Linguistic Features of Legal Spanish (I)

Linguistic Features of Legal Spanish

Whether you are a learner of legal Spanish or a legal translator working from Spanish into another language, you should be aware of the linguistic Features of legal Spanish which are unique to this specialised language (‘lengua de especialización’) and which have been highlighted by authors such as Luis Alberto Rodríguez-Aguilera, Margarita Hernando de Larramendi, Enrique Alcaraz Varó or Jorge Luis Morales Pastor. Find some below:

Ablative absolute

A common grammatical feature of legal Spanish is the use of the ablative absolute clause, derived from Latin. Ablative absolute clauses replace subordinate clauses defining the timing or cause of an action, for a more abbreviated form, and are usually participial phrases separated by commas. Take the example below, an extract from a judgement delivered by the First Instance Court No. 8 (‘Juzgado de Primera Instancia N.º 8′) of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria:

Observadas las prescripciones legales sobre control de la conformidad, -previa información al acusado por S.Sª. de las consecuencias y prestada libremente-, se dictó “in voce” sentencia de conformidad, sin perjuicio de su ulterior redacción, imponiendo la pena solicitada reducida en un tercio.

‘Observadas’ here replaces ‘Una vez observadas/que se observaron’ or ‘después de que se observaron’, whereas ‘prestada libremente’ (regarding ‘conformidad’) is a substitute for ‘una vez prestada libremente’.

Polysemy

Words carrying different meanings in general and legal contexts. For example:

      • Concurso
        Usually meaning ‘competition’, in some areas of law, for example, criminal law, this term can be used for denoting ‘concurrence’ (concurrent offences or ‘concurso de delitos’, meaning that the same offender commits several acts which are punishable under criminal law (‘concurso real’) or one single act that infringes several statutory provisions (‘concurso ideal’). There is also the term ‘concurso de acreedores’, used in company law and describing a legal proceeding that takes place when a natural or legal person becomes insolvent. Finally, in contractual law, we use the expression ‘concurso de voluntades’, meaning that for a bilateral agreement to exist, the wills of both parties need to concur.

        • Allanar
          In a general context, this verb would mean ‘to flatten’, ‘level’ or ‘even out’, but in civil procedural law it means ‘to admit (a claim)’ when used in its pronominal form and forming the collocation ‘allanarse a la demanda’ or ‘allanarse a las pretensiones’. For example: ‘La sociedad demandada se allanó a la pretensión deducida en su contra‘.

          • Interesar
            In judgements delivered from Spanish courts, it is common to see this verb meaning ‘to request’. For instance, ‘Los demandados se han opuesto al recurso presentado, refutan sus argumentos e interesan, en definitiva, su desestimación.’

        The Spanish future imperfect subjunctive

        Conjugated in a similar way to the future perfect of subjunctive (the ‘-ra’ form becomes ‘-re’), the future imperfect subjunctive has become obsolete and is only found in legal texts (including contracts), old sayings and literature. It expresses a hypothetical action in the future. For example, ‘Si transcurrido el plazo no se hubieren abonado dichas sumas…’. 

        These are some of the characteristics that make Spanish legal language unique. If you found this first part of the linguistic feature of Legal Spanish interesting, please leave me a comment.

         

         

         

         

         

         

        PASSIVE VOICE WITH PRONOUN ‘SE’AND AGENT

        This type of Spanish passive voice is found in legal-administrative texts only. Whereas the Royal Academy of Spanish Language (RAE) favours the use of ‘normal passive’ (pasiva perifrástica) over this peculiar type of passive voice, we can still find it in legal language, albeit sporadically. Find an example below:

        Por la parte actora se presentó escrito mediante el cual interesaba se tuviera por interpuesto recurso contencioso administrativo contra el acto que ha quedado reflejado en el encabezamiento de esta sentencia

        In a normal context, the wording would have been: ‘La parte actora presentó escrito mediante el cual interesaba […]’.

        The purpose of this type of passive voice is to avoid ambiguity by expressly indicating the agent, even in those cases where it is obvious who he or she is. Legal language favours redundancies for the sake of clarity because any error in communication can result in misinterpretations or legal issues.

        VERBAL PERIPHRASIS

        Verbal periphrasis are widely used in legal Spanish. These are structures consisting of a verb + a preposition + participle/infinitive, a verb + gerund or a verb + a past participle. For example:

           

            • Venir + participle. ‘Venir’ simply means ‘to be’ (estar) in this periphrasis. For example:

          Alguno de los programas de financiación, en esta línea, […] vienen recogidos en la Ley de Presupuestos de Andalucía 2017, y que van dirigidas entre otras acciones a la promoción de empleo […]’.

           

             

              • Venir + a + infinitive: this is more formal than simply using the main verb. For example:

            Que por medio del presente escrito vengo a formular querella criminal‘.

               

                • Dar + como / Dar por / Tener por, all of them meaning ‘to consider’ or ‘deem’. For example:

              En cuanto a los datos fácticos, se dan como acreditados los hechos objetivos derivados del expediente‘.

              Terminada la apertura se dan por admitidos a todos los licitadores y se invita a que manifiesten o expongan las alegaciones que consideren oportunas‘.

              Que teniendo por presentado este escrito, se sirva admitirlo‘.

                 

                  • Venir + gerund: this periphrasis is used to indicate an action progressing in the past until the present. For instance:

                La demandante vino prestando servicios como directora de un centro de servicios sociales en virtud primero de un contrato de fomento de empleo, y después de un contrato de interinidad‘.

                This linguistic phenomenon is called ‘archiverbalismo’ and, whereas its use is discouraged in general texts for the sake of simplicity, it is one of the defining characteristics of legal-administrative Spanish, which prefers long and complex sentences.

                GERUNDS

                In legal Spanish, it is common to see several gerunds in the same sentence or paragraph. This would usually be considered poor style in a general context. For example:

                Seguido que fue el recurso por sus trámites, se entregó el expediente administrativo a la representación de la parte actora para que formulara la demanda, lo que hizo seguidamente dentro del plazo, sentando los hechos y fundamentos de derecho que estimó pertinentes y terminando suplicando se dictara una sentencia por la que se estime el recurso, con imposición de costas a la demandada; dado traslado de la demanda a la parte demandada de la Administración para que la contestase, evacuó dicho trámite interesando se dictara una sentencia desestimatoria del recurso, con imposición de costas a la parte actora’.

                Note the use of ‘gerundio de posterioridad’, i.e. a gerund used to indicate an action following the action expressed in the main verb. Unless it is clear that both actions are simultaneous or that one is the result of the other, its use is not recommended in general Spanish.

                PRESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE

                Prescriptive language is used by judges and courts in orders and judgements and is also found in terms and conditions in contracts. This is done by using specific verbs (‘dispongo‘, ‘ordeno‘, etc.), but also with the Spanish future simple of indicative and imperatives.

                   

                    • Future simple indicative. The future tense is usually found in contract clauses and other legal documents. For example:

                  X percibirá por la prestación de sus servicios profesionales establecidos en el presente contrato 6000 euros, trimestralmente, más I.V.A.‘.

                     

                      • Impersonal imperatives: the imperative mood is used in general language for giving orders and instructions. In legal language, it is used in its impersonal form in order to express neutrality:

                    Pronúnciese esta sentencia en audiencia pública y notifíquese a las partes‘.

                    These are some other characteristics of Spanish legal-administrative texts. I hope you found this post interesting. Thanks for reading.

                    REFERENCES

                     

                     

                     

                     

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