo Social (“Labor Division”) and Sala Quinta, de lo Militar (“Military Division”). Thus instead of merely repeating the number, it may be more accurate to translate these references as “Civil Division,” “Criminal Division,” “Administrative Division,” etc.

Likewise, Magistrado de la Sala Segunda denotes a “Judge of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court,” a Magistrado de la Sala Tercera is a “Judge of the Administrative Division of the Supreme Court,” while a Magistrado de la Sala Cuarta is a “judge of the Labor Division of the Supreme Court,” etc. In texts in which it is clear that the reference is to the Supreme Court, these three examples might also be translated simply as “Civil Division Judge,” “Criminal Division Judge” and “Labor Division Judge.”

Ellipsis in bien protegido

Bien protegido might appear to refer to “protected assets (or) goods,” and the expression has sometimes been mistranslated as such, or has simply been deemed an adjective phrase and rendered as “well-protected.” But bien protegido is actually an ellipsis for bien jurídico protegido (also called bien jurídico tutelado), a criminal law term (from the German Rechtsgut) that designates the specific interest protected under the individual provisions of the Spanish Criminal Code. As examples, in the crime of homicidio, the legally-protected interest (bien jurídico protegido) is la vida humana. With respect to delitos de amenazas, the legally-protected interests include “el sentimiento de tranquilidad y el ataque a la libertad en la formación de la voluntad…” In the crime of failure to come to the aid (omisión del deber de socorro) the bien protegido is “la solidaridad humana.” And in crimes of theft, robbery and burglary (hurto, robo con violencia en las personas y robo con fuerza en las cosas) the legally-protected interests are posesión or propiedad.

(Source for the examples cited above: Tomás Vives Antón, et.al., Derecho Penal, Parte Especial, Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015.)

Ellipsis in arrendamiento para uso distinto

The expression arrendamiento para uso distinto immediately prompts the question ¿distinto a qué? The complete expression with its ellipted part included is arrendamiento para uso distinto del de vivienda and is used in Spain to refer to the “leasing of non-residential property” (literally, “leasing for use other than as a residence.”) In that regard, in reference to real estate the expression uso distinto refers to “non-residential use” or “use for non-residential purposes.” And contrato de arrendamiento para uso distinto denotes a “contract to lease property for non-residential purposes” that may often be translated simply as a “non-residential lease.”

Ellipsis in Legal Language

No one can dispute the fact that legal language is a foreign language that future lawyers must begin to master from their first day in law school. With much dedication, translators can also acquire a solid knowledge of legal terminology from law school textbooks, well-selected dictionaries and many other legal sources. But lawyers don’t always go by the book and sometimes use their own telegraphic language, often leaving out half of any given expression. This may make translation nearly impossible for the uninitiated and, in effect, the meanings of certain legal Spanish phrases containing ellipses often elude translators. Spanish lawyers and legal professionals may be quite familiar with such expressions, but they are largely absent from bilingual legal sources.

In blog entries under “Ellipsis in Legal Language” I will offer a sampling of ellipses that I have found to be the most common, together with an explanation of the ellipted parts and suggestions as to how the expressions might be rendered in English. Many would be obvious in certain contexts, but may be difficult to understand if used in isolation. And of course there may be hundreds more: that’s just the way lawyers talk.