Legal Spanish and the plain language movement

Autor:Adela Pérez del Viso
Cargo:Lawyer (Universidad Nacional del Litoral 1986)

Legal professionals, who necessarily have to deal with different instances related to law discussions, typically use language and argumentation as an everyday tool. Words, language, discussion, oral or written argumentation, everything consists of instances to be use in the legal field. As regards legal Spanish, some authors have tackled the topic whereas from the Logic perspective or taking into account Oratory and its related abilities . Nevertheless, in the current situation lawyers and legal professionals are so immersed in their own day-to-day plight (telephone calls, last-hour hearings, stressful deadlines, etc) that barely can they appraise to any extent the kind of language they use and its particularities.

Moreover, legal professionals tend to naturalize their technical language. They, in fact, make use of a typical group of linguistic forms which can be called legalese, and which in present days is considered a real jargon. Lawyers debate with clients and colleagues, draft documents, propose them to clients –to be signed- and file them in court, in some sort of separated language expression which might well be called “Legal Spanish”.

In this work, some reflections on legal terms under the light of descriptive Linguistics will be made. Our thesis implies that this newly-formed idiomatic set of expressions conform a system, obliges plain inhabitants to learn it or avoid understanding, and lastly creates a frontier made up of language which might well be considered against certain constitutional rights.

I- Summary on Legal Spanish features:

I.1. There is a group of features present in legal Spanish:

a) Latin and English borrowings.

b) Archaic and formal register.

c) Periphrastic type of language

d) Use of expressive redundancy.

e) Outmost need to avoid grammatical and semantic ambiguity.

f) Outmost need to clarification on deictic expressions.

g) Outmost need to clarify references.

I.2. Borrowings:

“One of the most common sources in the origin of new words … is a process called Borrowing, i. e. the use of words stemming from other languages”.

Latin Borrowings:

Our legal system originates in the Roman administration of law. Another important contributor is the canonical code (related to the Catholic Church). Therefore, Latin has exerted great influence on the legal kind of language, due to its inner prestige and its capability to be used as lingua franca. The great majority of legal training curricula include the study of the subject Derecho Romano for one or two years. Therefore, Latin language, which is inevitable part of Latin culture, ends up pervading every part of the realm of the lawyer in Spanish – speaking countries such as Argentina.

On drafts and oral presentations, lawyers use Latin intertwined with Spanish, in a natural way they are even not aware of. That is mainly what happens with some utterances such as “prima facie”, “rechazo in limine”, “el quantum de la demanda” , “El juez A quo”, “…para que tenga efecto erga omnes”, “Petitum”, “un testigo de visu et auditu…”, “…una sucesión ab – intestato”, “es una presunción juris tantum”, “Ergo, lo que corresponde es…”, “i.e.” (id est), “v.g.” (verbi gratia) , etc.-

Sometimes lawyers do not use a sole Latin word, but a whole Latin aphorism. They do that when they try to support one or more theories in process of verification. This usage has receded in the past decades, but it still remains in fashion, due to the strength and synthesis these expressions bare. That is what happens with some aphorisms such...

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