Linguistic Features of Legal Spanish (II)

This post is a continuation to my previous post on the main characteristics of legal Spanish, where I explained the use of the ablative absolute, polisemy and the Spanish future imperfect subjunctive. But as a specialised language, legal Spanish presents several other characteristics that make it a unique language. Find them below:

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. There are several others, which I will address in my third post. Thanks for reading!


FUENTES

Diccionario Panispánico de Dudas, Real Academia Española de la Lengua, https://www.rae.es/dpd/se

El gerundio con valor de posterioridad es incorrecto, Fundéu BBVA, https://www.fundeu.es/recomendacion/el-gerundio-con-valor-de-posterioridad-es-incorrecto-825/

Gutiérrez Álvarez, J. M., El español jurídico: Discursos profesional y académico, CIEFE. Recovered from https://cvc.cervantes.es/ensenanza/biblioteca_ele/ciefe/pdf/04/cvc_ciefe_04_0014.pdf

Judgement delivered by the Administrative Litigation Division (Sala de lo Contencioso) of the High Court of Justice (Tribunal Superior de Justicia) of Caceres (Spain) dated 11/03/2020 (ECLI: ES:TSJEXT:2020:211). Recovered from here.

Ricós Vidal, A. 1998. La pasiva con se agentiva en los textos jurídico-administrativos: su incidencia pragmática. ELUA: Estudios de Lingüística, núm. 12. Recovered from http://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/6336/1/ELUA_12_12.pdf

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