A Review of the Bilingual Law Dictionary/Diccionario Jurídico Bilingüe (Second Edition)


Publication Details

Bilingual Law Dictionary/Diccionario Jurídico Bilingüe (Second Edition)
Editor: Cuauhtémoc Gallegos
Publisher: Merl Publications
Publication Date: March 2018
Available from: www.merlpublications.com

The second edition of the Bilingual Law Dictionary/Diccionario Jurídico Bilingüe (Merl Publications, 2018) is a welcome addition to the now well-populated bibliography of legal dictionaries in the Spanish>English combination. Unlike translators in many other languages, we Spanish>English legal translators are fortunate to have a wealth of specialized resources from which to choose.

This dictionary, vastly upgraded from the first edition (2014) and the glossary that preceded it (2007), covers criminal, civil, administrative, and international law. It includes more than 5,000 main legal entries and their corresponding single or multiple equivalents. There are more than 900 examples, as well as over 1,700 definitions and more than 2,000 synonyms, antonyms, and abbreviations. It contains terms from all English- and Spanish-speaking countries. (Although, from the perspective of a translator who works exclusively into U.S. English, it might be considered a detriment that terms from the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand must be weeded out once an equivalent is found, but this is a minor inconvenience.) The second edition also corrects some typographical and other errors that appeared in the earlier edition, although it’s still not entirely free of typos.

Coverage: What’s Included

At the beginning of the dictionary is an explanation of how the entries are constructed and a list of the abbreviations used. The entries frequently contain examples of the terms used in context and additional explanations of related legal concepts. In many cases, a functional equivalent or specialized glossary is provided, rather than just a single equivalent term.

Although it’s sometimes awkward to work these lexical expansions into a sentence, especially when interpreting in court, it’s the only way to guarantee precision when a concept in one legal system must be conveyed to someone from a different legal system in which the concept is nonexistent. An example would be “racketeering,” which is translated as extorsión e intimidación organizada (“organized intimidation and extorsion”). Similarly, prescriptibilidad is translated as “ability to own a right by adverse possession or to extinguish an obligation by lapsing.”

In some cases, in addition to a full but cumbersome descriptive term, a more succinct—but not quite as precise—equivalent is given. For example, “misprision” is translated as dejar de reportar la ocurrencia de un delito grave (por alquien que no participó en el ilícito), or “failure to report the commission of a serious crime (by someone who did not participate in the illegal act).” The definition is followed by a succinct glossary that covers the most important elements ocultamiento de delito (“concealing a crime”).

Slang: The dictionary also includes legal jargon or crime-related slang not likely to be found in legislation or a penal code. For example, two equivalents are provided for “railroading a suspect”: one a descriptive term in a formal register, acusar penalmente sin tener suficientes pruebas (“charging a crime without sufficient evidence”), and the other a functional equivalent in a register closer to that of the source term, llevarse a un sospechoso entre las patas (“dragging a suspect into something”). On the other hand, the informal terms secuestro exprés (used in Mexico) and secuestro al paso (used in Peru) are rendered as “short-term kidnapping (to forcefully demand withdrawal of funds from bank cash machines),” but no English term in the equivalent register is provided. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to convey meaning as succinctly as we would like, and the flavor of a vivid expression is lost in the translation.

Cross-Referencing: The Bilingual Law Dictionary/Diccionario Jurídico Bilingüe draws on a broad spectrum of sources, including monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, legal treatises, constitutions, codes, legislation, and regulations from all Spanish- and English-speaking countries. Individual entries feature citations of relevant sources, which are listed in the extensive bibliography at the end. There are also appendices with common abbreviations and Latin phrases, and even a description of each country’s legal and political system.

Problematic Terms: When evaluating a dictionary, I always look up terms I’ve had difficulty finding in the past and terms I know to be problematic to see how (or if) the author has dealt with the issue. In this case, I found equivalents for terms such as “date rape,” “profiling,” and “stalking,” but not “sexting,” “wobbler,” or “wet reckless.” I checked terms from my personal glossary of Spanish legal terms that have plagued me throughout my years as a Spanish>English legal translator and found good solutions for resolución motivada (“decision based on reason”) and acción de tutela, as it is used in Colombia (“action to enforce constitutional protections”). However, I didn’t find terms such as ley estatutaria, ultraactividad, or vocal semanero de ingreso. For those, I’ll have to be content with my own solutions. Another thing I look for in a dictionary is “fillers,” terms that are well known, not specialized, and could be found in any general dictionary. This volume is refreshingly free of such terms, so every page is worth the investment.

Overall Usefulness

Overall, I found this dictionary is a good supplement to those written by Javier Becerra, Guillermo Cabanellas and Eleanor Hoague, Dennis McKenna, Sandro Tomasi, and Tom West (see the list below), but no one dictionary serves all purposes. Besides, even in this day of Google searches and the bounties of the internet, you can never have too many dictionaries!

Additional References
  1. Becerra, Javier F. Diccionario de terminología jurídica mexicana (español–inglés) (Escuela Libre de Derecho, 1999).
  2. Becerra, Javier F. Dictionary of United States Legal Terminology (English–Spanish) (Escuela Libre de Derecho, 2008).
  3. Cabanellas, Guillermo, and Eleanor Hoague. Diccionario Jurídico/Law Dictionary (Heliasta, 2010).
  4. McKenna, Dennis. Criminal Court Dictionary (Adelfa Books, 2006).
  5. Tomasi, Sandro. Tomasi’s Law Dictionary: An English–Spanish Dictionary of Criminal Law and Procedure, Second Edition (BilingualLawDictionary.com).
  6. West, Thomas L. III. Spanish–English Dictionary of Law and Business, Second Edition (Intermark Language Services, 2002).

Holly Mikkelson is professor emerita in the Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. She is a certified court interpreter and ATA-certified Spanish<>English translator who has taught and practiced translation and interpreting for over four decades. She is the author of the Acebo interpreter training manuals and numerous books and articles on translation and interpreting. She has consulted with many state and private entities on interpreter testing and training, and has presented lectures and workshops to interpreters and related professionals throughout the world. Contact: hmikkelson@gmail.com.

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