Word of the Week in Law: Antecedent

Word of the Week in Law: Antecedent

December 300x300

When translating between Spanish and English, we want to avoid using so-called “false friends” as much as possible. False friends are words that share a common root in Spanish and English (usually from Latin), but which have evolved to mean different things in each language. As linguists, one of our main challenges is knowing when to use and when to drop words with similar roots. Interestingly enough, legal English vocabulary is full of words that share a common Latin root with legal Spanish vocabulary. Thus requiring much attention to detail from linguists when working in this particular language pair.

One such word is “antecedent.” This may seem like a false friend of the Spanish term antecedentes or, more specifically, antecedentes penales, but it isn’t. In fact, the English word “antecedent” is often used to refer to the prior criminal record of a defendant in a criminal trial under the common law tradition. While our ears are more accustomed to the colloquial terms “prior offenses,” “prior convictions,” or just plain “priors,” the word “antecedents” continues to be used to this day in formal legal settings.

The common ancestor of these terms is the Latin ante, meaning “before” and cedere, meaning “go.” Antecedent made its way first into Old French and from there into late Middle English, as French was the language of the king of England and his court until the end of the 14th century.

4th Lawyer-Linguist Virtual Event… Strong and Growing!

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the 4th Lawyer-Linguist Virtual Event organized by fellow lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar and Proz.com. My overall impression of the event was very positive. I was thrilled to be working with Suzanne and Drew MacFadyen again and to see so many new participants compared to previous years.

When I became a lawyer-linguist, I found myself constantly having to explain what I do for a living, as if legal-linguists were a weird science only a handful of people had ever heard about. I remember back when I was a part-time Law Professor, I had a meeting with my Dean and when the question, “what have you been up to lately, Paula?” was met with, “I’m starting up a legal-linguistic consulting firm,” I could see a question mark draw itself on his face as he wondered, “What on her Earth is she talking about?” But he’s an exceptionally nice guy, so he listened to what I had to say about being a lawyer-linguist. A few months later, I was giving a special presentation to our students as part of the university’s professional orientation efforts, and now, one of the participants is an aspiring lawyer-linguist applying to a United Nations internship. Not bad for a weird science.

Not so long after that, I attended an ordinary meeting of the Public Policies Forum of the Supreme Court of Argentina, of which I am member, and when a judge and translation client of whom I am particularly fond walked up to me and asked, “what have you been up to lately, Paula?” and I answered, “I’ve been starting up a legal-linguistic consulting firm,” I could again see that big old question mark. This again! “I thought you were a lawyer and a translator,” said he. “I am.” “So what’s this legal-linguist consulting?” “Well… you know when you send me something to translate but my service doesn’t end there? Like when I advise you on how certain legal arguments may be interpreted in the legal system where the document will be read? Or I look up pertinent jurisprudence that can support your arguments? Or when I explain certain cultural or technical aspects that can affect how your document is read by lawyers abroad? Or when I consult with other lawyers in the target country to understand and analyze their domestic law and how to render your text intelligible to them?” “Yes, I appreciate all that,” he replied (and it’s great to be appreciated!). “Well, that’s legal-linguistic consulting. It’s that extra something you get from my translation service because I am also a lawyer,” I pointed out, because why would I miss the opportunity to remind him of how much value my legal training and experience adds to my work?

Last month, I was in Miami for the 56th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association where I gave a presentation on translation in the human rights arena. While in Miami, I found myself at the bank and as I somewhat awkwardly waited for some information to load on my account executive’s computer, he decided to make friendly chit-chat, “What do you for a living, Paula?” “I’m a lawyer-linguist,” I replied as I waited for the question mark. “Oh, that’s wonderful! A buddy of mine is a lawyer-linguist at our headquarters in […]! What you guys do is so interesting. How many languages do you speak?” For a minute I thought he was kidding. Then I realized he was serious and he really knew what lawyer-linguists do and how we add value to language services. I used to like my bank, now I love it! Up until then, as far as I knew, only international organizations were employing in-house lawyer-linguists.

Which brings me back to last week and the 4th Virtual Event. I noticed not just more attendees, but also more panelists and presenters who were genuinely satisfied with their careers and thriving as lawyer-linguists. As someone who has been in the language business for a very long time, I’m thrilled to see these signs of growth in my field.

Will there come a day when the seemingly simple question of what I do does not draw question marks on people’s faces? I knew when I got into this business I was taking a huge risk. There isn’t too much information about our market. We often find ourselves sailing in the dark making decisions based more on our gut than on information that is vastly available to professionals in other fields. Yet business has been growing steadily to the point to which I’ve gone from a one-woman operation to a boutique firm (with the help of my Co-Director and partner, Pablo Klammer, of course). As we review and update our business plan for 2016, the question is, how far will the sails take us?

Word of the Week in Law: Legal Person

December 300x300

In a recent online discussion among Spanish speaking legal translators, someone raised the question of how to translate the Spanish term persona jurídica into English. The level of debate that arose around this simple term was astounding, inspiring this Word of the Week in Law.

The answer, of course, is as simple as legal person; and a qualified legal translator should know this. But you don’t have to take our word for it alone. Legal person is defined by Oxford’s Dictionary of Law as: “a natural person (i.e. a human being) or a juristic person.” Where “juristic person” is then defined as: “an entity, such as a corporation that is recognized as having legal personality.” Legal personality is, in turn, the ability to exercise rights and obligations.

While many translators recommended “legal capacity” as a translation for persona jurídica, we respectfully disagree. Legal personality is a prerequisite to legal capacity; therefore, they cannot be linguistic equivalents.

Word of the Week in Law: Jurisprudence

December 300x300

Though seemingly one of the simplest terms in legal translation, it never ceases to amaze me how many times “jurisprudence” gets mistranslated. Spanish speaking lawyers and legal translators are sometimes under the incorrect impression that when native English speaking lawyers use the word “jurisprudence,” what they mean is jurisprudencia in Spanish. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In English, the term jurisprudence is used to refer to what in Spanish is known as filosofía del derecho, but with a twist. English differentiates between jurisprudence and legal philosophy depending on the level of abstraction, where jurisprudence involves the highest level of abstraction.

Jurisprudence can be distinguished from legal philosophy by looking at the questions it asks. Jurisprudence asks questions about the nature of the law itself or a particular duty, right or legal reasoning within substantive legal disciplines; while legal philosophy focuses on the questions that would normally concern moral or political philosophers inasmuch as it applies to the law. In Spanish, we do not make that theoretical distinction, which is why the term jurisprudence is often found in Spanish texts written out in English and in italics (indicating that it is a foreign term) and then followed by the words filosofía del derecho in parenthesis, like this: jurisprudence (legal philosophy). That’s usually how Spanish speaking legal scholars and practitioners manage to convey this small, yet meaningful distinction.

Meanwhile, jurisprudence’s false friend jurisprudencia is used in Spanish to refer to court decisions or, more accurately in translation, to what in English is referred to as “case law.”

In conclusion, though both jurisprudencia and jurisprudence share the same Latin root (jur meaning law + prudentia meaning knowledge), they are used quite differently across these two vast languages. Therefore, when translating, we need to be very careful to resist the temptation to equate them without regard to their modern usage.

Thank you for reading our very first Word of the Week in Law. If you enjoyed this mini-post, join us next Monday to learn about the term “legal person” and its nuances in translation.