Another Pair of Legal False Friends: distracción and “distraction”

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distracción; distraction

There are legal contexts in which these terms may indeed be cognates when they denote a “loss of focus, attention or interest,” as in distracción del conductor al volante, referring to a driver becoming distracted while driving (“distraction at the wheel”).

But in Spanish criminal law distracción is also used in academic writing to denote the fraudulent taking of money or property, often as a synonym for malversación or appropiación indebida (“embezzlement” or “misappropriation”). Thus, as examples, the offense of malversación (or) distracción de caudales públicos on the part of a civil servant (funcionario) may perhaps be rendered as “embezzlement of public monies (or) funds,” while a company director’s distraccion de dinero o activo patrimonial may describe the “misappropriation of corporate monies or assets.”

In other respects, in the offense of distracción del curso de las aguas, the term distracción refers to the “unlawful diversion of water from its natural course.” This has been described variously in English as “water theft” or “illegal tapping of water supplies,” and in US state criminal codes often falls under the offense of “defrauding (or) unlawfully interfering with a public utility.”

False Friends (or not?): contaminación; contamination

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When referring to certain types of damage to the environment (daños medioambientales), these terms are often cognates, as in contaminación medioambiental (“environmental contamination”) or contaminación radioactiva (“radioactive contamination”).

But in this same context contaminación is just as often rendered as “pollution” rather than “contamination.” “Environmental pollution” and “radioactive pollution” are quite common, as are similar expressions such as contaminación atmosférica (“air pollution”), contaminación de las aguas (“water pollution”), contaminación acústica (“noise pollution”) and contaminación lumínica (“light pollution”). Likewise, in this context contaminantes may be rendered as “contaminants” or “pollutants.”

In other respects, “contamination” is used in criminal forensics in expressions such as “contamination of evidence” or “contamination of DNA samples.” These may be rendered respectively as contaminación de pruebas and contaminación de muestras de ADN.

And, as a final example, lately in the Spanish press, journalists who disagree with judicial decisions often use the term jueces contaminados. In English the expression “contaminated judges” generally denotes judges who have a conflict of interest or who have already been involved or ruled on a related case. In contrast, in Spain jueces contaminados appears to be a term intended to accuse judges of a lack of impartiality when adjudicating politically sensitive matters.

False Friends: When información isn’t simply “information”

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There are several instances in legal Spanish in which “information” may not be the most appropriate translation for información. In the context of securities law, información privilegiada refers to “insider information,” while uso de información privilegiada denotes “insider trading (or) dealing” and normas sobre información privilegiada are “insider trading rules.”

In the context of corporate law, obligación (or) deber de información is not merely an “obligation to provide information” as the expression has sometimes been translated literally, but rather refers to “disclosure requirements” imposed upon publicly-traded companies pursuant to Spain’s Ley del Mercado de Valores (“Securities Market Act”).

And in the context of administrative law and urban planning, trámite de información pública refers to a legal requirement that information concerning certain public works projects be made available to the public to enable private citizens to present their opinions or objections (called alegaciones) before the project is implemented. In the UK this type of trámite de información pública is known as a “public consultation.” In that regard, the seemingly cryptic expression sacar el proyecto a información pública merely means “to submit the project to public consultation.”

False Friends Fridays: imposición and “imposition”

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In legal contexts imposición (and imponer) can rarely be rendered literally as “imposition” (or “to impose”). In banking law imposición refers to a “deposit,” as in fecha de imposición (“deposit date”); imposición a plazo fijo (“time deposit”); imposición minima (“minimum deposit”) or “imposición en efectivo (“cash deposit”). In the context of tax law imposición denotes “taxation:” imposición directa (“direct taxation”); imposición indirecta (“indirect taxation”); doble imposición (“double taxation”) or convenio de doble imposición (“double tax treaty,” “treaty for the avoidance of double taxation”).

In procedural law imposición de costas is a court’s “award of costs.” Se imponen a la parte demandada las costas indicates that the “defendant is ordered to pay (the plaintiff’s/claimant’s) costs,” usually expressed in English from the perspective of the successful party, in this case as “plaintiff/claimant is awarded costs.” And in the context of criminal law, imposición de la pena refers in general to “sentencing,” as in imponer pena de prisión (“to sentence to prision,” “to impose a prison sentence”); imponer pena de multa (“to fine,” “to impose a fine”) or imponer la pena de privación del derecho de conducir (“to suspend/ revoke a driver’s license,” “to disqualify from driving”).

False Friends Fridays: adhesión; adhesion (and the verbs adherir; adhere)

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Adhesión and “adhesion” may be cognates in an expression such as “adhesion contract” (contrato de adhesión). But in the sense of adhesión a un tratado, adhesión is more appropriately rendered as “accession,” as in acuerdo de adhesión (“accession agreement”) or la adhesión de España a la CEE (“Spain’s accession to the EEC”). In this case the appropriate verbs are adherir and “accede:” Estados miembros que se han adherido a la Unión Europea (“Member States that have acceded to the European Union”).

In other respects, in the language of court decisions adherirse is used to denote a judge’s “joining” another’s opinion: adherirse al voto particular disidente/discrepante o concurrente (“to join a dissenting or concurring opinion”). Thus, for example, voto particular concurrente que formula el Magistrado don Luis López Guerra y al que se adhiere el Magistrado don Tomás S. Vives Antón refers to a “concurring opinion filed by Judge Luis López Guerra in which Judge Tomás S. Vives Antón joined.” Likewise, in English an expression such as “Justice White, with whom Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens join, dissenting” denotes a voto particular disidente (or) discrepante formulado por el Magistrado White, al que se adhieren los Magistrados Blackmun y Stevens.

In an additional context, in Spain’s former Civil Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil de 1881) the successful party to a lawsuit could join the losing party’s appeal (called adherirse a la apelación) to challenge some aspect of the judgment being contested. In the present Civil Procedure Act (Ley 1/2000) adhesión a la apelación has been replaced by the concept of impugnación del recurso. In that regard, once the appellant (apelante) has filed his appeal, the appellee or respondent (apelado) may file a brief opposing the appeal (escrito de oposición al recurso) or, if warranted, a brief challenging specific aspects of the appeal that he deems prejudicial to his interests (escrito de impugnación de la resolución apelada en lo que le resulte desfavorable).

False Friends Fridays: a new pair each week! (tráfico; traffic)

False Friends Fridays new

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.”

False Friends: accidental and “accidental”

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Accidental has several meanings in which the term cannot be appropriately rendered in English as “accidental.” This is the case when accidental is used in the sense of “provisional” or “temporary.” Thus, for example, the expression secretario accidental denotes an “acting (or) interim secretary.” Likewise, el decano accidental del Colegio de Abogados refers to an “acting (or) interim president of the Bar Association.”

Accidental may also mean sin formalidad jurídica (DLE). In that regard, in Spanish business law sociedad accidental is another expression for contrato de cuentas en participación, an informal business vehicle in which a party may privately contribute capital to a business venture with a view to sharing in the profits (arts. 239-243 of the Spanish Código de Comercio). As used in this context, sociedad accidental has often been translated as “partnership” or “joint venture,” although in Spain it lacks the usual legal formalities required to set up most businesses, being a simple pacto que no requiere escritura ni inscripción en el Registro Mercantil.