egal translation is peculiar in that nothing ever fits. Because different countries have different legal systems and each legal system slices the legal
universe in its own way, even apparently simple terms lack a good translation. That is what makes legal translation so difficult and that is why even good legal
translations may carry a high amount of distortion.
Good, responsible legal translators always welcome guidance from members of the legal profession and we were more than pleased when, in late March 2012, we
heard that the Supremo Tribunal Federal (colloquially, o Supremo, abbreviated STF), the Brazilian Supreme Court, had decided to prepare an
English-Spanish-Portuguese glossary of legal terms and post it on its website.
A bad omenno, two!
We paid a hopeful visit to the Court’s Portuguese website. The Portuguese welcome was a bit discouraging. It says the Glossary has 180 entries
and was prepared with the cooperation of polyglot employees and interns of the Court’s Office of International Relations. No mention of a
professional lexicographer, terminologist, translator, editor, or proofreader. Strange how people believe that speaking a foreign language makes you a
translator, terminologist, or lexicographer and that proofreading is for the weak.
Good, responsible legal translators always welcome guidance from members of the legal profession.
That was the first omen.
Then we read the Presentation to the
Glossary, purportedly written in English, which includes this jewel of good style:
The thrust of the current work is placed within the vision of future of the Court itself: to be recognized as a reference Constitutional Court on the
matter of fundamental rights assurance, on the moderation of federative conflicts and also on administrative management.
… and that was the second bad omen. Both were fully justified by our examination of the entries.
Three entries will suffice to show
Because, unfortunately, most entries are little short of disastrous. Our discussion will be limited to three of them, on the belief that those three alone
will suffice to show the general quality of the work.
Our first example is the entry for
aborto. We see very little reason to include aborto in a 180-entry legal glossary, but that is of lesser importance. The entry itself is very poorly
drafted: it explains what an aborto is and even touches on an STM decision regarding abortion, but fails to give a link to the Spanish or English
translations, although the Glossary provides the Spanish herewith
a link to the Portuguese. For the translation into English, you have to go elsewhere. Sorry!
Our second example is
mandado de segurança.
This one is a little better in that it provides both an explanation and translations into Spanish and English. We shall keep quiet about the Spanish
translation. Although both of us understand Spanish, our knowledge of that language has not reached a level that qualifies us to give an opinion on the
suggested translation Mandado de Seguridad. But our English is good enough to give an opinion on the English translation and we find Writ of Security absurd. It is not in Black’s VIII and we doubt it will be added in later editions. A mandado de segurança is the
Brazilian counterpart to the Writ of Mandamus, although usage is a bit different. The mistranslation apparently arises from the fact that security does mean segurança in expressions such as airport security (segurança do aeroporto). Writ of security does appear
in the Webalways in texts originating in Brazil, which is a little bit on the suspect side.
Then we have
transitar em julgado.
This entry does not carry an explanation. However it gives Spanish and English Translations. The English provided is transit in judgement. Now,
then, may it please the court, we beg to differ. Transitar em julgado is to become final and unappelable. Something to do with res judicata.
Google gives us three hits for transit in judgement: two from bad translations from Portuguese. That should raise some kind of suspicion.
We rest our case. We don’t want to bother you with more and more of the same.
Raising the hue and cry
We published the news of the Glosary in our blog and summoned our
colleagues to write to the contact address provided in the website. Several colleagues came to our assistance and wrote
short, respectful and objective messages pointing out errors and suggesting corrections. A few days later, we all received the same reply, politely
thanking us for our interest. But nothing has been done so far. Apparently, the matter was dropped.
Do usted hablate Portuñol?
Some colleagues who know Spanish claim that what purports to be Spanish is just Portuñol, meaning an unwholesome admixture of Portuguese and Spanish.
As far as we could see, they are right.
There are at least three decent English<>Portuguese legal dictionaries, none of which seems to have been consulted by the good people who created the
Glossary. The three were written by respected people with law degrees from respected schools and experience in translating. The three of them confirm our
opinions as given above.
If you translate legal texts from or into Portuguese, you can rely on any of thembut do not rely on the STF’s glossary
Castro, Marcílio Moreira de. (2010) Dicionário de Direito, Economia e Contabilidade, (2010), Known as Marcílio in Brazil. The
newest and largest of all.
- Mello, Maria Chaves de. (2008) Mini dicionário jurídico português inglês. Known as Chaves de Mello in Brazil. More
detailed than the mini in the title would let the reader believe. A classic, with several editions.
- La Touloubre, Marina Bevilacqua de, (2010). Dicionário Jurídico Bilíngue. Known as Marina in Brazil. Small, but useful.
… and they did it with taxpayer’s money!!!