The Country of Origin Matters When
Translating Documents to English

“Please translate this short Spanish document to English.”

Seems like an easy assignment, does it not?

Well, not so fast. Knowing the country of origin is surprisingly important, especially when translating legal terms. As you will see, the source of legal terminology changes significantly from one Spanish-speaking country to the next.

In the Americas, Spanish legal terms have several origins. For example, many Puerto Rican corporate legal terms are English cognates that would be considered “false friends” by most Spanish speakers due to a flawed, word-for-word Spanish translation of Delaware corporate law many years ago. The English word “corporation” becomes “corporación” in Puerto Rico. It’s “Sociedad Anónima” almost everywhere else.

In the nearby Dominican Republic, legal terms are often derived from a substandard translation of the Napoleonic Code from (French to Spanish), a useful fact for translators trying to decipher almost impenetrable text.

Not all translations of the Napoleonic Code were second rate. In the 19th century Andres Bello’s translation was most influential in countries such as Chile, Colombia,

This is a photo of three flags from Spanish-speaking countries. Ecuador, and Venezuela but had minimal impact on counties such as Mexico, Argentina and Paraguay. Consequently, legal dictionaries for one Latin American country don’t necessarily work well in a neighboring country.

Because of the diverse origins of legal terms in Spanish-speaking countries, the translation of a single word in isolation becomes quite challenging. For example, the word “cortes” in Spain is commonly used for “parliament,” while in Argentina “cortes” might be referring to cuts of meat or various types of tango! In contrast, the same word in Mexico would probably be referring to components of the judicial system.

Bottom line: Successful Spanish-to-English translations, especially of fragments of a larger documents, require knowledge of the country of origin. So when you request a quote, please let us know where the document came from whenever possible.

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